If you’re planning for a future in counseling, you may need a license to practice in your chosen area.

While entry level positions like occupational therapy aides and auxiliary careers such as residential case managers may not require a license, advanced professions such as school counselor, addiction counselor, and marriage counselor do require licensure.

Licensure requirements can be complex and time consuming. They also vary depending on your location and chosen field. Because of the potentially lengthy process, you’ll benefit from planning for licensing right away.

Here are six ways to prepare for the licensure process.

1. Choose Your Field of Practice.

Choosing a counseling discipline will guide this entire process, so research the careers which interest you in order to identify field of practice requirements.

For instance, becoming a marriage counselor requires an advanced degree, supervised practice, and passing the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification© (NCE) before applying to a state licensure board.

Becoming a school counselor requires an advanced degree and licensure through a state board. Both of these processes can vary depending on the state you live in. Allocating time to research the nuances that exist from state to state is important.

2. Decide Where You Want to Practice.

License requirements can vary greatly between states, and knowing the differences may influence your decision.

For example, the American School Counselor Association state certification requirements reports that for school counselor licensure in Idaho, 700 hours of supervised field experience is required; in Illinois, 600 hours is required, along with no less than one semester of internship experience.

The American Counseling Association (ACA) compiled a list of general license requirements in 2010 in all 50 states. However, it is best to contact your state board directly or seek help from your school in order to learn how requirements may have changed.

3. License Transferal and Acceptance Between States (Reciprocity).

There are often special requirements for moving from state to state and maintaining licensure. Depending upon the state in which you reside, reciprocity is generally recognized when you have the following:

  • Documented work experience.
  • Full professional licensure (i.e. not under supervision).
  • An appropriate degree.

You may need to complete different activities to transfer licensure, such as partaking in a detailed application process (which might require demonstration of supervised professional practice hours), a background check, and fingerprinting.

4. Know if You Need to Complete Fieldwork.

Some counseling areas such as marriage and family, mental health, and addiction require up to 4 years of post-degree, field supervised experience before you earn a professional license. Documented proof from a qualified supervisor is a mandated part of the license application process.

Timeframes for completion of fieldwork vary by program and state. You can verify specific fieldwork requirements and timeframes for completion by contacting your school or your state’s licensure board.

5. Understand Which Exam Is Required.

The National Board for Certified Counselors administers the NCE, which is the professional counselor test most commonly accepted by state licensing boards. With 200 multiple choice questions, the test covers work behavior and practice areas mandated by CACREP.

Other examinations are accepted in some states or required for special positions, such as the National Certified School Counselor Examination (NCSCE) and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Exam (CRCE)

Always remember: requirements vary by state.

6. Contact Capella University Licensure Support.

Because of the importance of the licensure process, Capella has established a licensure support team to help students smoothly progress toward their chosen counseling discipline, including obtaining a counseling license.

The licensure team researches licensure requirements in all 50 states to stay informed, and can help you get ready while you’re still in school to make sure you are fully prepared. If you need to know about moving to a new state or simply need guidance as to whether a specific exam is required, Capella’s Enrollment Counselors are here to help.


Capella’s online counseling programs are accredited by CACREP (for  Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy, and School Counseling) and COAMFTE (for Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy).