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Undergraduate Options for Students Considering Careers in Marriage and Family Therapy

There is more than one pathway to becoming a marriage and family therapist (LMFT), and you can initiate the process at virtually any stage. You generally won’t begin taking the courses you need for licensing until after you earn your bachelor’s. If you have your career choice in mind before your undergraduate years, though, you can increase your chances of success.

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Your choice of undergraduate major will have both direct and indirect effects.

Your choice of undergraduate major will have both direct and indirect effects. The right major or minor will ensure you get your prerequisites in. Some majors will help you get internships and/or paid employment in human or family services at the undergraduate level. This in turn can bolster your graduate school application.

The Minimum Academic Requirements

You can get into a marriage and family therapy graduate program with a major in virtually any field, though some programs specify that it must be in a related subject like sociology, social work, or psychology. At this level, ‘related field’ is defined broadly. You can opt for anything that relates to your future practice, for example, gerontology. An interdisciplinary social sciences major will give you the opportunity to take courses from a variety of departments, including sociology, psychology, and sometimes anthropology. If you have music skills, you might opt for music therapy. There is no ‘right’ major, but it is best if you have a vision, and your coursework somehow fits into it; at the graduate level, you will probably have both a personal statement and an interview.

Your graduate MFT program will likely want to see some social science prerequisites. Try to get 12 semester hours in areas like human development, family studies, and psychology. Some programs also look for a course in research methods and statistics. There will be at least one such course in your graduate program, so having some exposure will help.

"You can get into a marriage and family therapy graduate program with a major in virtually any field."

Institutional Accreditation and G.P.A. Goals

Regional accreditation is considered to have more rigorous academic standards than national, and will increase your options. You will be in a better position if your undergraduate GPA is at least 3.0. The last 45 to 60 semester hours are particularly important.

Undergraduate Majors That Emphasize Family Life

If you do want to study the family in-depth at the undergraduate level, you can opt for a major in family science or family studies. These are overlapping disciplines. Family science programs often include more coursework in understanding and utilizing research; there will likely be a statistics course.

Family studies is often combined with human development. Click Here to learn more about Human Development and Family Studies undergraduate programs. Such programs emphasize skills needed for baccalaureate level employment, but will also provide the most fundamental skills needed for graduate school. Programs typically include a practicum of at least 120 hours; sometimes the experience is much longer. There are many options. You may work with at-risk families or teen parents or provide court mandated parent education. You will have some coursework in development across the lifespan and may choose to do a concentration on either end of the human lifecycle.

Some family studies and family science programs qualify you as a family life educator. There is a good deal of overlap between the content in a family life education program and a family therapy program; the former, though, won’t qualify you to do psychotherapy.

Human services, behavioral science and behavioral health majors will also provide you with internship opportunities. You sometimes have the opportunity to specialize in family services. Other options include early childhood services, mental health, addictions, or criminal justice.

Opportunities Outside the Classroom

If your major doesn’t include related courses or internship opportunities, you can seek out volunteer experiences; six months or a year of commitment can translate into a reference letter as well as an introduction to the helping professions. Some individuals opt to spend a year serving through AmeriCorps or CityCorps. They often earn a living stipend as well as money for future college studies.

Undergraduate MFT Preparation Options

Behavioral Science Degree

Family Science Major

Human Development and Family Studies

Psychology

Sociology

Social Work

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