M.A., M.Ed., or M.S.? - Which Should You Pursue?

A reader asked me about graduate school and which degree is the best for school counselors.

Q: I came across your School Counselor Blog yesterday while researching information on graduate school programs for school counseling. I would like to say how awesome your blog is and how much I loved reading through all of your information. As I am only in the beginning stages of looking at grad schools, reading your blog really helped validate my decision of pursuing a master's degree to be a school counselor.

Also, I had a question that I hope you can help me out with. Through reading pages and pages of information on different schools and what degrees are offered, I noticed that there are at least three different types of counseling degrees: M.A., M.ED., and M.S. ED. I have read the basic differences on each of these, but is any one of these degrees better than others? (Most specifically when applying for jobs).

Thank you very much! I look forward to reading more on your blog. :-)

A: First, I recommend looking at your state's requirements for certification. Some states may have requirements about which degree they want school counselors to have. Here is a listing from the American School Counseling Association website of state certification requirements. As long as the program you choose fulfills your state's certification requirements, it should not matter if your degree is an M.A., M.Ed., or M.S.

If the program you choose is not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), you may have to meet additional requirements in order to fulfill your state's certification requirements.

Check out my previous post, Navigating Graduate School for School Counseling, for more information about CACREP and applying to graduate school.

What factored into your degree decision? Comment, email, tweet, or share on The School Counselor Blog Facebook Page!

Danielle is a K-12 Certified School Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor, and blogger at School Counselor Blog, a place where school counselors share innovative ideas, creative lesson plans, and quality resources.  Contact Danielle via email, follow her on twitter, and become a fan of the School Counselor Blog Facebook Page.


  1. Note: I have only a very brief moment to reply here.

    I chose the MS instead of the others. While there aren't official reasons I've found that distinguish these degrees, there are apparent difference among the programs that offer these. I looked at the programs in California that CACREP lists, but was largely disappointed. Most, not all, of the school counseling programs were at schools I did not want to attend. The one school I really wanted to (and did) attend was San Diego State University. However, they're not accredited by CACREP. I dug a little bit and found that there is only one reason why SDSU's program is not--the program does not have three full-time faculty. Due to my state's budget crisis, that was also not going to happen very soon. (They're working on hiring one F-T prof. after one left to teach in her home state.) Nevertheless, the program is rigorous and meets all of CACREP's other requirements. In fact, the program's director helped write them, helped write the national certification exam for school counselors, co-authored the ASCA National Model, and is doing countless other things for the profession and its practitioners. The other professors who teach in the program are very competent, and possess expertise after decades of practice. We're also taught by current school counselors who've also taken on other roles, such as leading the state's school counselor association.

    I believe the MS is justified (versus a master of arts or education) because of the courses. We get a lot of educational psychology, in addition to practicum and fieldwork in every semester. The program is at least 60 units, far more than typical MEd or MA programs in school counseling. I compared SDSU's program to the University of Southern California and San Francisco State University's (CACREP) programs and found that SDSU's is superior in the breadth of courses and the depth students go into in the relevant subjects of study. The practicums we take are a fantastic introduction to the field during our first year.

    I would say that if you're interested in a rigorous program that will leave you knowing you're prepared, look for one that not only will give you the PPS credential, but that requires more than the typical 48 units. Look at what role ASCA's model has in the program. What kinds of courses are required in addition to those you'll get in any school counseling program. I'd suggest studying in the state where you want to work, but that's my personal thought. I almost applied to the University of Maryland, ranked the number 1 school counseling program in the country, but I know that the youth there are different than the youth in California. I also thought of UNC-Greensboro (highly ranked), but didn't apply because of the same reason.

    Gotta run.

  2. Good question, and one that I think deserves some attention.

    First and foremost, find out which schools will be licensing school counselors in the state where you want to work. From those schools, find out which ones are placing students well. Although bigger doesn't always mean better, pay close attention to the schools who have a healthy cohort and place those students at a high rate. They're doing something right. Also, the profs at many of these schools have excellent connections with the public schools.

    Do your homework, and you should be able to whittle down your list of prospective schools to a good selection. It's hard to believe I started this process just 11 years ago.

  3. I would say it depends on what your long-term goals are. I came to school counseling through mental health counseling. My Masters degree is in Human Relations and I chose it so I could receive my Licensed Professional Counselor certification. Later, I took an Alternative Placement test through my state's Department of Education. I will admit, that I sometimes have a different take on situations because of my mental health background and licensure, however, should my job ever be cut due to funding issues (God forbid!) I can always go in to private practice or look in areas other than education.

  4. Addendum:

    For the inquirer, I suggest taking a look at the school counseling program at the Univ. of Md. UM offers both the MEd and MA. Intuitively, to me at least, the MA requires more courses and a thesis while the MEd less.

    Also, take a look at the top-ranked schools of education in your state or region. Then learn about their school counseling programs from their websites. You'll get an accurate feel for what will be a good fit for you.

    About the technical things, like CACREP and the PPS, any program you apply to should lead to the PPS and at least be CACREP equivalent if not accredited.

    One more note, totally personal here, avoid private schools (except for a very select few). School counseling programs are far better in public universities.

    Lastly, call and ask to be connected to a current student or just-graduated alum.

  5. Thank you for all of the responses! From the research I have done so far, I feel as though the MS would better suit what I am looking for in my education.

    Michael, I am actually looking at the program offered at SDSU. I have others I am looking at as well, but I would prefer to go to school in California as my boyfriend is currently stationed just north of San Diego. I would love to hear about your experience there and what your job outlook was after graduation.


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