A doctoral degree typically demands a large investment of time and money. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of school and career counselors to grow by 13% from 2016 to 2026. Ph.D. graduates can also find jobs working as professors or counseling consultants.

This guide explores what students can expect from an online Ph.D. in school counseling and the possible career paths available to graduates.

What to Expect in an Online Ph.D. in School Counseling Program

Online Ph.D. programs in school counseling usually share many of the same components: advanced coursework, research methods courses, and a dissertation. However, the specific details vary based on the school. This section presents an overview of common school counseling degree requirements.

Admission Requirements for a School Counseling Doctoral Program

To apply for an online Ph.D. in school counseling, prospective students usually need a master's degree in counseling or a related area. Doctoral programs prefer candidates with master's degrees accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Applicants should send in their transcripts from all postsecondary coursework. Although doctoral programs may not always require applicants to evidence a minimum GPA, prospective students can increase their chances of admission with competitive GPAs of 3.0 or higher.

Applicants may need to submit GRE scores, a resume or CV, two or three references, and a statement of purpose. Admissions departments may require candidates to participate in interviews, and distance learning students often complete these interviews through a virtual means like Skype or video conferencing. Additionally, prospective students may need to pay an application fee.

Sample Courses for an Online Ph.D. in School Counseling

When entering a Ph.D. program in school counseling, students should have already passed foundational courses in their undergraduate or master's degrees. Because of this, doctoral degrees consist entirely of upper-level courses that focus on theory and practice. Distance learners must also take several research courses as part of their dissertation requirements, including advanced quantitative or qualitative methodology courses. Students may receive course credit for supervised clinical experience, internships, or research.

Advanced Counseling Theories

This course takes an in-depth look at counseling theories, including traditional methodologies and more contemporary, non-Western methods. Students explore rational emotive behavioral therapy in addition to psychoanalytic, solution-focused, and person-centered theories of counseling. Learners analyze how these theories might work in various educational settings with different populations like kindergarteners and university students.

Social and Cultural Issues in Counseling

School counselors typically work with a diverse student population that includes learners of all races, ethnicities, family structures, sexual orientations, gender identities, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This course equips future counselors with theories and methodologies needed to connect with and guide all students, no matter their identity.

Advanced Group Counseling

Group counseling requires different methodologies than individual counseling sessions. Learners in this course delve into various group counseling theories and approaches. They analyze the facilitator's role in addition to the variability of group dynamics and how a group can aid individual progress.

Program Leadership and Evaluation

This course prepares students to lead and evaluate school and university counseling programs. Course material focuses on program evaluation models and methods, but students also learn about ethical and legal issues that arise when leading counseling programs. Learners explore other essential concepts, such as funding sources and availability.

Advanced Research Methods

Ph.D. programs typically require doctoral students to take research methods courses before they begin dissertation research. Often, the curriculum includes quantitative and qualitative research methods courses. Students might take both or be allowed to choose one over the other. Research methods courses cover concepts like multivariate data analysis and other advanced statistical approaches.

Online Doctorate in School Counseling Completion Time

To earn a Ph.D. in school counseling online, students typically need to complete 60-66 credits. However, some programs require as many as 96 credits. Completion time largely depends on both the school and the student. Some distance learners may graduate in three years, but many take four or five years to finish all program requirements. Some programs may allow students to follow their own course schedule, while others require a structured cohort learning format. Full-time students can typically work through their dissertation and internship requirements at a much quicker pace than part-time students, who may juggle other life responsibilities in addition to schooling.

Completion time largely depends on both the school and the student.

Dissertation research can include unpredictable components. Students might need to reconduct research or reevaluate their methodology, which can also elongate degree completion time. Many programs put a cap on the number of years students can stay enrolled -- usually around eight years. However, some schools offer extension options.

Internship and Research Requirements for a School Counseling Degree

Online Ph.D. in school counseling programs usually require students to earn professional experience and complete a dissertation before they can graduate. Schools may require distance learners to participate in supervised internships or practicums and often expect students to complete two or three different work experiences in counseling, teaching, and supervision. Distance learners can generally find work opportunities within their local communities.

Distance learners can generally find work opportunities within their local communities.

School counseling doctoral candidates also complete original dissertation research, which may take a year or longer to complete. In addition, schools generally require students to take several research methods and dissertation preparation credits before they can begin their research. When they finish the research stage, learners defend their dissertation in front of a committee. Distance learners typically do this through conference calls.

Finally, some programs expect students to pass a cumulative requirement. This may come in the form of a cumulative exam or professional portfolio.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online School Counseling Graduates

Graduates with school counseling degrees often pursue careers as school counselors or psychologists. Many graduates of this degree, however, find jobs in other settings, such as working with children at clinics or teaching and conducting research at universities. Regardless of the occupation, all professionals in school counseling or psychology should possess patience, empathy, and good interpersonal skills.

The table below outlines some common positions for graduates with online Ph.D.s in school counseling. For an in-depth look at potential careers in school psychology, read more here.

School Psychologist

School psychologists work in elementary and secondary schools aiding students with behavioral and developmental disorders. They often work one-on-one with students to help them deal with educational challenges and evaluate their overall performance. School psychologists can also consult with teachers and administrators to create strategies for teaching kids effectively.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

School Counselor

School counselors work with a greater population of students compared to school psychologists. While school psychologists help children with disorders, counselors guide all students. School counselors can work in elementary, middle, and high schools. They help students succeed academically and may give advice to students dealing with personal or family crises.

Median Annual Salary: $56,310

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists diagnose and develop treatment plans for clients experiencing behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. They often treat patients through psychotherapy programs. Professionals who studied school counseling might work with a specific age group, such as children or teenagers. Unlike school psychologists, clinical psychologists typically work in hospitals and clinics.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychologists diagnose and help patients through treatment. Counseling psychologists often focus on patients with high-risk disorders. These professionals may help patients through counseling sessions and may also take a more humanistic and client-centered approach.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

Postsecondary Teacher

A doctorate may allow graduates to stay in academia and become postsecondary teachers at colleges and universities. Professors design and teach courses. These professionals also publish research papers in scholarly journals.

Median Annual Salary: $78,470