“I’ve wanted to do counseling for as long as I can remember. When I started looking for a program, I had to consider that I would be moving, getting married and finding a job all within a few months. I ultimately chose the M.A. Counseling online program at Cornerstone because it allows flexibility for my lifestyle while I take my classes. I also can take fewer classes at different times during my program so I can adjust my schedule as needed. It is really important for me to have a biblical foundation for counseling, and determine how I want to use the truth in Scripture. It was very helpful to talk to the advisers to learn more about the program, the amount of time it would take to finish and how a biblical foundation can be integrated with counseling. I think it is really important for young counseling professionals who have a biblical foundation to be confident and competent. Even in the experience I have had [in the Counseling Philosophy class], I know that I am learning practical truths that will apply wherever God calls me to go with my degree. I am being challenged in new ways, and that is exciting.” —Damaris Garcia, M.A. Counseling Online Student

Damaris Garcia is one of eleven students in the first cohort of the new M.A. Counseling online program at Cornerstone University. She met the other members of her cohort for the first time on Jan. 7, the first day of their three- to four-year program together. The day started with an orientation in the morning and launched right into their first class that afternoon. The following two days were part of a three-day intensive where they received course material, a lecture from one of our counseling faculty members and explored Grand Rapids with current counseling students.

These students have only been in their program for a couple months, but the staff and faculty at Cornerstone have been anticipating this program for over a year. We knew that more counseling programs were surfacing among other graduate schools so we had to consider how to make a program like the one at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary more broadly available. We also recognized that online programs are becoming more normalized within higher education. It offers even more flexibility and opens up our program to students who live outside of the Grand Rapids area.

There were a lot of practical reasons for offering an online counseling degree, but there were also some larger questions we had to wrestle with.

  • How can we offer an online program while still cultivating a sense of community?
  • How does this work for such an interpersonal profession like counseling?
  • Does our program need to change in order to best serve our students?

The solution was found in a hybrid program. Our M.A. Counseling students take their classes primarily online but they also meet twice with their cohort throughout their program. Students come for a three-day intensive for one of their first courses and again at the beginning of their second year for another course. This allows students to meet together, get to know their classmates in person, and continue those relationships throughout the remainder of their program.

Another important goal with this program is to build in the integration of a biblical and theological foundation with professional counseling courses. While a new program does present an opportunity to reduce the number credits, we wanted to maintain the same type of academic experience as our in-residence program at GRTS. Counseling students choose to pursue theological education because of the challenging topics of theology, biblical hermeneutics and Christian spiritual formation. It was crucial that we preserve the ethos of coupling theological and professional scholarship.

Dr. Catherine Mueller-Bell, associate professor of counseling, is the faculty adviser for the cohorts and will teach many of the online courses throughout the program. She speaks to the anticipation of this new program:

Being involved with the launching of the Master of Arts in Counseling online program at Cornerstone has been an enriching and inspiring experience. The fact that our full graduate degree is accessible online, as we continue to provide the residential program at GRTS, will allow more students to be able to prepare for the role of counselor in their communities. The need for counseling services is increasing and now this professional degree will be available in a wide variety of cultural contexts. Regardless of a student’s geographical location, they will have access to our degree program and the ability to become a professional counselor. This is an exciting new development for our school and the people we serve.

We look forward to seeing how this first cohort progresses through their program. Our next cohort will begin Fall 2016, and we are already accepting applications. Please check out our M.A. Counseling webpage for more information and to fill out an application!