If you’re a high school student eyeing a career in marriage and family counseling, you might wonder what you should be doing right now to start preparing for this vocation. You will ultimately need a graduate degree, along with supervised clinical experience and a passing score on a professional exam, to earn your marriage and family therapist license, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, high school isn’t too early for even underclassmen to begin thinking about college and career preparation.
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Take College Prep Courses in High School
You can’t become a marriage and family therapist without completing a higher level of education. Taking college preparatory coursework in all of your subjects of study can help you develop the skills you will need to succeed first in your undergraduate studies, then in your master’s degree program and finally in your work as a therapist. Ambitious students may also consider taking advanced and Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school. These challenging classes are more in line with the learning environment you will find in your college courses, and earning a passing score on an AP examination may allow students to begin earning college credits early. While AP courses have their benefits, they come with an intense, time-consuming workload. Rather than overloading their schedules by taking all AP courses, students may fare better if they strategically choose the most relevant AP classes offered.
How do you choose which AP or advanced courses to take? Classes in science, math and statistics may be beneficial for future studies in psychology. You may also choose other subjects that you enjoy and that can help you develop your communication skills.
Begin Studying Psychology, Sociology and Development
Many students get their first exposure to the behavioral sciences during high school. If your high school offers classes in psychology or sociology – the study of human thought and behavior and the study of group dynamics and behavior, respectively – then taking these classes can help you begin developing an introductory understanding of these fields. Some high schools also offer other classes that are relevant to a career in marriage and family counseling. For example, classes in parenting and child development can help high school students learn about family dynamics and the issues and decisions parents face in raising a family.
Your high school may offer an AP course in psychology, which would be highly relevant to your career path and allow you to see what college-level psychology classes will be like.
Look for Learning Opportunities Outside the Classroom
To better address stress in the adolescent community, many high schools offer peer counseling programs in which students help their fellow students through their struggles in academic, social and home environments. These programs often provide training to student volunteers, which makes them a great way to develop your listening, speaking and interpersonal skills. By acting as a peer counselor, you can make a difference in the lives of troubled students and gain your first experiences working in a counseling role.
The training provided in peer counseling programs can include everything from the symptoms of depression and anxiety to suicide prevention strategies.
Choose an Undergraduate Major
You might think that deciding on a marriage and family therapy degree program is all you need to do, but in fact, these specialized programs exist mainly at the master’s degree level. A more immediate decision you will have to make is what subject to major in as an undergraduate student.
Graduate programs in marriage and family therapy and related fields will usually consider applicants with a bachelor’s degree in most disciplines, according to the BLS. However, the more relevant your undergraduate major is, the more easily you will be able to get accepted into a master’s degree program and to successfully complete the graduate-level coursework expected of you. Students with an undergraduate background in psychology, social work, sociology, human development or family studies may have a more relevant foundation of knowledge for a marriage and family therapy degree program.
Few college majors would exclude a candidate from consideration for a marriage and family therapy degree program, but students with less relevant majors may need to explain, in essay format or during an interview, of why they are choosing this path.