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USJ Launching Accelerated Psychology BA to Counseling MA Degree

University of Saint Joseph. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford will begin offering an Accelerated Psychology B.A. to Counseling M.A. degree that will streamline entry into the counseling profession.


As the mental health crisis in the U.S. continues to grow, so does the need for qualified mental health professionals.

Starting in the fall of 2024, students interested in entering the mental health field can enroll in USJ’s new Accelerated Direct Entry: B.A. in Psychology to M.A. in Counseling degree.

This degree pathway will allow undergraduate psychology majors to complete both their B.A. in psychology and their M.A. in counseling (either Licensed Mental Health Counseling or Certified School Counseling) in six years rather than seven.

“There are several reasons why we wanted to create this pathway for students. First, most of our psychology majors are interested in entering helping professions. Every year, several go on to counseling graduate programs. We thought that it would benefit both the students and the university to streamline the process to entering the counseling profession,” said Kristin Cistulli, Ph.D., chair of the department of Psychology, Family, and Justice Studies and associate professor of Psychology at USJ.

“The profession of counseling is a dynamic and meaningful career,” added Marte Ostvik-de Wilde, Ph.D., associate professor of Counseling and Applied Behavioral Studies. “Those who choose to become school counselors can work in elementary, middle, and high schools. Those who choose to become clinical mental health counselors can work in agencies, hospitals, community settings, and private practice.”

Incoming students can choose the accelerated pathway as they enter their undergraduate psychology program, either before they apply to USJ or after they apply and indicate an interest. They will then be accepted into the undergraduate program in psychology and begin their plan of graduate study.

The Accelerated Direct Entry: BA in Psychology to MA in Counseling degree has several practical advantages for students. Earning both their B.A. in psychology and M.A in counseling degrees in six years instead of seven saves students both time and money.

“Participating in this accelerated direct entry program will make careers in counseling more accessible to all students because it alleviates a significant portion of the cost to pursue those careers,” said Cistulli. “This pathway saves students a full year of tuition between the undergraduate and graduate programs, making a career in counseling more accessible for all students. We’re hoping that this pathway reduces some of the barriers to becoming a mental health professional.”

As undergraduates, students on this pathway will complete all CORE curriculum and psychology major requirements by the end of their third year. During their fourth year, they will retain their status as an undergraduate student, taking the three graduate courses each semester.

This will allow students to remain full time undergraduate students for financial aid, residential, and athletics purposes.

As students enter the graduate study phase, they will benefit from being part of a cohort, going through the experience together as a cohesive group. Promoting this sense of community is a hallmark of USJ’s Psychology and Counseling department.

“We really pride ourselves on being supportive of all the students. They will always know we are in their corner looking out for them from day one in their first year all the way through the graduate program, because of the small class sizes and because we pride ourselves on being a supportive and connective community,” Cistulli said.

The idea for this accelerated pathway came about, in part, due to the increased need for mental health treatment seen after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is an ideal time to enter the mental health field due to the high needs that exist in our communities and schools,” said Dr. Ostvik-de Wilde. “Counseling offers individuals a chance to build resiliency, develop coping skills, and problem-solve challenges in their lives while using a holistic wellness approach.”

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