Doing your master’s in counseling online is a great way to develop the skills and credentials you need to start your counseling career, without giving up your full-time job and uprooting yourself to go back to school. Studying online can save you money and allow you to continue to make time for your kids, spouse, home and other responsibilities. But is it the right move for you? Before you decide to enroll in an online counseling master’s program, ask yourself these five questions.
1) Is the Degree Offered by an Accredited, Not-for-Profit Institution?
Over the past few years, for-profit colleges and universities have been the subject of a lot of controversy, and for good reason: Many of these schools aren’t accredited, meaning that there’s no oversight into the quality of their classes or the usefulness of their degrees.
Before you decide to get your master’s in counseling online, make sure the school you’re thinking of attending is an accredited, not-for-profit institution. Check that the school is accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This ensures you’ll learn relevant skills and earn a degree that employers will respect.
2) Can You Keep Up With the Pace of the Program?
Often, online degree programs are more accelerated than traditional programs because they’re designed to appeal to working adults who want to earn their degrees – and advance their careers – faster. Terms might be shorter than the traditional academic semester, or you might be expected to take classes all year long with no break in the summer.
Make sure you can keep up with the pace of the program before you enroll. Find out whether there’s a specific curriculum schedule you have to adhere to or whether you can schedule classes to fit in with your daily routine. Ask whether an advisor will help you build your class schedule, how long it will take to graduate and how many classes you’ll need to take each term to reach that goal. Find out whether the classes you’ll need are to be offered during the time frame you have in mind, too and whether classes are asynchronous (meaning you can review the material on your own schedule) or synchronous (meaning you have to sign in at a specific time each day).
3) Is Online Learning Right for You?
Distance learning isn’t for everyone. While you should be able to expect support and communication from professors and classmates, and also from your school, you’ll need to be self-disciplined and capable of motivating yourself to sign in, learn the material and complete the assignments. You won’t be running the risk of disappointing your professor in person – but, if seeing your professor face-to-face and turning in assignments in person are motivating factors, then online learning might not be for you. The same holds true if you have poor time management skills or if you struggle with self-directed learning.
4) How Will Residency Requirements Fit Into Your Schedule?
Much of the work you’ll do for an online master’s in counseling can be done, well, online – but not all. You’ll need to meet for residencies, or regular sessions of traditional, face-to-face learning with teachers and classmates. Residencies typically take a few weeks a year and usually occur on campus, although some schools host residencies in exotic locations abroad. Before you choose a program, find out where you’ll have to go, and for how long, to fulfill your residency requirements. For many adult students, it’s easier to attend a residency that’s close to home.
5) How Many Classes Will You Be Taking at One Time?
The course load for online degree programs can vary considerably, usually depending on how flexible the program is. A program that requires a heavy course load each term will also require a greater time commitment each term and may not be right for students who have hectic lives or even for those who need the flexibility to scale back on classes during busy periods of the year. Find out how much flexibility you’ll have to change your course load as you progress through the program, as well as whether you’ll be able to take a leave of absence from the program if need be.
Earning your master’s in counseling online can open the door to a fulfilling career helping people reach their full potential. Asking the right questions before you choose a program can make the path to completing your education exponentially easier.