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Choosing a counselor for your college student

Jennifer See

Maybe your student is overwhelmed at school, or you’ve observed them struggling with a transition or an issue and it's become clear they need some outside help. This is when a counselor might be the answer. Counseling can help your college student work through challenges and problems and sort out life’s pressures.

Your student should start with the Campus Counseling Center. Just about every college has its own counseling or wellness center with services that are free or low cost for full-time students. The drawback? Most centers are open M–F, from 8–5, which is inconvenient for students who need or prefer evening or weekend appointments. In addition, unless your student is in crisis, there may be a wait for an appointment.

You may decide to help your student locate an off-campus, private counselor.

How do you find a counselor while your child is away at school, possibly in another state? You could do a Google search for counselors in close proximity (I personally recommend searching on the Psychology Today website) or ask another parent if they know of any in the area. There are many parent Facebook pages and other groups where parents share information, and asking in one of those forums is a good way to get a word-of-mouth recommendation.

Here are the most important things for your student to consider when choosing a counselor:


Vet the credentials of any potential counselor. Some people take “online certification” courses and call themselves a counselor. Make sure yours holds a minimum of a master’s degree and is licensed to practice in the state. You can verify credentials of any counselor at any Department of State Health Services’ website.


Some counselors book appointments during work hours, and others offer weeknight and weekend hours to accommodate busy student schedules. Some counselors offer in-home or distance counseling options as well. If your student has seen a counselor in your hometown, ask the counselor if they’d be comfortable doing distance counseling via a HIPAA-compliant platform (such as VSee).


Make sure the counselor is adept in the specific area you need. Does your student have anxiety, depression or a substance use issue? Do you need someone with experience with eating disorders? Ask a counselor upfront about their area(s) of specialization.

Therapy is a process. Some issues can be resolved in a few visits, but others need more time. There’s no exact formula.


Find out about the payment options offered by the counselor or counseling practice. Do they take insurance or are they cash-pay only? What payment types are accepted? Some counselors offer discounts for members of the armed services or first responders. Others might offer discounts for multiple, pre-paid sessions. Don’t be afraid to ask if they offer a sliding scale for fees (based on a client's ability to pay).

Release of Information

Because your child is 18+ and legally an adult, most counselors need to speak directly to the student to set up the appointment, unless a Release of Information (ROI) is signed by the student authorizing you (the parent) to confer with the practitioner. I have had parents call me to set up the initial appointment and payment, but an ROI must be signed before I can talk with the parent about anything related to their child’s appointment.

Last but not least: Consistency

The therapeutic process is optimized when there is consistency. So, above all, talk with your student to make sure they're willing and able to commit to a regular appointment schedule.

Once they’ve found a counselor and had their initial intake appointment, ask if they are comfortable with their choice. If they are not, the therapy most likely will not work. Sometimes finding the right fit involves "trying out" a few counselors — and that’s okay.

Remember, therapy is a process. Some issues can be resolved in a few visits, but others need more time. There’s no exact formula. When sufficient progress is made, the counselor will most likely recommend termination, or ending the therapy.



Jennifer See, LPC, LCDC is a clinician in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. She sees individuals ages 10 and up and focuses on mental health and substance use and abuse issues. Jennifer is also the parent of two college students. Visit her website at and connect on social @jenniferseelpc.
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Taylor Bishop
2 years ago

I wanted to thank you for this advice for finding a counselor. I'm glad you mentioned that you should find a counselor that could be comfortable doing distance counseling. This sounds useful especially if you found a good counselor but it could take some time to get tot hem.

drake welsh
2 years ago

It was very helpful when you suggested to check the payment options of a counselor before you hire them. My wife and I want to find the right counselor for our son. I will be sure to consider the payments before making our choice.

charles walk
1 year ago

I hadn't thought about it before, so I love that you would suggest to check the credentials of a counselor prior to hiring them. My daughter is out at school and is struggling with depression, so I am going to help her find the right counselor to help her through it. When I look for one, I will check their credentials.

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