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 college or university counseling center will mirror the category of directors of college counseling centers with the exception that there will be far more positions available for line counselors. Still, competition for a college or university counseling center position will be stiff.

Degree Required

The preferred degree for college counselors is a doctorate in counseling or clinical psychology. But my experience is that counselors with doctoral degrees in counselor education, or master’s degree in various counseling fields (e.g., mental health counseling, addictions counseling) also are getting hired, particularly in smaller institutions (5000 FTE or less) and in community colleges where counselors are likely more numerous than psychologists. There are master’s-level counselors who staff college counseling centers, usually in small public and private colleges that pay less than their larger counterparts.

Issues to Understand

Readers interested in a career in college or university counseling should plan on earning a doctoral degree. Counselors should also serve an internship in a college counseling center since this is often a prerequisite for being hired into a college counseling center. As competition for such positions is stiff, counselors who are free to relocate to any part of the country will have a better chance of getting hired. Many college counselors take whatever initial college position they can find, work a few years, and then try to land a job in a more desired location.

Counselors with a background in addictions, depression and anxiety, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders diagnosis, and trauma, and who have experience working in a college counseling center, will be more desirable candidates. Many college counselors will also have a background working in college residential living or the dean of students’ office, both of which are advantageous, though not required.

Best Aspects of the Job

College and university counselors will generally get to work with bright, motivated, creative people, who for the most part are excited about their future. This will likely be more the case among college students than say, your typical community mental health clinic. College counselors also can join organizations such as the ACCA, which offers a listserve, a professional journal, and a conference every 2 years.

Challenging Aspects of the Job

College and university counseling has likely become more stressful in the past decade, with college students apparently more stressed and anxious (Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004). With high-profile tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, counselors must be acutely aware of the potential for explosive violence. Due to budgetary contraction, many college counseling centers are likely to be understaffed, putting more stress on the counselors.

Occupational Outlook and Salary

The BOLS did not report figures for salary or occupational outlook for the post of college counselors. In my experience as a former college counselor, for director of a college counseling center and a professor who has placed graduate counseling students in college counseling centers, landing a job in this counseling field is competitive, though possible. Salaries will depend on the type of institution (large vs. small, public vs. private, 4-year vs. community/technical college).


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