by Kate Latimer, LPCC
Before investing in the 2-3 years of academic coursework needed to complete a graduate degree, students need to know what their job prospects will be upon completion. After the devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis that left many degree-holders unemployed, colleges have seen a national trend of lower enrollment in many graduate programs. Rightly so. It makes no sense to devote time and resources to an effort that does not bear fruit!
It’s like taking the time to water, weed, and care for a vegetable garden, only to have it be eaten by local wildlife! By the way, this has repeatedly happened to me living in the wilds of Santa Fe, and yet I keep planting. However, my garden rewards me in other ways and does not cost even a fraction of graduate school tuition!
Those considering a master’s degree in counseling need not be concerned. Unlike my gardening efforts, the prognosis for employment upon graduating with a degree in counseling is quite good.
Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics currently state that employment for mental health counselors is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is a rate of growth that far exceeds the average for all other occupations. At a recent board meeting of the New Mexico Counseling Association, the President of the New Mexico Association for Mental Health Counselors, Lora Smalley, LMFT, reported that there are currently three open positions for every licensed mental health professional in our state. These kinds of jobs offer median pay landing at about $45K in this state. This trend is expected to continue as more and more people find themselves in need of mental health services.
Southwestern College prepares students for licensure as mental health counselors and art therapists, two careers that are not only fulfilling, but financially sustainable based on the above statistics. Now is a great time to consider leveling up from a related degree or profession as there are also many student loan forgiveness programs that reward counselors for service in rural and underserved areas around the country. I am regularly tempted by offers to work on pueblos and reservations in remote areas of Alaska, Arizona, and even Canada! I have seen pay for these positions range from $45-65K, depending on licensure, and would easily qualify for loan forgiveness.
I am personally only a few years away from having my loans forgiven (it could have been done much sooner had I known such programs were available and not spent time in deferment when I stayed home with my daughter after she was born). I look forward to the day when I can say goodbye to the burden of a monthly student loan bill and feel grateful knowing that I will have saved many years of payments due to my choice work in service to the non-profit sector and the field of education.
So, here’s to being able to confidently choose a career in mental health counseling and/or art therapy and contributing to not only the wellbeing of others, but your own financial stability and professional growth. That’s definitely a garden worth tending.