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Master's Degree in Counseling

Master's Degree in Counseling

The M.S.Ed. degree program consists of classes focused on developing a variety of skills and strategies that students will be able to utilize as they pursue counseling careers in schools, communities, hospitals, private sectors, and higher education institutions. Students will learn the necessary tools that counselors use in their daily practice and will be able to apply their learned techniques through hands-on experiences.

  1. Admissions
  2. M.S.Ed. Counseling Student Handbook
  3. General Information
  4. School Counseling Specialization
  5. Clinical Mental Health Specialization
  6. Courses and Resources Information
  7. Financing your Education
  8. Licensure and Certification
  9. Frequently Asked Questions

 The M.S.Ed. program is a 60-semester-hour program including:

  • 36 hours in the core curriculum
  • 15 hours in a chosen area of study (clinical mental health or school counseling)
  • 7 semester hours in supervised practicum (100 clock hours) and internship (600 clock hours)

The M.S.Ed program has been designed to meet the needs of a diverse body of degree-seeking students. The majority of our classes are offered at night to serve the working population of our students. The main campus is in DeKalb, but classes are also available at our satellite sites in Rockford, Naperville, and Hoffman Estates. Our program takes pride in helping students move swiftly through the program whether on the full or part-time course of study. Faculty and staff are also on-hand to assist students with coursework, internship, practicum, and assistantships. We believe it is important for students and faculty to have a collaborative relationship to enhance the student’s experience in the master’s program.

We offer two specializations in our counseling department: School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Each is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Graduates of both areas of specialty are immediately eligible to sit for the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and are also qualified to apply to become a Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) in the state of Illinois. This exam is generally taken through NIU during the final semester of internship. These exams are the first step to starting a career as a professional counselor.

Graduates of the M.S.Ed. program with a concentration in school counseling are also eligible to apply for Illinois Professional Educator License (PEL) with School Counselor endorsement. This certification acknowledges the completion of school training, and allows for an individual to work in a school environment. If a student is not teacher certified additional coursework may be required to meet state requirements.

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School Counseling

This area consists of course work and experiences that prepare students to do counseling in a K-12 school setting. Upon completion of this 60 semester hour program students may apply for a Professional Educators License in School Counseling with the Illinois State Board of Education. This License allows students to work as a K-12 school counselor in the State of Illinois.

If applicants do not have their teaching certificate, three additional courses are required for educator licensure in Illinois and can be taken as a Student-At-Large at NIU or approved equivilants can be taken at other colleges/universities:

  • TLCI 500 - Curriculum, Instruction, and The Community:
  • EPS 550 - Classroom Management
  • TLSE 557 - Systems For Integrating The Exceptional Student in The Regular Classroom

School Counseling Program Outcomes Report

Last year, there were 24 graduates of Northern Illinois University’s School Counseling program. Our graduates consistently achieve high pass rates on licensing examinations. The pass rate for graduates taking the licensure examination is 90%. Of the admitted students, 92% graduate from the program in the expected time period and 83% of those program graduates responding to surveys who are actively seeking jobs are employed. 

Clinical Mental Health Counseling

This area is designed for students seeking professional counseling positions in agencies that assist clients to resolve psychological disorders and/or developmental issues through crisis intervention, remediation, and/or primary prevention interventions. The counselors-in-training are exposed to a variety of educational experiences through practicum, internships, and specialized studies that will insure students have an appreciation for the diversity of clientele, services, and programs provided in these community agencies.

Clinical Mental Health Program Outcomes Report

Last year, there were 22 graduates of Northern Illinois University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. Our graduates consistently achieve high pass rates on licensing examinations. The pass rate for graduates taking the licensure examination is 99%. Of the admitted students, 98% graduate from the program in the expected time period and 100% of those program graduates responding to surveys who are actively seeking jobs are employed.

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Contact for Admissions Inquiries


Prior to being admitted into the program, applicants may take coursework as a Student-At-Large.

The faculty recommends the following courses as a Student-at-Large and/or first semester course load:

  1. CAHC 500 Professional Identity and Ethics in Counseling
  2. ETR 520 Introduction to Educational Research
  3. EPS 710 Issues in Human Development across the Lifespan.

Note: Faculty members are not available for individual advisement appointments prior to being admitted into the counseling program. Once admitted, each student will be assigned an advisor to contact about classes schedules and program information. Students should meet with their advisor as soon as possible. Once admitted he or she is also required to attend the student orientation held on a Saturday morning.

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Frequently Asked Questions about the Master's Program

About NIU

About Applying to the Master's Counseling Program

About the Master's Counseling Program

About the the Counseling Profession

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How do I get to NIU?

There are a variety of routes to take to the NIU DeKalb campus.Please click here to find the best route for you:  http://www.niu.edu/visit/maps/dekalb/index.shtml

Where can I find parking?

Please visit the parking services website by click here: http://www.niu.edu/parking/ There is a visitors parking area that costs $5.00 a day to park. Most places do need an NIU parking permit. If you park in these without a proper permit you will be ticketed so be mindful of where you park.

Are graduate assistantships available to students?

Graduate assistantships are available to all full time students. To be a full time student, a minimum of nine credit hours must be taken each semester. There are a variety of assistantships available across campus and many in the counseling department. Assistantships provide a monthly stipend and a tuition waiver.

How do I apply to become a graduate assistant?

There is an application that must be filled out in order to become a graduate assistant. Click here http://www.grad.niu.edu/diversity/assistantship.pdf to view the PDF file. It is also recommended that students contact professors in their department and inquire about any openings they have or they know of. Lastly, each spring, Northern Illinois University holds a Graduate Student Recruitment and Placement Weekend where students can meet with professors and explore possible assistantship opportunities. For more information, click here: http://www.niu.edu/stuaff/grad_resources/GSARP/index.shtml

How do I get a financial aid package?

Please visit the NIU financial aid website by clicking here: http://www.niu.edu/fa/

Do most students commute or live on campus?

The student life at Northern Illinois University is very diverse. A majority of the undergraduate population live on campus, while others commute. At the master’s level, most students commute, while a few live on campus. There are a variety of apartments on and off campus that students can live in. In addition, campus housing is available. Please click here for more information.

What is it like to be a commuter student?

The commuter student experience varies in part based on what other non-academic responsibilities each student has.

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What is CACREP?

The M.S.Ed. in Counseling program at NIU is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP). CACREP evaluates programs across the nation to see if they have met national standards. More information on CACREP is available at http://www.cacrep.org/

Do I really need to take the GRE?

If you already have a Master's degree in a different field and are applying to the Master's degree program in Counseling, it may be possible to waive the GRE requirement. Please contact Dr. Teresa Fisher at TAFisher@niu.edu to see if you qualify. All other individuals must submit GRE scores to the Graduate School with the rest of their application.

What if I already have a Master's degree in a different field, can I apply?

If you already have a Master's degree in a different field and are applying to the Master's degree program in Counseling, it may be possible to waive the GRE requirement. Please contact Dr. Jane Rheineck at jrheineck@niu.edu  to see if you qualify.

What are the advantages of a program that is 60 credit hours?

There are many advantages to earning a degree from a 60 credit hour program in Counseling.  Counselors will be able to take additional classes to become better equipped to work with clients of different backgrounds and dealing with an array of situations. In addition, a 60 credit hour degree allow counselors to practice in other states, with fewer restrictions and/or limitations.

What prerequisite work must I complete before applying to the program?

In order to be considered for admission into the Master's in Counseling program, students must have attained a Bachelor's degree in any field.

Can I apply to both the School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs?

No. Applicants must specify on the application which specialty program they would like to enter. The Master’s degree provided through the Counseling, Adult, and Higher Education Department at NIU is a degree in Counseling. Applicants apply to the program and upon acceptance apply for one Specialization track. Students can choose to complete the course work for both specializations and dual internship experiences if desired. Nevertheless, upon graduation, students’  diploma and transcripts will indicate a degree conferred in Counseling.

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When is my application due?

Northern Illinois University offers two different admission periods throughout the academic school year. For Spring admission, the completed applications and materials must be received by the Graduate School and the Counseling Department by October 1st. For summer and fall admissions, completed applications and materials is due by February 1st.

Can I check the status of my application?

Yes. Log in to MYNIU using your username and password. Then click on Student Admissions, then Application Status.

What is the PAW?

After all application materials have been received and reviewed, qualified applicants will receive an invitation to attend the Pre-Admission Workshop (PAW). The PAW is a half-day event offered once per semester that is required of all applicants to the M.S.Ed. in Counseling Program. Workshop attendees have the opportunity to interact with the Counseling faculty, gain more information about the Counseling program, meet students in the program, and interact with other prospective students. At the end of the session, all applicants will meet for lunch and be able to spend time getting to know the Counseling faculty and Doctoral students.

How competitive is this program?

The Counseling program is quite competitive. Less than 50% of individuals who apply to the Master's program are accepted. The Counseling faculty evaluates each applicant carefully to determine the individual's readiness to enter advanced training.  Two independent reviews are conducted on each applicant's file before a decision is made. The first review is by the Counseling faculty and the second is by the Graduate School. Each individual must be admitted by both review groups to enter the NIU Counseling program.

When will I find out if I am accepted into the program?

After attending the PAW, students will receive a letter within a few weeks notifying them of acceptance.

Will courses that I have taken at another school or in a different Master's program at NIU transfer to the Counseling program?

It is possible that some courses may transfer to the M.S.Ed. in Counseling program. However, these decisions will not be made until after a student has been accepted into the program.

Will classes I take as a Student-At-Large apply to my graduation requirements if I am later accepted into the Counseling program at NIU?

Yes. Up to 9 credits of relevant coursework attained as a student-at-large can be applied to graduation requirements after the student is officially accepted to the program. Students should note that ALL coursework required for graduation must be completed within a six-year period, regardless of whether those courses were taken as a student-at-large or a Master’s student.

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What should I do if I applied to the Graduate School under a different program and now wish to apply to the Counseling program?

Contact the Graduate School directly to discuss the transfer process. You can also contact the Counseling office and request to speak to the faculty member handling admissions

When will I be assigned an advisor?

Every student is assigned an advisor once they have been admitted into the program.

Can I change my area of specialization after I am admitted into the program?

Yes. Students can change specialties after being admitted. Students should contact their advisor as soon as possible to outline a new plan of study.

How long does it take to complete the program?

Students may decide whether they wish to be a full-time or part-time student. For a full-time student, the length of the program is around two and a half years.All students have a six-year time period to complete all coursework and requirements for graduation.

What are the graduation requirements?

The M.S.Ed. in Counseling Program requires 60 hours of coursework including 600 hours of supervised internship experience. Coursework includes a common core of counseling courses as well as courses related to students’ areas of specialization (i.e. school counseling or clinical mental health counseling). Internship usually occurs within the last semester of the program.

Will completing this program allow me to become licensed and certified in Illinois?

Because the NIU M.S.Ed. program is accredited by CACREP, master’s students are eligible to sit for the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) examination in Illinois. These exams can be taken during internship or post-graduation. Students must apply approximately six months prior to the examination to qualify.

Master’s students in the school counseling area of specialization may apply for and take the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) examination to be eligible for Type 73 School Counselor certification. This certification allows students to work as a K-12 school counselor in the State of Illinois. Students must also take the Basic Skills Test and the School Counselor Test.

After completing the program, can I work outside of Illinois?

Yes. Each state has its own requirements to become a licensed counselor, but your 60 credit hour degree from NIU will make the switch a lot easier. Illinois has an extensive list of requirements, which makes it easier for students who have earned a degree in Illinois to practice in another state. You can learn more about the state requirements by clicking here: http://www.counseling.org/Counselors/LicensureAndCert/TP/StateRequirements/CT2.aspx

To work as a school counselor, states also have a variety of requirements that need to be met. You can learn more about the state requirements by clicking http://www.schoolcounselor.org/content.asp?contentid=242.

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When and Where are classes offered?

The M.S.Ed program offers the majority of classes in the evening starting at 6pm. Some classes are offered during the day, but in order to adhere to the working population nearly all of the classes are at night. Most classes meet one night a week for two hours and forty minutes. A few courses are offered as online classes.

The main site for classes is at the DeKalb campus, but we do offer classes at our Naperville, Hoffman Estates, and Rockford sites as well. Not all classes will be offered off-campus. Please click here: http://www.niu.edu/offcampusacademics/rcc/index.shtml to search for classes offered at the satellite sites.

Can I complete coursework for the program at NIU's satellite sites?

Yes. Some courses may be offered at NIU’s satellite campuses in Naperville, Rockford or Hoffman Estates. However, it is not possible to complete all coursework at satellite sites.

What is the average classroom size?

The maximum number of students allowed in a classroom is twenty-five. However, class size can range from ten to twenty-five students.

What is the average time for completing the program?

For Full-time students (3 to 4 courses per semester) the minimum time for completing the program is 8 to 9 semesters or 3 years (including internship). Part-time students must fulfill all requirements for a degree within the six consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the student’s graduation from that degree program. This time limit applies to enrollment in all graduate course work in the student’s program including work for which transfer credit is allowed. http://catalog.niu.edu/content.php?catoid=11&navoid=296

What is practicum?

Practicum is a supervised 5-hour course (100 clock hours) that includes a hands-on counseling experience in the Community Counseling Training Center. It is an opportunity for students to gain practical experience in an educational setting, while also learning more about their career concentration of school counseling or clinical mental health counseling.

Can I complete my practicum and internship hours at the school at which I currently teach?

Yes. However, you must schedule blocks of at least 3 consecutive hours during which you perform your internship duties. Scheduling one hour of internship at the beginning of your day and two hours at the end of the day, for example, would not be acceptable.

What are the backgrounds/specialty areas of the Counseling Faculty?

The Counseling website includes information about the Counseling program, including information on the Counseling faculty. Prospective applicants are also encouraged to download the Counseling Master’s Student Handbook to obtain more information.

Can I become a school counselor if I'm not already a certified teacher?

Yes. The State of Illinois no longer requires school counselors to hold a teaching certificate. However, students who are specializing in school counseling who do not have an Illinois Teaching Certificate will need to complete an additional 3 courses in order to gain Type 73 School Counselor certification upon completion of the program.

Can I become a school counselor if I have a Master’s in Clinical or Community Counseling?

Currently, individuals holding a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health or Community Mental Health Counseling can become school counselors in Illinois through specially designed course options. See more about the School Counselor Institute at NIU: http://www.cedu.niu.edu/oep/sci/index.shtml

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