What Can I Do with a Master’s in Counseling?

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A person with a troubled expression talks with a counselor holding a clipboard.One in five U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The following year, fueled by the isolation and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health issues — and the demand for professionals to address them — skyrocketed even further. By June 2020, in fact, 40% of adults in the United States reported mental health or substance abuse problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Master’s in counseling programs, which teach therapies and behavior modification techniques, can help develop the leaders who will address the nation’s mental health crisis. But what can you do with a master’s in counseling? And how can it make a difference for those struggling with life challenges and emotional issues?

Benefits of a Master’s in Counseling Degree

With 19 million people indicating in December 2020 that they’d received mental health therapy or counseling in the last month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are myriad opportunities to make a difference with a master’s in counseling degree. Earning a master’s in counseling can make financial sense as well, with master’s degree holders typically out-earning professionals whose highest level of education is a bachelor’s degree.

Providing Mental Health Assistance to Diverse Groups

Master’s in counseling degrees give professionals the knowledge they need to help their clients maintain overall mental health and well-being, making a profound and long-term impact on people’s lives. Opportunities to help can be found in a variety of settings and with diverse groups — with counseling specialties running the gamut from juvenile health to military assistance.

Pursuing an Opportunity for a Higher Salary

A master’s degree can be a ticket to greater earnings and lower unemployment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2020, the BLS reports, employees with master’s degrees across all disciplines earned $240 more per week than employees with bachelor’s degrees only. PayScale reports that in March 2021 the median pay for master’s in counseling degree holders was $53,965.

Unemployment for master’s degree graduates overall was 4.1% in 2020, compared with 5.5% for bachelor’s degree holders, according to the BLS.

Careers for Master’s in Counseling Degree Graduates

Individuals who are considering pursuing a counseling degree may be asking, “What can I do with a master’s in counseling?” The short answer is: A lot.

Master’s in counseling graduates have a variety of career options to choose from, particularly in academic and mental health settings. Potential jobs include:

  • Academic or school counselor — Working with students in an academic setting, assisting them with reaching academic goals and overcoming challenges they face
  • Behavioral disorder counselor — Teaching individuals and groups how to cope with stress and challenges to improve their personal and professional relationships
  • Career counselor — Helping individuals make career choices that match their interests, skills and education
  • Community health worker — Working to ensure that community residents receive adequate medical care, matching people with providers and helping them navigate the insurance and health care systems
  • Health educator — Determining the health needs of an individual or community and creating programming that addresses those needs
  • Marriage and family counselor — Helping couples and families identify and solve problems in their relationships through behavioral changes
  • Rehabilitation counselor — Assisting people who have physical, mental, developmental or emotional disabilities so they can live independently
  • Residential counselor — Supporting people in facilities like shelters or group homes by helping them with personal tasks and connecting them with activities and resources
  • Substance abuse counselor — Treating patients with a dependency on alcohol or drugs, offering support, advice and coping strategies

Additionally, the BLS notes that counselors with graduate-level education have the potential to provide more expansive services than those with undergraduate degrees. Master’s degrees may qualify these professionals to offer private one-on-one counseling sessions and to work with less supervision.

Job Outlook for Master’s in Counseling Careers

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing indicated in 2020 that more than half of behavioral health organizations reported an increase in demand. CNBC reported that trend continued into 2021.

Much Faster Than Average Growth for Master’s in Counseling Roles

BLS projections for master’s in counseling careers reflect the reports of an increasing need for mental health professionals. The number of jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors — all professions a master’s in counseling can lead to — is projected to grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029. That increase is much higher than the 4% average growth projected for all jobs during that same period.

Other master’s in counseling roles also have job growth projections that are much higher than average for 2019 to 2029. Rehabilitation counselors’ predicted job growth is 10%, for example, while that for school and career counselors is 8%.

Reasons Driving Demand for Master’s in Counseling Roles

The effects of COVID-19 are just one reason for the great need for leaders in the mental health profession. Others include:

  • Increasing need for mental health assistance for underserved populations — The American Psychological Association calls mental health issues “a critical and frequently unaddressed matter” among racial and ethnic minorities. And a 2018 presentation from the National Institute for Mental Health noted that more than 60% of the rural U.S. population lives in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals.
  • Growing demand for emotional support for veterans — Combat-related trauma, homelessness and sexual trauma are just some of the mental health issues facing military veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Rising numbers of students — The number of students in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools is likely to rise to 51.1 million by 2029, compared with 50.6 million in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Expanding use of counseling as part of criminal rehabilitation efforts — As communities consider alternatives to incarceration, they often include counseling in efforts to rehabilitate offenders and treat drug addiction and mental illness.

Become a Leader in the Mental Health Field

If you’re ready to help lead the way in addressing the nation’s growing mental health care needs, explore the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Arts in Counseling. The program allows you to specialize in counseling for K-12 schools, addiction, community mental health or rehabilitation — providing a variety of options for ways to make a difference in the lives of individuals and groups. And you’ll gain this valuable knowledge while enjoying the flexibility and convenience of online learning.

Discover how the UND online Master of Arts in Counseling program can help you reach your professional goals.



American Psychological Association, “Disparities in Mental Health Status and Mental Health Care”

Big Easy Magazine, “7 Reasons to Pursue a Masters Degree in Counseling”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24-30, 2020”

CNBC, “Mental Health Professionals Are in High Demand as the Pandemic Enters a Second Year”

Indeed Career Guide, “13 Careers to Pursue with a Master’s Degree in Counseling”

Marriage.com, “Marriage and Family Counselors: Their Role in Improving Relationships”

National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health by the Numbers

National Center for Education Statistics, Back to School Statistics

National Council for Mental Wellbeing, “Demand for Mental Health and Addiction Services Increasing as COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Threaten Availability of Treatment Options”

National Institute of Mental Health, “Mental Health and Rural America: Challenges and Opportunities”

PayScale, Master’s Degree, Counseling Degree

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rehabilitation Counselors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors and Advisors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

U.S. Census Bureau, Week 21 Household Pulse Survey, December 9-December 21

U.S. Government Accountability Office, “VA’s Response to Veterans’ Increasing Demand for Mental Health Services”