Masters Degrees in School Counseling – M.Ed. vs MS vs. MA

School counselors help students through a wide range of problems – from dealing with bullying to choosing the right college. The right school counselor can be extremely effective on the life of a child, according to reports. If this is a field that interests you, you’ll need at least a master’s degree to get your license and begin working with students. Those interested in school counseling can choose from a few different types of degree programs. Let’s take a look at your options so you can choose the program that fits your career goals.

Master of Education in School Counseling

The most common choice for school counselors is to earn a Master of Education, or MEd. With this type of degree, you’ll be focusing on the student-teacher relationship you have with someone who is also your “patient” (thought they may not be a patient in a traditional clinical sense. Your degree program will include general psychology and counseling classes that cover both theoretical topics and practical skills. In addition, your coursework may also cover more general educational topics. Most MEd programs spend time on topics such as educational theory and learning psychology.

In order to apply to a MEd program, you may need to already have a degree in education or experience working as an educator. Applicant rules vary from school to school. Once you start, it takes about two years to finish an MEd program, and if you complete enough hours, you will qualify for a counseling license from your state. You could also choose to go on to get a doctorate of education in school counseling if you want to further your education before working as a school counselor or in another counseling position.

Master of Science in School Counseling

Any master’s degree program in school counseling will cover the basics of education, but while an MEd program focuses on this component, a Master of Science (MS) program usually focuses instead on the counseling aspect of your education. With a master of science, much of your coursework will be similar, though you may do more research in areas of educational psychology that most interest you. Many MS programs require you to complete a research project or thesis presentation as the culmination of your education, though it depends on the specific school you attend.

MEd programs are typically for students who want to practice in the field upon graduate (or earn a doctorate and then begin practicing in the field). With an MS, you have these choices as well or you can go on to a more academic career. After graduating with an MS, as long as you meet your state’s counseling requirements, you can start working as a school counselor, but the other option is to focus instead on research. Additionally, you can earn a PhD in the field to become a professor in the field of school counseling.

In any case, like MEd programs, MS programs typically take about two years to complete. It depends on your college of choice and whether you’re a full time or part time student.

Master of Arts in School Counseling

There is almost no difference between a Master of Arts (MA) and MS in the field of school counseling. With an MA program, it is easier to be admitted if you have an undergraduate degree in a field other than psychology in some cases (for example, English might fit the bill, depending on the program requirements). In general, if you earn a Bachelor of Arts, you should enter an MA program, while if you earned a Bachelor of Science, you should enter an MS program.

The only other different is that more MA programs require you to do a thesis than you’ll find with MS programs. MS programs are a little heavier on the research aspect, but in both the cases of an MA and of an MS, you can usually tailor the program to fit your specific educational needs. MAs can also lead to doctorate degrees in this field, and with an MA, you can also get your state license to begin working as a school counselor as long as you’ve met your state’s requirements.

MA programs also take about two years to finish, depend on your program and the time you commit to your graduate degree education. Keep in mind that, like with an MS, you may or may not have to have experience in the field to apply to the program.

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Top Online Master of School Counseling Degrees

School counselors work in elementary, middle, and high schools to provide academic, college, and personal guidance to students. Previously known as guidance counselors or educational counselors, this profession generally requires a master's degree in education, school counseling, or similar subject. Some states also require licensing or certification. The following schools offer accredited online degree programs in school counseling or closely related subjects.


An MS in K-12 Educational Leadership from Walden will help you gain the skills, knowledge, and experience to lead student, teachers, and parents to academic success. You will have the power to shape the lives of children that will lead the future. In this program you will be prepared with the leadership skills necessary to reach out to children you that you work with and challenge them to become the best that they can. You will come away from this program ready to enhance the learning opportunities for all students.
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The Master of Social Work offered by University of Southern California School of Social Work, the MSW@USC, is offered entirely online. This program features live online classes as well as online study groups and chat sessions. In addition to this, students will have opportunities to gain real-world training through local internships.
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At Grand Canyon University's MA in Christian Studies youth ministry specialization, students learn the art of preaching to a younger audience. This online program helps you obtain a future career in the church leadership. Courses include Youth Issues and Crisis, and Mentoring and Counseling Youth.
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