What Are the Requirements for a Career in Counseling and Psychology?

Counselors and Psychologists can work in a huge variety of settings, like treating patients, conducting research or working in human resources consulting. In each of these very different roles, counselors and psychologists can have a huge impact on people’s health and happiness.

People trust counselors and psychologists with their deepest secrets and most private issues. You can probably imagine, then, the damage that a poorly trained person could do in this field.

That’s why most careers in Counseling and Psychology require advanced degrees and state licensure – all of that training will demonstrate that you’re ready for the responsibilities of the job!

To get a broader sense for the field, navigate to the College Choice homepage on Counseling & Psychology.

What to Study in High School

While you are in high school, a solid lineup of college preparatory courses will prepare you for your future career in Counseling and Psychology. Math and science are particularly important, because they will help you to prepare for research and analysis.

And if your high school offers psychology courses, you should definitely take advantage of that! Advanced placement study in psychology will give you an even better head start, if it’s available at your school.

Bachelor’s Degree

Because most careers in Counseling and Psychology require advanced degrees, a bachelor’s degree is a necessary prerequisite.

While you typically won’t find bachelor’s degrees offered in Counseling, a four-year degree in psychology or a related field is a great foundation whether you want to be a counselor or a psychologist.

But if you already have a degree in another field, don’t worry! You will still be well-prepared to get into grad school with a degree in the liberal arts or sciences.

Graduate Record Examination

When you begin to prepare to apply to graduate school, be sure to give yourself time to prepare for any standardized tests that you might need to take.

Counseling and Psychology graduate programs tend to require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as part of the admissions process.

This is a standardized test that covers general knowledge, like a more challenging version of the SAT or ACT exam you may be familiar with. It covers verbal, writing and quantitative (math) skills.

Luckily, there are many study guides available online, as well as in public libraries or bookstores. Review one early in your application process, so you can schedule your test date with plenty of time to study.

Graduate Degrees

If you want to work as a counselor or psychologist, you will need a graduate degree. Whether you need a master’s degree or a doctoral degree will depend on which field you choose, though.

To become a professional counselor, you will need a master’s degree from an accredited counseling program. You can choose your degree program from several possible specialties, including:

  • Addiction Counseling
  • Career Counseling
  • Mental Health Counseling
  • Community Agency Counseling
  • Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling
  • School Counseling
  • Student Affairs and College Counseling
  • Gerontological Counseling
  • Counselor Education & Supervision

Psychologists, on the other hand, typically must hold a doctoral degree in psychology. You might choose a highly-academic Ph.D. program, or a clinically focused Psy.D. There are dozens of specializations that you can choose from when you pursue a doctoral degree in psychology, including:

  • Cognitive and perceptual psychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Community psychology
  • Experimental psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Educational psychology
  • Industrial/organizational psychology
  • Sport psychology


Most counselors and psychologists must hold credentials from their state licensing boards in order to practice. That’s because workers in these roles can have such a huge impact on their patients’ mental health. It’s important to have the right training and skills!

In addition, counselors and psychologists can obtain professional certifications to demonstrate expertise in specific areas. Typically, professional certifications have education requirements, and they may also require an exam and continuing education in order to keep the certification current.