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!
Some counselors will make a career in higher education as director of a college or university counseling center. With some 4000 community colleges, colleges, and universities, there are a number of positions available. However, competition for directing a college or university counseling center is very competitive. Many counselors would like the opportunity to counsel college students and to have the regular breaks of an academic calendar.
Any counselor planning to become a director of a college or university counseling center should earn a doctoral degree. The preferred doctoral degree is the traditional PhD in counseling or clinical psychology, though counselors holding a doctorate in counselor education have made gains, especially at smaller institutions (say, 5000 full time equivalent [FTE] and below). There are master’s-level counselors serving as directors of college and university centers, though they mostly work at the community colleges and small colleges.
Issues to Understand
Becoming a director of a college or university counseling center requires planning your career in a strategic manner. Students in master’s or doctoral degree programs interested in directing a college counseling center should serve internship at a college counseling center. Most college and university counseling centers prefer counselors who have previous experience working in college counseling centers. Directors of college counseling centers usually have spent several years working in college counseling centers before becoming directors. Therefore, it is likely that you will need to earn a doctoral degree, serve an internship in a college counseling center, and then get hired and work several years in a college counseling center before becoming a director. Sometimes, roles such as training director or assistant director are prerequisite for becoming a director.
Most college counseling centers still prefer directors who hold a doctorate in counseling or clinical psychology (particularly large institutions), though doctorate-level counselors have made inroads into university counseling centers, particularly at smaller institutions and community colleges.
Directors of college counseling centers will need to be well versed in crisis counseling (witness the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois), sexual trauma, anxiety and depression, addictions, eating disorders, and major mental illness, in addition to traditional issues of homesickness, career development, and running counseling groups.
Best Aspects of the Job
Some of the best aspects of directing a college counseling center are the satisfaction of working with bright, motivated, creative clients. These clients, however, will struggle with the same types of mental health issues as clients in other settings, though they will be more optimistic due to their level of education and the fact that they are more excited about their future compared with the average client at a community mental health agency.
Directing a college counseling center also puts the director into organizations that can provide a lot of support and consultation. The Association of College and University Counseling Center Directors is composed entirely of college counseling directors and holds an annual conference. The American College Counseling Association (ACCA), a division of the ACA, is open to all college counselors (and in fact any counselor), and this organization holds a conference every 2 years. Both organizations operate list-serves, and ACCA publishes a journal twice a year. Directors of college counseling centers should join both these organizations.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
Veteran directors (those who have been in the field for 15 years or more) will likely tell you that their jobs have gotten more difficult, given the apparent increase in mental disorders among college students (Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004). In the previous era, counselors could focus on developmental issues such as college adjustment, test anxiety, career indecision, and basic depression (certainly suicide prevention has always been a concern). Today’s campus seems more volatile with crisis intervention a regular issue. Sexual trauma seems commonplace, and anxiety and depression appear to be the norm in students presenting for counseling at college centers (Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004).
Directors of college counseling centers will also be asked to provide detailed statistics of their effectiveness, number of clients counseled, presenting issues, and so on. Staff at many college counseling centers will also be required to serve in an evening and weekend on-call capacity and will at times require after-hours work on the phone or going out to counsel a client in person.
Occupational Outlook and Salary
BOLS does not report figures for the number of directors of college and university counseling centers. However, given that there are some 4000 colleges and universities in the United States, the readers can get some idea of the number of director positions available (very small). Salary figures also are not reported, though we know larger institutions will usually pay better than smaller ones (wealthy, small, private colleges are an exception). Competition for a director position will be stiff, depending on the location of the institution. A director position at a good-sized university in a desirable area of the country will garner more applications than at a small, state college in an isolated part of the country.