For example, jobs in substance abuse counseling generally require only a bachelor's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), substance abuse counselors earn a median salary of $44,630. The BLS projects the number of substance abuse counseling positions to increase 23% from 2016-2026, making it one of the fastest-growing career fields in the nation.

An undergraduate online counseling degree is ideal for students planning to pursue graduate education and for those intending to enter entry-level positions after graduation. Counseling professionals help others heal, grow, and reach their full potential, and many professionals in the field report high personal and professional satisfaction.

What to Expect in an Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program

This guide explores the anatomy of an accredited online counseling degree. The sections below outline key learning outcomes, include sample course descriptions, and compare online and on-campus experiences. Specific program requirements vary slightly depending on the school and program.

Sample Courses for an Online Bachelor's in Counseling

Students earning an online bachelor's degree in counseling develop the theoretical knowledge and practical skills they need for entry-level work and advanced education. Learners enhance their critical-thinking and communication skills while gaining a working knowledge of psychology and counseling theory, methods, and concepts. Many of the top online bachelor's degrees in counseling are available through Christian universities, which integrate religious values and perspectives into major coursework. Most online counseling degrees require an internship and/or capstone project.

Abnormal Psychology

Often structured as a survey course, this class introduces students to the descriptions and classifications of major psychiatric and behavioral disorders. Learners gain foundational knowledge through individual study and group discussion of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of common mental disorders.

Crisis Intervention

This course introduces students to the theory of crisis intervention. Coursework explores intervention models and may focus on short-term crises, long-term crises, or both. Students develop practical skills in crisis interviewing and counseling. Learners become familiar with assessment strategies for crises including depression, suicide, substance abuse, trauma, and sexual or physical abuse.

Theories of Personality

This introductory course promotes the identification and study of key personality theorists and their major theories. Learners examine the strengths and limitations of each theory. Coursework may also explore personality development, research, and assessment, and how popular personality theories have influenced modern psychology and culture.

Diversity Issues in Counseling

This course introduces students to personal, cultural, political, and societal factors that impact both large populations and individual counseling clients. Coursework helps learners develop ethical sensitivity and prepares students to provide effective counseling care.

Counseling Techniques

By applying counseling theory to practical scenarios, students develop skills in professional, interpersonal communication. Students learn to define client problems and guide counseling sessions. Online counseling schools may offer this course as an introduction to counseling techniques or as a study of techniques focused on a specialization, such as marriage counseling.

Online Bachelor's in Counseling Completion Time

On average, full-time students need four years to complete the 120-130 credits required to earn a bachelor's degree in any discipline. The time necessary to complete an online counseling degree depends on the student's transfer credits and scheduling preferences, along with the program structure.

Students can satisfy up to half of their bachelor's requirements by transferring in an associate degree, reducing their degree completion time. Many online programs follow a cohort model, which requires students to enroll and progress through courses as a group. On the other hand, individually paced programs allow students to complete the curriculum at their own pace and potentially graduate more quickly. Additionally, each student's enrollment status impacts degree completion time; full-time learners generally graduate more quickly than part-time students.

Skills Gained in an Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program

An online bachelor's degree in counseling helps learners gain fundamental knowledge and skills to prepare for careers or further education in the field. Coursework and group discussions foster the development of communication, research, and critical-thinking skills. Students apply learned skills during a final internship or capstone project, which may involve an on-site experience or independent research project.

  • Communication

    The ability to listen to, understand, and effectively respond to diverse clients is the hallmark of a high-quality counseling professional. These professionals understand that effective communication fosters human growth.

  • Critical Thinking

    Counseling professionals need strong critical-thinking and analytical skills to diagnose client problems, develop workable solutions, monitor progress, and adjust personalized treatment plans. Research: The fields of counseling and psychology are in constant development. Professionals must understand how to conduct and analyze research to keep up with industry developments, legal and ethical issues, and breakthroughs in the field.

  • Research

    The fields of counseling and psychology are in constant development. Professionals must understand how to conduct and analyze research to keep up with industry developments, legal and ethical issues, and breakthroughs in the field.

Online vs. On-Campus Programs: What's the Difference?

The primary difference between online and on-campus programs is simply the way learners access information. On-campus students learn in classrooms, while distance learners access course materials and assignments through a website. Curricula and learning outcomes are the same, regardless of format. Even the cheapest online counseling degree provides students with the same quality education as its on-campus counterpart.

Online students typically complete internships and other on-site requirements at an approved location near their home. To promote flexibility, many online programs allow students to complete capstone projects instead of internships.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Bachelor's in Counseling Graduates

An online bachelor's degree in counseling qualifies graduates to pursue a variety of job opportunities. Counseling professionals can enter nonclinical careers without earning a master's degree. Counseling students generally enjoy helping others, so many graduates seek opportunities in fields such as human resources, social services, and criminal justice. The table below includes popular careers for entry-level and advanced counseling professionals.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Also called addiction counselors, these professionals work with clients struggling with addiction. They may work with clients in one-on-one meetings or group sessions. Addiction counselors routinely evaluate clients and work with other health professionals to develop and monitor personalized treatment plans. A bachelor's is sufficient for many addictions counselor positions, though some require an advanced degree and certification.

Median Annual Salary: $44,600

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors work closely with patients to help them overcome difficulties caused by mental health problems. These counselors may specialize in a certain area, such as young adult therapy or senior care. Bachelor's degree holders can qualify for some mental health counseling positions. Clinical and private practice work requires a master's degree and licensure.

Median Annual Salary: $44,600

Correctional Treatment Specialist

Also known as case managers and correctional counselors, these professionals work closely with parole officers and individuals on parole or probation. Correctional treatment specialists develop rehabilitation and release plans, refer clients to counseling and social services, monitor their progress, and write case reports. These specialists need a bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $53,000

School Counselor

School counselors work closely with students, teachers, administrators, and parents to help students develop the academic and social skills required to succeed in school. Specific duties and approaches vary depending on the age of the students with whom the counselor works. School counselors need a master's degree and state certification.

Median Annual Salary: $56,300

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists counsel individuals, couples, and families facing psychological and/or relationship issues. These professionals assess each client's needs within the context of their relationships and help them develop and implement treatment or management plans. Marriage and family therapists need a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $50,100

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