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Exploring Careers and College Degrees in Professional Counseling

Thanks in large part to the fascinating subject matter, psychology is one of the most popular undergraduate majors in the United States. Students are often surprised that the material can be so interesting, and it may be a more enticing alternative than a hard science like chemistry or biology.

Quick Facts: Counseling Industry
Median Pay:   $47,091 per year | $23 per hour
Entry-Level Education:   Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience:   None
Number of Jobs, 2014:   840,000

Counseling Occupations:

  • Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists$68,900
  • Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors$39,270
  • Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors$53,370
  • Mental health counselors$40,850
  • Rehabilitation counselors$34,380
  • Marriage and family therapists$48,040
  • Counselors, all other$44,830

Many students are convinced that earning a bachelor's degree in the field will set them up to be professional counselors or even psychologists, but it is important to have a clear picture.

Find out which kinds of degrees in the field are available, what kind of careers can be pursued and whether counseling degrees are a good financial choice for students.

Earning Your Associate Degree

While a bachelor's degree may be a more popular undergraduate option for traditional students, earning an associate degree in the field can also be a good way to begin your education and train for a new career.

The average associate degree takes just two years to complete, and it can typically be done entirely online depending on the preferences of the student.

Along with a few general education courses, students might tackle the psychological aspect of human and child development, addiction, personal growth, grief and social cohesion.

Some of the many careers available to those who hold an associate degree in this field include that of mental health assistant, mental health advocate or psychological nursing assistant.

Earning Your Bachelor's Degree

The Princeton Review reports that psychology's allure makes it the second most popular choice of major at the bachelor's level for college students.

Being able to communicate well with other individuals, understand their needs and desires and then help them to reach their goals and objectives is a wonderful ability, and this degree seeks to teach students about why people behave the way they do in order to better understand it.

The bachelor's degree, like most others, can be earned from home thanks to online courses, and it takes roughly four years for the average student to complete the standard curriculum of 120 credits. Some of the courses that might come up on a syllabus are psychological research methods, perception, child development and personality theories.

A bachelor's degree is also the best way to prepare for any number of careers in the psychological field, some of which include human resource specialist, case manager or counseling aide.

Earning Your Master's Degree

Once students have completed their bachelor's degree, they may want to go on to earn an advanced degree such as the master's, which takes anywhere from one to two years to complete depending on the speed of the student as well as the university offering the program.

Earning a master's degree is the easiest way to become eligible for a variety of different positions in the field, and it also clearly correlates to much higher salaries. On a personal level, earning a master's degree lets you specialize in a niche area of the psychology field that interests you most.

For example, you might earn your degree on the psychological aspects in education, in families, in addiction and recovery or in behavioral problems among children.

At this level, the number of careers open is very diverse, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 12 percent increase in the country's demand for psychologists over the next decade. In order to work as a psychologist or counselor, however, expect to need to take a state exam or licensing exam as well as register yourself wherever you plan to practice.

Earning Your Ph.D.

In order to become either a clinical or research psychologist, rather than a counselor, you will typically need to earn a doctoral degree in the field. This can be a lengthy process, and it takes most students anywhere from three to seven years to complete.

Thankfully, however, this is yet another degree that can be easily completed online rather than at a more traditional college campus setting. A doctoral degree in psychology will allow you to conduct research in the field, publish your findings in medical journals, open up your own practice and see patients or be employed by countless organization and medical companies.

Types of Counseling to Consider

Working as a counselor is a broad phrase, and it may not accurately represent all of the different types of professional counseling careers that exist for individuals.

An educational counselor may work in a school or college, and their tasks can range from helping kindergarteners adjust to full-time education, helping high school students choose a suitable career for their future or determining how best to integrate gifted students into an ordinary classroom.

There are also addiction, intervention and recovery specialists that focus specifically on the physical and psychological aspects of an addiction. These addiction counseling professionals may help patients in recovery centers, or they could lead group therapy with the spouses of addicts to give them better tools for helping their loved ones. One of the fastest-growing counseling career is that of mental health counselors, which is predicted to grow at a whopping 29 percent between now and 2022.

Most Lucrative Career Options in the Field

Many students want to choose a career path that can specifically lead to lucrative employment in the future. In this field, that leaves several enticing options open, and it all depends on what subject matter interests you most.

Industrial-organizational psychologists, who work in large corporations, earn an impressive average salary of $83,580 with just a master's degree. Business Insider reports that forensic psychologists, on the other hand, are able to make an average salary of $85,000, and many of the highest-qualified in this field are able to make much more with certain government agencies.

In the field as a whole, psychologists earn an average of $90,020, which is certainly impressive.

If studying human nature interests you, and you want to have a career that allows you to communicate directly with others to help them, a college degree in psychology is the right step. Whether online or on a college campus, these degrees can help you prepare for a rewarding career in the field of psychology and counseling.