Are you ready to discover your college program?
If you want to be part of a helping profession, like counseling, you probably want to start making a difference as soon as possible. While there are no shortcuts to becoming a professional counselor, there are some tips to complete these requirements more quickly.
Learn the fastest way to become a counselor by completing the necessary education and training and earning your license in this guide.
The Fastest Pathway to Becoming a Counselor
Each state has different requirements for becoming a counselor. The fastest way to become a counselor includes earning a master's degree, completing supervised experience requirements, and passing a national licensing exam. Still, you can take advantage of ways to speed the process.
Earn a Bachelor's in Counseling or a Related Field
You can accelerate earning a bachelor's degree by entering the program with advanced placement (AP) or other college credits, enabling you to graduate early. Typically, earning your bachelor's degree takes four years, but you may be able to finish a semester or even a year early with existing credits. Be sure that a school allows this before applying.
Earn a Master's in Counseling or a Related Field
You may be eligible for advanced standing (such as a joint bachelor's/master's program) or an accelerated program. Most master's programs take approximately two years, but you may be able to finish an accelerated degree in approximately 18 months.
Complete Post-graduate Supervision Requirement
In some states, you may be eligible for a non-clinical counselor license if you practice under a licensed clinical counselor. However, while this is one of the fastest ways to become a licensed counselor, your scope of practice and options will be limited. Some states may allow you to apply any post-graduate college credits toward supervised hours.
Pass Your National Licensing Examination
Applying early for the licensing examination can eliminate delays in scheduling the examination.
Popular Online Counseling Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
Alternative Pathways to Becoming a Counselor
You can also explore other counseling careers with fewer requirements. In some states, becoming a substance use counselor, peer counselor, or career counselor is the fastest way to become a counselor. These careers still require formal professional training, such as certification or a two-year associate degree.
Become a Licensed Counselor With a Bachelor's Degree
Some states, including Washington, allow you to become a certified licensed counselor with a bachelor's degree in a counseling-related field. Typically, you must pass the examination and have a signed supervision agreement. However, in this role, you may have a limited scope of practice and must work under a licensed counselor.
Work in a Counseling Field That Does Not Require Licensure
You can also look for fields related to counseling that are not regulated. Working at a youth organization such as a Boys & Girls Club can involve giving advice and guidance.
Life coaches are also not required to be licensed in any state, though you can make yourself more competitive by earning certifications or having a related degree.
While you cannot call yourself a professional counselor without a state license, you can still use counseling-related skills. Entering a non-regulated field is the fastest way to become a counselor, but you will not have the same in-depth knowledge that a formal training program provides. You can also not diagnose and provide treatment for mental health conditions without a license in counseling
Requirements for Becoming a Counselor
Regulations vary by state, but most states require at least a master's degree, supervised experience, and a national examination to become a licensed counselor. You may also need to pass an examination on your state's laws and regulations, called a jurisprudence examination.
- Education Requirements: Most states require a master's or a doctoral degree from an accredited program.
- Experiential Requirements: Most states require 2,000-3,000 hours of supervised experience. Some requirements are broad, while others are much more specific in the number of in-person hours, direct supervision hours, and other requirements. Check your state board for the fastest way to become a counselor and complete your supervised experience.
- Examination Requirements: In most states, you must pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) if the state offers an initial license, such as a professional counselor license. In general, you must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) to become a licensed clinical counselor.
The Difference Between a Licensed and Certified Counselor
Certification is a voluntary credential you can earn from an independent professional organization. A counselor certification has no legal right to practice associated with it. Instead, it shows that you possess relevant knowledge and skills.
The state government controls licensing, and earning a license authorizes you to practice in a field. In some circumstances, a state may accept a certification as partial proof of your credentials and give you a license based on the certification.
Licensed counselors have specific professional functions they can perform, called a scope of practice. Unlicensed counselors are limited in the roles they can perform professionally and how they market themselves.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Fastest Way to Become a Counselor
How long does it take to become a counselor?
Becoming a licensed professional counselor takes six years of college education and approximately 1-3 years of supervised experience. Other counseling careers, such as substance use counselors, require less education and do not require licensing.
Can you become a counselor online?
You can become a counselor online by earning an online degree, but you must complete your required fieldwork hours in person.
Can you become a counselor as a second career?
Yes, you can become a counselor as a second career, but you must complete formal education and earn a license.
How much can you make as a counselor?
The median salary for counselors is $58,4000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Page last reviewed on September 24, 2023