Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs of 2022

To become a licensed counselor, many states require that you have a master's degree. We've highlighted some of the best online programs for a master's in counseling.

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by Staff Writers

Published on December 21, 2021 · Updated on June 16, 2022

Edited by Colin Weickmann
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Through proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, counselors provide insight and support for people struggling with relationships, mental health disorders, addictions, career choices, and other challenges. Pursuing a master's in counseling online leads graduates to fulfilling careers as counselors in the fields of marriage and family, substance addiction, mental health, and career guidance.

The growing acceptance of counseling as a form of healing and personal advancement has led to employment growth that far exceeds the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029.

Our master's in counseling program guide offers a comprehensive look into career opportunities, how to choose a program, and admission requirements.

Top 5 Online Graduate Schools for Counseling

Accredited University Rank Quick School Facts Tuition Cost (Per Credit Hour)

#1. Liberty University

Lynchburg, Virginia


Program Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

  • Program Offered: MA in clinical mental health counseling
  • Credits to Graduate: 60 credits
  • Admissions Rate: 51%
  • Graduate Rate: 47%
  • Online Enrollment: 92%
  • In State: $565/Full Time; $615/Part Time
  • Out-of-State: $565/Full Time; $615/Part Time

#2. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California


Program Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges

  • Program Offered: M.Ed. in school counseling
  • Credits to Graduate: 49 credits
  • Admissions Rate: 11%
  • Graduate Rate: 92%
  • Online Enrollment: 17%
  • In State: $2,035
  • Out-of-State: $2,035

#3. New York University

New York, New York


Program Accreditation: Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council

  • Program Offered: Online Master's in Counseling
  • Credits to Graduate: 48-60 credits
  • Admissions Rate: 16%
  • Graduate Rate: 85%
  • Online Enrollment: 10%
  • In State: $1,942
  • Out-of-State: $1,942

#4. Wake Forest University

Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Program Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

  • Program Offered: MA in counseling
  • Credits to Graduate: 60 credits
  • Admissions Rate: 30%
  • Graduate Rate: 88%
  • Online Enrollment: 7%
  • In State: $1,560
  • Out-of-State: $1,560

#5. Clarks Summit University

South Abington Township, Pennsylvania


Program Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

  • Program Offered: MS in counseling
  • Credits to Graduate: 60 credits
  • Admissions Rate: 41%
  • Graduate Rate: 88%
  • Online Enrollment: 64%
  • In State: $585
  • Out-of-State: $585

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Counseling Programs

Is a master's in counseling worth it?

Yes. If you possess the drive and passion to help people overcome psychological and behavioral challenges, a master's in counseling provides the education necessary to excel in this field. Most counseling professions require a master's as well as internships, postgraduate clinical hours, and a state license. In U.S. News & World Report's list of 100 best jobs for 2021, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor ranked 16, while marriage and family therapist ranked 20.

What can I do with a master's in counseling?

Graduates with a master's in counseling go on to become counselors specializing in addiction, mental health and behavioral disorders, trauma, education, or marriage and family counseling. Some counselors focus on treating certain populations, such as the elderly, children, or veterans.

In addition to direct client care, master’s in counseling program graduates can become clinical supervisors, program directors, or even open their own practices. Some students go on to get their Ph.D. and conduct counseling-related research or become professors.

Are counselors in demand?

The BLS projects that the already high demand for counselors will continue to increase. As states turn from incarceration to treatment and counseling programs to address drug addiction, the number of addiction counseling job opportunities will continue to grow. Mental health counselors are also in high demand, particularly in underserved communities and rural areas. The BLS projects that jobs for these counselors will grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029.

How much money can I make with a master's in counseling?

Annual salaries for graduates with a master's in counseling vary based on the counselor's specialty and industry. The BLS reported a median annual salary of $47,660 in 2020 for substance abuse and mental health counselors. Substance abuse and mental health counselors who work in the government sector earned a median annual salary of $54,070 in 2020.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in counseling?

According to the BLS, marriage and family therapists working in the state government sector earned a median annual salary of $78,450 in 2020. Additionally, school and career counselors in elementary and secondary schools earned a median annual wage of $64,960 that same year.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Counseling Program?

An online master's in counseling prepares graduates to help a diverse group of people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and private practice. Succeeding in this career requires empathy, patience, and strong interpersonal and communication skills.

Most online master's degrees in counseling require 60 credits and take 2-3 years to complete. Practica and internships provide the experience required for state-specific and occupation-specific licensure.

Most master’s in counseling programs require students to choose a concentration for a specialty, however, students are not committed to this specialization for life. While progressing through their program, students will acquire some level of training for a multitude of counseling subjects, such as addiction counseling and mental health counseling, regardless of the specialization chosen. Specializations tend to play a more important part in a student’s career after graduation when they seek licensure for a specific concentration.

Students should still pursue programs that align with their area of interests and should consider specializations when choosing a program. Some schools offer the following specializations in counseling:

Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling

This specialization provides students with the skills required to evaluate and treat individuals with addictions.

Mental Health Counseling

This concentration prepares students for a career as a licensed professional clinical counselor or marriage and family therapist.

Trauma Studies

This concentration teaches students about the impact, prevention, and treatment of traumatic stress.

School Counseling

Students interested in working in an education setting may consider this specialization.

Christian Counseling

This specialization focuses on faith-based fundamentals and prepares students to work in Christian ministries or churches.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Counseling Program?

An online master's in counseling program builds upon a student's undergraduate education, focusing on advanced skills. While coursework varies, most programs include core courses in assessment and testing, group counseling, ethical practice, and cultural diversity. The following section delves into typical classes in an online master's in counseling program.

Group Counseling

This course covers group dynamics and counseling techniques specific to small groups. Lessons explore how to engage group members and evaluate relationships within a group setting. Additional topics include the stages of group therapy and how to evaluate the effectiveness of group counseling.

Counseling Diverse Populations

Students learn the skills and theories needed to evaluate and counsel people from diverse populations. Covered topics include social identification, ethnicity, gender roles, and advocacy. Degree-seekers also learn about their role in promoting social justice.

Ethical, Legal, and Professional Standards

This course focuses on the legal and ethical issues specific to counseling practices. Coursework covers topics such as confidentiality and malpractice. Students investigate state-specific licensure standards and professional organizations.

Crisis Counseling

Degree-seekers learn the impact of trauma and crisis intervention procedures. Covered topics include assessing and preventing suicide risk, and a counselor's role in an emergency management response team.

Addiction Counseling

This course provides an overview of counseling practices for alcohol and drug addiction. Covered topics include 12-step facilitation and other models of recovery, at-risk populations, and available community resources. Additional topics include the evaluation and treatment of addictions related to eating, gambling, shopping, hoarding, and sex.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Admission Requirements for Online Master's in Counseling Programs

All online master's in counseling programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. While most programs do not require a bachelor's in counseling, some prefer coursework in relevant fields like psychology, statistics, or research methods. Most programs require a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.7-3.0.

In addition to official transcripts, most programs require up to three letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors. Applicants pursuing a master's in school counseling may need professional experience in a school setting or a teaching license.

Furthermore, prospective students should look into counseling licensure requirements in their state to be sure their program will help lead to employment. CACREP accreditation is a good indicator that the program will fit licensure requirements.

Learn more about applying for graduate school and common admission requirements in our Graduate Admissions Guide.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Counseling Degree?

Career Outlook

A master's in counseling online prepares students to help individuals, families, and groups suffering from mental and behavioral disorders. These professionals work in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospitals, community service organizations, addiction centers, correctional facilities, and schools.

Counseling should be an in-demand field over the next decade. The BLS projects 22% job growth for marriage and family therapists and 25% job growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors between 2019 and 2029.

Learn more about counseling careers and see where an online master's in counseling can take you by visiting our counseling career guide.

Career Paths

Addiction and Recovery Counselor

Addiction and recovery counselors assist and support individuals recovering from addictions that may include alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, hoarding, and eating disorders. These counselors help their patients understand the root cause of their addictions and develop a recovery plan, which may include behavior modification techniques. Many of these professionals use the principles of 12-step programs to support their clients.

Trauma Response Counselor

A trauma response counselor recognizes the impact of trauma and understands how to treat its effects, including post-traumatic and acute stress disorders. These professionals provide patients with evidence-based trauma treatments like cognitive processing therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. These counselors may focus on specific groups, such as veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

School Counselor

School counselors help K-12 students succeed in their social and academic lives. These professionals work with students, teachers, and parents as they identify the causes of poor school performance, behavioral problems, and social disorders. School counselors may also provide academic and career guidance and address the issues of bullying, addiction, and domestic abuse.

Marriage and Family Counselor

Marriage and family counselors address relationship issues within the family unit. Issues commonly encountered include behavior problems with children, lack of communication between family members, and substance addiction. Through observation, evaluation, and diagnosis, these therapists help family members understand and address the underlying causes of their interpersonal challenges.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors work in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospitals, correctional facilities, rehabilitation centers, and social service agencies. With the expansion of telehealth in recent years, working from home can also be an option. These professionals help people experiencing social and emotional problems, phobias, anxieties, and other mental health challenges. Some mental health counselors specialize in a particular group, such as children, the elderly, or the incarcerated.

Counseling Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Psychology Careers Social Work Careers Addiction and Recovery Careers

2022 Best Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs

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#1 Online College in Virginia

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $565/Full time; $615/part time
Out of State | $565/Full time; $615/part time

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

LU offers an MA in clinical mental health counseling as one of the nation's top Christian colleges. This degree prepares students to pursue state licensure as professional counselors. The curriculum explores topics such as psychopathology, crisis counseling, and clinical diagnosis and treatment planning. 

Each participant completes a required internship and practicum in their local area. Enrollees meet with faculty and peers during two on-campus intensives. On average, they complete the degree in 2.5 years. Admission to the master's in counseling requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.7 GPA.

#2 Online College in California

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $2,035
Out of State | $2,035

Credits to Graduate
49

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | Western Association of Schools and Colleges

The Los Angeles-based USC features a top-ranked counseling program with an online M.Ed. in school counseling. The degree prepares enrollees to pursue counseling roles in K-12 settings. Students attend live online classes weekly. They supplement lectures and self-paced coursework with clinicals, fieldwork, and internships. 

This online master's in counseling prepares learners to earn the California pupil personnel services credential. Full- and part-time enrollment options offer added flexibility. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

#3 Online College in New York

New York University

School Information
Location New York, New York
Admission Rate 16%
Graduation Rate 85%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,942
Out of State | $1,942

Credits to Graduate
48-60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council 

As one of the nation's top colleges, NYU offers two online master's in counseling. Students can pursue a specialization in school counseling or mental health and wellness. Participants progress through each program as part of a cohort. Learners attend live online classes through full-time or part-time enrollment. 

This school counseling degree offers an optional concentration in bilingual school counseling. Each enrollee receives field preparation through practicum experience and three 200-hour internships. All participants engage in experiential activities during an immersion on the NYU campus. Each candidate must possess a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

#4 Online College in North Carolina

Wake Forest University

School Information
Location Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Admission Rate 30%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,560
Out of State | $1,560

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

Wake Forest's MA in counseling offers specializations in school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. Both pathways require foundational and core courses. Topics include theories and models of counseling, family counseling, and group procedures in counseling. 

Enrollees develop field experience during internship hours. The degree prepares students to become eligible to sit for the National Counselor Examination (NCE). Wake Forest boasts a 95% pass rate on the NCE. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, a minimum 2.5 GPA, and GRE scores.

#5 Online College in Pennsylvania

Clarks Summit University

School Information
Location South Abington Township, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 41%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $585
Out of State | $585

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | Middle States Commission on Higher Education

The Pennsylvania-based CSU offers an MS in counseling that emphasizes a biblical counseling model. The program prepares enrollees to sit for the National Certified Counselor exam. Coursework explores human development, abnormal behavior, and marriage and family counseling. 

Each student completes a supervised counseling practicum and an internship. This master's in counseling culminates with a comprehensive exam. Students can transfer up to 20 credits into the MS. An applicant must possess a bachelor's degree for admission.

#6 Online College in Illinois

Adler University

School Information
Location Chicago, Illinois
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,442
Out of State | $1,442

Credits to Graduate
62

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

Adler specializes in training mental health practitioners. Its MA in clinical mental health counseling continues that tradition. Students learn to provide culturally sensitive services in various settings. Most courses are delivered asynchronously with some synchronous meetings. Each enrollee can hone their counseling skills in a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. 

All online students complete two five-day residencies on the Chicago campus. The program also requires face-to-face teaching and evaluation components for four courses. Graduates qualify to sit for the National Counselor Examination. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

#7 Online College in Colorado

University of Denver

School Information
Location Denver, Colorado
Admission Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 77%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 28% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $956
Out of State | $956

Credits to Graduate
72

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

DU's online MA in school counseling prepares enrollees to pursue work as counselors focused on social justice. Coursework explores lifespan development, counseling theory, and counseling techniques. Learners blend classwork with activities like journaling and mock counseling sessions. 

Each participant completes a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships at a local P-12 school. Students can also opt to take part in an on-campus immersion experience. Full-time enrollees can complete the MA online in 24 months. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.5 GPA. Candidates do not need to submit GRE scores.

#8 Online College in California

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 13%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 82% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,253
Out of State | $1,253

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

The Chicago School cultivates licensed and certified professional counselors. Practitioner-faculty teach the online MA in clinical mental health counseling. The program meets the educational requirements for the Licensed Professional Counselor credential. The curriculum covers assessment of individuals and diagnosis of mental health issues. 

Each enrollee completes a practicum and two internships, totaling a minimum of 700 hours. The part-time degree requires two in-person residencies. Students can complete this master's in counseling online in three years. Admission requires a bachelor's degree. Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores.

#9 Online College in Kentucky

University of the Cumberlands

School Information
Location Williamsburg, Kentucky
Admission Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 91% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $400
Out of State | $400

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

UC is a Christian college located in Kentucky. Its master's in clinical mental health counseling prepares enrollees to pursue work as mental health counselors and assess, diagnose, and treat mental disorders. The online curriculum explores private practice and clinical supervision, marriage and family counseling, and child and adolescent counseling. 

Each enrollee develops practical expertise during a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships. The school also offers an online master's in addiction counseling. Admission to either master's in counseling program requires a bachelor's degree and a 3.0 GPA. Candidates with GPAs in the 2.5-2.9 range can receive consideration if they complete an additional essay prompt.

#10 Online College in California

Hope International University

School Information
Location Fullerton, California
Admission Rate 37%
Graduation Rate 54%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $650
Out of State | $650

Credits to Graduate
61 units

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | WASC Senior College and University Commission

This private Christian college offers an online MS in counseling with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. The program prepares students to pursue Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist credentials. Enrollees can complete this online program through asynchronous classwork in 2-3 years. 

The curriculum covers psychotherapy, group therapy, and career counseling and development. Practicum and internship components provide 700 hours of field experience. Each applicant to the master's in counseling must possess a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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