In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Counseling in a medium-size university will somewhat follow the standards and practices in a large university, though with some differences. Here, we will consider the medium-size universities to range from 5000 to 15,000 FTE.
Most counseling center staff in this college category will hold a doctoral degree. PhD in counseling or clinical psychology will be the most common degree although staff holding a PhD in counselor education are not unusual. For “smaller” medium-size institutions (5000–7000 FTE), master’s-level staff are common and staff will consist of master’s-level counselors and social workers holding the master’s in social work (MSW) degree.
Issues to Understand in Medium-Size College Counseling Centers
Readers interested in counseling at a medium-size college or university should serve an internship at a college or university counseling center during their master’s and doctoral degrees. College and university counseling centers prefer to hire staff with a background in college counseling. Counselors who also have training and experience in addictions counseling, trauma counseling, medicine (e.g., a degree in nursing), and career counseling (as some centers will also provide career counseling), and experience working in the residence halls as a resident director (RD) or resident advisor (RA) will have an advantage in getting hired.
Counselors at a medium-size institution will deal with the same types of issues as their colleagues in large institutions, though with reduced staff and less doctorate-level staff. Many medium-size institutions have counseling centers that will use the DSM-IV-TR to diagnose, though they may not use it as a rule. Medium-size counseling centers may also provide career counseling as part of their service to the campus. It is likely that most of the counseling center staff will not hold an academic appointment and will not be expected to publish. The composition of the staff will largely be made up of psychologists (PhD and PsyD), though counselors are not uncommon, and most typically at the master’s degree level. The staff at medium-size universities will also spend a lot of time addressing anxiety, depression, trauma, suicide prevention, medical issues, career concerns, roommate issues, family issues, homesickness, and other developmental concerns. Medium-size counseling centers may also provide outreach to the campus community in the way of psychoeducational trainings on eating disorders, sexual orientation, managing stress, and so forth.
Best Aspects of the Job
For anyone working in a college or university counseling center, one of the best benefits is counseling a mostly motivated, optimistic population. While counselors at the college level will address many of the same issues as in community mental health settings, they are likely to have a higher success rate due to a more functional population (better education, more resources at hand, and an idealistic time of life for many students, etc.). Most counselors at medium-size institutions will have a 9- to 10-month contract and have ample time off for recreation.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
Students at all institutions will deal with a good amount of stress due to academic, career, personal, family, and health concerns. Depression, anxiety, and addictions are the “big three,” as many in the field of college counseling call them. Suicide prevention is also a reality for anyone working in college counseling, as are eating disorders, self-mutilation, and loneliness. Virtually all college counseling centers will struggle with inadequate staffing needs, as demand will usually exceed supply, meaning a waiting list to see counselors.
Occupational Outlook and Salary
The occupational outlook and salary are difficult to discern as all counselors in collegiate settings are grouped together, but a perusal of the student affairs section of the BOLS Occupational Outlook Handbook (2010–2011) indicated a growth rate of only 2% for all college counselors. This translates into it being very competitive to land a job in a medium-size college counseling center. Salaries have a median of $43,980 (2010–2011) and will likely range from say, low $30,000 to the mid $50,000. Once again, readers interested in working in a mediumsize college or university counseling center should plan their career strategically by serving an internship in a college counseling center during graduate school.