Counseling Frequently Asked Questions

Counseling Programs

Why is this a three-year program?

The counseling faculty have intentionally designed the NIU Counseling master's and Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral programs to incorporate developmentally appropriate and scaffolded learning experiences. Based on a cohort model, experienced faculty members provide advisement, teaching, mentorship, and supervision with the goal of graduating highly competent, ethical, and culturally-responsive professional counselors and counselor educators.

During the admissions process, applicants are encouraged to consider if a three-year program is the right fit for their learning and career goals. Ideally, our admitted students are prepared to engage in the in-depth, critically self-reflective practices essential for personal and professional development as multiculturally and social justice-oriented practitioners of School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, or Counselor Education and Supervision. Admitted students to the Master’s program may choose a part-time four-year program plan instead of the three-year, full-time plan.

Is it possible to complete the program in less than three years?

Our counseling programs are designed to be completed in three years. Only in circumstances when someone is transferring in counseling graduate courses from another CACREP counseling program would a student be with us for less than three years.

How much does the program cost?

The NIU Bursar's Office tuition estimator may be a helpful resource for calculating approximate costs of degree completion. This tool allows you to generate core tuition estimates based on credit hours of enrollment.

The M.S.Ed. counseling programs are 60 credit-hour, CACREP-accredited programs. The Ph.D. Counselor Education and Supervision program is an 84 credit-hour, CACREP-accredited program.

The NIU Financial Aid and Scholarship Office provide academic year cost of attendance estimates.

Do I need to take the GRE to apply as part of program admissions?

No, the GRE is not required for program admission to either the Master’s or Doctoral programs.

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

M.S.Ed. Students

In order to be considered for admission into the master's in counseling program, you must have attained a bachelor's degree in any field.

Ph.D. Students

In order to be considered for admission into the PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision program, you must have attained a master's degree in a counseling related field. If acceptable applicants have course deficits as outlined by the Counseling faculty, missing courses would be added to the doctoral program plan. Doctoral applicants must have taken graduate level course work in each of the following content areas:

  • Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice
  • Social and Cultural Diversity
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Career Development
  • Counseling and Helping Relationships
  • Group Counseling and Group Work
  • Assessment and Testing
  • Research and Program Evaluation

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

M.S.Ed. Students


Ph.D. Students

If you have a master's degree in a non-counseling related field and you are applying to the doctoral degree program in counselor education, you may want to consult with our admissions staff prior to applying. Please email to set up a time to talk.

How do I apply for program admissions?

M.S.Ed. Students

Apply through the NIU Graduate School CollegeNet application system to apply to the M.S.Ed. in School Counseling or M.S.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs. Make sure to review the master's in counseling admissions requirements from the program website including the M.S.Ed. applicant essay prompts.

Ph.D. Students

Review the application requirements for the Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision program, including the Ph.D. CES applicant essay prompts.

What is the PAW?

After all application materials have been received and reviewed, applicants who are being invited to the next round of consideration will receive an invitation to attend the Pre-Admission Workshop (PAW). The PAW is a half-day event offered once per year for master's applicants and once per year for doctoral applicants. Participation in the PAW is required in order to be considered for program admission. However, invitation to the PAW does not guarantee admission to the counseling program.

PAW attendees have the opportunity to interact with the counseling faculty, gain more information about the program, meet students in the program, and interact with other applicants. 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 current students.

How can I check the status of my application?

Log in to CollegeNet from the link on the NIU Graduate School applicant webpage using your username and password. Click on Application Status.

How competitive is entrance to NIU counseling programs?

Admission to the counseling programs are competitive. The counseling faculty evaluates each application carefully to determine the individual's readiness to enter professional training. Two independent reviews are conducted on each applicant's file before decisions are 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 programs.

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

After attending the PAW, you will receive a notice, typically via email from, within one to two weeks notifying you informally of the counseling faculty recommendation for your application to the Graduate School and counseling program.

When will I be assigned an advisor?

You will be assigned an advisor once you have been admitted into a counseling program. During your first semester in the program, you will have multiple opportunities to connect with your assigned advisor.

How long does it take to complete the program on average?

M.S.Ed. Students

Both M.S.Ed. counseling programs require 60 hours of coursework including and 100 hour practicum experience and 600 hours of supervised internship experience. Coursework includes a common core of counseling courses as well as courses related to your areas of specialization (i.e., school counseling, clinical mental health counseling). Internship occurs during the last two semesters of the program. In addition to maintaining satisfactory academic progress, students must meet dispositional requirements. See the MSED Program Handbook for additional information.

Ph.D. Students

The PhD in counselor education and supervision requires a minimum of 84 semester hours, including 30 semester hours from the master's degree, six semester hours of internship, satisfactory completion of candidacy exams, and 15 semester hours of dissertation. See the current graduate catalog under the student resources menu of the NIU Graduate School website for additional details. In addition to maintaining satisfactory academic progress, students must meet dispositional requirements. See the PhD Program Handbook for additional information.

What are the graduation requirements?

M.S.Ed. Students

Both M.S.Ed. counseling programs require 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 your areas of specialization (i.e. school counseling or clinical mental health counseling). Internship usually occurs within the last two semesters of program completion.

Ph.D. Students

The doctorate in counselor education and supervision requires a minimum of 84 semester hours, including 30 semester hours from the master's degree, six semester hours of internship, satisfactory completion of candidacy exams and 15 semester hours of dissertation. See the current graduate catalog under the student resources menu of the NIU Graduate School website for additional details.

What is practicum?

M.S.Ed. Students

Practicum is a supervised course that consists of real-world counseling experience in the Community Counseling Training Center. Students provide 100 hours of counseling, at least 40 hours of which are directly providing clinical services to clients. This is an opportunity for you to gain practical experience in a highly supervised clinical setting prior to moving to a community or school based internship.

Ph.D. Students

Practicum is a supervised clinical practice course (100 clock hours) in the Community Counseling Training Center. This takes place in the first semester of the doctoral program. Your clinical supervisor is a counseling faculty member who will work with you to enhance your existing clinical skills, develop and meet professional goals, and deepen your case conceptualization from your chosen theoretical orientation.

Can I complete my counseling practicum or internship hours at the school/agency at which I currently work?

M.S.Ed. Practicum

This is possible, however certain conditions must be met to ensure a rich learning experience for you. For School Counseling practicum students, you must complete 20 hours of direct counseling with school-aged children in a K-12 setting. These hours can be completed at a school where you work if you are able to schedule blocks of at least three consecutive clock hours in which you provide co-facilitated groups and/or audio-recorded individual counseling. Clinical Mental Health Counseling practicum students must complete all practicum hours in the Community Counseling Training Center (CCTC).

M.S.Ed. Internship

This is possible, however certain conditions must be met to ensure a rich learning experience for you. An internship experience must be qualitatively different from your existing duties as part of your job, meaning you need to take on new roles and tasks in your intern role. In addition, you must be able to schedule blocks of at least three 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. This is because we want you to have uninterrupted periods of time where you are working in a professional counseling capacity as you learn the flow of a counselor’s work day in any given setting.

Ph.D. Practicum

This possibility is available for doctoral students already holding the Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) credential in Illinois. In addition, this arrangement must be pre-approved by your assigned academic advising chair; field-experience coordinator; and the COUN 750 Applied Practicum instructor prior to the start of your first semester.

Ph.D. Internship

This possibility is rare. Most CES internship experiences are designed for you to work with master's students and counseling faculty in the NIU counseling program. Since we train our students for faculty positions, we hope that you will maximize your opportunity to gain experiences in our program and department.

Will courses that I have taken at another university or in a different program at NIU transfer to the counseling program?

It is possible that some courses may transfer to your counseling degree program (M.S.Ed. or Ph.D.). However, these decisions will not be made until after you have been accepted into the program. During post-admissions transcript audits, up to 9 credit hours of approved coursework may be transferred in to replace required NIU counseling program coursework requirements.

Will classes I take as a student-at-large apply to my graduation requirements if I am later accepted into a degree program in the counseling program at NIU?

Yes. Up to nine credits of relevant coursework attained as a student-at-large can be applied to graduation requirements after the student is officially admitted to the program.

Note: 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 degree-seeking student.

What is the average classroom size?

M.S.Ed. Students

The maximum number of students allowed in a classroom is 25. However, class size can range from 15 to 25 students.

Ph.D. Students

The maximum number of students allowed in a classroom is 25. The average Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral classes range from six to 15 students depending on the course and learning objectives.

When and where are classes offered?

The majority of classes are offered in the evening starting at 3 p.m. or 6 p.m. Some elective classes are offered during the day, but in order to adhere our students who work during the day, nearly all of the classes are in the late afternoon or evening. Most classes meet once a week, across 16 weeks, for two hours and 40 minutes. Summer courses typically meet twice each week, across eight weeks, for two hours and 40 minutes. A few courses are offered online, either synchronously or asynchronously. Program courses are offered on a pre-determined course rotation, which can be viewed via the links below.

In person classes are offered at the DeKalb campus located 65 miles west of downtown Chicago, easily accessible via I-88.

Do most graduate students commute or live on campus?

Student life at NIU is very diverse. 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 are graduate student friendly. Learn more about NIU Housing and Residential Services and Military and Post-Traditional Students.

What kinds of student support resources do you offer?

  • The Center for Student Assistance has this amazing page with a list of student resources that are hyperlinked and take you directly to each resource’s page.
  • “The Office of Undocumented Student Support was created to ensure that undocumented and mixed-status students have the tools and resources they need to succeed at NIU.” Visit Undocumented Student Support’s webpage for more information, or if you are on campus, you can visit the Office of Undocumented Student Support in the Campus Life Building #230 at 545 Lucinda Avenue Dekalb, IL 60115.
  • Cultural resource centers offer a place to call a “home away from home” to help connect students with similar cultural backgrounds.
  • The Disability Resource Center guides students to determine their needs and offers resources to help students meet their needs.
  • Counseling and Consultation Services (CCS) helps provide mental health support to students.
  • Psychological Services Center (PSC) provides a variety of psychological services to students including psychological testing, diagnostic interviews, and a variety of psychotherapies.
  • The University Writing Center provides support for academic writing and career-related documents along with offers workshops and presentations on specific writing topics.

How do I apply for a Graduate Assistantship?

Graduate assistantships are available and are prioritized for doctoral students and full-time master’s students. To be considered a full-time student, a minimum of nine credit hours must be taken each semester (unless you receive an underload approval from the Graduate School). There are a variety of assistantships available across campus and in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education. Assistantships provide a monthly stipend and a tuition waiver.

To be considered, you must complete the NIU Graduate Assistant application. It is also recommended that you contact professors in your department and inquire about any openings they have or know of.

Each spring, NIU holds a Graduate Student Assistant Recruitment Program (GSARP) weekend where you can meet with professors and university staff to explore possible assistantship opportunities

How do I request re-admissions if I depart the program after matriculating?

Formerly admitted and enrolled students who have taken time away or were dismissed can submit a request for counseling program re-admissions consideration to the current NIU Counseling program faculty. Counseling program re-admission forms should be submitted at least two months prior to the semester of re-admissions request.

How do I apply for the Trauma-Informed Counseling Certificate?

Non-Degree Seeking Students (Students-at-Large)

First, apply to be a Student-at-Large (SAL). Once you've been admitted as an SAL, you will receive information on how to register for classes. Complete an application.

Current Doctoral Students and Graduating Master's Students

Complete an application here.

When are the Trauma Informed Counseling Certificate courses offered?


  • CAHC 593 Crisis Intervention (first eight weeks)
  • CAHC 715 Concepts in Trauma-Informed Counseling (second eight weeks)


  • CAHC 716 Counseling for Complex Trauma (first eight weeks)
  • Trauma Elective Offered (second eight weeks)


  • Trauma Elective Offered (first four-week intersession)
  • CAHC 593 Crisis Intervention (second eight-week session)

MS.Ed. Counseling Degree (CMHC or SC) Programs Specific

Can I apply to both the master's in School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree programs?

No. You must specify on your application which specialization you would like to enter under. Once admitted to the program, you can choose to complete the coursework for both specializations including dual internship experiences if desired. Nevertheless, upon graduation, your diploma and transcripts will indicate a degree conferred in one counseling specialty area.

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

Yes. You can change track after being admitted. You should contact your advisor as soon as possible to outline a new plan of study. Finalized degree program changes must be completed before the start of counseling internship.

After meeting with your program advisor, a change of major request form must be submitted to the NIU Graduate School.

When and how do I complete placement request forms for practicum and internship?

The semester before you are planning on taking Practicum or Internship, you will need to fill out a placement request form with the information for your site. For spring semester placements, the deadline to fill out the form is September 15. For summer and fall semester placements, the deadline to fill out the form is January 15. The form can be found under the counseling community organizations tab in Blackboard, then either under Practicum or Internship depending on which one you are filling out at the time.

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

60 semester hour master’s degrees in counseling are quickly becoming the norm for licensure eligibility. In fact, our profession’s primary accrediting body, CACREP, will require accredited programs to be 60 semester hours in length beginning in 2023. Many state licensing boards already require 60 credit hours for licensure as a professional counselor, regardless of program accreditation status. The best way to maximize your professional counseling licensure eligibility in different states in the US is to earn a degree from a CACREP-accredited program that requires 60 semester hours for the master’s degree.

What can I do with this master's degree in counseling?

Many students earning their master’s degree in counseling intend to pursue a licensed practitioner career in either clinical mental health counseling or school counseling.

In addition, there are other opportunities that a master’s in counseling can provide. For exam-ple, some students seek careers in addiction counseling, couples and family counseling, col-lege and career counseling, counseling administration, community health education, wellness or life coaching, research, education, advocacy, human resources or different roles in non-profit organizations.

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

Completing the master’s degree in Counseling at NIU is one major step toward becoming a licensed professional counselor in Illinois. The National Counselor Exam (NCE) is the test required for licensure as a professional counselor (LPC) in Illinois and for certification as a National Certified Counselor (NCC). Certification is voluntary and is not the same as licensure. Licensure is what is needed in order to practice professional counseling in Illinois. The NCE can be taken during internship or post-graduation. If taking the exam during internship, you must apply approximately six months prior to the examination to qualify. Students must pay attention to their email and follow all instructions from the program and the National Board for Certified Counselors if they wish to take the exam while still enrolled as a student. Testing is offered twice during the school year (generally in April and October) and monthly after completion of the program. Both school counseling and clinical mental health counseling students are eligible for licensure as an LPC in Illinois and certification as an NCC through NBCC.

Master's students in the school counseling degree program may apply for licensure entitlement through NIU to be eligible for the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Professional Educator License (PEL) with School Counselor Endorsement. This license allows you to work as a K-12 school counselor in the State of Illinois. You must also take the School Counselor Content 181 test prior to applying for counseling internship in pursuit of this license.

Is there any additional training required for licensure, that is not included in the M.S.Ed. Counseling degree coursework?

No. Our program includes all required coursework for the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential, the Illinois Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential and the School Counselor endorsement of the Illinois Professional Educator License*

*All PEL:SC licensure coursework requirements have been integrated into core program curriculum as of fall 2023.

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 the CACREP accredited program at NIU will make the switch a lot easier. You can learn more about the state licensing requirements through the American Counseling Association State Licensure Information page.

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 through the American School Counselor Association State Certification Requirements webpage.

Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision (CES) Program Specific

What is the average weekly time commitment for doctoral studies?

The doctoral student experience is an intensive learning journey. While there is some flexibility between part-time and full-time student status and how individualized program plans are structured, you should expect to devote an average of four to six hours of outside of class time, per course, per week. This means for each full-time semester of 9 credit hours, you should expect to dedicate at least three full days to your doctoral academic training. Extra-curricular learning requirements are scheduled during the week, Monday through Friday.

Some doctoral internship experiences may require six to ten hours of additional time on high flow weeks such as grading for co-teaching, midterm/final evaluations for supervision, and other types of high work-flow periods.

What are the doctoral internship requirements for counselor educator and supervisor training?

Approved internship experiences, comprised of teaching, supervision, research, advanced clinical counseling, and professional leadership are a required part of the doctoral program. You will enroll in one to two credit hours of internship each semester, generally beginning in your second year. The specific divisions of internship experiences are determined in consultation with your program committee in order to meet your career and learning goals.

What can I do with this doctorate of philosophy degree in counselor education and supervision?

Doctoral students earning their Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision are prepared to seek roles as full-time faculty in professor, clinical and/or research positions in counseling or counseling-related higher education departments. Some graduates additionally or alternatively pursue roles as clinical supervisors or consultants, expert clinicians, skilled researchers and advocates in the advancement of the counseling field and profession. These roles can take place in diverse settings that include community agencies, hospitals, research institutions, other mental health settings; in addition to traditional colleges or universities.

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

Because the NIU doctoral program is accredited by CACREP, as a doctoral student you are eligible to sit for the National Counselor Exam and submit an application as a Licensed Professional Counselor in Illinois.

Can I pursue school counselor licensure during my doctoral program and if I'm not already a certified teacher?

Yes. The State of Illinois no longer requires school counselors to hold a teaching certificate/license. Ph.D. students who are sub-specializing in school counseling who do not have an Illinois Teaching Certificate will need to complete an additional three courses in order to gain a Professional Educator License with endorsement in School Counseling while completing the program. These courses would be in addition to the Ph.D. degree requirements.

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. Learn more about the School Counselor Institute at NIU.

Can my counseling work during the doctorate program count toward my LCPC licensure hours?

Yes. We strongly recommend that you review the current licensure applications for the state(s) in which you hope to pursue licensure and secure supervision verification as you complete/terminate certain supervisory relationships and clinical experiences.

Would my work in the NIU doctoral program count toward Approved Clinical Supervisor (ACS) requirements?

 Yes, your internship work related to your doctoral program and supervision academic course can count toward your ACS application requirements. Learn more about current requirements and application details.

Contact Us

Department of Counseling and Higher Education
Gabel Hall 200

Counseling Admissions
Graham Hall 416

Higher Education and Student Affairs Admissions
Gabel Hall 201 B

Connect with us on