Earning a four-year undergraduate degree, at a top liberal arts school, is the first step in your education toward becoming a mental health counselor (MHC). A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter the required master’s level program afterward. If you did earn an undergraduate degree in a field such as education, psychology, social work, or sociology, your studies will be a benefit when pursuing your master’s degree. Most undergraduate degree programs require a blend of science (visit our STEM degrees article) and liberal arts courses. By your junior year of college, you’ll typically have chosen your track—whether that’s psychology, education, sociology or something else—and be ready to take electives in your degree of choice.

One avenue at the undergraduate level is to enroll in a program that offers a Bachelor of Arts or Science in Psychology with an emphasis or concentration in Mental Health. A program of this type offers you a broad overview of several areas of psychology.  A typical curriculum with an emphasis on psychology will have courses in: Abnormal Behavior, Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, and Research Methods. The average four-year Bachelor’s program requires the completion of 120 credit hours, inclusive of core and/or prerequisites, electives, major credits, and general education courses. Or there are schools offering programs to earn a faster online Bachelor’s degree.

Those who desire to make mental health counseling a career will be best served to advance to the next level academically. This means earning your  master’s degree either on-campus or through one of many accredited online master’s degrees in mental health counseling. As mentioned above, there are different degree choices available that are acceptable for admissions into a graduate program. Before launching into your master’s program, it’s imperative to study each school’s admission requirements. Each leaning institution has its own specific admission qualifications. This is an example of the admission requirements of a typical master’s program in mental health counseling:

  1. Bachelor’s degree from an institution accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency or an internationally recognized institution.
  2. Your official bachelor’s transcripts, minimum grade point average of 2.7 or higher on a 4.0 scale. If your official transcript has a grade point average below 2.7 on a 4.0 scale.

Some schools may require proof of passing the Graduate Record Examination. Many prospective graduate and business school applicants from all around the world who are interested in pursuing a master’s, MBA, specialized master’s in business or doctoral degree take the GRE General Test. GRE Test centers are available at more than 1,000 locations in more than 160 countries. Another admission’s mandate may be two letters of recommendation completed by professionals who can assess your aptitude for graduate education in counseling.

Another aspect of the master’s programs is that toward the end of your academic program, you’ll complete a clinical experience, often referred to as practicum or internship. This provides you with the opportunity to put into practice what you’ve learned in your coursework and residency experiences. Your foundation in counseling theories and techniques with specialty courses in issues in mental health counseling will now be displayed.  The practicum is in addition to the average 60 credit hour curriculum.

The counseling practicum is a vital part of the master’s curriculum. Students must secure a field experience site and earn approval before being eligible for practicum enrollment. For online students, these may be taken at or near your place of residency, subject to your school’s consent.