A master’s degree is required to gain certification as a professional counselor. According to the American Counseling Association, common specializations of this higher degree include:
- Addiction Counseling
- Career Counseling
- Clinical Mental Health or Community Agency Counseling
- Marriage Counseling
- Couple and Family Counseling
- School Counseling
- Student Affairs and College Counseling
- Gerontological Counseling
- Counselor Education and Supervision*
But for many individuals, enrolling in a full-time program at a physical location can be challenging, particularly for those who already are working full- or part-time or have personal responsibilities that make a structured schedule difficult at a set location or campus. However, thanks to modern technology, online degree programs make it easier than ever for students at any stage of life to pursue a higher education.
Whether a person already is working in a related field or is looking to change careers altogether by completing a higher degree, aspiring counselors who are interested in pursuing a master’s degree should consider five advantages of completing their degree in an online program:
1. Flexible schedule
One of the primary advantages of an online degree program is that some, if not most, of the coursework can be completed at the time and place of the student’s choosing. For example, a person who works during the day can do coursework and listen to lectures at night. This option also applies to someone who is busy shuttling kids to and from after-school activities. Regardless of where students may live and work, online graduate students manage their schedules to meet their professional goals to become professional counselors through degree programs offered online.
“Anyone can find time if they make the time, whether it’s in the morning or at the end of the day, whether I’m unwinding or in bed […], I can get online and devote whatever time I have for myself to counseling which has been wonderful”, said Angela Sheets, a student in the online Master of Arts in Counseling program at Bradley University. “It’s really worked with my schedule.”
What works for one individual may not work for everyone; however, pursuing an online degree program can give students greater flexibility to manage their own schedule based on individual needs.
2. Decreased overall costs
Though tuition for an online degree typically is comparable to that of a program completed at a physical location, students save overall costs in a variety of ways. One major financial advantage is that online learning eliminates the costs associated with commuting. Because students do not need to travel to a physical location, they can save on gas, parking passes and expenses.
3. Virtual skills
In the current digital age, virtual skills are critical in most any field. By pursuing a counseling degree online, students are able to develop these important skills, improving their online communication abilities and knowledge of the latest virtual tools. These skills will enable students to more effectively interact with clients, coworkers, employers and others when they begin working as a counselor after graduation.
4. Engaging class discussions
When a student is in a traditional classroom, discussion is limited to the time in which all the participants are at the same physical location. However, in an online degree program, conversations related to the course material evolve over time and add many perspectives to lesson prompts, which are further monitored by professors. Discussion boards and synchronous video tools allow students to ask questions and add comments that they wish to share, as well as to respond to the thoughts of others. Synchronous video tools enable professors to have an online classroom that explains materials and provides clarification on difficult concepts to aid students’ learning. This option allows students and faculty to come together from many locations and time zones at pre-scheduled times. Professors also can post recordings of these sessions for students who could not attend, efficiently “flipping” the classroom and emphasizing active learning.
5. Increased retention
People learn in different ways. Though one student may retain information very well from listening to lectures, others may find that the exact opposite is true and prefer to see information through written texts. Many students find that the format of online learning actually helps them to retain more information.
U.S. News and World Report contributor Lila Romero, an online graduate student herself, reported that the multimedia approach used in online programs — accomplished through tools such as video lectures, webinars and infographics — helps students to assimilate materials in ways that meet their learning styles and preferences.
If a student still has trouble retaining the course material the first time through, it is not a problem. Lectures and other information are accessible easily online and can be reviewed at any point along the way.
*Only for Ph.D. programs