The American Counseling Association (ACA) describes the role of a professional counselor as a graduate-level mental health service provider that is trained to work with individuals, families and groups to address mental, behavioral and emotional problems and disorders.
Individuals who pursue a career in counseling have a desire to help others. Today, there remains a growing need for counselors across the country.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in five adults in the United States experiences a mental illness and one in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness.
Sadly only 44% of mental health needs across the United States are being met, with some states dropping to as low as 8%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
With a constant growing need and shortage of mental health professionals, a career as a counselor is a promising option.
For those considering a career as a counselor, the next question becomes “how do I get my degree?” There are numerous universities that offer on-campus options to obtain a master’s degree in counseling.
For aspiring counselors who have limited time to travel to and from campus, brick and mortar programs may seem impossible to complete.
In such cases, an online counseling degree program can provide fulfilling academics for students seeking flexibility without sacrificing quality.
Here are just a few of the many reasons counseling professionals have found online degree options to be their best bet in completing their advanced degree.
The greatest benefit to an online degree is the convenience it offers. Unlike an on-campus degree that requires being physically present to participate in class, an online degree offers students with limited time an array of options.
Students may build their own course load each semester to accommodate their professional and/or personal schedule.
Online learners can attend classes, complete clinical training or even take exams whenever it is most convenient to them.
This allows those with a busy schedule to balance employment, family obligations or even travel abroad while earning their degree!
A frequent concern when contemplating an online degree is the quality of the education. Will the courses be valuable and, more importantly, accredited? This is a valid concern for anyone considering a master’s degree through a distance learning program.
Thankfully, online counseling programs that are CACREP or MPCAC* accredited meet the same standards that are set by their campus counterparts – and even some additional components.
*The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) set standards that align with researched requirements for counselors to become successful leaders in mental health and client advocacy.
3. Curriculum and Faculty
Many online counseling programs are affiliated with a college campus. A common question for these programs is how similar the online program is to the on-campus counterpart.
Online and on-campus coursework towards the same degree need to parallel each other to ensure continuity.
If a program is accredited and on campus, the core curriculum will remain the same for both programs. Online counseling programs are often moderated and supported by counselor education faculty that also instruct on-campus coursework.
4. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning
Online learning occurs in at least one of two formats: synchronous and/or asynchronous.
- Synchronous classes occur at a specific time and students participate in discussions and team projects through video chatting and collaboration technology. While these classes do not offer as much flexibility, students have the chance to engage in a more interactive experience and connect with classmates in real time.
- Asynchronous learning allows students to log in and view course materials at their own pace. Students will submit their projects and papers with a due date in mind.
- Programs that incorporate both types of learning will balance between holding live classroom discussions and offline assignment submissions and research – similar to on-campus programs.
A common stereotype about online learning is that it does a poor job engaging its students.. Online degrees are typically characterized as repetitive and monotonous – an uninspired learning experience.
In many cases, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
- In actuality, online degrees are promising programs offered by universities that offer a new, immersive way to learn.
- Online learning gives its student access to classmates and instructors from across the country or even the world. This virtual interaction allows for outstanding networking opportunities, expanded learning and professional identity development, and technology infused collaborations.
- Students may also gain access to knowledgeable advisors and campus resources without the hassle of a long commute.
Furthermore, online learning offers student a sense of balance. Prospective students with full-time jobs or a family may feel that a counseling master’s program is unmanageable because of commuting and time away from home.
Online counseling programs provide students the opportunity to learn at home on their own time. Online counseling degree students are able to manage their further education while still supporting their family and pursuing professional opportunities.
7. Virtual Skills
While engaged in an online program, students will enhance their virtual skills. It is no surprise that technology is becoming more of an integrated part in our education systems.
Online students have the benefit of being immersed in modern learning, becoming familiar with common technology practices.
Many online programs utilize video chats, encouraging students to use web cams and headsets – a part of the synchronous learning experience.
8. Time Management
Another asset to online learning is improved time management. Online learners, particularly those enrolled in asynchronous learning, will need to effectively manage their time to accommodate classes and any other obligations.
While this can be a challenge at first, those that become accustomed to online programs may be able to better manage their time and priorities.
Likewise, because online programs require independence, students need to remain organized to keep track of lectures, assignments and exams. This motivates students to perfect their organizational skills in order to succeed.
Many of the stigmas and downfalls of online degree programs are no more – with modern technological advancements and culture changes, an online degree is just as viable as a traditional one.
From unmatched flexibility to acquiring new practical skills, gaining an online degree in counseling – or any field for that matter – is a great option for busy professionals and remote learners.