Most Affordable Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs

The higher education experts at BestColleges have evaluated the most affordable Online Master's in School Counseling programs. With tuition on the rise, it's crucial to find a good value. Read on to better understand your potential options.
20 min read

Share this Article

To become a school counselor in a public school, you need a master's degree and state licensure. The most accessible and affordable master's in school counseling programs are often part-time, low-residency (includes some on-campus requirements), and online.

A master's in school counseling provides students with foundational knowledge in counseling methods, development across the lifespan, and professional ethics. In these programs, future counselors learn to help K-12 students through academic, emotional, and social challenges.

BestColleges.com 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.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

Salary potential depends on school district, education, and years of experience. However, these programs generally offer a good return on investment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2020, school counselors working in both public and private schools earned a median annual wage of $64,960. The National Center for Education Statistics reports the average graduate tuition was $19,792 for the 2019-2020 school year.

Read on to learn more about these online programs, including typical costs, courses, and admission requirements.

How Much Does an Online Master's in School Counseling Cost?

Tuition and fees, even for the most affordable online master's in school counseling programs, can vary widely. On the low end, you can expect to pay around $5,600 in tuition and fees per semester. On the high end, you could pay $22,000 per semester, or even more.

Online programs can help you save on true program costs by eliminating many in-person requirements and transportation fees, along with room and board. Keep in mind that many of these programs include short on-campus residencies, which involve transportation costs.

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

Empathetic, driven individuals with a desire to help students succeed may consider enrolling in an online master's in school counseling programs. However, no matter your natural characteristics, you can gain foundational theoretical knowledge and develop the skills you need to become a school counselor during your graduate program.

Many programs require approximately 30-45 credits and take 18-36 months to complete. However, requirements vary significantly by program. In addition to theory and classroom-based courses, students complete a practicum in the field under the supervision of a licensed school counselor. These supervised hours are a requirement for licensure in most states.

Some master's in school counseling programs require you to complete a concentration in a specific age group, such as K-8 or high school.

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

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in School Counseling Program?

Counseling Methods

During this survey course, students delve into case studies, current research, and established theory to learn best practices, strategies, and techniques for school counseling.

Professional Ethics

Using case studies, this course covers several ethical challenges that school counselors might face. Any career that involves parents, students, and an imbalance of power is delicate. Covered topics may include reporting laws.

Development Across the Lifespan

Dipping into modern biological, psychological, and sociological theory and research, this course covers how students develop during different stages of their lives. Covered topics may include personality development, identity, and intelligence.

Multicultural Counseling

This course prepares future school counselors to meet the needs of learners from various backgrounds. Possible topics include self identity and communication strategies.

Practicum or Internship

To qualify for state licensure, prospective school counselors must complete supervised hours in the field. Your program can usually help you arrange an approved placement site with a licensed school counselor.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

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

At most schools, admission requirements for on-campus and online master's in school counseling programs are similar, if not the same. In addition to the requirements listed below, in some cases, prospective students may need to complete a Zoom, phone, or in-person interview with a program alum or a member of the admissions department.

Application

All online master's in school counseling programs require applicants to submit an application form, usually through a school portal. This form captures basic contact and background information. You will likely have to fill out a separate form for each school you apply to. Application systems like the Common App and Coalition App primarily serve undergraduate learners.

Test Scores

In some cases, online master's in school counseling programs may ask you to submit GRE scores. These programs usually don't list score minimums. However, many online programs have eliminated this requirement with the goal of attracting students with diverse experiences. If you do need to submit test scores, the right GRE prep can help.

Letters of Recommendation

Most graduate school counseling programs require applicants to submit 1-3 letters of recommendation. In most cases, you should ask former undergraduate professors to write these letters on your behalf. Make sure to ask them several months in advance so they have enough time to write them before the deadline.

Resume and Work Experience

Some school counseling programs require applicants to have work experience. However, since counseling requires a master's degree and a state license,it is hard for students to gain relevant experience. As such, most schools do not require work experience.

However, most programs require applicants to submit a resume. If you have unique experiences, the admissions team wants to hear about them.

Essays

Most school counseling programs require that applicants submit 1-3 short essays. Possible prompts include a statement of purpose, a statement of professional goals, or an explanation of your counseling philosophy.

Official Transcripts

All school counseling programs require that prospective students submit official transcripts from all postsecondary schools they have attended. If you have already completed some relevant graduate coursework, you may be able to earn transfer credits.

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

Career Outlook

Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 11% job growth for school counselors due to rising student enrollment rates. This rate nearly triples the agency's average projected growth rate for all careers (8%) during that period.

During an online master's in school counseling program, students gain the skills needed to pursue state licensure and careers in public K-12 schools. Graduates can also pursue counseling careers in many fields and professional settings.

See where a master's in school counseling can take you. Learn more about counseling careers

Career Paths

School Counselor

School counselors work in K-12 schools, helping students apply to college and overcome academic, social, and emotional challenges. They also help these students develop social and academic skills. To work in public schools, school counselors must first earn state licensure, which requires a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $60,510


Career Counselor

Career counselors help people struggling to choose a career find their best fit. These professionals can work for nonprofit organizations, in career centers, or in their own private practices. While a master's degree isn't always required for these positions, an advanced degree can help you stand out in the field.

Median Annual Salary: $60,510


Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors work with groups and individuals, helping them face issues like substance misuse, addiction, stress, and anxiety. They can work in various professional settings, including healthcare facilities, nonprofit organizations, and private practice. To practice, they need a state license, which requires a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $48,520


Principal

After working at a school for several years, some school counselors may want to become principals. These leaders manage big picture and day-to-day operations at schools, overseeing budgets, curricula, school direction, and student discipline. They typically need at least a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $98,420


Training and Development Manager

Working in the corporate world, training and development managers help employees develop skills and knowledge. They can work in house for companies or as consultants or freelancers. Beyond education, they need significant relevant experience.

Median Annual Salary: $120,130


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

Continuing Education

Graduates with master's degrees in school counseling generally do not pursue additional formal education. If you want to teach the next generation of counselors or perform research, you can earn a Ph.D. in a counseling field. However, a master's degree is all you need to work as a school counselor. Some school counselors pursue a doctor of education or Ed.D. programs if they wish to become principals.

Counselors working in public schools must complete a number of professional development hours each year. This is the most common form of continuing education for master's degree-holders in school counseling.

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

Cost

Average costs for online master's in school counseling programs vary widely by school. On the low end, the most affordable programs cost around $5,500 per semester, while more expensive programs can charge $22,000 per semester. By enrolling online, you can save on costs like transportation and room and board.

Program Format

If you enroll in an online program, you should decide whether you prefer asynchronous or synchronous learning. Synchronous learning involves scheduled, live online course sessions, while asynchronous learning does not. You should also determine whether or not you can enroll full time.

Location

Even if you enroll in an online master's in school counseling program, it may still make sense to choose a school close to you. To prepare you for state licensure, school counseling programs require supervised experiences in the field. It may be easier to arrange these experiences if you live closer to campus.

Accreditation

You should only enroll at schools that hold institutional accreditation. If you do not enroll at an accredited school, you are ineligible for federal financial aid. For school counseling programs, keep an eye out for accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs.

Student Support

Student services may boost success in graduate school, especially if you enroll online. Before you commit to a program, check to see if the school offers mentorship opportunities, internship placements, careers services, tutoring, and advising.

How Do I Pay for an Online Master's in School Counseling?

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

All students must submit the FAFSA to be eligible for federal student financial aid. You must fill out this form to access federal grants, scholarships, and loans. Some schools require that you fill out the FAFSA when you apply.

Loans

When seeking financial aid, you should only turn to loans after exhausting all other options. Before loans, try to find scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. If you must take out loans, you can seek out loan forgiveness programs after you graduate. Federal loans offer lower interest rates and more payment options than private loans.

Grants

Grants are sums of money, usually awarded by a government or a school, for a particular purpose. While several organizations are currently advocating for increased grant funding for school counselors, currently, there aren't many options for funding your education.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study jobs are part-time jobs that students can perform to earn money while enrolled. They are a great alternative to loans if you qualify. These jobs may be available on or off campus.

Scholarships

Scholarships are the best form of financial aid since they don't require repayment. You can seek out scholarships based on your chosen field, background, or academic performance. Scholarships are usually awarded by colleges and third-party organizations.

Most Affordable Online Master's in School Counseling Programs

  1. North Carolina State University
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $14771

    North Carolina State University enrolls about 35,000 students across more than 300 programs. Students who enroll in its online master's in school counseling program join a part-time cohort. Learners take classes throughout the year and can graduate in three years.

    Core courses include substance abuse counseling, techniques of counseling, group counseling, and gender issues in counseling. The program prepares graduates to earn a North Carolina school counseling license, although students must complete their practica and internships in North Carolina to be eligible.

    Applicants must submit GRE or MAT scores. NC State is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and its M.Ed. in school counseling program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

  2. Vanderbilt University
    Location

    Nashville, TN

    Tuition

    $23596

    Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University reports that 100% of recent graduates from its master's in human development counseling program found employment or earned acceptance into doctoral programs after graduation.

    This 48-credit master's degree, which offers a specialization in school counseling, can be completed mostly online and takes three years to finish. Students must complete three field experiences and two on-campus immersions. The program follows a synchronous schedule with live virtual classes.

    Students gain skills related to individual counseling, testing consulting, diagnosis and assessment, and research and evaluation. Graduates can pursue work in community, school, and corporate settings.

    Applicants must submit GRE scores, although recent Vanderbilt graduates with a minimum 3.0 GPA can waive this requirement. Vanderbilt is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. University of Massachusetts Boston
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Tuition

    $12412

    The University of Massachusetts Boston hosts nearly 16,000 students across more than 200 academic programs. The school's online master's in counseling takes two years to complete and features general counseling and school counseling courses. Online students must visit the UMass Dartmouth campus for two weeks during the summer to complete two clinical courses.

    Core courses include professional, ethical, and legal issues in school counseling; career development facilitation and training; principles of vocational, educational, and psychological assessment; and collaborative counseling in schools. Faculty deliver live online sessions.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Students must also submit GRE scores. The program charges the same tuition rate for all online students. UMass Boston is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

  4. Wake Forest University
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    Tuition

    $27354

    Located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest offers an online master's degree in school counseling that requires a practicum and an internship. Students complete coursework that covers topics like career and lifestyle development, human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, and research and program evaluation.

    Graduates have found employment at more than 60 different agencies and schools, and they often pursue careers as school counselors and community and social service managers. Wake Forest reports that master's in counseling students hold a 95% pass rate on the National Counselor Exam.

    Wake Forest is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Its master's in school counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

  5. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $36161

    Based in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California enrolls around 28,000 graduate students each year. The school's online master's in school counseling can be completed in 2-3 years. Core coursework includes legal and ethical issues in counseling, human development theory in school counseling, and research methods and data analysis for counselors.

    The program prepares graduates for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing's school counseling credential. Participants choose from three areas of focus: college and career readiness, restorative justice, and trauma-informed practice. Students must complete a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA. USC is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

  6. University of St. Thomas
    Location

    Houston, TX

    Tuition

    $20294

    The University of St. Thomas enrolls over 3,000 students and boasts an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Based in Houston, Texas, UST offers more than 20 graduate degree programs, including a 48-credit M.Ed. with a school counseling specialty.

    This cohort-based, online program takes two years to complete and leads to certification in Texas. The curriculum features a 160-hour practicum — including 80 hours of direct client contact — as a capstone project. Core courses include educational research design and data analysis, group procedures dynamics of group counseling, ethical and legal issues in counseling, and family counseling with children and adolescents.

    The university charges the same tuition rate for in-state and out-of-state students. UST is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  7. University of Mississippi
    Location

    University, MS

    Tuition

    $14459

    Founded in 1848, the University of Mississippi currently enrolls over 23,000 students. Its M.Ed. in school counseling track prepares graduates to work as licensed school counselors at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

    This online master's in counselor education requires a practicum and an internship. The 48-credit curriculum includes core courses like issues and ethics in counseling, lifespan development, counseling children and adolescents, and group procedures. Students must also earn a passing grade on the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination to graduate.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an approved institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA; however, learners with a GPA from 2.70-2.99 may be admitted on a probationary basis. Students must also submit GRE scores. Mississippi residents receive a discounted tuition rate. Ole Miss is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  8. East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    Tuition

    $13746

    Based in Greenville, North Carolina, East Carolina University enrolls over 28,000 students and offers more than 125 online degrees and certificates.

    The school's online master of science in counselor education includes courses in professional, legal, and ethical issues in counseling; developmental counseling and learning: a life-span approach; social and cultural issues in counseling; and family approaches in professional counseling. Students also complete a practicum and an internship. This program meets professional licensure and certification requirements in North Carolina.

    ECU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Its counselor education program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

  9. New York University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $39935

    NYU Steinhardt — NYU's School of Culture, Education, and Human Development — enrolls over 6,000 students and employs around 300 faculty.

    The school offers an online master's in school counseling that requires a 100-hour practicum and a 600-credit internship. Students can complete this 48-credit program in 18 months. The curriculum prepares students for school counseling licensure in New York state.

    This program accepts applications on a rolling basis. Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores, although the university recommends prior work experience in counseling with agencies like psychiatric centers, suicide hotlines, or crisis centers.

    NYU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Its master's in school counseling program is accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council.

  10. Oregon State University
    Location

    Corvallis, OR

    Tuition

    $18625

    A public research institution, Oregon State University enrolls students from all 50 states and roughly 100 countries. Students can take classes at campuses in Corvallis and Bend, at over 20 partner institutions around the Pacific Northwest, and online.

    Students can earn OSU's master's degree in school counseling through a hybrid format, with 50% of the coursework offered online and 50% taking place on campus two weekends each term. The program targets Oregon and Washington residents.

    Select classes include developmental perspectives in counseling, theory and techniques of child and adolescent counseling, and leadership of school counseling programs.

    The university accepts a limited number of students into this program each year. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. OSU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

How We Rank Schools

Each year, the BestColleges Ranking Team evaluates hundreds of programs to produce our annual Most Affordable Online Master's in School 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 ten 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 Master's 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.

Popular Online School Counseling Programs

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

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in School Counseling Programs

Is a master's in school counseling worth it?

The value of any online degree depends on each student. A master's in school counseling is often worth it if you enjoy working with students and helping them succeed.

School counseling positions in public K-12 schools require state licensure, which requires a master's degree. For students who know they want to become school counselors, this degree is worth it because it is required for their desired career. School counselors earn about $15,000 more than the median salary for all other workers.

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

After earning a master's in school counseling, you can pursue state licensure and become a counselor in a K-12 public school. You can also decide not to get licensed and seek out work in a K-12 private school. You can also pursue careers in related counseling fields, such as marriage and family therapy; substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling; or corporate training and development.

Keep in mind that no degree, even a master's degree, can guarantee you a specific job with a specific employer.

Are school counseling graduates in high demand?

Yes, school counseling graduates are in high demand. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 11% job growth for school and career counselors. This rate is higher than the 8% growth rate the agency projects for all careers during that period.

During the same decade, the BLS projects 23% job growth for substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.

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

According to the BLS, school counselors who work in public and private schools earned a median annual salary of $60,590. Keep in mind that salary potential depends on key factors, including employer, experience, and location. School counselors who work in public schools can usually determine how much money they'll make based on their district's salary schedule.

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

The highest-paying jobs for graduates with a master's in school counseling are likely outside of the counseling field. For example, as of May 2020, corporate training and development managers earned a median annual salary of $115,640, according to the BLS.

While these positions require relevant experience, usually in business, master's degree-holders in school counseling can apply many of the skills they have learned during their programs toward teaching corporate employees new skills and knowledge.

Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

BestColleges.com 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.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.