Some people know they are destined for helping people, and for you, that meant going straight into the study of counseling for your undergraduate degree. Counseling is indeed one of the most important careers and one that is becoming more important as people continue to place more value on mental health.
However, the career of a counselor isn’t particularly clear-cut. You have a bachelor’s degree in the field — is that enough to get a job? What kind of jobs can you get? When do you get to start working with clients and improving lives?
If you are confused about the next steps in your counseling career, you aren’t alone. Here’s a guide to help you find the way to the career of your dreams.
Jobs Using Your Bachelor’s Degree
It took you at least four years of diligent study to earn your bachelor’s degree, so it has to be good for something in your field. In truth, there are a handful of positions and paths for counselors who want to enter the workforce immediately after college without acquiring any additional credentials — but not all of them apply the knowledge and skill you gained with your specific degree program.
For instance, you can probably get a job working in various departments of a business, like HR, marketing or sales, though you might not be helping people in the way you envisioned during your studies. These unrelated entry-level business jobs might not seem ideal, but they will provide wages while you gain real-world experience and save up for a master’s program in counseling.
There are a few jobs you can acquire that are closer to counseling. For example, social workers often come from a background like yours, and they are undeniably professionals who help others. You could also work as a technician in a psychiatric or mental health facility, launch or work at a coaching practice, assist other counselors administratively or find entry-level business work in the non-profit sector.
It is possible to develop a full and rewarding career with just a bachelor’s degree in counseling — but most who are determined to provide counseling services recognize the need to return to school for advanced training.
Getting a Master’s
In most states, a master’s degree in counseling (or a similar field, like psychology or social work) is mandatory for licensure, which in turn is required before you can begin helping clients. Fortunately, a master’s degree requires only about two years of study, and you can earn a master’s in counseling online to maintain your current employment or gain greater flexibility in your education.
It’s common for master’s students to consider specializing in a certain field of counseling at this level of education. Some common fields include:
- Child and school
- Marriage and family
- Guidance and career
- Substance abuse
During your master’s degree program, you should actively engage with your peers and professors to grow your professional network. Then, after you graduate, you will have the contacts necessary to find counseling work — or launch a counseling business of your own. Counseling practices can be lucrative, but you do need a master’s degree, licensure and some business management experience to excel.
The process for counseling licensure varies from state to state — and from country to country. While some states merely require a certain level of education, others compel would-be counselors to take an exam, endure an internship period and pay a processing fee. However, once you jump through these hoops, you will be ready to apply for counseling jobs (or build your counseling practice) and help people like you have always envisioned.
During this process, you might also want to apply for membership to certain regional and national counseling groups, which will guide you through licensure, provide you access to a wider network of counseling professionals and keep you accountable with continued education. Groups like the American Counseling Association are outstanding resources throughout your counseling career, so you should take advantage of them.
Upper-Level Counseling Careers
Of course, you can always return to school for additional master’s degrees or your doctorate in counseling or a related field. While earning these higher credentials will likely disqualify you from entry-level work in fields outside counseling, it does reveal new career opportunities, such as research and education. You could help train a new generation of counselors or find new strategies and techniques to make counseling more effective. Though not necessary to work in the field, further education like this can open new doors in your counseling career.