Are certificate programs in college counseling worth it?

I’m often asked by fellow counselors if certificate programs in college counseling like those offered at UCLA and Berkeley are worth the time and expense.  My feelings on the subject are not unlike how I feel when a parent asks if tuition at a particular college is “worth it.”  

First, what does “worth it” look like to you?

You need to have an answer to that question before you enroll.  Are you hungry to learn anything and everything you can about college counseling?  Are you a private counselor who would feel more confident showing potential clients some kind of formal certification?  If so, I think you’re likely to find the time and expense to pay off as you expected. 

But if you’re just enrolling because you feel like you should, or because your competitors are doing it, or because you’re feeling unchallenged and want to add something different to your work mix, a program like this doesn’t necessarily promise to fulfill those needs. 

Much as you’d tell a student to thoughtfully consider why she wants to attend a particular college, you should consider your reasons for wanting to attend a certification program.  If you can’t answer the “Why?” question before you even enroll, you’re not as likely to benefit from the program.

Second, how much are you willing to do to extract the maximum value for your time and money?

Just like any class, program, or entire college experience, you can sit back passively and wait to get an education, or you can dive in and take your education.  Most certification programs in college counseling have outside reading, projects, and plenty of opportunities for in-class discussion.   If you view those requirements as tasks on a to-do list to be checked off as quickly as possible, you won’t get as much out of them.  But if you look at them as opportunities to learn, interact with classmates, and apply your new knowledge, you’ll be extracting a lot more value for your time and money.

I earned my counseling certification from UCLA in 1999.  I had just started Collegewise and wanted to learn as much as I could.  Then I retook the financial aid class in 2009 when more of our families needed help with the process and I felt like I needed to get far more comfortable with the material.  In both cases, it was worth it for me.

But the material in those programs tends to be geared toward people who are new to the profession.  If you’ve been in the trenches counseling kids at a high school for five years, a lot of what you learn will likely be a refresher course.

If you’re not sure, take a test drive.  Enroll in one or two classes and see how they go.  Did you learn a lot? Are you able to apply what you learned to your work?  Did the experience make you want to come back for more?  If so, you’re more likely to look back on a certification program as time and money well spent.