Online Doctorate in School Counseling

What is School Counseling?

School counselors help students achieve academic success and overcome social and emotional challenges. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a 250-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio. In the 2014-2015 school year, the national average of 482-to-1 failed to reach that mark, demonstrating a clear need for more school counselors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 13% employment growth rate for school and career counselors between 2016 and 2026 -- above the 7% national average for all occupations.

A master's degree remains the minimum requirement for entry into this profession. However, those seeking to advance their careers as counselor-educators or hoping to assume leadership roles may choose one of the nation's school counseling doctoral programs. Universities across the country offer fully online or hybrid doctoral degrees in school counseling to accommodate the needs of working professionals. Candidates for doctorates in counseling develop the knowledge and competencies necessary to help young people develop personal character and career readiness. They also add to the existing research on school counseling with their own discoveries.

What is the Difference Between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. in School Counseling?

Once individuals decide to pursue a doctorate in counseling, they must further decide what kind of doctorate: a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or a doctor of education (Ed.D.). Ph.D. candidates expand on and contribute to existing theoretical knowledge and research. Alternatively, the Ed.D. requires that students expand on and apply existing knowledge to practical challenges.

The Ph.D. suits those planning to work as scholars, researchers, or counselor-educators. Learners interested in a practice-based doctorate that qualifies them to work as advanced practitioners, program developers, or assume leadership roles in K-12 counseling programs choose the Ed.D. Regardless of which degree learners choose, each requires a considerable financial and time investment.

According to the BLS, the median average wage of school counselors is $55,410. Elementary and secondary school counselors enjoy a median average wage of $62,990.

Choosing an Online Doctorate in School Counseling Program

Individuals take three to five years to complete a school counseling doctoral program. The number of credits range from 60 to 150 credits, depending on the school and program. Students take coursework covering subjects such as advanced theory and practice, career counseling, group counseling, and counselor education. At the doctoral level, students participate in extensive research; consequently, doctoral programs often require courses in statistics and research design. Participants should expect to engage in extensive internship or student-teaching activities. Since many learners already work in school counseling, their schools often serve as suitable internship sites. In general, the Ph.D. requires students to complete a thesis in order to graduate; the Ed.D. will also require a culminating project. Faculty in school counseling doctoral programs may also require that students pass a comprehensive exam.

Some school counseling doctoral programs provide part-time options for working professionals unable to attend school full-time. Additionally, an increasing number of schools add further flexibility with fully online programs. Still others offer hybrid programs that provide both on-campus and online options.

Accreditation ensures that your investment in a doctorate degree in school counseling enjoys recognition from employers, national boards, and state licensure bodies. Students should ensure that a program boasts accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Entry Requirements

Generally, doctoral programs require a master's degree in counseling -- or a closely related field such as psychology -- with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants often boast at least two years of school counseling or teaching experience in addition to professional licensure. Students also typically submit examples of scholarly writing and GRE scores. Some programs accept work experience and professional credentialing in lieu of the GRE.

Some programs fast-track students holding an education specialist degree (Ed.S.) in counseling, resulting in a significant portion of the curriculum shaved off for their education, professional certification, and work experience. Before students enter a doctoral program they should ascertain whether it meets their state's certification requirements.

Directory of Accredited Doctorate in School Counseling Programs

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School Counseling Licensure and Certifications

Counselors practicing in public schools in the U.S. need a certificate or license to practice. The procedure and particulars involved in getting a counseling or teaching license depends on location. Each state maintains its own licensure and certification requirements for school counselors. While some states such as Alabama, Alaska, and New York accept a bachelor's degree, most require a master's in counseling or a related field. In addition, most states require supervised practicum experience, which usually accounts for part of a doctoral program.

States such as Connecticut, Louisiana, and Kansas require that aspirant counselors hold a valid professional teaching certificate or demonstrate eligibility for initial educator certification. Some require that candidates hold teaching licensure and at least two years of teaching experience prior to certification. Many states require that candidates pass an examination such as the National Counselor Examination administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors. The National Certified School Counselor credential serves as an important and necessary certification for school counselors. The ASCA lays out general certification requirements for counselors in each state online. Individuals should contact their state regulating boards for more information. Individuals may also access state-by-state teacher certification requirements here.

Once educators secure certification, licensure, or endorsement to practice as counselors, many wonder if they can pursue employment in other states. Educators must ascertain whether their state participates in an established reciprocity agreement. An interstate agreement by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification serves as the most recognized.

What Can You Do With a School Counseling Degree?

Given the BLS's growth rate forecast for school and career counselors, holders of a doctorate degree in school counseling should experience few problems securing employment. They work at the K-12 levels in elementary, middle, and high schools. Some even secure counseling or research positions in higher education. Whichever path they choose, counselors with a doctorate find themselves in a select group. The table below provides a list of some career options.

Elementary School Counselors

Counselors work with students, parents, and staff to provide students with the assistance and resources necessary to achieve academic success. They help provide a nurturing environment that fosters academic engagement, prosocial behavior, and the development of life skills.

Median Salary: $47,736

Middle School Counselors

Counselors work with students to establish a long-term academic plan. They evaluate students' academic strengths and weaknesses and help them overcome challenges such as bullying or behavioral problems. They routinely meet with parents to discuss any issues and make recommendations. They work with other teachers and school administration to ensure that curriculum addresses students' academic and developmental needs.

High School Counselors

At the secondary level, counselors assist students with their academic planning, helping them choose courses and activities that help fulfill their long-term aspirations. In the junior and senior years, they help students plan their career goals,provide information about colleges, help students apply for financial aid, and help them identify relevant internships or apprenticeships. They also help students navigate the personal and social challenges that might hinder their success.

Median Salary: $49,732

Career Counselors

Career counselors work with students to formulate a long-term plan for life after college. They use aptitude and other assessments to develop an inventory of students' skills, matching their unique abilities with possible career options. They also work with students to help fill in any skills gap or to fine-tune competencies such as interviewing or resume-writing.

Median Salary: $42,525

How Many Years Does it Take to Become a School Counselor?

A career in school counseling requires at least a bachelor's degree in counseling or a related field, which takes four years. Many states require a master's degree, which takes between 16 and 24 months to complete. Once graduates complete the master's, they often begin their careers by securing their state's initial teacher or counselor certification or licensure. As noted before, each state lists its own requirements and timeframes for certification or licensure.

Doctoral students spend three to five years earning the degree, which usually requires hundreds of hours of practicum or internship experience within a school environment. A Ph.D. in school counseling who already possess initial teacher or counselor licensure/certification typically advances their state credential to the next level. Those without it begin the process of initial state credentialing discussed earlier.

Paying for Your Online Doctorate in School Counseling

A Ph.D. in school counseling online remains a significant investment. Several options exist to help students pay for college, including federal aid, grants, private loans, and scholarships. Some schools offer payment plans that make paying out of pocket more feasible. Earning a doctorate in school counseling servs as a long-term investment into one’s future career possibilities and lifetime earning potential.

Financial Aid

The first step in the financial student aid application process involves filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available on the U.S. Department of Education's website. All colleges awarding financial aid use FAFSA to determine students' eligibility. Students generally secure financial aid based on need and meet stringent requirements.

Undergraduates qualify for Direct Subsidized Loans. According to the U.S. Department of Education, graduate and professional students qualify for the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. Under this loan program, graduate students borrow up to $20,500 per school year to pay for tuition. This program also offers Direct PLUS Loans for those who need to borrow more than the maximum unsubsidized amount. Students also use the Pell Grant, which recipients do not repay. Pell Grant amounts change every year, but learners in post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs enjoy eligibility. Once students receive approval for financial aid, schools use FAFSA to determine the amount of financial aid needed to cover the costs of attendance; they then disburse amounts based on school policy -- which varies from school to school.

Note that some students also take out loans from private institutions such as banks. Those with federal student loans enjoy advantages compared to these institutions, chiefly more repayment options to keep monthly payments affordable. Once students agree to accept a loan, they must pay back the loan with interest according to the agreed conditions. This means the federal government or banks expect repayment regardless of whether you finish the program or not.

Work-Study Programs

The federal government also oversees a work-study program that provides part-time jobs for graduate and professional students in need of financial assistance. Colleges around the country participate in the program, which requires that participants work on or off campus. Doctoral students may help faculty teach, conduct research, or complete other duties as part of work-study. Students typically work 10 to 20 hours a week. In exchange, they receive hourly or salaried payment, depending on the work. Schools use FAFSA to determine eligibility for work-study. They also take a learner's class schedule and academic progress into consideration. The work-study program accepts both full-time and part-time students.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Some students receive help paying for their Ph.D. in school counseling online if they work for an employer who sponsors a tuition reimbursement program. Some larger companies also partner with local colleges to ensure their staff receive tuition discounts. If your company sponsors a tuition-reimbursement or tuition-discount program, speak to the human resources department to determine eligibility requirements. Eligibility requirements depend on the company and may include length of employment with the company, GPA, or if the degree plan aligns with company goals. Employers usually stipulate that the recipient of tuition reimbursement commits to a certain amount of time with the company to ensure a return on their investment.

Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships

Students receive scholarships based on financial need, merit, or demographic. Students do not pay back scholarships. Grants serve the same function as scholarships in that organizations offer the non-repayable gift aid to those in need; this includes doctoral candidates engaged in research. Organizations award fellowships primarily based on recipients' skills and qualifications -- and sometimes for particular purposes such as research. They serve as merit-based gifts that recipients do not repay.

A list of scholarship opportunities below helps you begin the process of funding your doctorate in school counseling.

Scholarships for Online Doctorate in School Counseling Degrees

Esther Katz Rosen Graduate Student Fellowships $20,000

Who Can Apply: Up to three students receive one year of funding to conduct doctoral research focused on the psychology of gifted children and adolescents. Awarded based on research proposal. View Scholarship

American Psychological Foundation $2,000 to $5,000

Who Can Apply: 16 scholarships help graduate students in psychology programs fund the research necessary to develop their doctoral dissertation. Awarded based on research proposal. View Scholarship

Global Career Development Facilitator $2,000

Who Can Apply: Open to students enrolled in an advanced counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Donor expects students to work toward incorporating career development in their practice as counselors for two years. View Scholarship

American Counseling Association Future School Counselors Essay Competition $500

Who Can Apply: 500-word contest open to ACA members pursuing a career as an elementary, middle, or high school counselor. View Scholarship

National Association of Junior Auxiliaries Unspecified

Who Can Apply: Scholarship supports graduate students in programs that prepare them to directly work with, and address the unique needs of, children and youth. Must live in a state with a Junior Auxiliary Chapter. View Scholarship

Resources for Online Doctorate in School Counseling Students

  • American School Counselor Association The largest organization in the U.S. for school counselors, the ASCA provides a wealth of information on topics such as licensure and certification requirements. The ASCA houses several publications that keep counselors and students up-to-date on the latest research and developments in the field.
  • National Association of Graduate-Professional Students This organization helps improve the quality of life for graduate and professional students across the U. S. with resources such as information about graduate schools, financial aid information, and assistance with dissertations and theses.
  • Grad Resources This site helps graduate students navigate the complexities of graduate school by providing mentors, seminars, and other resources that help students succeed.
  • Fastweb Find scholarships for free in this repository. Easy to navigate, the website includes information about the college search, counseling careers, and financial aid.
  • Wendy Belcher Academic Writing Sheets These free academic worksheets help doctoral students complete academic writing assignments -- such as journal articles -- in 12 weeks.