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Top Counseling Careers – Educational Requirements & Salary

woman works as a child counselor, one of the best counseling careers.

Degrees in counseling are some of the most important in the modern workforce. Counselors of all types help people manage their emotional burdens and provide critical advisory services for patients, young and old. They’re also vital personnel in corporate organizations, social workgroups. Even so, it can be challenging to select a career in counseling when there are so many different options. Today, let’s break down 10 of top counseling careers for those with degrees in counseling.

What is a Counseling Degree?

Counseling degrees are diplomas that focus on the science of counseling. Counseling degrees are available at multiple levels, including bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees. Regardless, all counseling degrees focus on the following subjects:

  • Different therapy techniques and strategies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Psychology
  • Interpersonal dynamics
  • Human emotions
  • Neurochemistry and brain development

Furthermore, many counseling degrees offer specialization in one area or another. Certain counseling degrees are ideally suited for preparing an individual to become a dedicated counselor. Other degrees can qualify individuals to become social workers or other professionals.

Bachelor vs. Master vs. Doctorate Counseling Degrees

Generally, bachelor’s degrees are the entry-level degrees for counseling jobs. Many counseling jobs require graduate-level or master’s degrees, however. Bachelor’s degrees are enough to qualify one for social work or particular youth counselor jobs. But they are rarely enough to qualify an applicant for any proper therapeutic or medical career.

On the other hand, doctoral counseling degrees are more suited for counseling researchers. They can be beneficial to future psychiatrists or clinical counselors who prescribe medication. Every level of counseling degree can be acquired either online or in person. Note that many counseling degrees do require practicum components. Some programs require students complete clinical practice hours under the supervision of a licensed counselor or therapist.

Counseling Career Education Requirements

Master’s degrees in counseling usually lead to the highest-paying positions. Furthermore, most positions that allow counselors to prescribe medication or practice therapy require a master’s degree. State licensure or certification is also frequently required.

Master’s degrees are great for counseling majors because they:

  • Allow students to specialize in one or another area of counseling or therapy. The more specialized a student is, the more money they usually make.
  • Pay for themselves over time, given the average salaries of master’s degree holders.
  • Allow students to learn more about the counseling and therapy fields.

Most counseling majors first acquire a bachelor’s degree in the field, then progress to a graduate-level program. Some counseling degree programs are available in accelerated formats. Students who complete these programs can acquire master’s level counseling degrees in five years.

Counseling Degree Types and Specializations

Many counseling degrees can be specialized or tailored toward certain positions. For example, some future counselors may wish to work primarily with children. They can attend counseling degree programs that reward them with counseling degrees in child psychology.

Another common counseling degree type is that of marriage and family therapists. Many counselors focus specifically on helping married couples or families work through interpersonal issues. These professionals typically have concentrated degrees, with much of the coursework focusing on their practice areas.

As noted earlier, specialized counseling degrees are usually more lucrative in the long run. However, all counseling degrees include a lot of core coursework on basic foundational therapeutic principles. Students learn different ways to provide therapy to patients and how the human mind works.

Average Salaries for Counseling Careers

Different counselor jobs yield different salaries on average. Depending on the job pursuit, those with counseling degrees can earn below or above the national average. For example, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that marriage and family therapists earn average salaries of over $49,000 per year. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn less at nearly $48,000 per year. School and career counselors, meanwhile, earn over $60,000 per year.

However, these wages are by no means guaranteed. Also, according to the BLS, all other counselors generally earn annual salaries of around $45,000 per year. The top 10% earn more than $76,700 per year, while the lowest-paid 10% earn less than $30,000 a year. Despite the variability in average salaries, one can draw several conclusions. For example, jobs that require a master’s degree in counseling usually result in higher wages. These are also the jobs that require state licensure so that counselors can practice legally.

Counseling-related jobs that only require a bachelor’s degree typically pay less than $50,000 per year. While that salary isn’t universal, it is an average trend. Therefore, individuals with counseling degrees may wish to consider the salaries they want to pursue. Suppose one already has a bachelor’s degree in counseling. A graduate-level degree could be well worth it, which is doubly true if a graduate pursues an affordable, online degree in counseling.

Top 10 Counseling Careers

Many top counseling careers are available at the bachelor’s level. However, some require a master’s degree or higher for an applicant to qualify. Let’s look at the ten best jobs for people with counseling degrees in detail.

1. Social Worker

The first counseling career is that of a social worker. Those with counseling degrees often become social workers. These unique professionals perform a wide range of tasks depending on their places of employment. Social workers may:

  • Help individuals assess needs and find resources, such as rehabilitation centers or food banks
  • Assist with the implementation of social programs, like charity drives
  • Help individuals struggling with drug addiction (though not through prescribing medication)
  • Help organizations improve the wellness or education of their communities

Note that social workers don’t earn very high salaries. That said, many social workers derive a lot of career satisfaction from the positive influences on their communities. Social workers may gradually gain experience and lead social work organizations, such as charities or foundations.

In addition, people do not need bachelor’s degrees in counseling to become social workers. A bachelor’s degree does assist with employment and may provide valuable insight into this profession’s work.

2. Youth Counselor

Youth counselors typically work for social service agencies or in residential youth homes. They may also work in youth clubs, such as America’s Boys and Girls Clubs. Regardless, youth counselors:

  • Help kids and young adults navigate the emotional difficulties of adolescence
  • Provide career counseling and guidance when necessary
  • Help connect families and kids or teenagers to other resources, like mental health professionals
  • Connect with children to help them explore their potential
  • Teach children and young adults coping mechanisms to deal with daily stress or bullying

Many youth counselors love working with kids. They may get counseling degrees with concentrations in child psychology or similar subjects. Youth counselors have a serious impact on the development and well-being of young people across the country.

Many youth counselor positions only require a bachelor’s degree in counseling or related subjects. However, a master’s degree in counseling will help an applicant acquire employment more quickly. Furthermore, only some youth counselors can prescribe medication – most do not. Youth counselors more commonly direct children and their families toward psychiatrists specialized in child psychology if medication is needed.

3. Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist

Vocational rehabilitation specialists often have bachelor’s degrees or higher in counseling. These professionals primarily help people assess their unique skills and abilities to help them find fulfilling careers.

For example, a patient may visit a vocational rehabilitation specialist if they are unsatisfied with their current career. The vocational rehabilitation specialist will then:

  • Meet with them and break down all of their skills and qualifications. These include any degrees or certificates they may have. But the rehabilitation specialist also focuses on an individual’s personal preferences.
  • Come up with different degree plans or career paths. Once the client chooses a career path, the rehabilitation specialist helps the patient discover what steps to take to accomplish their goals.

Many vocational rehabilitation specialists also work with former prisoners. Many former ex-convicts have difficulty readjusting to civilian life for finding suitable employment. Rehabilitation specialists can provide critical insights or connect these people to appropriate resources, like affordable online degree programs. Other individuals who use the services of vocational rehabilitation specialists include:

  • People trying to launch second careers
  • Individuals trying to launch new careers after life-changing injuries

As with many counseling-related jobs, a master’s degree in psychology could be advantageous. However, most vocational rehabilitation specialist positions are available to those with bachelor’s degrees.

4. High School or College Counselor

High school or college counselors are similar to youth counselors. They have many of the same duties, but they also have different responsibilities pertaining to high school or college environments rather than clubs.

For example, high school counselors:

  • Help to negotiate disagreements between two students
  • Offer emotional or other support to high school students who have complicated home lives
  • Help high school students determine where they want to go to college, if applicable
  • Provide career counseling services to high school students
  • Help high school students make the most of their time at school

College counselors primarily work with older adults. Their responsibilities may include:

  • Helping young college students narrow down their major options or determine their career paths
  • Connecting college students to therapeutic or psychiatric resources
  • Providing limited counseling services to college students (though they cannot typically prescribe medication)

High school and college counselors require a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or related fields. Master’s degrees in these subjects may qualify an applicant for employment in more competitive positions.

But in any case, high school or college counselors provide essential services to students. These positions are great for degree holders who love to connect with young people and make a difference in their lives.

5. Marriage and Family Counselor

Marriage and family counselors are specialized professionals who hold master’s degrees in counseling or related subjects.

Both marriage and family counselors earn salaries well over six figures. These specialists provide essential assistance to many Americans. They are ideal jobs for those who like to connect deeply with their patients and bring people tangible emotional benefits.

Marriage Counselor

Marriage counselors exclusively work with married couples. They can work for social services, in independent practices, or with the courts. Marriage counselors often include responsibilities such as helping couples:

  • Work through shared trauma or stress
  • Learn how to communicate more clearly and healthily with one another
  • Resolve their issues, especially before divorce or separation

To-be divorced couples are sometimes required to visit marriage counselors before finalizing paperwork. MFT counselors have huge responsibilities for their clients’ wellness and emotional health. That’s why marriage counselors always have master’s degrees under their belts. Students have to complete dedicated master’s degree programs and acquire state licensure before they can begin working in this field. They study topics like marital therapy, human sexuality, couples therapy, etc.

Family Counselor

Family counselors are similar to marriage counselors. Many marriage therapy programs are titled “family and marriage counseling” or similar names. Family counselors focus more on family dynamics and work with more than two people to alleviate issues. Their responsibilities might include but are not limited to:

  • Implementing family therapy sessions or projects to help facilitate and promote honest discussions
  • Assisting families to work through historical or emotional issues that hinder conversation and emotional growth
  • Performing family assessments to identify which areas or people are responsible for the most discord

Like marriage counselors, family counselors have to get a master’s degree in counseling. Typically, they acquire degrees specializing in family counseling or a related topic. Like marriage counselors, family counselors must also earn state licensure to practice independently or for another organization.

6. Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists also frequent legal master’s degrees in counseling, psychology, or similar fields. All sports psychologists work closely with sports teams or leagues. Their primary jobs are to help athletes overcome emotional and mental obstacles to perform better in the field.

Like many other master’s degree counseling jobs, sports psychologists must also get state certification to practice. Many sports psychologists pursue further education and get PhDs in counseling or sports psychology.

Regardless, sports psychologists earn decent salaries and perform invaluable services for major sports teams. Their job duties often include:

  • Coaching players on the right mental and emotional mindsets for top-tier performance
  • Helping players and coaches get along or communicate more clearly
  • Helping coaches identify which players need the most help or emotional support
  • Assisting players when dealing with personal or family turmoil

Sports psychologist positions are great fits for counseling majors who like sports or athletics.

7. Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors are some of the most counseling careers for those with degrees in counseling. This in-demand profession primarily helps individuals manage their emotional health and overcome mental turmoil. Specifically, their job duties frequently include:

  • Diagnosing mental health conditions, including conditions requiring psychiatric support
  • Offering mental health assessments and tests
  • Treating certain mental health disorders

Note that mental health counselors cannot prescribe medication because they are not doctors. However, they may refer patients to psychiatrists or doctors and assist in that way. Mental health counselors are licensed to provide therapy, however.

They may utilize a variety of techniques to accomplish good mental health treatment outcomes, such as:

  • Cross-cultural counseling
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • General individual counseling
  • Psychotherapy

Note that one must acquire a master’s degree in mental health counseling to become a mental health counselor. Alternatively, students can pursue Ph.Ds. and become mental health counselors if the degree has a mental health specialization. State licensure is, of course, required to practice in this field.

8. Grief Counselor

Grief counselors are specialized counseling professionals who assist individuals suffering from grief and trauma. When a person needs help overcoming grief, such as the death of a loved one, they may visit grief counselors.

Grief counselors can help these individuals by employing healthy therapy strategies, including individual and group therapy. They allow clients to open up and share their feelings without judgment. With enough time, grief counselors guide their clients toward a point of catharsis. Grief counselors attempt to help their clients move on from loss and recover healthy habits and outlooks.

All grief counselors must have master’s degrees in counseling. Most grief counseling positions also require supervised practicum experience or specializations in grief counseling before an applicant is qualified.

As with many other counseling positions, students must acquire licensure to practice as grief counselors. These individuals perform vital services for some of the most at-risk individuals in society.

9. Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors are more crucial than ever, given rising drug and opioid abuse levels. These professionals primarily help individuals suffering from abuse addiction. They often perform duties including but not limited to:

  • An analysis of patient behavioral patterns to identify the root problems leading to substance abuse
  • Identifying effects of using dangerous substances
  • Showing patients how substance abuse affects their lives in tangible ways
  • Showing patients how to overcome substance abuse and bad habits
  • Connecting patients with helpful resources, such as counseling centers or psychiatrists

This counseling career requires a lot of supervised work experience before qualify for the position of substance abuse counselor. They also need master’s degrees in counseling with a substance abuse specialization, plus state licensure, to practice legally.

Substance abuse counselors can find employment at social work organizations, clinics, and private practices.

10. Pediatric Counselor

The last counseling career on our list is that of a pediatric counselor. Pediatric counselors are professionals who help young children overcome mental or emotional issues. They specifically focus on children:

  • With learning disabilities
  • Affected by traumatic life events, like a divorce or a death in the family
  • Who have one or more behavioral disorders, such as autism

Regardless, pediatric counselors provide invaluable support to families and children as they grow. They help kids to analyze problems and offer effective treatments for affected children. For example, a pediatric counselor may work with a child who has difficulty learning in a structured school environment.

With the pediatric counselor’s help, the child learns to sit still and pay attention through positive habits. The child then grows and develops normally in conjunction with their peers. If a patient’s issues persist through childhood, these counselors may refer patients to other counseling professionals or psychiatrists.

All pediatric counselors require a master’s degree from accredited universities to practice, plus state licensure. In some cases, students have to complete doctoral programs plus complete practice hours in clinical settings to become pediatric counselors.

Start your Counseling Career Today!

The above jobs are a great fit for a graduate with a degree in counseling. Counseling degrees are versatile, great for many industries and organizations, and should result in good pay over a career. If you have a degree in counseling, carefully consider your salary needs and personal preferences to identify the right job.

If you don’t yet have your degree, can help. We’ve got a diverse catalog of excellent online counseling programs. Many of these online programs are asynchronous, making the degrees as flexible as possible. Many can lead you to a counseling degree from the bachelor’s level and up. Check out our online program list today!

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