Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs of 2022

To become a licensed counselor, many states require that you have a master's degree. We've highlighted some of the best online programs for a master's in counseling.

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Published on April 11, 2022 · Updated on April 14, 2022

Reviewed by Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D.

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Through proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, counselors provide insight and support for people managing relationships, mental health conditions, addictions, career choices, and other challenges. Pursuing a master's in counseling online can lead graduates to fulfilling careers as counselors in the fields of marriage and family, substance misuse, mental health, and career guidance.

A greater understanding of and focus on mental health has led to employment growth for these professionals that far exceeds the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will grow by 23% between 2020 and 2030.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Counseling Program?

An online master's in counseling prepares graduates to help a diverse group of people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and private practices. Succeeding in this career requires empathy, patience, and strong interpersonal and communication skills.

Most online master's degrees in counseling require students to complete 60 credits in 2-3 years. Learners often participate in practicums and internships to gain the experience required for state-specific and occupation-specific licensure.

While some master's in counseling programs offer students the option to choose a concentration for a specialty, students are not committed to this specialization for their careers. During their programs, students will acquire some level of training for a multitude of counseling subjects, such as addiction counseling and family counseling, regardless of the specialization chosen. Specializations tend to play a more important role in a student's career after graduation when they seek licensure for a specific concentration.

Students should still pursue programs that align with their areas of interest and should consider specializations when choosing a program. Some schools offer the following specializations in counseling:

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Popular Online Master's in Counseling Programs

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 Master's in Counseling Program?

An online master's in counseling program builds upon a student's undergraduate education, focusing on advanced skills. While coursework varies, most programs include core courses in assessment and testing, theories of counseling, ethical practice, and cultural diversity. The following section delves into typical classes in an online master's in counseling program.

Theories of Counseling

This course covers counseling techniques and group dynamics in the case of group therapy. Lessons explore how to engage group members and evaluate relationships within a group setting. Additional topics include the stages of group therapy and how to evaluate the effectiveness of group counseling.

Counseling Diverse Populations

Students learn the skills and theories needed to evaluate and counsel people from all populations. Covered topics include racial identity, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, and systems of oppression and privilege. Degree-seekers also learn about their role in promoting social justice.

Ethical, Legal, and Professional Standards

This course focuses on the legal and ethical issues specific to counseling practices. Coursework covers topics such as confidentiality and malpractice. Students investigate state-specific licensure standards and professional organizations.

Crisis Counseling

Degree-seekers learn the impact of trauma and crisis intervention procedures. Covered topics include assessing and preventing suicide risk and understanding a counselor's role on an emergency management response team.

Addiction Counseling

This course provides an overview of counseling practices for alcohol and drug misuse. Covered topics include 12-step facilitation and other models of recovery, at-risk populations, and available community resources. Additional topics include the evaluation and treatment of addictions related to eating, gambling, shopping, hoarding, and sex.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

Financial Aid Guide for Graduate Students The Student's Guide to College Loans The Student's Guide to Financial Aid and the FAFSA

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Counseling Program?

In most cases, admission requirements are similar, if not identical, for on-campus and online master's in counseling programs. In addition to the materials listed below, prospective counseling students sometimes need a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology. However, many programs accept applicants who hold bachelor's degrees in any field.

In rare cases, applicants may need to complete a phone, Zoom, or in-person interview with program alumni or a member of the admissions department.

Application

All online master's in counseling programs require prospective students to submit an application form. Application systems like the Common App and Coalition App primarily serve undergraduate students, so applicants to these programs will likely need to apply on each individual school's website. These forms capture basic details like contact information.

Test Scores

Some online master's in counseling programs require applicants to submit GRE scores. While standardized testing can be daunting, you can maximize your chances of getting the score you need with the right GRE preparation resources. Since counseling is a practice-focused field, not all programs require standardized test scores.

Letters of Recommendation

Most online master's in counseling programs require applicants to submit approximately 2-3 letters of recommendation. In most cases, you should ask former undergraduate professors to write these letters on your behalf. If you have significant relevant professional experience or are several years removed from your undergraduate program, you can ask professional supervisors or managers.

Resume and Work Experience

Some counseling programs prefer to accept students who have worked for several years; however, since you need a state license to practice counseling, most programs do not require relevant experience. Regardless, in most cases, you must submit a professional resume so that programs can get a sense of your experience and background.

Essays

Many graduate counseling programs require prospective students to submit 1-3 application essays. In general, these essays are fairly short. Common prompts include a statement of purpose or a question about professional goals. Schools use essays to get to know you better and make sure you are a good fit for the program and the campus (or online) community.

Official Transcripts

All master's in counseling programs require applicants to submit official transcripts from previous programs. If you have already completed some graduate coursework, you may be able to earn transfer credits in certain programs.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Counseling Degree?

Career Outlook

An online master's in counseling can prepare students to help individuals, families, and groups manage mental health and behavioral conditions. These professionals work in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, community service organizations, addiction centers, correctional facilities, and schools.

Counselors are likely to be increasingly in demand over the next decade. The BLS projects 16% job growth for marriage and family therapists and 23% job growth for substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors between 2020 and 2030.

Learn more about counseling careers and see where an online master's in counseling can take you by visiting our counseling career guide.

Career Paths

Addiction and Recovery Counselor

Addiction and recovery counselors assist and support individuals recovering from addictions that may include alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, hoarding, and food. These counselors help their patients understand the root causes of their addictions and develop a recovery and relapse prevention plan, which may include behavior modification techniques. Many of these professionals use the principles of 12-step programs or a harm reduction approach to support their clients.

Trauma Response Counselor

A trauma response counselor recognizes the impact of trauma and understands how to treat its effects, including post-traumatic and acute stress disorders. These professionals provide patients with evidence-based trauma treatments like cognitive processing therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. These counselors may focus on specific populations, such as veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

School Counselor

School counselors help K-12 students succeed in their social and academic lives. These professionals work with students, teachers, and parents as they identify the causes of poor school performance, learning or behavioral problems, and social disorders.

Marriage and Family Counselor

Marriage and family counselors address relationship issues within the family unit. Issues commonly encountered include behavior problems with children, lack of communication between family members, and substance misuse. Through observation, evaluation, and diagnosis, these therapists help family members understand and address the underlying causes of their interpersonal challenges.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors work in a variety of settings, including private practices, hospitals, correctional facilities, rehabilitation centers, and social service agencies. With the expansion of telehealth in recent years, working from home can also be an option. These professionals help people experiencing social and emotional conditions, phobias, anxieties, and other mental health challenges. Some mental health counselors specialize in a particular group, such as children, older individuals, or incarcerated people.

Counseling Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

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Continuing Education

It is relatively uncommon for graduates with a master's in counseling to pursue further education. Since a master's in counseling and licensure is all that is required to open a private practice or work for a counseling company, it is the de facto terminal degree for most counselors.

Nevertheless, if you aspire to a high-level managerial position in academia, research, or a school system, you should consider earning a Ph.D. in counseling or clinical psychology. With these terminal degrees in hand, you can teach the next generation of counselors as a professor or perform your own original research in the field.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Counseling Program?

Cost

True costs, including tuition and fees, can vary widely among master's in counseling programs. For the most affordable tuition rates, consider attending an in-state public university instead of an out-of-state private school. To save on fees like transportation and room and board, consider enrolling in an online program instead of an in-person one.

Program Format

Distance learners must decide whether they prefer synchronous or asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning involves live, scheduled online class sessions, while asynchronous learning does not. Furthermore, online graduate students should determine whether they have the capacity to enroll full time or if they need to study part time.

Location

Even if you enroll in an online counseling program, consider attending a school that is close to you. Most counseling programs include in-person practicum hours, during which you must work under the supervision of a licensed counselor. It is often easier to fulfill these requirements with a local school since your program will likely maintain relationships with local counselors.

Accreditation

You should only enroll at schools with institutional accreditation. Otherwise, you cannot receive federal financial aid, and prospective employers may not recognize your degree. Furthermore, the best counseling programs hold accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Try to enroll in a program that is CACREP-accredited.

Student Support

Student support services can make the difference between a great program and a bad experience, especially for online students. When choosing between programs, look for schools that offer services like advising, mentorship opportunities, internship placements, tutoring, and networking events.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs

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#1 Online College in Virginia

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $565/Full time; $615/part time
Out of State | $565/Full time; $615/part time

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

LU offers an MA in clinical mental health counseling as one of the nation's top Christian colleges. This degree prepares students to pursue state licensure as professional counselors. The curriculum explores topics such as psychopathology, crisis counseling, and clinical diagnosis and treatment planning. 

Each participant completes a required internship and practicum in their local area. Enrollees meet with faculty and peers during two on-campus intensives. On average, they complete the degree in 2.5 years. Admission to the master's in counseling requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.7 GPA.

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#2 Online College in California

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $2,035
Out of State | $2,035

Credits to Graduate
49

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | Western Association of Schools and Colleges

The Los Angeles-based USC features a top-ranked counseling program with an online M.Ed. in school counseling. The degree prepares enrollees to pursue counseling roles in K-12 settings. Students attend live online classes weekly. They supplement lectures and self-paced coursework with clinicals, fieldwork, and internships. 

This online master's in counseling prepares learners to earn the California pupil personnel services credential. Full- and part-time enrollment options offer added flexibility. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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#3 Online College in New York

New York University

School Information
Location New York, New York
Admission Rate 16%
Graduation Rate 85%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,942
Out of State | $1,942

Credits to Graduate
48-60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council 

As one of the nation's top colleges, NYU offers two online master's in counseling. Students can pursue a specialization in school counseling or mental health and wellness. Participants progress through each program as part of a cohort. Learners attend live online classes through full-time or part-time enrollment. 

This school counseling degree offers an optional concentration in bilingual school counseling. Each enrollee receives field preparation through practicum experience and three 200-hour internships. All participants engage in experiential activities during an immersion on the NYU campus. Each candidate must possess a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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#4 Online College in North Carolina

Wake Forest University

School Information
Location Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Admission Rate 30%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,560
Out of State | $1,560

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

Wake Forest's MA in counseling offers specializations in school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. Both pathways require foundational and core courses. Topics include theories and models of counseling, family counseling, and group procedures in counseling. 

Enrollees develop field experience during internship hours. The degree prepares students to become eligible to sit for the National Counselor Examination (NCE). Wake Forest boasts a 95% pass rate on the NCE. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, a minimum 2.5 GPA, and GRE scores.

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#5 Online College in Pennsylvania

Clarks Summit University

School Information
Location South Abington Township, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 41%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $585
Out of State | $585

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | Middle States Commission on Higher Education

The Pennsylvania-based CSU offers an MS in counseling that emphasizes a biblical counseling model. The program prepares enrollees to sit for the National Certified Counselor exam. Coursework explores human development, abnormal behavior, and marriage and family counseling. 

Each student completes a supervised counseling practicum and an internship. This master's in counseling culminates with a comprehensive exam. Students can transfer up to 20 credits into the MS. An applicant must possess a bachelor's degree for admission.

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#6 Online College in Illinois

Adler University

School Information
Location Chicago, Illinois
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,442
Out of State | $1,442

Credits to Graduate
62

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

Adler specializes in training mental health practitioners. Its MA in clinical mental health counseling continues that tradition. Students learn to provide culturally sensitive services in various settings. Most courses are delivered asynchronously with some synchronous meetings. Each enrollee can hone their counseling skills in a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. 

All online students complete two five-day residencies on the Chicago campus. The program also requires face-to-face teaching and evaluation components for four courses. Graduates qualify to sit for the National Counselor Examination. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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#7 Online College in Colorado

University of Denver

School Information
Location Denver, Colorado
Admission Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 77%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 28% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $956
Out of State | $956

Credits to Graduate
72

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

DU's online MA in school counseling prepares enrollees to pursue work as counselors focused on social justice. Coursework explores lifespan development, counseling theory, and counseling techniques. Learners blend classwork with activities like journaling and mock counseling sessions. 

Each participant completes a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships at a local P-12 school. Students can also opt to take part in an on-campus immersion experience. Full-time enrollees can complete the MA online in 24 months. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.5 GPA. Candidates do not need to submit GRE scores.

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#8 Online College in California

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 13%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 82% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,253
Out of State | $1,253

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

The Chicago School cultivates licensed and certified professional counselors. Practitioner-faculty teach the online MA in clinical mental health counseling. The program meets the educational requirements for the Licensed Professional Counselor credential. The curriculum covers assessment of individuals and diagnosis of mental health issues. 

Each enrollee completes a practicum and two internships, totaling a minimum of 700 hours. The part-time degree requires two in-person residencies. Students can complete this master's in counseling online in three years. Admission requires a bachelor's degree. Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores.

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#9 Online College in Kentucky

University of the Cumberlands

School Information
Location Williamsburg, Kentucky
Admission Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 91% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $400
Out of State | $400

Credits to Graduate
60

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

UC is a Christian college located in Kentucky. Its master's in clinical mental health counseling prepares enrollees to pursue work as mental health counselors and assess, diagnose, and treat mental disorders. The online curriculum explores private practice and clinical supervision, marriage and family counseling, and child and adolescent counseling. 

Each enrollee develops practical expertise during a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships. The school also offers an online master's in addiction counseling. Admission to either master's in counseling program requires a bachelor's degree and a 3.0 GPA. Candidates with GPAs in the 2.5-2.9 range can receive consideration if they complete an additional essay prompt.

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#10 Online College in California

Hope International University

School Information
Location Fullerton, California
Admission Rate 37%
Graduation Rate 54%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $650
Out of State | $650

Credits to Graduate
61 units

Program Information
Regional Accreditation | WASC Senior College and University Commission

This private Christian college offers an online MS in counseling with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. The program prepares students to pursue Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist credentials. Enrollees can complete this online program through asynchronous classwork in 2-3 years. 

The curriculum covers psychotherapy, group therapy, and career counseling and development. Practicum and internship components provide 700 hours of field experience. Each applicant to the master's in counseling must possess a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Counseling Programs

Is a master's in counseling worth it? true

The value of any online degree is subjective and depends on the goals and priorities of each individual student. Nevertheless, for most students, a master's in counseling is worth it. You need a master's degree in counseling and a certain number of supervised hours to earn state licensure to practice as a counselor. CACREP-accredited master's in counseling programs all prepare you to meet licensure requirements.

Furthermore, most students who enroll in master's in counseling programs know that they want to become professional counselors. These degrees lead students directly to the careers that they seek.

What can I do with a master's in counseling? true

After you earn a master's in counseling, you can pursue careers in various counseling fields. The next step for most graduates is to earn state licensure. If you attended a CACREP-accredited program, that process is usually fairly straightforward. After that, you can pursue careers as substance misuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselors; school counselors; marriage and family therapists; or career counselors, among other opportunities.

While no degree can guarantee you a job, earning a master's in counseling usually leads to a variety of professional opportunities.

Are counseling graduates in high demand? true

Yes. Counseling graduates are in very high demand at the moment and should remain so in the near future. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 23% job growth for substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, a much greater rate of growth than the rate for all careers during that period.

In recent years, the discourse around mental health has changed. More people have realized that mental health is just as important as physical health and are beginning to seek out therapy and counseling. A master's in counseling can prepare you to meet this need and serve people in your community.

How much money can I make with a master's in counseling?

Keep in mind that salary potential depends on factors like location, experience, employer, and local demand. Nevertheless, according to the BLS, as of May 2020, substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned a median annual wage of $47,660, while school and career counselors made a median annual salary of $58,120.

However, salaries varied widely nationwide. The top 10% of earners among school and counselors earned a median annual wage of more than $97,910 in May 2020, while the bottom 10% earned less than $35,620.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in counseling?

The highest salaries for graduates with a master's in counseling are likely in private practice and government jobs. The top 10% of earners among substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned salaries above $78,700 as of May 2020. The top counselors in private practice can earn even higher wages through high hourly rates.

The highest-paying industry for these counselors was government. Professionals in that sector made a median annual wage of $54,070 as of May 2020.

Image Source: Lucy Lambriex, Getty Images

Attending graduate school allows you to conduct research and gain critical skills for your career. Learn about the pros and cons of earning a graduate degree. Find out how to become a psychiatric social worker. Learn more about educational requirements and salary expectations. Is a psychology degree worth it? Explore potential career opportunities for psychology degrees and the benefits of continuing your education in the field.

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