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I Learned Nothing from Grad School: What being a Counselor is Really like.

© Jessica Richards, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

December 5, 2014

You are in your last semester of grad school and you are fully prepared to take the next step. You have been waiting for this for 6 very long years, better yet; you have been waiting your whole life! Waiting for that very moment when the world would be yours and you are just itching to go out there and conquer it!

You have been saying for months and years “I can’t wait to be done with school!” “I can’t wait to never have another paper to write!”

You have probably forgotten to ask the question “what do I have waiting for me after I leave grad school?” Now, I’m not talking about the “what is it going to be like as a counselor” You have spent plenty of internship hours and years of education to know how to be a counselor. I’m talking about what to expect in the next few months or years in the business of being a counselor.

We’ve all heard the “You don’t go into this field for the money” by now. I heard it numerous times and brushed it off, never thinking to ask “what does that really mean?” and “how can I prepare?”

Well, I really wish I would have asked those questions! Those are the questions that I needed the answers to! So, I’m going to share what I have learned with you, in the next several blogs because this will be too long for one.

So, what can you expect and prepare for financially, let’s take a look:  



You have been waiting, to get that first pay check; it’s going to be so great! You have researched the average income, for a counselor in Florida, and are fully prepared to start making that right away! Before you walk across the stage, this is what you need to know about the finances that are waiting for you.

  • 20-32K a year – for a salaried, registered intern position. This will include some benefits such as, health insurance, vacation, sick time etc. The basic type of benefits you would expect from a job. Benefits do not typically include student loan reimbursement so; you will want to be prepared to tackle these solely as much as you can, on your own.
  • 20-40 an hour – for fee for service or contract work. This will include freedom in your schedule, the ability to maintain another steady job, sometimes the ability to see as many or as little cases as you want. This does not include benefits so, you will be on your own for health insurance, vacation time, sick time and most of the time your own taxes as well.



  • $100-400 in Liability Insurance – you will need to purchase liability insurance in order to become employed, at most agencies. This will protect you and your new registered internship licensure and most agencies will require proof of liability insurance, prior to becoming employed. You will want to be prepared for this expense, fairly soon after you graduate. So, saving now and putting some money away for this, will save you the headache later. Yes, you will need this as an intern.
  • $150+ for Registered Internship – you probably know by now, that you will have this expense for the initial licensure application. This will be the first of all of your expenses and you will want to be prepared for this as soon as possible, if you haven’t already completed it, during your last semester of grad school. Yes, you can complete this application process prior to leaving school, you just will not be approved and receive your licensure until everything has been completed and submitted.
  • $60-100 in finger printing – depending on the job you are going for, you will be required to have a background check, at most agencies, in order to become employed and then potentially again for each county in which you will be entering public schools to visit clients and provide services on campus. You will need to be fingerprinted for each school county. I had to do this for two counties so, for me it was around 80 for each. Some agencies will pay for this or reimburse you for it after but, be prepared just in case.
  • $20-200 in continuing education classes – although you won’t need these for a while and these can wait until right before you submit your application for full licensure (after the 2 year internship), you will want to be prepared to pay for any of your continuing education classes. Most agencies will not foot the expense for these for you.
  • Gas and tolls – this will vary greatly but, if you are employed by an agency where you are required to see clients in home, community or schools you will be footing the bill for the increase in gas and tolls as well. Some agencies will reimburse for mileage, just make sure you ask during your interview.
  • Student loans – this will vary for everyone but, make sure you are preparing for and expecting to start paying these back, in the next 6 months or so because this will be another expense you will have to add to the list and for most, it will be a pretty big expense. Most agencies and places of employment will not reimburse for this. There are the options for student loan forgiveness programs, deferment, public service, service corps and others but, each come with their own requirements, benefits and equal consequences for the added assistance. Make sure you are aware of what to expect for each of these and plan ahead. If you want to consolidate or apply for student loan forgiveness programs, you will want to do this a few months before the 6 month grace period is over because it takes a few weeks to completely go through. I graduated in September and completed my consolidation application, for the student loan forgiveness program in Feburary, it finally went through in April and my first payment began in May. So, as you can see… it takes a while.
  • $0-150+ Clinical Supervision – you will want to consider what this will mean. If you are hired at an agency, you will most likely want to ask if there is someone who can supervise you for your licensure (LMHC, LCSW, OR LMFT) because they are not equal. One sometimes cannot supervise the other and not everyone that is a clinical supervisor for agency employees, is equally a clinical supervisor for the state of Florida. Make sure you understand the difference because if you have to seek outside supervision, it will be an added expense. If you need to see a supervisor once a week, you will want to consider what this will mean for you as far as finances.
  • $25-200+ for professional associations – you will want to join several associations, for many benefits. Discounts in liability insurance, continued educations, seminars, trainings, networking, just to name a few. Joining from bottom up will allow you to become active in local networking, to assist in finding employment because this will be your best option for finding employment ASAP.


As you can see, there is a lot to be prepared for, as far as finances go. This list is not exhaustive and does not include the expense for the exam because I only included expenses that you will want to focus on, right after school. Prioritizing these will help make it easier to handle the exam, may have to wait a little while and that’s OK. If you don’t currently have a source of income, it might be a great time to start looking for something part-time to help supplement some of these upcoming expenses and this might be a non-counseling position for a little while.


Lastly, take a deep breath. Enjoy your graduation celebrations! You will have plenty of time to prepare for and work through your registered internship. Expect the next few months to be difficult, slow, frustrating and at times very trying. Know that you are not alone, it will get easier, it will not always be like this, and know that the first few months will be tough and year one will be very rocky. You will question yourself, you will wonder what you went to school for, you will second guess yourself every step of the way. IT’S OK! Find support in our group and it will make it easier for you. We are all in this together and we will all get through it the same! You are fully prepared to conquer this journey and you will use your counseling skills more on yourself than you will on any of your clients! You will learn more self-care than you will ever care to know but, it will be extremely important! You have worked very hard to get here and you are not quiet done yet, brace yourself and hang on. You will be licensed before you know it!



Profile photo of jrichards1432About Author: Jessica Richards (13 Posts)

Jessica Richards is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern for the State of Florida. As a graduate of NOVA Southeastern University, she holds a master's degree in Mental Health Counseling. She currently contracts with local community agencies to obtain hours for full LMHC licensure, while working on establishing her private practice, Peace of Mind Counseling. Both located in Orlando, Florida.

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