A counseling career can bring great personal satisfaction as well as interesting challenges. People choose this profession for many reasons. Foremost among them is altruism, and many people also go this route because it affords them a healthy sense of control. Regardless of their reasons, any counselor will gain tremendously by choosing a graduate program that is in line with their personal aspirations and provides personal growth while students acquire the necessary skills and abilities.
When seeking a graduate program, students should review the faculty with whom they will be working. Look for a diverse mix of teachers who represent good gender balance, ages, cultural backgrounds, theoretical orientations, teaching methodologies and personalities. The program can be an excellent opportunity to explore a variety of approaches and techniques. This is only possible when a rich diversity of perspectives can be explored. It’s also important to look for faculty that is capable of operating as a team. Faculty members who are supportive of each other foster an outstanding educational environment.
It’s also important to consider the philosophy behind the curriculum. Not long ago, most graduate programs adhered to a single clinical approach such as the psychoanalytic or the behavioral. It’s more common today to find programs that approach counseling from several perspectives. Unless the student already has a preferred method, an integrated program is the best choice.
The vast majority of counseling graduate students must choose a specialty. This is important because counselors focus their work in specific segments. Some will choose addiction counseling where their job is to work with people who have been affected by addictive behaviors. Others will pursue career counseling. In this subset, counselors help people explore their skills, aptitudes and interests to help them find meaningful work. Still other students choose clinical mental health or marriage, couple and family counseling. These professionals are trained to assist clients to deal with a variety of relationship and mental health issues. Other counselors advise students from elementary school through college in several ways. They may help young children work through growth and development issues or help high school students choose a college major. With so many areas in which it is possible to specialize, it’s important to look for a program that offers comprehensive coverage of the student’s chosen area.
One of the most important considerations when choosing a graduate program is accreditation. An institution’s accreditation is largely based on the quality of its faculty and the courses offered. Accreditation is provided to those schools that meet at least minimum professional standards. Graduate degree programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs are widely recognized as authoritative programs that offer a quality educational experience. Graduates of such programs will possess excellent credentials and be fully prepared for their professional role.
Prospective students might also consider the availability of on campus jobs or other programs that might help defray the expense of their education. Some of these jobs may relate directly to their course of study. Even if they do not, they still provide a valuable break on the cost of the program.
Location also is a major decision making factor for most students. Logistically, it is much easier to attend an institution that is close to home. This school may not take the approach that is most appealing to the student, meaning that the student must choose to balance logistics with the educational approach they prefer. An increasing number of students are choosing online graduate programs as a convenient alternative. Many prestigious institutions have long since recognized the need for online program delivery. As a result, students around the world are able to attend a counseling degree program that is distant from their homes that would not otherwise be an option. These programs provide remarkable flexibility as the student can often attend class at their convenience, leaving room for their other obligations.
Most graduate degree programs offer job placement assistance to the graduate. In fact, some will continue to provide such assistance throughout the counselor’s career. By finding an accredited program with outstanding faculty and a challenging curriculum, students will be well prepared to enter the counseling field.