The Best Online Master’s in Marriage & Family Counseling Programs

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Badge (Online) with 2-Line TitleMaster'sin Marriage & Family Counseling2017
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Marriage and family counseling — also referred to as family therapy — is a branch of mental health counseling that explores interpersonal issues within the household dynamic. This form of counseling is rooted in the theory that individual clients benefit from a group-based therapy setting involving couples, children, parents and, in some cases, extended relatives. Like other mental health counselors, marriage and family counselors must earn a license to practice in all 50 states.

With a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling, you can heal and nourish relationships for generations to come.

Many licensed marriage and family counselors begin their career by earning a master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Master’s degree coursework in this field will tackle several key topics, including psychopathology, addiction and substance abuse and the various laws and ethics that guide modern counseling. Students will also review case studies and learn about different methods and techniques for marriage and family counseling; most master’s programs also require students to complete a set number of supervised fieldwork hours and participate in clinical residencies. Many of today’s students are choosing to earn their master’s in marriage and family counseling online. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to the same number of job opportunities after graduation. The asynchronous (or self-paced) schedule and convenient, study-from-home format are also ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other responsibilities that could possibly interfere with campus-based learning.

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

Will an Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Program Provide Me With the Skills I Need to Advance My Career?

A master’s degree is considered the educational minimum for licensed marriage and family counselors. The best online master’s in marriage and family counseling programs will prepare students to work in private practice, or offer their services in a hospital, clinical or educational setting. As the degree program progresses, clinical residencies and supervised fieldwork courses will give students the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge they have gained in a supervised, real-world counseling environment.

Will an Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Program Work With My Schedule?

Master’s in marriage and family counseling online programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional college education. Students are able to download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors at their convenience. Current technology also allows them to study away from their home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other portable devices with Wi-Fi capabilities. For added convenience, online master’s students can usually coordinate fieldwork, clinical residencies and other onsite requirements at locations that are reasonably close to their current residence.

What Jobs Can I Get With My Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling?

Students who graduate with a master’s in marriage and family counseling must then earn a license in the state where they plan to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state, but typically include at least 2,000 hours of supervised post-degree training, a passing score on a state-issued exam and annual continuing education courses.

What Are the Best Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Programs?

Choosing a program is an incredibly 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 master’s in marriage and family counseling programs in the United States. If you are considering an online master’s in marriage and family counseling, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Location Description
1 Touro University Worldwide 78.54 Los Alamitos, CA

Touro University's master of arts in marriage and family therapy (MFT) program is 100% online, and offers three different tracks designed to meet individual students' needs: non-clinical, clinical, and licensed professional clinical counseling (LPCC). The program is 54 credit hours with additional work being required of students who choose the clinical and LPCC track. Touro strives to accelerate the admissions process. The online MFT program does not require the GRE or any on-ground course commitments. The program is also approved by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences; graduates are eligible for MFT Licensure in California without additional coursework.

Touro University is a nonprofit institution that offers a range of online programs at every education level, focusing on a combination of cutting-edge knowledge and practical experience to prepare students for high-powered leadership. The school's faculty members are committed to social justice, intellectual pursuit, and philanthropic duty, delivering liberal arts education in a global-minded setting.

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2 Messiah College 64.71 Mechanicsburg, PA

The CACREP-accredited MA in counseling at Messiah offers specializations in clinical mental health, school, marriage, couples, and family counseling. The marriage, couple and family counseling track is 30 credit hours and prepares students for the licensed marriage and family therapist exam. A Certificate of Advanced Graduate studies in counseling is available for students who have earned a master's degree. Each degree track supports a flexible work-life balance by offering the majority of the curriculum online, with a few one-week sessions at the school's Pennsylvania campus. Class sizes are small, to encourage relationship building between students and faculty.

Messiah College upholds a reputation for nationally-ranked academic excellence and fostering personal growth, allowing students to become skilled practitioners with a strong sense of identity. The school's faith-based distinction attracts 2,800 students every year, creating a compassionate Christian community -- both online and on-campus -- that integrates faith and learning. Messiah has rolling admission dates.

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3 LeTourneau University 63.13 Longview, TX

Le Tourneau University offers an MFT degree online and on campus at the school's Dallas-Fort Worth location. The program is offered in a hybrid format; courses will be done both online and on-campus. Students have a unique opportunity to make a difference in the community, as Dallas leads the U.S. in divorce rates.

The online MFT program focuses on supplementing classroom education and hands-on experience, offering internship opportunities and a counseling practicum. Students are also exposed to the finer details of being a therapist, like appearing in court and writing treatment plans. The main three areas of the program are clinical psychology, applied theology, and clinical training – meaning that students are trained to be practicing theologians as well as clinicians. Students can choose from two licensure specializations: the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) specialization or the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).

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4 Amridge University 60.79 Montgomery, AL

The online master's in marriage and family counseling, within the school of human services, focuses on marriage and family therapy theory, scientific research, and clinical practice. Graduates will be prepared to either advance to the PhD program, or do therapy in church settings, or other professional settings. The program is 60 credit hours and includes courses in ethics, basic counseling, family therapy, and psychotherapy. Students will complete a capstone course during their last semester. The program takes seven semesters to complete.

With many programs based completely online, Amridge is an established leader in online education. They're committed to academic excellence, distance education, and spiritual vitality. Amridge teaches programs in five schools through Blackboard platforms, supporting each curriculum with an extensive online library and a career services portal. For students who visit the campus, there are also University Chapel services and meetings available for practicing faith.

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5 Liberty University 57.10 Lynchburg, VA

Liberty is the world's largest, Christian, nonprofit institution among online universities, offering more than 250 programs of study. For its accredited online programs in helping professions, the school is ranked among the top five in the U.S. The master of arts in marriage and family therapy has a foundation in individual and group counseling theories, practical experience, and integrating faith into counseling practice. It's a 60 credit hour program; up to 15 credits can be transferred in. The program is offered completely online, with residential specializations offered through five on-campus intensives.

Students of the MFT online program have several opportunities to engage with the school away from campus. Liberty invites students to join the online student union, access resources in the online writing center, and use apps like Blackboard Mobile Learn and SchoolsApp. Online students are encouraged to visit the campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, where they can build one-on-one relationships with classmates and faculty.

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6 Mid-America Christian University 43.74 Oklahoma City, OK

Within Mid-America's Adult School of Psychology and Counseling, the university offers an online master of science in counseling, with an emphasis in marital and family therapy. This program develops skills in critical thinking, scientific method, and practical application – all through the Desire2Learn platform. 60–63 credit hours are required to graduate. Courses include: Ethics and Professional Studies, Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy, and Career Counseling and Development.

Mid-America Christian University distinguishes itself with Christ-based programs, a Judeo-Christian-based vision, a strong sense of community, and high-tech facilities. The school offers a wide variety of programs, including a degree completion program for students who have credit hours to transfer from elsewhere. MCU immerses students in an "Issues Based Curriculum," where they can explore world issues and make both a local, and global impact in their respective fields of study.

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How Long Is an Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Program?
18 months to 2 years
Program Costs
$25,000 to $50,000
Mental Health Counseling, Addiction/Substance Abuse Counseling, Youth Counseling, Career Counseling, Pyschology, Sociology
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

Job Placement: Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for marriage and family counselors is quite strong. Roughly 168,200 licensed marriage and family counselors are currently employed in the U.S.; this number is expected to climb 19% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in more than 31,000 new jobs nationwide.

How does marriage and family counseling stack up to other careers in terms of job placement? The following table looks at unemployment rates for marriage and family therapists, along with six related job titles. All seven professions listed on the table were included on the ‘Best Social Service Jobs‘ list published by U.S. News & World Report in 2016.

Occupation Unemployment Rate (2016)
School Psychologist 1.8%
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor 3.3%
Marriage and Family Therapist 3,3%
School Counselor 3.3%
Clinical Social Worker 3.4%
Clinical and Family Social Worker 3.4%
Mental Health Counselor 7.2%

Source: U.S. News & World Report

As the table shows, marriage and family therapists face the same unemployment rate as school counselors and substance abuse/behavioral disorder counselors. The average unemployment rate for all professions listed is 3.7%; by comparison, the national unemployment rate for all industries currently sits at 4.6%.

Earning a Living

In addition to more favorable job placement rates, graduates with a master’s in marriage and family counseling enjoy relatively high earning potential. According to the 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report, these degree recipients earn a median annual salary of $43,000 during their first five years and $60,000 after a decade in the workforce; this represents a 39.5% earnings increase in the first 10 years alone. The next table explores salary expectations for master’s degree-holders in eight different counseling and therapy fields.

Degree/Professional Field Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)
Rehabilitation Counseling $43,200 $62,900
Counseling Psychology $43,000 $61,300
Marriage and Family Therapy $43,000 $60,000
School Counseling $41,900 $59,900
General Counseling $41,500 $58,300
Professional Counseling $39,400 $54,200
Mental Health Counseling $40,200 $51,800
Community Counseling $40,400 $51,600

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

As the table indicates, marriage and family therapy master’s recipients earn relatively high salaries at both benchmarks when compared to degree-holders in other related subjects. However, a career salary expectations will also depend on the graduate’s specific job title. Using PayScale data, the next table looks at career salary projections for five popular career pathways among those who earn a master’s in marriage and family counseling.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist $48,334 $51,370 $60,051 $68,674
School Counselor $43,666 $48,835 $56,755 $62,097
Career Counselor $40,183 $42,607 $47,962 $55,407
Substance Abuse Counselor $33,577 $37,850 $40,422 $43,796
Mental Health Counselor $37,230 $40,294 $45,048 $48,676

Source: PayScale

All five occupations reported career salary growth of at least 30% after 20 years on the job. School counselors experienced the highest growth rate: a 42.2% increase between the entry-level and late-career stages. Licensed marriage and family therapists placed a close second with 42.1% growth, followed by career counselors with 37.0% growth.

Career Opportunities

Students who graduate with a master’s in marriage and family counseling will be qualified for dozens of top-level positions, although individual eligibility will depend on additional factors like employer type and city/state of employment. Four of the most common career pathways in marriage and family counseling are outlined below.

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Broadly speaking, this profession is dedicated to helping clients overcome mental, behavioral and emotional disorders. Mental health counselors specialize in cognitive one-on-one treatment, while marriage and family therapists typically serve clients in a group-based setting involving a spouse, children and other close relatives.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors: These counselors help clients overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs, prescription medication and other potentially harmful substance, as well as behaviors such as gambling or sex addiction. They usually help clients to identify patterns or emotional triggers that often accompany their addictive behaviors, and may also assist them during the rehabilitation and recovery stages.

School and Career Counselors: These counselors are found in public and private schools across the country. Those working at the pre-K and elementary levels typically evaluate students for learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and other treatable issues. At the middle and high school level, counselors often divide their time between mental health counseling and career/college advisement.

Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors specialize in assisting clients with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities that interfere with independent living. Areas where they help clients may include applying to and interviewing for jobs, obtaining an education and applying for state and federal disability benefits.

Occupation Median Annual Salary Projected Industry Growth (2014-24) Minimum Educational Attainment Licensure Requirements
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists $43,190 19% (31,400 jobs) Master’s degree For private practice, counselors must log 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised postdegree training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Annual continuing ed courses are also required.
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $39,980 22% (21,200 jobs) Bachelor’s degree For private practice, counselors must log 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Annual continuing ed courses are also required.
School and Career Counselors $53,660 8% (22,500 jobs) Master’s degree For public school employment, counselors must receive a state-issued certification. Some states also require 1-2 years of classroom experience and/or a teaching license.
Rehabilitation Counselors $34,390 9% (10,800 jobs) Master’s degree Counselors who serve clients and patients must log 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised postdegree training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Annual continuing ed courses are also required.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to marriage and family counseling 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 marriage and family counselors. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists: 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.
  • International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors: 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.

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