Elementary Counseling Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an elementary counseling degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD degree and potential careers.
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Studying Elementary Counseling: Degrees at a Glance

People with degrees in elementary counseling are typically employed as educators, academic administrators and clinical counselors. Clinical elementary school counselors help students succeed by identifying their strengths, problems and special needs and working with teachers and administrators to ensure that curriculums address these issues.

Employment of counselors in elementary and secondary schools is expected to grow by 19% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). All states require counselors in public schools to be licensed (also known as certified), which usually requires at least a master's degree in counseling, psychology or a related field.

Ph.D. programs specifically in elementary education aren't typically available. However, similar programs that cover (but do not specialize in) elementary education are available at the doctorate level, including a Ph.D. in Counseling, Counseling Psychology and Education with a specialization in counseling. Acceptance into these programs is typically quite competitive.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? - Individuals with or without a teaching certificate who want to become professional counselors
- Early childhood practitioners who work with young children
-Professionals with bachelor's or master's degrees who want to increase their knowledge and skills in elementary education or counseling
- People who want to work in academia
- People who want to work in elementary education policy, administration and research
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Clinical, counseling and school psychologists in elementary schools ($56,500)* - College professor ($74,900)*
- Elementary school administrator ($90,200)*
Time to Completion approximately 2 years (full time) approximately 5 years after master's degree (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Satisfy course requirements (approximately 40-60 credits)
- Complete practicum/internship requirements
- Maintain GPA standards
- Complete portfolio/research requirements
- Complete coursework as applicable (approximately 160 credits)
- Pass qualifying exam(s), if applicable
- Complete practicum/internship requirements
- Complete dissertation and/or independent study project, if applicable
- Complete research portfolio, if applicable
Prerequisites - Undergraduate degree in a related or unrelated field
- GPA requirements
- recent GRE scores
- Personal statement and/or letters of recommendation
- Courses in psychology and statistics (or ability to complete prerequisite coursework)
- Interview, if applicable
- Undergraduate/graduate transcripts
- Professional resume
- Personal statement and letters of recommendation
- Sample of scholarly writing, if applicable
- recent GRE scores
- Interview, if applicable
Online Availability Yes Rare, but related degrees are available

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Elementary Counseling

Elementary counseling master's degree programs emphasize counseling psychology theory, research and practice. Students in these programs will learn to conduct group and individual counseling sessions and track and measure the effectiveness of treatment. Most students pursue a Master of Education (M.Ed) degree with a specialization in counseling for children up to eight years of age.

The structure and requirements of master's programs in elementary counseling vary by academic institution and state requirements. Some programs may require students to have prior work experience and/or a teaching certificate, while others accept students from various backgrounds without any teaching experience.

Pros and Cons


  • Employment growth for elementary and secondary school counselors in the 2010-2020 decade is expected to be 19%, about as fast as the average for all occupations*
  • In most states, school counselors must have a master's degree
  • Elementary school counselors typically work a flexible schedule with a traditional two-month break in the summertime
  • Although it will likely be helpful to have a general understanding of psychology, many schools do not require students to possess a bachelor's degree in a related field


  • Every state has different requirements for certification and continuing education for practicing school counselors
  • School counselors may face ethical and legal challenges, including child abuse reporting and privileged communication
  • There are some barriers to entry, since some states may require elementary counseling professionals to submit to annual background checks, supervised assessments and professional development hours

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures)

Courses and Requirements

A typical elementary counseling master's program consists of 40-60 credits of required 'core' courses, electives and an internship/practicum that allows students to apply their newly acquired knowledge in a supervised real-world setting. Some programs also require students to compile a portfolio of relevant coursework, professional development milestones and field experience.

Core courses focus on personality and human development theories, foundations of counseling psychology, child and adolescent development, group counseling, legal and ethical issues and psychological interventions. Students that do not already have a teaching certificate may be required to complete additional courses before they can obtain certification.

Online Options

Online programs are widely available. Online programs typically include coursework and requirements that are similar to traditional master's programs, though they may offer more compressed or flexible curriculums.

There are a few caveats to keep in mind when researching an online master's degree in elementary counseling. First, licensing requirements vary in every state, so ensure that your degree will be accepted in your home state. Second, keep in mind that some schools may require distance learning students to occasionally attend programs on campus or participate in internship programs at local elementary schools. Finally, consider that some programs may only accept students that possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Consider joining a respected professional organization, such as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) or American Counseling Association (ACA). In addition to adding a credential to your resume, you can also take advantage of exclusive job boards, professional development activities and networking events.

Ph.D. Degree in Elementary Counseling

While Ph.D. programs in elementary education aren't typically available, individuals interested in elementary counseling can pursue similar Ph.D. programs in counseling psychology. Ph.D. programs typically balance theoretical and practical knowledge and skills to prepare students for professional positions in universities, academic research and administrative positions in schools. Pursuing a Ph.D. is especially appropriate if you'd like to become a subject matter expert in your field or work in academia. Students who are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in this field should ensure that their program is accredited by the American Psychological Association.

Pros and Cons


  • The Ph.D. is widely recognized as the best option for a post-secondary teaching career.
  • Academic institutions may provide grants to Ph.D. candidates to help offset housing and tuition costs
  • Graduate teaching assistantships, which typically offer a modest wage, may be available - keep in mind that these opportunities are highly prized and may be competitive
  • Class sizes in Ph.D. programs are generally small to allow professors to interact closely with students.


  • Acceptance into Ph.D. programs can be competitive, since only a handful of applicants are accepted each year
  • Because state and local budgets fund secondary education programs, recent budget cuts may have a lasting effect on employment prospects in academia
  • Every state has different licensing requirements that can pose a challenge for workers who move frequently or are unsure where they will settle down

Courses and Requirements

Courses will likely vary depending on the program, but you can generally expect classes in quantitative and qualitative methods in educational research, ethics and standards of psychological practice, cognitive and affective bases of behavior and biopsychology.

As a Ph.D. candidate, you'll typically have to obtain a passing score on a preliminary examination as well as prepare for a doctoral dissertation that you must research, write and present to a faculty panel. Additionally, you'll compile an educational portfolio of selected works that encompass your academic and professional development and complete an internship/practicum.

Online Options

Online Ph.D.s may not be available in elementary counseling; however, they're more widely available in related fields such as psychology. The coursework in online programs is generally very similar to that of a traditional academic institution. Online courses may focus on specific aspects of neuropathology, psychopathology and counseling tactics. You'll also likely need to complete a dissertation in an online program. Depending on your state, you may need to take continuing education courses throughout your career. Many of these courses are available online as well.

Stand Out with this Degree

If you want to work in academia, consider teaching opportunities while you're enrolled in your Ph.D. program. Though teaching assistant opportunities may be limited and competitive, you may be able to land a volunteer experience through a local non-profit organization. Or, if you're on a research track, take advantage of your school's science or medical journals to publish samples of your written work.

Degree Alternatives

Students who enjoy learning about counseling and psychology may also want to consider an alternate degree in marriage and family therapy. Although marriage and family counselors make approximately $10,000 less per year compared to elementary school counselors, they're expected to experience a 37% jump in job growth in the 2010-2020 decade.*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).

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