Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

Counseling is a rewarding field — but you’ll need more than a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for most professional counseling positions. An online master’s degree in counseling will prepare you for most counseling jobs, and the flexible format inherent in web-based learning will allow you to continue working in your current job while you study. If you have completed a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related field and plan to continue your education, then you may be an excellent candidate for an online master’s in counseling program.

Online counseling master’s programs are designed to build on the skills and knowledge you developed as an undergrad. The curriculum focuses on theoretical approaches to counseling, along with case studies and research-based evidence. Many counseling master’s degree programs allow students to specialize in areas like substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, or school counseling. These programs typically require students to engage in supervised, hands-on training as part of a practicum course or worksite-based internship.

Learn more about what you can do with a master’s degree in counseling and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.


A master’s degree is widely viewed as the minimum educational requirement for a career in professional counseling. Some career paths require additional training. Mental health counselors, for instance, must complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised post-degree clinical experience and sit for a licensure exam in order to practice in any U.S. state. School counselors are also required to obtain a state-issued certification. The best master’s in counseling online programs are designed to not only advance your training as a counselor, but also prepare you for the post-degree requirements associated with your specialization.


Online degree programs offer a convenient alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar education. Interactive software allows you to access course readings and lectures, turn in written assignments, take exams, and communicate with your professors on your own time from the comfort of your home. Additionally, the latest technology allows you to study on-the-go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other portable device. You can also work with master’s program officials to find practicum or internship opportunities near your residence. This flexible format is especially convenient for students who must juggle other commitments while in school, such as employment or childcare.


Earning your master’s in counseling degree is the best way to advance your career in this competitive field. A master’s will be required to pursue licensure in areas like mental health counseling and school counseling. An advanced degree can also boost your job prospects in industries where a master’s isn’t strictly required for licensure, such as substance abuse counseling.


Choosing a master’s degree in counseling online program is a very personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online counseling master’s programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master’s in counseling, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings. Please note that the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the official accreditation body for counseling degree programs; students are urged to stay away from master’s programs that are not accredited by the CACREP.

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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1 to 2 years
Program Costs (when available)
$4,000 to $15,000 per year (tuition)
Community Counseling, Child and Youth Counseling, Family Counseling, Mental Health Counseling, Substance Abuse Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, Behavioral Counseling, School Counseling
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

Master of Counseling vs Bachelor of Counseling

Professional counselors with a master’s degree enjoy excellent employment rates and higher salaries than their bachelor’s-holding counterparts. According to BLS data, 48% of today’s professional counselors— roughly 239,000 people — have a master’s degree. By comparison, 26% of counselors finish their education with a bachelor’s. As a whole, bachelor’s degree holders make 35% less than those with a master’s degree, earning $37,000 and $50,000, respectively.

Earning a Living

Although a master’s degree in counseling will boost your potential salary, it’s important to remember that your earnings will also increase over the course of your career. The following data table features career salary expectations for four different counseling professions over time.

Job Title Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Salary for Late Career Employees (20+ years)
Marriage & Family Therapist $41,376 $47,578 $55,474 $58,599
Mental Health Counselor $37,230 $40,294 $45,048 $48,676
Substance Abuse Counselor $33,577 $37,850 $40,422 $43,796
School Counselor $42,692 $48,012 $56,140 $62,343

Source: PayScale

Of the professions listed above, school counselors enjoyed the highest salary growth rate over their career, earning 46% more from entry-level to late-career. School counselors also enjoyed the highest starting and ending salaries.

While a master’s degree is seen as the standard educational pathway for professionals, very few counselors pursue a doctorate. Data from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) reveals a major difference between the number of master’s and Ph.D. graduates in 15 different counseling subdivisions. Only 320 students sought a Ph.D. in school counseling during the 2011-12 academic calendar, for example, while schools around the country conferred nearly 13,000 master’s degrees during the same year. Fewer than 20 students earned doctoral degrees in several counseling fields — including substance abuse counseling, community health counseling, and mental health counseling — during the same period.

Career Opportunities

Based on their specialization, counselors with a master’s degree may pursue roles in a number of fields. Below are a few of the employment opportunities available for teachers with a master’s degree in counseling.

School and Career Counselors: School counselors work with students to help them achieve academic success and address personal concerns. Elementary and middle school counselors generally specialize in skill-building and emotional support, while counselors in high schools and postsecondary institutions tend to focus more on academic advisement and professional development. Career counselors provide information about college programs, job skills training, and other post-graduation pathways for adults. These counselors are generally found at high schools and colleges, but they may also work with individuals who are already in the workforce.

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Mental health counselors and marriage/family counselors specialize in helping people, couples, or families cope with a range of emotional and interpersonal issues. They diagnose mental and emotional disorders, administer therapy, and help clients learn to lead happy, productive lives. Depending on their specialization, these counselors may offer individual, couple’s, family, and group therapy sessions.

Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors assist clients living with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities. They administer counseling in a one-on-one or group setting, working with clients to develop long-term plans that enable them to live independently and comfortably. Many rehabilitation counselors specialize in working with certain subsets of society, such as children, the elderly, or military veterans. Vocational rehabilitation counselors help clients with job-related issues.

Addiction Counselors: Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (also known as addiction counselors) specialize in treating patients who struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, and other potentially destructive habits. These counselors help clients explore the problematic behaviors that trigger their addictions; they also assist clients during the treatment and recovery phase. Addiction counselors may offer therapy in different formats, including one-on-one, couple’s, family, or group therapy.

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2014-24) Degree & Licensure Requirements
School & Career Counselor $53,660 8% Minimum master’s degree; state-issued license or certification is required; some states require 1 to 2 years of classroom teaching experience for licensure; criminal background check required
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage & Family Therapists $43,190 19% Minimum master’s degree; state-issued license required; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); annual continuing education required for licensed counselors
Rehabilitation Counselors $34,390 9% Minimum master’s degree; state-issued license required for those who work with patients or clients; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); annual continuing education required for licensed counselors
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $39,980 22% Minimum bachelor’s degree; state-issued license required for those in private practice; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); annual continuing education required for licensed counselors

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different counseling approaches is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for professional counselors. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT): The leading professional organization for counselors specializing in marriage and family counseling, the AAMFT represents more than 50,000 licensed counselors worldwide. The website features a job board and licensure links, an online information library, and a virtual networking center.
  • American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, the ACA is considered the world’s largest professional organization for professional counselors, and has more than 52,000 current members. The ACA website features an extensive virtual knowledge center that contains information about licensure requirements, diagnostics, ethics, and other important areas of the field. Continuing education opportunities, journal publications, and an online job board are also available.
  • American School Counselor Association (ASCA): The ASCA serves school counselors at all academic levels across the country. Members receive discounts on site publications, free liability insurance coverage, and information about professional development and continuing education opportunities.
  • International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC): Founded in 1989, the IAMFC today represents a network of counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals working in marriage and family counseling. Members receive access to two online publications — The Family Journal and The Family Digest — along with information about certification, credentialing, and access to an extensive job directory.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.


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


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process of filling out the FAFSA, along with answers to several frequently asked questions.


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, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


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


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.


Students who pursue online degrees will be eligible for scholarships, grants, and other financial aid that is unavailable to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Here, you can learn more about these financial opportunities.


The methodology behind our rankings is grounded in statistical data and a few consistently applied guiding principles. Our 2017 rankings reflect the most recent data compiled from IPEDS and the College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Our goal is to objectively assess relative quality based on academic outcomes, affordability, and the breadth and depth of online learning opportunities. The following criteria was used to make these assessments:

Minimum Requirements

  • Each school must be an accredited public or private, not-for-profit institution.
  • Must offer an online master’s in Master’s in Counseling degree program
  • Must submit an annual report to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ranking Factors

All eligible institutions are ranked on a 100 point scale. A perfect score of 100 is earned by ranking #1 for all ranking factors.


  • Admissions Rate – 25%
  • Enrollment Rates – 15%
  • Retention Rate – 15%
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate – 25%
  • Number of Master’s in Master’s in Counseling Graduates – 20%


  • Average Net Price – 40%
  • Percentage of Enrolled Students Taking Federal Loans – 20%
  • Loan Default Rate – 40%


  • Percentage of Graduate Programs Offered Online – 40%
  • Graduate School Enrollment – 40%
  • Percentage of Programs Offered at the Graduate level – 20%