Best Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Programs

We've ranked the top online doctorate in family counseling programs. Compare schools by cost and convenience. Earn your doctorate in counseling online.
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Updated on November 16, 2023
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A doctorate in family counseling is a terminal degree that prepares graduates for careers in counseling, academia, and research. Some roles at universities involve a combination of all three.

This degree can lead to in-demand careers. In recent times, the discourse around mental health has changed, and more people are seeking out counseling services. As a result, between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 16% job growth for marriage and family therapists. This rate is double the average projected growth rate for all careers (8%) during the decade.

Average costs for online doctorate in family counseling programs vary widely by school, as some Ph.D. programs actually offer students a stipend, provided that they teach undergraduate courses or perform research.

Read on to learn more about courses, possible careers, and admission requirements.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Program?

A doctorate in family counseling program can be a good fit for driven, detail-oriented, and empathetic students with strong interpersonal skills. You can apply to most programs with a bachelor's degree in any field, although some schools require master's degrees.

Since Ph.D. programs award terminal degrees, you must also be a diligent student who enjoys learning and schoolwork. However, no matter your natural characteristics, with enough determination, you can develop the hard and soft skills you need to succeed as a counselor, researcher, or professor over the course of these programs.

Most online doctorate in family counseling programs require 60-75 credits and take 3-5 years to complete; however, since Ph.D. programs often involve a dissertation, completion times can also vary. Some programs require that students take summer courses, while others do not.

To earn state licensure as a counselor, you must complete a specific number of professional hours under the supervision of a licensed counselor. To meet this requirement, almost every doctorate in family counseling program includes some form of supervised field experience, usually in the form of a practicum and/or internship.

Popular Online Family Counseling Programs

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

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Degree Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Program?

Family Therapy

In this survey course, learners delve into structures and theories related to family dynamics and relationships. Covered topics may include trauma, communication, and conflict resolution in the context of families.

Premarital and Remarriage Counseling

Premarital counseling is a common practice for many people. This course covers various aspects of marriage and family systems. Students often discuss how to conduct divorce and remarriage counseling in the best way.

Marriage Counseling

This course delves into best practices and treatment approaches in marriage and family therapy. Students learn practical intervention techniques and the theories behind them.

Practicum or Internship

Most doctoral programs in family counseling require students to complete supervised in-person experiences. Online students can often arrange to complete a practicum or internship at a site in their local communities.


Dissertations are the defining feature of most Ph.D. programs. They require significant original research and writing and often take several years to finish.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Program?

For both on-campus and online doctoral programs in family counseling programs, admission requirements are usually similar, if not the exact same. Some programs require applicants to hold a master's degree, while others only require a bachelor's degree.

In addition to the requirements listed below, applicants may need to complete an interview process with each school. Since Ph.D. programs are academically rigorous and usually admit smaller cohorts, deciding which students to accept is often an extensive process.


All doctorate in family counseling programs require prospective students to fill out an application form, often online through a school portal. These forms capture basic information about each applicant. Ph.D. programs usually don't use application systems like the Common App or Coalition App, so you will probably need to fill out a form for each school you apply to.

Test Scores

In recent years, many schools have eliminated standardized test requirements or adopted test-optional policies. However, some online doctorate in family counseling programs still require that applicants to submit GRE scores. Check each school's website to determine if they require a score minimum.

Letters of Recommendation

Most online doctorate in family counseling programs require that prospective students submit 2-3 letters of recommendation, usually from undergraduate professors. Make sure to ask your recommenders a few months in advance so that they have enough time to write you a strong letter.

Resume and Work Experience

Some Ph.D. programs require applicants to have relevant work experience before applying. Even schools that do not maintain this requirement usually require prospective students to submit application resumes detailing academic, volunteer, and professional experience.


Most graduate family counseling programs ask applicants to write 1-3 short essays as part of their applications. Common prompts include a statement of purpose, a statement of professional values, or an explanation of your counseling philosophy.

Official Transcripts

All accredited family counseling programs require that applicants submit official transcripts from all prior postsecondary schools they have attended. In rare cases, you may be able to earn credit for life and work experience, such as military service.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Degree?

Career Outlook

Most students pursue an online doctorate in family counseling because they want to either advance their professional counseling skills or pursue careers in academia or research. In most cases, these professionals earn high salaries.

Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 23% job growth for substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. That rate is nearly triple the average projected growth rate for all careers during that period. According to the BLS, there is also significant demand for marriage and family therapists, professors, social workers, and school counselors.

See where a doctorate in family counseling can take you. Learn more about counseling careers

Career Paths

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists help individuals, couples, and families deal with problems related to family life and relationships. To practice, they need a state license, which almost always requires a master's in marriage and family therapy (MFT).

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $49,880

Postsecondary Teacher

Family counseling professors teach undergraduate and graduate courses, perform their own original research, and sometimes provide counseling services to individual clients. For tenure-track positions at four-year universities, professors need a terminal degree in their field, such as a doctorate in family counseling.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $79,640

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

Child, family, and social workers connect children with services and help families find solutions to everyday problems. All social workers need a state license to practice, which usually requires a master's degree from an accredited program.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $50,390

Substance Misuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor

These counselors work with groups and individuals, helping them deal with challenges like addiction, substance misuse, stress, and anxiety. They need a state license before they can practice. As such, they must earn at least a master's degree from an accredited program.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $48,520

School Counselor

School counselors help K-12 students deal with social, emotional, and academic problems by developing social and academic skills. If they work with high schoolers, they also help students apply to college. School counselors also need state-issued teaching licenses, which usually require students to possess a master's degree and pass a PRAXIS test.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $60,510

Family Counseling Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

How Do I Choose an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Program?


True program costs for an online doctorate in family counseling programs vary widely by school. In some cases, you can receive a stipend in exchange for performing research or teaching undergraduate courses. Online students save on additional fees like transportation and room and board.

Program Format

If you decide to enroll in an online doctorate in family counseling program, you should consider whether you prefer synchronous or asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning involves scheduled, live online sessions, while asynchronous learning does not. You may also want to consider whether or not you have the capacity to enroll full time.


Even if you enroll in an online doctorate in family counseling program, you may still want to choose a school close to you. Most programs include in-person practicum or internship requirements, supervised hours that you must complete under observation from a licensed counselor. It may be easier to arrange a placement site if you live near campus.


If a school holds institutional accreditation, it has completed a third-party review process evaluating the quality of its programs and services. Do not enroll at schools that are unaccredited, as you cannot receive federal financial aid at these schools. For counseling programs, keep an eye out for programmatic accreditation from The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP).

Student Support

Check on the student services that each school offers before you commit to enrolling. Possible services for online learners include Zoom and in-person networking opportunities, alumni connections, career services, and mentorships.

Best Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Programs

  • Amridge University

    Montgomery, AL



    Ambridge offers an online doctorate in family counseling that trains students to conduct original research while applying knowledge of counseling techniques. The curriculum covers areas such as theories of human development, problems with abuse and addiction, cultural diversity, and research methods. The 60-credit program can be completed on a part-time basis or in four years of full-time study. In addition to teaching basic family therapy methods for use in a clinical setting, the program trains students to identify symptoms of mental health disorders and determine appropriate treatment plans.

    Courses are conducted in a hybrid format, allowing students to complete some of their work online while still having the benefit of a traditional classroom setting. Program outcomes are assessed through comprehensive exams and the completion of a dissertation. The PhD program is not meant to prepare students for professional licensure. Students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.

  • Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA



    Liberty's family counseling degree program trains students in best practices for assessing marital and family issues. The 57-credit doctoral program is entirely online, with optional intensive courses at the school's Lynchburg, Virginia campus. The degree prepares students for careers as church counselors, marriage and family counselors, and outpatient care therapists. Students should be advised that a Christian worldview has a significant impact on Liberty’s instruction.

    The program consists of 27 credit hours of foundational courses in theory and research, 15 credit hours of courses in marriage and family counseling, plus an internship and dissertation totaling 15 credit hours. All students must have earned an accredited master’s degree in a relevant field (such as counseling, psychology, or human services) with at least a 3.0 GPA. The school allows 15 credits to be transferred into the program.

  • University of Louisiana at Monroe

    Monroe, LA



    Individuals who are interested in theory over practice should investigate ULM's marriage and family counseling degree program. Awarding a PhD with a concentration in systemic studies, the program teaches students to assess the underlying ideas of systemic family therapy. Coursework in the program looks at issues from multiple disciplinary perspectives including family systems, ethnography, and social ecology. Because of the theoretical nature of these disciplines, the program is scholarly and nonclinical, and students should not expect to earn a marriage and family therapist license upon graduation.

    The program requires the completion of 60 credit hours. Full-time students complete the coursework portion of the program in two years, and the dissertation takes an additional one to three years. The program uses synchronous, seminar-style learning, and each member in the cohort is expected to be an active participant in discussions. Students never have to visit campus except to defend their dissertations.

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How We Rank Schools

Each year, the BestColleges Ranking Team evaluates hundreds of programs to produce our annual Best online doctorate in family counseling ranking. In 2022, the team sourced the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics. We identified three schools that qualify for our ranking list based on the following criteria.

  • Each school must be an accredited public or private, nonprofit institution.
  • Must offer an online doctorate degree program in the given subject.
  • Must submit an annual report to the National Center for Education Statistics.

To ensure the accuracy and quality of our final ranked list, the ranking team reviewed each qualifying school to ensure it met the criteria for our ranking, and then applied our proprietary ranking methodology to identify the best schools offering this program in the nation. Each school is ranked based on a formula measuring admissions rate, enrollment rate, full-time retention rate, and graduation rate. Review our Editorial Policy and Standards to learn more about the standards we uphold.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Family Counseling Prepares For

Marriage and Family Therapy License (LMFT)

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A licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) must hold at least a master's degree. Each state mandates different requirements for licensure and generally regulates private practices. In most cases, professionals may not transfer their licenses from one state to another.

Licensed Psychologist

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States regulate licensure for psychologists who work as researchers or therapists. Most states require a master's degree, but some require a doctoral degree.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

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Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) typically work in mental health settings and treat issues, such as mental illness, suicidal ideations, and substance abuse. States vary in their LPC requirements. However, most require a master's degree and about 3,000 hours of supervised post-degree work experience.

Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE)

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The National Council on Family Relations offers the Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) credential, which requires at least a bachelor's degree to obtain. This credential can benefit professionals who work in education, healthcare, community services, and family support.

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Family Counseling Programs

Is a doctorate in family counseling worth it?

The value of any online degree depends on the goals and characteristics of each individual student. Nevertheless, for most learners, a doctorate in family counseling degree is worth it.

Most students who pursue a doctorate in family counseling know that they want to pursue careers as either marriage and family therapists or professors. Therapists need at least a master's degree to practice, while professors need a doctoral degree in the field to earn tenure. As such, this degree is essentially a prerequisite for both careers.

What can I do with a doctorate in family counseling?

Graduates with a doctorate in family counseling can pursue state licensure and become marriage and family therapists in private practice, counseling centers, and nonprofit organizations. They can also pursue mental health counseling positions in similar professional settings or school counseling positions in K-12 school districts.

Since a doctorate in counseling is a terminal degree, graduates can also pursue careers in academia as researchers or tenured professors. They can also pursue state licensure and become therapists or psychologists who serve families and children.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in family counseling online?

Completion times vary widely. The dissertation process is complicated and requires significant original research and writing, which affects how long it takes to graduate. However, most students can complete all requirements for a doctorate in counseling in 3-5 years. If you enroll part time, it may take you longer to graduate.

Many programs set time limits on how long you can spend on your doctoral degree. Some schools only allow learners to spend 7-8 years enrolled and pursuing their doctorate.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in family counseling?

Salary potential varies widely by field, employer, experience, and location, among other key factors. However, doctoral degree-holders in family counseling can expect to earn relatively high wages, likely in the $50,000-$80,000 range.

As you gain experience in your field, you can command higher wages. As a counselor, you can also open your own private practice, deciding when you work, which clients you take on, and how much you charge them per session.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a doctorate in family counseling?

The highest-paying job with a doctorate in family counseling is likely professor. According to the BLS, as of May 2021, these professionals earned a median annual wage of $79,640. Furthermore, in May 2021, the top 10% of earners in the field made more than $172,130 annually.

The professors who earn the highest wages earn tenure. Earning tenure usually requires working at a university for several years. However, if you earn a doctoral degree in family counseling, you hold a terminal degree, which means you qualify for these positions at four-year universities.

Feature Image: NoSystem images / E+ / Getty Images is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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