Becoming a counselor and working with youth is a very rewarding career path that calls on a number of different skills. It presents an exciting opportunity to work with young people, to make a real difference to their lives and their futures. Fortunately, the process of qualifying as a counselor, obtaining a license to practice, and opening up shop is fairly straightforward. There are four simple steps that will take you from an absolute novice to qualified counselor.
Earn an undergraduate degree
Most graduate courses in counseling will require prospective students to hold an existing bachelor’s degree and a grade point average (GPA) of around 3.0 in any major. Due to the nature of counseling work, many institutions prefer students to have a background in psychology, so you should consider taking an undergraduate course in this field. There are a wide variety of psychology-based courses that you can study, even if you take a psychology course as a minor and major in a different subject it will help enormously with future applications.
Earn a masters degree
The gold standard for counseling qualifications in the United States is the master of arts in counseling (MAC) and this is the course that you should aim for if your intention is to become a licensed counselor. You can now choose to complete your MAC degree online, which not only saves you money compared to an on-campus course but also allows for you to work while you study. An online counseling degree is a great choice for those who are looking for a new career but don’t have the time to go to college. Online courses can be completed at the student’s own pace and so there is far less pressure for students who have other commitments.
While studying for your master’s degree, you should also look for opportunities to complete an internship. Many courses will require this as part of the final semester, but it is never too early to start logging hours. Any experience you can muster will look great on your resume further down the line. Internships give students an opportunity to hone their skills without the pressure of being judged or graded. You can also use your internship as an opportunity to witness counselors working in the same area that you hope to ultimately specialize in.
Obtain your license to practice
Most states will require you to take a special exam, on top of having your master’s degree, before they will issue you with a license to practice. Generally, applicants will also be required to log anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of clinical experience, under supervision.
While studying for your master’s degree, you will be able to hone your studies in on the specific area that is of interest to you. For those looking to work with LGBTQ teens, try and look for opportunities to do some interning alongside counselors who work with youth organizations during your master’s degree. Training to become a counselor opens the door to a long and rewarding career making a real difference to people’s lives.