Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

Most problems can be fixed through dialogue, but sometimes people need help starting those difficult conversations. Eventually, many find that consulting a therapist or a counselor can help. These professionals are trained to help people overcome differences in attitude or opinion, and their services can positively impact everything from couples therapy to addictive behavior.

With a master’s degree in counseling, career prospects open up considerably. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job availability for master’s degree-holders in the field is projected to grow 19% between 2014 and 2024. If you would like to pursue a rewarding career helping people as a counselor, read on to discover how a master’s degree can get you there.

Choosing a Program

Will an online master’s in counseling program provide me with the skills I need to get licensure?

In a master’s program, you will be introduced to fundamental and advanced topics in psychology and counseling. You can pick from courses covering human growth and development, intervention, and professional and legal ethics. You will also be encouraged to employ a variety of counseling approaches, such as cognitive behavior therapy and psychoanalytic techniques. Whether you choose to pursue a general degree or focus on a particular discipline, such as addiction, education, mental health, or marriage counseling, your master’s will prepare you to obtain the relevant counseling licensure and begin practicing.

Will the program work with my schedule?

Online master’s in counseling programs offer flexibility for working professionals, parents, or anyone with commitments that may not allow them to commute to and from campus on a daily basis. Many schools give you the opportunity to complete your master’s program entirely online or in a hybrid online/on-campus format, and internships can be completed near your residence.

Will this program help me find an internship?

Internships are crucial for gaining clinical experience and networking with professionals in the field. Most online schools will help facilitate your local internships, practicums, capstones, or externships. Speak with an admissions specialist at your prospective school to learn more about the support services they offer.

What is the Best Online Master’s in Counseling Program for Me?

We’ve used a comprehensive methodology to rank the best online master’s in counseling programs in the country. Many of the schools listed allow students to concentrate in a particular subfield, preparing them for their preferred career specialization after school. If you are considering pursuing an online master’s in counseling, explore the list below to find the best programs available.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Nova Southeastern University

 4/546.11%Fort Lauderdale, FL


The online MS in Counseling at Nova Southeastern University allows students to choose from several specializations, including mental health counseling, substance abuse and education counseling, and applied behavioral analysis. Required credit hours vary from 48 to 60 depending on the specialization. Students may complete the degree on a full- or part-time basis, but must finish within five years. To achieve full-time status, students must take a minimum of six credits per term. Practica or internships are required for graduation, but duration and curricula differ with each concentration.

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Amberton University

 1/5N/AGarland, TX


Amberton University’s master’s in Christian counseling program online is geared towards those who wish to integrate Christian theology with counseling methodologies, helping patients within a spiritual context. The degree is ideal for ministers and other church leaders who desire to provide empirically-based ministry to individuals, couples, and families within a community. Amberton’s programs are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Distance learning courses are accessed through Amberton’s eCourse portal. Students complete one graduate studies course, along with five major-based courses, four counseling electives, and six hours worth of human behavioral and development electives. Coursework includes Christian counseling, family life ministry, and counseling ethics. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required to earn the degree. Amberton offers multiple payment plans, and students can opt to pay for courses as they take them rather than all up-front.

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Liberty University

 4/550.41%Lynchburg, VA


Liberty University offers a number of online counseling degrees, including an MA in Pastoral Counseling, an MEd in School Counseling, and an MA in Human Services Counseling.

The Master's in Pastoral Counseling is a 36-credit program that prepares students to work as counselors in ministry settings such as churches, shelters and mission agencies. Students pursuing the Master's in Education degree will complete 48 credits, including four weeklong, on-campus intensive courses. The MA in Human Services Counseling consists of 30 credits and is designed for professionals seeking a master's degree, but not licensure leading to professional counseling.

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Seton Hall University

 5/566.45%South Orange, NJ


Seton Hall University provides programs for both professional counseling and school counseling. The school's counseling master's degree comprises 48 credits and culminates in a nine-credit field internship. Students enrolled in the online school counseling program join learning teams of other students. It takes between two and two-and-a-half years to complete the eight semesters.

In addition to a Master's in Professional Counseling, Seton Hall also offers a 60-credit combined Master's and Education Specialist in Professional Counseling. Both the School Counseling and Professional Counseling programs include two on-site residences, providing the opportunity to meet professors and fellow students.

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Medaille College

 4/544.36%Buffalo, NY


Medaille offers both campus and online programs for working professionals looking to earn their MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Classes are held one weekend per month, but are rigorous — students complete the full 60 credit program within two and a half years. Students gain experience with family and grief counseling and the skills needed to administer preventative and therapeutic treatments. The program is approved by the New York State Education Department and satisfies the academic criteria for state licensure in mental health counseling. Medaille also offers advanced certificate program options in mental health counseling and marriage and family therapy.

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Mercy College

 3/528.8%Dobbs Ferry, NY

Mercy College’s online master’s degree in counseling program provides career pathways as a school counselor or as a mental health counselor in public and private agencies. Specialization options include a certification in school counseling with a bilingual extension in mental health counseling or advanced certification in alcohol/substance abuse counseling.

For those interested in mental health, Mercy also offers a mental health counseling degree that leads to licensing in the field for the state of New York. Students seeking this master’s in counseling online program may enroll part- or full-time in this 48-credit program. The average time to complete the degree is two to three years, with five years maximum time allowed (excluding active military duty time).

Students complete 10 core classes, regardless of specialization, two to three additional major-oriented courses, and a two-part supervised internship to meet degree requirements. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 to earn their degree and certification. Classes are asynchronous and accessible 24/7. Mercy Online students use AOL software to sign in to Blackboard Learn and access courses.

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Clarks Summit University

 3/554.37%Clarks Summit, PA

An online master’s degree in counseling from Summit University of Pennsylvania prepares students to pursue licensure as a professional counselor and/or assume ministry leadership positions. The MS in counseling leads to taking the licensure exam, while an MA in counseling is the ideal option for those not pursuing licensure. There is both a 48-credit MS in counseling degree program and a 60-credit MS in professional counseling degree program available, as some states require 60 graduate credits for licensure. Prerequisites for this program include nine hours in undergraduate psychology or counseling, and Bible and theology studies.

Hybrid classes for the MS in counseling degree are offered in accelerated eight-week sessions, and the program can be completed in two to three years. Students seeking a master’s in counseling online expected to attend class for one week on-campus, completing the remaining seven weeks online via the Moodle learning management system. Courses are asynchronous, with set deadlines for assignments. The average time commitment for one three-credit course is 18 hours per week. Class sessions start at five different times during the year.

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Ottawa University – Phoenix

 1/5N/APhoenix, AZ

Ottawa University-Phoenix offers one of the best online master’s in counseling degrees, composed of both online coursework and a residency component at the Kansas-based campus. The school also offers a similar counseling degree with a two-week-residency in Phoenix, which prepares students for licensure as an associate counselor in Arizona and Wisconsin. Students are offered six concentrations: addictions counseling, Christian counseling, expressive arts therapy, group counseling, marriage and family therapy, or treatment of trauma, abuse and deprivation. Students are prepared to work in a variety of settings, including schools, clinics, counseling centers, and hospitals.

Coursework is completed through Blackboard. In addition to concentration-oriented courses, students complete 13 foundational courses, along with a field placement and comprehensive exam. Foundational courses include advanced psychodiagnostic and treatment planning, life planning and career development, and methods and models of research. Students seeking a master’s in counseling online also have access to a variety of student services, including financial literacy courses online and live chat with a librarian.

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University of the Cumberlands

 3/535.56%Williamsburg, KY

An MA in Professional Counseling from the University of Cumberlands prepares recent undergrads and professionals to work as competent, skilled counselors and operate in a variety of fields. The program includes a range of specializations, from addiction, to marriage and family, to academic counseling. The degree consists of 60 credit hours, along with an internship and practicum. Admission is done on a rolling basis with eligible applicants beginning coursework at the start of any bi-semester. To be considered for the program, applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

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California Baptist University

 4/555.38%Riverside, CA

CBU offers an MS in counseling psychology online program that trains students to become either a marriage and family therapist or a professional clinical counselor. Students are prepared to pursue their licensure in California after graduation. Curriculum is delivered with a global Christian perspective. Students complete a comprehensive exam, which may be proctored at an CBU Online-approved location off campus.

Classes are accessed via the Blackboard Learn platform and offered in two formats. This includes a virtual hybrid format with synchronous online interactions, and an asynchronous format, which allows students to work at their own pace. Students in this program complete 22 core courses, a two-part practicum, and several optional electives, such as grief and loss counseling. Students completing the online and professional studies MS in counseling psychology can complete an extra 18 credits to meet requirements for becoming a licensed professional clinical counselor in California. The program requires an average of 24 months to complete.

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Upon completing a master’s degree in counseling, students have the skills and experience to pursue a number of career opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, counseling positions are projected to grow 19% by 2024, and opportunities for professionals with advanced degrees are especially strong. Below, we have highlighted several popular and rewarding careers in counseling:

Mental Health Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist – Mental health and marriage counselors help individuals, couples or families through emotional or interpersonal problems. Using techniques like talk therapy, counselors encourage clients to be comfortable as they share their feelings and anxieties. Counselors then provide insights and recommendations for clients to manage and improve relationships.

Rehabilitation Counselor – Rehabilitation counselors help people struggling to adjust to physical, mental, developmental or emotional difficulties. Clients first learn to confront and accept their problems, then learn to adjust and live independently. Counselors encourage clients to establish goals and maximize their strengths, while also helping with practical matters, such as finding permanent employment or suitable housing.

School and Career Counselor – School and career counselors work with children and adults, helping them to develop decision-making or study skills and explore educational or career options. Some work in schools or colleges, others in private practices.

Addiction Counselors – Addiction counselors address drug or alcohol abuse, or behavioral issues, such as anger management. They assess and evaluate patients, then help develop treatment plans or goals for their recovery. Counselors often follow programs like the 12-step program for recovering alcoholics. They recommend support groups or other services to help patients modify their behavior. They teach addicts how to cope with stress and related issues that may hinder recovery.

Before embarking on a career, counselors must become licensed. Some programs offer licensure as part of the degree, but most counselors pursue certification after graduation. Each state has different licensing procedures, and you should visit the National Board for Certified Counselors to determine the requirements in your field. Often, counselors can begin supervised work before licensing. Usually, that work is a component of the licensing process.

Counseling is a growing field. As more insurance companies have begun to cover mental health, the demand for qualified mental health professionals has increased. Similarly, more people are choosing to attend college or switch jobs mid-career, stoking demand for school and career counselors. Studying in an online master’s degree program in counseling affords the flexibility of online coursework, and provides you with opportunities to gain experience outside the classroom, ultimately preparing you for a rewarding career.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.

An Overview of Financial Aid

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options savvy students can use to reduce the total costs of their education.

Understanding the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step for any student seeking financial aid. Follow our step-by-step guide for answers to frequently asked questions.

Financial Aid for Online College Students

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place and funding opportunities for online students.

Scholarships for Psychology Majors

We’ve hand-curated a list of 35 scholarships for psychology students representing $225,000 in total award dollars. Students at all levels can find an opportunity to apply for free money to help offset the cost of tuition.

Scholarships for Women

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

Millions in education benefits are available for veterans and active members of the military. Unfortunately, much of this goes unused. Find out if you’re entitled to help with college and start planning for your future.

Professional Organizations

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) – The professional association for marriage and family therapy, representing therapists in the US, Canada and abroad.

American Counseling Association – The world’s largest counseling association, representing professional counselors in various practice settings.

American School Counselor Association (ASCA) – The ASCA helps school counselors’ work more effectively by focusing on academic, career and social or emotional development to achieve success in school and beyond.

International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC) – The IAMFC provides members with professional training in counseling and related areas as well as ongoing education.

National Career Development Association (NCDA) – The NCDA provides professional development to practitioners and educators, including publications, seminars and conferences.

Original Research

Best Online Master's in Counseling Degrees of 2015
Rank Name Location
1 Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ
2 Argosy University-Phoenix Phoenix, AZ
3 Texas A&M University College Station, TX
4 George Washington University Washington, DC
5 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV
6 University of Kentucky Lexington, KY
7 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA
8 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
9 University of Wisconsin-Stout Menomonie, WI
10 Grand Canyon University Phoenix, AZ
11 Lincoln Christian University Lincoln, IL
12 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
13 University of North Texas Denton, TX
14 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
15 University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO
16 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX
17 Creighton University Omaha, NE
18 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
19 Louisiana State University-Shreveport Shreveport, LA
20 University of Arkansas Little Rock, AR
21 Assumption College Worcester, MA
22 Concordia University - Wisconsin Mequon, WI
23 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
24 Our Lady of the Lake University San Antonio, TX
25 Medaille College Buffalo, NY