Best Online Doctorate in School Counseling Programs

We've ranked the top online doctorate in school counseling programs. Compare schools by cost and convenience. Earn your doctorate degree online.
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Updated on August 29, 2023
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School counselors provide a valuable resource to children. These mental health professionals help students deal with everyday stress and life events that impact their ability to learn and thrive in school. In the U.S. the average student-to-counselor ratio in schools is 464-to-1, according to the American School Counselor Association. About eight million U.S. students don't have access to a school counselor at all.

The profession is in high demand, especially after 2020 when millions of students transitioned to online learning because of COVID-19. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 11% job growth for school and career counselors between 2020 and 2030.

Most doctorate in school counseling programs take 3-7 years to complete. Online programs can provide some flexibility for students hoping to finish more quickly.

According to the BLS, school counselors made a median annual salary of $58,120 as of May 2020. However, a doctoral degree can help graduates land high-paying leadership, research, and postsecondary teaching positions.

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

School counselors play a vital role in helping students with their mental and emotional health. They must be flexible and adaptable, as well as friendly, empathetic, and tolerant of diverse viewpoints. Good communication skills are critical for working with people of all ages, from district superintendents to elementary school children.

School counseling doctoral programs prepare graduates for this environment through rigorous coursework and research. The programs require varying amounts of credits and take several years to complete. Graduate students can choose to pursue the following two degree types:

  • Ed.D.: Graduates usually find jobs in schools, districts, or communities, working directly with students and educators.
  • Ph.D.: Graduates usually work in academia and research at a university or create policies at the state and federal government levels.

Degree-seekers can also choose an area of emphasis for study, such as counseling education, educational psychology, organizational change, or research and statistics. In addition to coursework, students in a school counseling doctoral program must often complete a dissertation and practicum.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Featured Online Programs in School Counseling

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

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

Counseling Research Design

This course introduces methods and designs for conducting counseling research. Students learn various design options for studies, including experimental, quasi-experimental, survey, and subject-based research. When the course is complete, students are prepared to set up and conduct their own research and evaluate the results.

Advanced Cognitive Behavioral Theories

This course instructs students in an advanced analysis of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT). Many mental health professionals use CBT to help people recognize how they perceive specific situations and how their thoughts can impact the way they feel. It is an evidence-based psychological treatment with thousands of studies showing its effectiveness in treating mental health issues.

Diversity and Social Justice in Counseling

School counselors who work directly with students and academic researchers who create policies must understand how cultural values, biases, and beliefs can impact students. In this course, graduate students evaluate how these issues have historically affected counseling programs and research and how to effectively lead and advocate for students from all backgrounds.

Practicum and Internship

Doctorate in school counseling programs include multiple practicum experiences to apply course theory in real-world settings under the supervision of licensed counselors. Practica can be in teaching, advanced counseling, counseling supervision, and research, depending on the student's educational focus and career goals. Students also complete an internship where they gain on-the-job experience.

Research and Dissertation

Students must complete a research dissertation related to school counseling training, practice, advocacy, professional development, or addressing a specific issue or concern affecting the profession. Students develop a dissertation proposal, then work with a professor to conduct research and present it to a committee. Committee members ask questions, and the student defends their dissertation.

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

Online doctorate in school counseling programs mostly maintain the same admission requirements as an on-campus program. Most programs ask for the following materials:


Online and on-campus programs both require students to fill out an application and pay an application fee. These applications are usually available on the school's website, and students can submit them electronically along with any supporting documents.

Test Scores

Doctoral programs usually require students to take and submit a standardized test score. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is the most common for school counseling programs. If a student already completed the GRE or other standardized test prior to completing a master's degree, they can usually use that score.

Letters of Recommendation

Students applying for a Ph.D. or Ed.D. program should request letters of recommendation from colleagues or professors who can speak to their research abilities and personality traits. Recommendation letters can come from multiple sources, but for doctoral programs it's best to ask for academic letters from past professors or research colleagues.

Resume and Work Experience

Most students who apply for a doctoral degree in school counseling have extensive academic experience, including a bachelor's degree and master's degree. Some also have research experience or work experience in a school setting. Applicants should include a curriculum vitae and cover letter detailing relevant work, research, and publications (if applicable).


Most doctoral programs in school counseling require students to submit 1-3 short essays. Grad school application essays allow admissions departments to get to know applicants on a more personal level. Students should expect to explain their motivations for enrolling in a doctorate in school counseling program and detail their professional aspirations.

Official Transcripts

To apply for a doctorate in school counseling, students must generally hold an undergraduate degree and possibly a master's degree. If the master's degree is not in school counseling, it should be in a related field of study, such as psychology. The application should include official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate programs.

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

Career Outlook

School counselors are in high demand everywhere in the U.S. With a doctorate, you can pursue positions working directly with students or leadership roles at individual schools or in school districts.

Graduates can also work at state and federal education offices developing policies that improve mental health and emotional support for students. Ph.D. graduates often work in research and academia, working to improve counseling practices and professional development for those in the field.

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

Career Paths

Education Counselor

These counselors work directly with students in an educational setting to provide mental health counseling and career services. School counselors are in demand in multiple settings, including elementary schools, middle and high schools, and universities. Some states may require school counselors to have an education background and licensure.

Median Annual Salary: $58,120

Professor of School Counseling

A professor of school counseling works at a university teaching other students who want to become school counselors. These professionals can work only as classroom teachers or can also perform research to improve the counseling profession. Faculty positions are available at community colleges, four-year public and private institutions, and research universities.

Median Annual Salary: $80,560

Community Service Program Managers

Many community organizations can benefit from the clinical and leadership skills students learn in a doctorate in school counseling program. These managers work in a variety of settings, including nonprofit organizations, state government agencies, and federal agencies. They create and administer social programs that benefit students needing counseling.

Median Annual Salary: $69,600

School Guidance Counseling Supervisor

A guidance counselor supervisor oversees other counselors who work in a school. A doctoral degree that focuses on organizational leadership can prepare graduates for jobs supervising others who work directly with students to improve their academic success and emotional health.

Average Annual Salary: $59,780 (Payscale, as of Dec. 2021)

Department Administrator

Department administrators oversee research, academics, and student services in school counseling programs at universities. They help professors and other school counselors develop programs to aid students and shape the next generation of school counseling professionals.

Average Annual Salary: $65,570 (Payscale, as of Dec. 2021)

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

Continuing Education

A doctorate in school counseling is a terminal degree, meaning it is the highest level of education you can pursue in this field. However, some students may choose to attain an additional doctoral degree in a related field after completing a doctorate in school counseling.

Once you are working in the field of school counseling, you must participate in continuing education and professional development to stay current in the latest research and theories.

Featured Online Programs in School Counseling

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

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


Tuition rates vary widely among online doctorate in school counseling programs. To find the best rates, consider enrolling at an in-state, public university as opposed to an out-of-state, private university. In some online programs, you may qualify for in-state tuition regardless of where you live.

It's also important to factor in other costs like housing and fees to get a picture of the total costs to attend a doctoral program. Online students save on many of these costs.

Program Format

Online programs use different teaching methods. Some deliver coursework synchronously, meaning students attend online classes at a designated time. Others deliver coursework asynchronously, where students complete coursework on their own time. Students should understand their own learning styles to determine if they prefer the more structured option or need more flexibility.

Since doctoral programs take several years, most students choose to attend full time to graduate in the shortest amount of time possible.


School location matters more for on-campus doctoral programs than online programs. However, since students must often complete at least one practicum and an internship, it can prove easier to live near campus since schools can often assist with placements. Students who must defend a research dissertation may also need to travel if they attend an online program at a faraway school.


Accreditation demonstrates that a school meets rigorous academic standards. Graduating from a non-accredited university might make it harder to get a job as a researcher or school counselor in the future, especially if a student wants to pursue a career in academia. Furthermore, you cannot receive federal financial aid unless you attend an accredited school.

Student Support

Doctoral programs should offer a high level of support to students. These programs require in-depth research study, as well as a lot of real-world experience in practicum and internship settings. Students need ongoing student support to conduct and submit quality research and coordinate valuable practicum experiences. Look for online programs with extensive services for graduate students.

Featured Online Programs in School Counseling

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

Best Accredited Online Doctorate in School Counseling Programs

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Best Online Doctorate in School Counseling Programs

  • Oregon State University

    Corvallis, OR



    OSU's doctorate in counseling uses a hybrid delivery method where learners take some weekend courses on the university's Portland campus. The curriculum consists of 150 quarter credits and emphasizes supervision, assessment, and counselor education. Additional requirements include a 630-hour internship.

    OSU provides distance learners with several resources, including Aurora — a specialized platform that helps users prepare for a career in academia. The university also provides Ph.D. students with a guide covering networking best practices.

    Prospective students can apply for the summer term and should hold a master's in counseling or a related field. Other admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 graduate GPA and three recommendation letters. All learners pay the same cost per credit.

  • Regent University

    Virginia Beach, VA



    Students can earn Regent's online doctoral degree in educational psychology by completing an entirely online curriculum. This program prepares degree-seekers for careers as professors and educational assessment specialists. The curriculum requires 75-77 credits and features courses in collaborative research, advanced study of theories in learning, and the psychological underpinnings of learning. The doctoral program culminates in a dissertation.

    Regent provides distance learners with resume templates and interview preparation tips — both essential for learners preparing for a career in academia.

    Admission requirements include an academic paper and transcripts. Some applicants must also complete an interview. This Christian university does not charge out-of-state tuition. Doctoral students should contact Regent's Financial Aid and Scholarships Office to learn about institutional aid opportunities.

  • University of West Georgia

    Carrollton, GA



    Aspiring school counselors may be interested in UWG's doctor of education in professional counseling and supervision. The 60-credit program uses a cohort learning model, in which a group of 12 students progress through classes together. The curriculum includes a practicum, an internship, and a dissertation.

    UWG offers learners resume critiques, online networking best practices, and an etiquette guide. The university also helps graduate students create and follow through on a career development plan.

    Admission requirements include a school counseling license, a minimum 3.5 graduate GPA, and GRE scores. The program also offers a 39-credit track for learners who already hold an education specialist degree. UWG does not charge out-of-state tuition.

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in School Counseling Programs

Is a doctorate in school counseling worth it?

A doctoral degree in school counseling is definitely worth it for students interested in pursuing research or working in an academic setting. This degree can also help graduates interested in working directly with students in a school setting gain a deeper understanding of how to effectively help them navigate social, emotional, and academic challenges for better outcomes.

While graduate school takes a long time, it provides valuable experience and expertise in this high-demand field.

What can I do with a doctorate in school counseling?

Graduates with a doctorate in school counseling can work in schools, helping create individual learning plans and implementing policies to improve the learning environment.

They can work as researchers or in academic settings, teaching the next generation of school counselors. They can also help create high-level policies by working in federal education agencies or state agencies to influence legislation and conduct research.

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

Most programs take 3-7 years, although timelines can vary. Many programs involve practicum experiences and internships, as well as research dissertations.

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

If you earn a Ph.D. in school counseling, you can compete for postsecondary teaching positions, which pay a median annual salary of $80,560, according to BLS data from May 2020. School and career counselors made a median annual wage of $58,120 as of May 2020.

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

The highest-paying jobs in school counseling are in research, administrative roles, and teaching jobs in higher education. According to the BLS, postsecondary teachers made a median annual salary of $80,560 as of May 2020. Keep in mind that salary potential for professors depends on factors like location, experience, and tenure.

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