In businesses and other human service organizations, counselors assist clients with various personal and social difficulties. If helping others in this manner appeals to you, then you might be interested in pursuing a bachelor's degree in counseling. This page reviews online counseling bachelor's degrees, including required coursework, associated certifications, and career options.

What Is an Online Counseling Degree?

Since you generally need a master's degree and relevant licensure to hold the job title "counselor," most colleges don't offer bachelor's programs in counseling, Instead, they may offer pre-professional or pre-graduate programs that prepare you for graduate work and professional licensure in the field. Often, these programs lead directly into a school's master's in counseling program, and some programs may even enable you to complete your degree faster by applying some of your undergraduate credits toward graduate course requirements.

Some schools offer bachelor's programs in addiction or substance abuse counseling, which may prepare you for entry-level counseling work upon graduation. These programs focus on foundational counseling knowledge along with advanced skills for serving clients, including assessment, evaluation, and intervention strategies. However, again, a bachelor's program only builds basic skills, and you must hold a master's in counseling (or, in some instances, a doctorate) to assume responsibility for offering one-on-one counseling and clinical services to clients.

If a school offers neither a pre-professional nor a substance abuse counseling program, a bachelor's in psychology degree serves as another common entry point to counseling. Focusing on similar principles as a counseling program, a psychology degree often fulfills most admission requirements for a master's in counseling program. If you know you want to pursue a master's program after finishing your undergraduate studies, an academic advisor can help you determine the undergraduate courses you need to complete.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling?

An undergraduate program in counseling builds fundamental knowledge in the field along with core competencies that apply to counseling jobs and other fields.

Skills and Knowledge Gained

Pre-professional counseling degrees take a broader approach to prepare you for graduate study. They offer concentrations that prepare you for marriage and family counseling, school counseling, or clinical and mental health counseling. In order to complete your studies faster, some programs may even enable you to apply credits toward your master's degree. Courses in a pre-counseling program often take a more theoretical approach, covering topics such as abnormal psychology, psychotherapy, and counseling diverse populations. And most include an experiential component that enables you to observe and assist with professional counseling practices.

Addictions counseling programs typically offer more specialized knowledge, since they frequently lead to immediate employment in the counseling field. Courses in an addictions counseling program consider addiction processes, recovery strategies, pharmacology, and case management. Many programs prepare you for professional certification opportunities, such as National Certified Addiction Counselor. These programs also usually include a significant experiential component.

While online counseling degrees offer many career opportunities, remember that they typically function as a stepping stone on the way to graduate degree. Even an addictions counseling bachelor's program that results in professional certification won't offer the same career opportunities as a master's degree, and the advanced certifications that enable you to work with clients in a more significant way require master's degrees.

Careers and Salary Potential

Internships or practicum experiences completed during your undergraduate education may lead to job opportunities after graduation, and again, you may also find employment in positions outside counseling, such as business or social work. In general, any entry-level position that requires an understanding of human interactions and service relationships may prove a good fit for a counseling major. Below, you'll find an overview of four popular careers for counseling graduates.

Social Worker

Annual Median Salary: $47,980

Social workers help clients deal with problems from illness to divorce to unemployment. They may work in clinics, schools, or human services agencies.

Social and Community Service Manager

Annual Median Salary: $64,100

These professionals manage community organizations that offer social services, overseeing other workers in the agency and coordinating client care practices.

Substance Abuse Counselors

Annual Median Salary: $43,300

These counselors work with clients who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, and other substance abuse issues. Bachelor's degree holders in this position do not provide clinical treatment.

Probation Officer

Annual Median Salary: $51,410

Working to rehabilitate criminal offenders, probation officers oversee probationers and parolees, ensuring that they have access to the proper resource to interact productively in society.

Certification

To pursue a career in substance abuse/addictions counseling, you typically must possess some form of professional certification. Requirements for certification vary among states, but most call for an accredited bachelor's degree in a relevant field, a certain number of years (or hours) or supervised experience in an approved professional setting, and a passing score on a state certification exam.

Along with state certification, the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) offers several national certifications that apply to counseling positions around the country. NCC AP certifications come in different levels with increasingly rigorous requirements: National Certified Addiction Counselor Level I, for example, requires 6,000 hours of supervised experience and 270 hours of education training. Level II requires 10,000 hours of supervised experience and 450 hours of education training. The organization also offers a variety of specialized certifications with differing requirements, such as Nicotine Dependence Specialist or Certified Adolescent Addiction Counselor.