A master's in school counseling is a sought after degree

DePaul Professor Melissa Ockerman, right, talks with a master's level school counseling student Katherine Nolan.

Many of us would like to think we make a difference. School counselors know they do. This connection, that what you do matters, is what drives the popularity of a master's in school counseling degree.

Sarah Bowen is a school counselor at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. She received her master's in school counseling at DePaul University in June 2008. Prior to getting her graduate degree she was a high school biology teacher at Taft High School in Chicago. Teaching was a good fit for Bowen, but she soon realized making a deeper connection to the students she taught was sacrificed to the content that needed to be covered in the classroom.

"While I really enjoyed teaching and miss certain aspects of it to this day, I really wanted to be able to form relationships with students and have time to talk to them about aspects of their lives outside of the content area I was teaching," Bowen says.

"I noticed how much students seemed to struggle with all of the different issues they were dealing with -- be it at home, with peers, low grades, plans for after high school, with self-esteem, sadness, etc. -- and how much they seemed to really need some guidance in these areas."

Marie A. Bracki, assistant professor and co-director of National Louis University's school counseling program, believes this particular degree is beneficial personally and professionally.

"This is a great degree to provide people with an opportunity to work with children and make a real difference in their lives," she says. "Working in a school district can provide a competitive salary and benefits plus opportunities for professional growth."

Also, helping to increase the popularity of this degree was a change in the law that broadened the applicant pool.

"In 2004, Illinois changed the law so that teaching experience is no longer required," explains Melissa Ockerman, assistant professor in DePaul University's school counseling program. "Therefore, many talented and skilled individuals who wanted to work with K-12 students, but were not interested in teaching, entered into the field."

For example

Traci Millar of Bolingbrook is an example of a person who did not have a teaching background. She started the school counseling program at National Louis in April 2009 and plans to graduate in June 2011. Her cohort program meets one evening a week for several hours.

"I received my undergraduate degree from National Louis University in 1999 in Psychology and Human Services," she says. "I took a long time to obtain my bachelor's degree as I was working full time. My work background was in IT. I always knew I wanted to obtain my master's degree in counseling, but I was not sure when. When our two children were older and my youngest was in kindergarten, I decided to look into the master's program in counseling. I wanted to attend NLU because I heard of many positive experiences about their program."

As part of her degree program Millar is an intern at John J. Lukancic Middle School in Romeoville this school year. And, although she does not have a teaching background,

Millar does have empathy for what children are faced with today.

"Children need additional support in the schools," she says. "They are faced with so many issues and challenges before they walk in the door every day. It is imperative that their needs are met at school so that they can be successful."

To make the most of her internship at Lukancic, Millar is working to establish relationships, make connections and seek out opportunities.

"We assist with monitoring in the lunch room and the hallways," she says. "Many connections are made in the hallways and the lunch room. I have been observing my supervisor, [work in] classrooms, and have also had the opportunity to work with students individually. Some of the meetings with students involve assistance with academic support, coping skills, and mediating in various situations. In addition to working directly with students, I have been involved in many team meetings and parent meetings."

With school budgets being cut, Millar is concerned about the likelihood of obtaining a school counseling position, but she is hopeful.

"I am anticipating a challenge but hoping for a positive outcome," she says. "It is easy to get discouraged by the lack of jobs and I was warned about this prior to beginning the program. I decided that I was not going to let that deter me from pursuing my dream."

What it takes