Is a Psychology Degree Appropriate Undergrad Preparation for a Counseling Career?

psychology student

If you will be studying counseling at the graduate level, you have multiple degree options at the undergraduate level. It’s more likely that you will pursue a degree in psychology than one in counseling — and not just because psychology is a more universally available undergraduate option. Undergraduate counseling programs often have, as the primary end goal, direct service in an agency setting. Psychology programs are quite varied, and some are designed to prepare you for graduate school.

Featured Programs:
  • Grand Canyon University (GCU) - offers an online Bachelor's in Psychology modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology and Performance and Sports Psychology. Several Master's in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.


  • Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers an Online Bachelor’s in Psychology. This program is modeled around the American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines. APA does not accredit undergraduate psychology programs. Capella University, also offers several Online Master’s and Doctoral programs in Psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
  • Pepperdine University - Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy online - Prepare to pursue licensure as an LMFT or LPC in as few as 24 months. No GRE required. Click Here to request information today.


  • New York University - Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance online - No GRE required. MPCAC-accredited. Complete in as few as 18 months. Bilingual concentration available. Scholarships available.Click Here to request information today.


  • University of Southern California - Online MSW - With options for both online and in-person field placement, USC's CSWE-accredited MSW program allows those with a BSW to earn their degree in as few as 12 months. Click Here to request information today.

Some schools even offer a combined program that takes well-prepared students straight through from a bachelor’s degree in psychology to a master’s degree in counseling. If you don’t select one of those programs, you can still tailor your experience so that you are well prepared for counseling admission. There are plenty of options. It’s not that it’s difficult to find a psychology program that prepares you for an eventual career in counseling. There are so many program choices that you will want to spend time deciding which best meets your needs.

Some students enter the counseling profession with master’s degrees in counseling psychology. Such programs are likely to require a significant number of psychology prerequisites. They may also be highly competitive academically.

The BS in psychology can be in itself adequate for some entry-level counseling positions. This is more likely if the program includes a clinical or direct service component. However, you won’t be in private practice and your role won’t include diagnosing mental disorders; there are generally quite a few restrictions. A common role would be providing a variety of counseling-related services to individuals with addictions.

Advantages of an Undergraduate Psychology Degree

Psychology has as its foundation, the bases of human behavior – something you’ll draw from a lot as a counselor. If you take an undergraduate course in psychopathology, you’ll have some foundation when you take it again at the graduate level. You can also use your undergraduate years to explore electives related to cognitive and emotional processes, everything from health psychology to decision making. You may even have the option of doing a concentration in an area like mental health.

Counseling programs often give some preference to applicants who have degrees in related fields; this includes psychology. Nova Southeastern University, for example, lists psychology, along with education, behavioral science and social work, as related fields. It’s important to realize, though, that there are a lot more slots in undergraduate psychology programs than there are in graduate level counseling programs, so it’s not just about being a psych major but about making the most of opportunities the major offers.

Program Options

Your needs may be different than they would be if you were vying for graduate school in a more science-heavy discipline like clinical psychology or medicine/ psychiatry. The University of Missouri notes that a B.A. can be a good option for students planning on graduate school in human service fields like counseling. You will want some exposure to research and statistics, but you won’t necessarily need a big block of science courses.

Graduate counseling admission committees consider experience as well as academic coursework. Ideally, your psychology B.A. or B.S. can provide you with both. You will like want to consider internship options. You frequently get academic credit for internship even if it’s not mandatory. Some schools offer a lot of support in finding placements. Placements can include crisis centers, shelters, psychiatric units, and advocacy organizations like NAMI.

Ultimately, it’s not just about your major or your courses, but your academic and professional references — and how well you do tying everything together in your personal statement.