Is a Counseling Degree Worth It?


Key Takeaways 

  • A counseling degree can lead to a fulfilling career but requires a commitment to ongoing education and licensure requirements.
  • Market demand for counselors is growing, but one must weigh the earning potential against the cost of education.
  • Choosing the right academic level and specialization in counseling is crucial for aligning with personal and professional goals.

    Introduction to Counseling Degrees

    Counseling as a profession is among the most rewarding, if challenging, occupations. Counselors empower individuals, families, and groups toward personal growth and well-being. But their profession can take a toll on their health, meaning proper self-care is a must. 

    Counselors perform the following general roles and responsibilities: 

    • Assess their client’s specific needs and challenges 
    • Diagnose their clients’ mental and emotional conditions. In some cases, a counselor can diagnose a psychological disorder for proper referral. 
    • Recommend proper intervention, including therapeutic strategies.  
    • Develop individualized mental health and well-being programs to prevent personal issues. 
    • Provide advocacy services, including effective access to resources. 

    Counselors must follow professional standards, too. These include confidentiality, informed consent, and cultural competence. 

    Featured Programs

    Most counseling occupations have above-average compensation. But the counseling degree value isn’t only in the money. Counseling as a profession has non-monetary rewards, including: 

    • You have plenty of opportunities to create positive change in your clients’ lives. 
    • Your local community benefits from your work with individuals and their families.
    • You will enjoy flexible working hours. But note that it can also be a 24/7 job, depending on your position. 

    In short, you can enjoy a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment. By helping others, you’re part of something larger than yourself. 

    Academic Levels of Counseling Degrees

    Colleges and universities offer counseling programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Each degree level has its pros and cons that you must consider.


    But if you want to test the waters first, you can earn a certificate in counseling first. You will gain specific knowledge about counseling in as little as 12 months. Note that while it means affordable and quick entry into counseling, it may not be enough.

    Associate Degree

    The two-year associate degree is an introduction to the basics of counseling. Students learn the fundamentals of psychology and basic counseling skills. The lower cost and shorter time-to-completion make it a popular entry point.

    Graduates qualify for support roles. Promotions are usually within reach with a bachelor’s degree.

    Bachelor’s Degree

    The four-year bachelor’s degree provides a more comprehensive understanding of counseling. Students learn about psychology, counseling techniques, and human development.

    Graduates qualify for entry-level and mid-level positions beyond the support roles. Note that licensure requirements include a master’s degree.

    Master’s Degree

    The two-year master’s degree opens opportunities for licensure and, thus, leadership positions. Students receive specialized education and training in their chosen concentrations.

    But, the cost and time commitment can be a hindrance. Keep your eye on the prize to overcome its challenges.

    Doctoral Degree

    The terminal degree can take 4-7 years to earn. The cost of education and intensive commitment can result in dropping out.

    But earning it leads to opportunities in clinical, research, and academic positions. These leadership opportunities come with high earning potential, too.

    Regional accreditation is a must for every degree level. Look for programmatic accreditation, too, such as from:

    • Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (or CACREP)
    • Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (or MPCAC)

    Accreditation is necessary for quality assurance, credit transfers, and licensure eligibility. Federal and state financial aid programs are also available in accredited institutions.

    On the topic of counseling licensure, it’s a must for career success. Being a licensed counselor breeds trust among clients and establishes professional credibility. 

    On another note, is an online counseling program worth it? This is a valid question, considering that on-campus programs are more popular. The answer is, “Yes, it is.” The best online counseling programs have the same curriculum and instruction quality. There’s no distinction made on the diploma, either. 

    Both accredited on-campus and online programs emphasize internships and supervised clinical hours. These hands-on learning experiences strengthen students’ practical knowledge and skills. 

    Career Pathways with a Counseling Degree

    The great thing about the counseling profession is the wide range of specializations. Each of these specializations targets a specific area and population. 

    • Mental health counselors emphasize mental health issues and their therapeutic interventions. Note that a mental health career can be the most challenging. The negativity will take a toll, but your positive impact and self-care can offset it.
    • Substance abuse counselors help individuals and their families overcome addiction issues.
    • Marriage and family therapists focus on creating positive dynamics among couples and families. Their focus is always on family systems, even during one-on-one sessions.
    • Career counselors focus on career development, including career choices and job search.
    • School counselors aid K-12 and college students in their academic and personal success.
    • Rehabilitation counselors provide support for individuals with disabilities. These include physical, mental, emotional, and developmental disabilities. Their main goal is to enable individuals to enjoy independent lives. 
    • Grief counselors provide support for individuals dealing with bereavement and loss. 
    • Clinical therapists aid patients in overcoming their mental health issues. Their responsibilities include diagnosis of the condition and development of individualized treatment plans.  

    Choosing a counseling specialization increases your employment prospects and income potential. This is because counselors use different approaches and interventions based on specific situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy, integrative therapy, and humanistic therapy are popular. 

    Yet another great thing about a career in counseling is the diversity of workplaces. Counselors can work in the public and private sectors, including: 

    • Government agencies involved in social work and human services 
    • K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and other education and training companies 
    • Healthcare facilities like hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehabilitation centers 
    • Corporate settings, particularly as part of human resources management units 
    • Community agencies and nonprofit organizations offering mental health and other related services 

    Counselors with extensive professional work experience also work as independent practitioners. 

    Market Demand and Financial Considerations

    The excellent counseling job outlook means now is the best time for a counseling degree. The expected job growth for counselors ranges from 5% to 18% (2022-2032). Behavioral disorder counselors, substance abuse counselors, and mental health counselors have the highest projected job growth.

    Plus, the high earning potential makes counseling among the most attractive occupations. The average annual wages and top annual wages for popular counselor jobs are: 

    • Marriage and family therapists $58,510 and $104,710
    • Substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorder counselors, and mental health counselors $53,710 and $89,920
    • School and career counselors $61,710 and  $100,050
    • Clinical therapists $72,203 and $93,500

    Of course, your degree level, work experience, and position will determine your salary. In general, nonetheless, every higher degree level results in higher income potential. 

    According to BLS, median weekly earnings based on degree level are: 

    • Associate degree –  $1,058
    • Bachelor’s degree – $1,493
    • Master’s degree – $1,737
    • Doctoral degree – $2,109 

    But a college education doesn’t come cheap either. Even an associate degree costs at least $4,000 at community colleges. 

    As for a bachelor’s degree, the average tuition ranges from $19,700 to $38,800, depending on the type of institution. Earning a master’s degree is even more expensive at $59,684 on average. A PhD degree has the highest cost at $81,900 on average. Many PhD holders have nearly equal student loan debt and cost of education.

    The high cost of education makes it necessary to apply for financial aid. Filing your FAFSA is the first step since it’s necessary for federal and state aid. Finding scholarships, grants, and work-study programs is a must. Check out military education benefits and employer tuition assistance programs, too. 

    So, does a counseling degree pay off? Yes, it does. But you must leverage it to your advantage, too. A counseling degree is but a tool in your hands. How you use it will determine its true value. 

    Making the Decision: Is a Counseling Degree Right for You?

    Despite these rewards, pursuing a counseling degree demands careful thought and planning. Be sure to consider these factors during your decision-making process: 

    • Personal passion 

    You must have a genuine passion for giving advice and other forms of helping others. Being patient, compassionate, and resilient is useful, too. You must also have active listening skills because counseling is partly about listening and understanding. 

    • Desire for positive impact 

    Your future career success isn’t only about the monetary rewards. You must also have a deep desire for a positive impact on others. Even with the negativity surrounding your work, you must maintain a positive mindset. 

    • Preferred work environment 

    Sunshine and rainbows aren’t always present in the counseling profession. If you’re a pessimistic person, counseling may not be the best career. You must also be flexible and adaptable because counseling work doesn’t have a strict structure.

    In the end, counseling as a career has its ups and downs. You can be surrounded by negativity, but your clients’ positive progress makes it worthwhile. Just be sure that you’re also taking good care of yourself. As they say, you can only pour from a full cup.