Scholarships for Clinical Mental Health Counseling 2024

Clinical mental health counseling is both a rewarding and challenging career path. While the work of helping others through times of crisis and improving mental wellness is deeply meaningful, the costs associated with graduate school can be steep. Thankfully, scholarships for clinical mental health counseling students are available to help offset education expenses. This comprehensive guide will outline the many scholarship opportunities available and guide for applying. Strap in and get ready to learn all about how to fund your counseling education through scholarships in 2024!

So You Want to be a Clinical Mental Health Counselor?

Before diving into scholarship details, let’s briefly define what a clinical mental health counselor entails and the education required. Clinical mental health counseling, also called counseling or psychotherapy, involves providing treatment for individuals, couples, families, and groups struggling with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, and more. Counselors are masters-level trained professionals who utilize evidence-based therapeutic techniques from various theoretical models like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Humanistic Therapy, and more to help clients work through challenges and improve well-being.

To become a clinical mental health counselor, the minimum level of education required is a 60-credit master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling or a related field from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Programs typically take 2-3 years of full-time study to complete and include coursework in topics like human growth and development, social and cultural diversity, group dynamics, assessments, diagnoses, research methods, and advanced counseling techniques. Students must also complete supervised clinical fieldwork experiences. Upon graduation, counselors will need to pass the National Counselor Examination to become Nationally Certified Counselors (NCC) and pursue any additional licensure requirements in their state.

With the high cost of graduate school, funding your clinical mental health counseling education can seem daunting. That is where scholarships come in to help lighten the financial load. There are many options available from the federal government, individual states and universities, private organizations, and more. The rest of this guide will outline scholarship details and application tips to maximize your chances of receiving support.

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Federal Scholarship Options

The federal government administers several scholarship and grant programs that can help with the cost of clinical mental health counseling master’s programs. Here are a few of the major options to consider:

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Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

While technically not a scholarship, PSLF is a major program that can help eliminate student loan debt for those who work in public service after graduation. Through PSLF, your direct loan debt may be canceled after making 120 qualifying monthly payments under a repayment plan while employed full-time by a qualified public service employer like a nonprofit or government agency providing mental health services. Clinical mental health counselors often qualify for PSLF given the community mental health and nonprofit settings many work in.

Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN)

Administered through the U.S. Department of Education, GAANN provides fellowships to support graduate study in areas of national need including clinical mental health counseling. Awards provide up to $38,000 in funding per academic year for study leading to a master’s or doctoral degree. Fellowships must be used at participating institutions, which vary each year. 

National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship Program

This NHSC program provides funds to clinically-based health profession students, including counseling students, in exchange for working in areas with shortages once graduate. Awards provide up to $120,000 in funding over 4 years to pay for tuition, fees, other academic expenses, and a living stipend. Scholarship recipients must commit to working in underserved areas as clinicians for 2 years post-graduation. Applications are typically due in early March.

Indian Health Service (IHS) Scholarship Program

Specifically meant to increase Native American representation in the health professions, IHS offers fully-funded scholarships for master’s study that cover tuition and expenses like fees, books, uniform allowance, and a monthly stipend. Scholarship recipients commit to working one year for IHS for each year of scholarship support received. 

These represent some of the major federal scholarship options to help fund clinical counseling master’s programs. Be sure to research eligibility criteria and deadlines carefully as funding amounts and requirements vary between programs. Applying early is also recommended as award recipients are selected on a competitive basis each cycle.

State-Sponsored Scholarship Programs

Many state governments offer scholarship and loan forgiveness programs specifically for residents pursuing clinical mental health counseling or other behavioral healthcare graduate degrees. Some examples to research include:

Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG)

This grant from the state of Oregon provides up to $3,000 per academic year for clinical mental health counseling and social work master’s students as well as others pursuing careers in public or mental health. No repayment is required as long as recipients commit to working at least half-time in Oregon after graduation.

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Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC)

Washington state residents may qualify for Graduate Professional Student Financial Aid, which includes some forgivable loans specifically for healthcare fields. WSAC also oversees the Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program which repays student loans for eligible healthcare clinicians committing to practice in underserved areas.

Minnesota GI Bill

Open to all Minnesota residents including veterans, this GI Bill program provides financial aid and scholarships to master’s students seeking degrees in clinical mental health counseling as well as other qualifying healthcare fields. Aid is available for both in-state and out-of-state programs.

Wisconsin Tuition Grant

Residents attending graduate programs in Wisconsin may receive funding through this need-based grant program. Many clinical counseling master’s programs are included as approved fields of study eligible for assistance.

Research your state’s higher education website as well as nonprofit organizations based in your state to uncover additional potential funding streams. Residency requirements and loan forgiveness criteria through state programs do vary significantly so be sure to review details carefully. Early application is highly recommended as some programs allocate funding on a first-come, first-served basis.

University and Institutional Scholarships

Within the clinical counseling graduate programs, themselves are many opportunities for internal scholarship assistance as well. Be on the lookout for the following types of funding available through the universities:

  • Merit scholarships are awarded based on metrics like prior academic achievements or performance on admission exams
  • Diversity or affinity group scholarships that consider factors of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, and more
  • Scholarships offered by individual academic departments, programs or campus centers focused on a particular field like counseling
  • Endowed scholarships funded through donor gifts and named after alumni or others associated with the university
  • Scholarships for specific student populations such as military veterans, parents, transfer students, or those from certain states
  • Scholarships targeting specialty areas of study within counseling programs like trauma, addiction, child therapy, or work with specific populations

Make sure to thoroughly research and apply for all scholarships offered through your intended graduate program and parent university. Check websites, with program advisors and university financial aid offices. Don’t miss internal deadlines which may fall earlier than external ones. Demonstrating fit through strong essays may help you stand out for these competitive awards.

Private Scholarship Options

When it comes to private scholarships for clinical mental health counseling, no single comprehensive resource exists. Instead, it takes diligent searching across foundations, professional associations, social networks, and more to uncover relevant opportunities. With some digging, these potential sources emerge:

  • Scholarships through large counseling associations like ACA, ASCA, and AAMFT for members or minority groups
  • Scholarships offered by state or regional counseling/psychotherapy organizations
  • Scholarship awards supported by private philanthropies focused on improving access to mental healthcare
  • Scholarships directly from large counseling-oriented companies like insurance providers, EAP firms, treatment centers
  • Scholarship programs run by ethnic/cultural affinity counseling groups
  • Scholarships through national advocacy groups for issues like eating disorders, addiction, veteran mental health
  • Scholarship contests held by counseling or psychology-focused publishers, conferences, and events
  • Local scholarships offered through community foundations or service clubs
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Thoroughly comb Guidestar.org, Fastweb.com, and individual counseling-adjacent nonprofit websites. Also, explore less traditional places like wellness chambers of commerce or employee assistance company donors. Social media helps uncover smaller scholarship gems too through relevant hashtags and advocacy organizations. Unique fit factors as an applicant can help stand out.

Additional Scholarship Search and Application Tips

Now that you are armed with knowledge on the landscape of clinical counseling scholarship opportunities, here are some final tips to maximize your funding success:

  • Start searching and applying early – many deadlines fall between December-March for the following academic year
  • Ask current graduate program directors, financial aid advisors, and recent alumni about additional hidden local scholarships
  • Highlight any personal hardships, obstacles overcome or underserved communities served in essays to increase empathy from selection committees
  • Research eligibility requirements thoroughly and double check you meet all criteria before applying
  • Have multiple people proofread essays and application materials for typos or errors before submitting
  • Follow up courteously if you are a finalist but don’t receive an award in case alternates are later chosen
  • Consider applying for a mix of larger and smaller scholarships to improve your overall chances of winning funding

Common Questions About Counseling Scholarships

Now that we’ve covered the different types of scholarships available and tips for applying, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What is the average counseling scholarship award amount?

Scholarship award amounts vary widely depending on the specific program, but on average clinical counseling master’s students can expect awards to range between $1,000-$10,000. Larger federal and state scholarships may provide over $10,000 per year, while smaller community or department awards are commonly $1,000-$3,000. Apply broadly to maximize your funding potential.

How many scholarships should I apply for?

There is no set number, but aiming to apply for 5-10 relevant scholarships is a good target range. Make applications a priority early in the academic cycle from October through March. Consider a mix of larger nationally competitive awards along with smaller local options. With diligence, it’s certainly possible to receive multiple sources of funding support.

What are the most competitive counseling scholarships?

Top-tier federal options like NHSC and GAANN are extremely competitive with acceptance rates under 10% and require strong applicants. State-specific programs also see high volumes of applications. Internal university merit awards drawing from the entire student body population will have the most applicants. Community foundation contests also attract many entrants.

How long does it take to receive scholarship funds?

Processing times vary by program and timing of application/award cycle. Most scholarship funds are disbursed directly to the university to pay tuition and other approved education expenses. Expect to receive award notifications 4-6 months after deadlines. Funds are then typically available at the start of the academic terms or semester they are intended for.

Is it possible to renew counseling scholarships?

Yes, for internal university and private foundation scholarships, maintaining good academic standing could allow you to reapply and potentially receive funding for multiple years. Federal and state programs often only provide one-time support, however. Ask providers about continuance policies and plans for annual scholarship searches.

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