What You Might Pay in Student Loans in Order to Become a Counselor

Counselor  Student LoansIf you are interested in a career as a counselor and are attempting to project what your income will be relative to your student loan repayment schedule, there are a few factors which must be considered.

What type of counseling do you intend to practice? Are you going to be working as an independent practitioner, as an employee for a government agency or as a professional consultant for a business entity? Counselors practicing in each of these categories earn various levels of incomes and perform a variety of functions in the course of their employment.

Another factor which will affect your ability to repay loans will be the earning capacity you will garner in the community in which you choose to reside. In other words, will you be living in a large, bustling city like Los Angeles or New York? Or do you envision yourself quietly nestled somewhere in the suburbs of Idaho or Ohio? Alternatively, if you choose to live in a small town and commute to a big city, you may earn the salary of a city-dweller yet live on a much more modest budget.

One of the ways to discern what your income to investment ratio will be is to design a budget based on the following factors:

  1. The college you attend and whether or not you will work while in school.
  2. The area you choose to live in once you have graduated.
  3. The area of counseling you choose as well as who will be your employer.
  4. The level of your motivation.

What college will you attend and will you work while in school?

Many students cannot carry a full academic workload and maintain outside employment; others see a part-time job as a key to their sanity while attending college. Mary Simms M.A., MFT, was one of those students who simply had to keep her focus strictly on academics; outside work for her mindset was not an option;

“There were many, many times I wished I could have held a job outside of school, if nothing more than to meet others who talked about different topics and who had other lifestyles. I just am not the kind of person who can divide my attention very well. Some of my classmates cut back on their loan amounts by working part-time, and I admired them for that ability. I just wasn’t one of the ones who could get away with that.”  

- Mary Simms M.A., MFT

Obviously the college you choose will play a determinative role in the loans and aid you receive on your journey to becoming a counselor. One thing to keep in mind when selecting an institution of higher learning is what the licensing board of the state you reside in requires in terms of accreditation. Also, what does the American Psychological Association (APA) require? Beginning in 2017, the APA will begin to enforce stricter guidelines regarding the status of higher learning programs in psychology. Many colleges who have not established accreditation will not be listed as an APA institution. This might affect your efforts to be licensed in a variety of ways. Be sure that you visit the APA website and that you thoroughly assess the upcoming changes.
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 Where will you live once you graduate?

One of the most valuable things you can do to properly anticipate your ability to repay loans is develop a budget ahead of time based on the town or city in which you plan to live. There are a multitude of resources which can put cost-of-living figures at your fingertips; for example CNN Fortune & Money. This website can calculate the difference between where you live currently and the cost you would pay to live in another area.

To figure your income in various locales, visit the United States Department of Labor website; there are listings for all jobs and all variances of availability as well as growth potential. (Word to the wise: when researching data on any website, pay very close attention to the words used by the site. For example, when a “median” wage is given, recognize that this is not an average wage; it is the wage which half of the surveyed people make less than and half of them make more than.)

Patricia Mooney Ph.D. never anticipated moving to California when she was in college. However, she met her husband and fell in love; before she knew it she was living in San Diego, California.

“I had done all the planning in the world regarding my future, but sometimes…things happen! I wouldn’t trade him for the world (or my children) but I will say that the cost of living nearly doubled from where I lived previously (in Van Buren, Arkansas). Good thing he had a job!”  

- Patricia Mooney Ph.D

What type of counselor will you be and for whom will you work?

Will you be a marriage and family counselor? Will you be a school counselor? Will you work for a government agency (i.e. the Veterans Administration) or will you open a private practice?

The answers to these questions all lead to different financial scenarios; they also must be put into geographical perspective. Creating an outline which incorporates the amount you will be borrowing to attend college, the cost of living you will incur once you graduate and the employer as well as job title you will have will all intersect to give you a blueprint of what to expect in the years that follow graduation.

What is your level of motivation?

Two individuals can be given the exact same materials to build a house and one can unveil a mansion while the other an adequate abode. The key to building anything (especially a career) is to have the right frame of mind and attitude. If you are motivated and determined, you will take the materials in front of you and build the life of which you’ve dreamed. William T. Morehouse M.S. was an individual who had many odds against him. He had physical handicaps that would have discouraged most any individual and yet he had high hopes. His dream was to be a counselor in the public school system and against the odds he achieved his goals.

“If I can live my dream, anyone can do it. I was told countless times that I would never make it. I was unwilling to accept discouragement. I decided what I was going to do and have and I went after it. Did I have loans to repay? YES! I wasn’t given a free ride. But I decided that it was worth it, that I was worth it. Don’t take no for an answer and don’t let fear dictate which direction your life will take.” 

- William T. Morehouse M.S.

Clearly, your future is up to you. The dollar amount you incur while in school can be seen as a bill to pay or an investment in your happiness. While other determinants may be static, it would seem that your attitude is the one thing that might effectively and permanently revamp and redefine the true value of your loan debt.