Becoming a Counselor in New Jersey
It takes a lot of education to be a counselor. Professional counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and school counselors are all credentialed at the master's level. Substance abuse counselors are credentialed at different levels, but the highest level requires a master’s.
If you are a High School Student or have a Diploma/GED in NJ:
Look ahead to see graduate school admission requirements. You can enter a counseling program with a degree in one of any number of fields, but some programs do have prerequisites. You may need a minimum number of courses in psychology or the social sciences, for example. [Read up on selecting an undergraduate counseling degree here.]
A bachelor's degree in Psychology is common preparation for graduate school in the field of counseling.
You can improve your grad school prospects by getting some experience out in the field. There are lots of options. You could volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Morris County and socialize with adults with mental illness; you could become a Reading Buddy through Family & Children's Service. You will find more opportunities on the site of Volunteer New Jersey.
If you have a Bachelor’s Degree:
Apply to the programs that will best meet your career goals. Read up on choosing a Master’s in Counseling program.
To become a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor, you will need a master's degree in either counseling or another related field. Your program must include 18 hours in counseling with coursework in specific areas identified by the Board.
To earn a professional counselor license, enroll in a master’s program that includes 60 semester hours of coursework. Your professional program may include several electives. It is possible to enroll in a program that simultaneously prepares you for LPC and LCADC or school counseling licensing.
New Jersey also recognizes gerontology, mental health counseling, and career counseling; these are specialty designations that may be added to your LPC license. You will want to make sure that your program meets standards set by the appropriate certification board.
Some licenses require less than 60 semester hours. If you are interested in becoming a school counselor, you’ll enroll in a program that is department-approved, CACREP-accredited, and/or includes all required components. Expect the program to be 48 semester hours and include at least six semester hours of field experience.
If you are seeking rehabilitation counselor licensing only, enroll in a program that meets New Jersey's coursework requirements and prepares you to take the certification exam administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.
Your field placement may offer further opportunities to tailor the program. You may count some of the time you spend doing university internships toward the experience requirement for professional counseling. Make sure that your internships meet the requirements set by any certification agency through which you are seeking credentialing.
Licensed Associate Counselor is a step on the path to becoming an LPC. You will need to pass the National Counselor Examination to become an LAC. If you are applying for national certification in addition to New Jersey licensure, you may take the NCE as early as your final semester.
If you are training to become an addiction counselor, you will take written and oral examinations.
Fulfill experience requirements, if applicable. Licensure as an LPC or rehabilitation counselor requires three years of supervised experience under guidelines set by the New Jersey Board. At least two years must occur post-degree. If you have an additional 30 graduate semester hours beyond those required for licensing, your requirement will be reduced. (The Board considers 1,500 hours to be a year.
A substance abuse counseling license requires 3,000 hours of supervised work experience (paid or volunteer).