One of my best professional experiences was pursuing a graduate degree in counseling – my experience as a graduate student taught me so much about myself, how to effectively support those around me, and the types of environments in which I thrive. Many students and alumni look to pursue graduate counseling degrees – but not all programs are the same. In addition, some of the factors one should always consider when researching graduate schools of any type (i.e. cost, academic tracks, faculty research interests, online versus in-person, etc.), here are a few additional factors I recommend keeping in mind when assessing fit in counseling programs specifically:
- CACREP Accreditation: CACREP stands for the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. By securing this accreditation, a program shows prospective and current students that it meets professionally-approved standards, has undergone a rigorous review, and meets academic criteria in the field. Starting your search for programs with CACREP accreditation ensures that you begin your experience in becoming a professional counselor with nationally-recognized academic standards. A directory of CACREP-accredited programs can be found here.
- Support with internships, practicums, and other experiential learning opportunities: A huge part of any academic program is experiential learning – or the opportunity to engage in the field of practice outside of traditional classroom environments. Counseling programs are certainly no exception; and the best programs will include support for students in seeking internships, practicums, volunteer opportunities, shadowing, and other ways to gain more insight about the profession and one’s ideal place in it.
- Licensure support: In order to become a professional counselor, individuals must undergo a licensure process, which often includes a formal exam and application to an oversight group or board. Programs should have faculty or staff support in place to help students through this process at both the state and national level – be it the application process itself, study support for licensure exams, or other methods of student engagement in this important process.
When seeking a graduate program in counseling, look beyond just learning the academic fundamentals of the field – thinking about accreditation, experiential learning, and licensure prior to enrolling in a program can make a world of difference in becoming a professional counselor and supporting clients through the most joyful and trying of times.