Counseling is a rewarding field, but you’ll need more than a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for most professional counseling positions. An online master’s degree in counseling will prepare you for most counseling jobs, and the flexible format inherent in web-based learning will allow you to continue working in your current job while you study. If you have completed a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related field and plan to continue your education, then you may be an excellent candidate for an online master’s in counseling program.
ACCORDING TO THE BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS (BLS), JOBS FOR MARRIAGE AND FAMILY COUNSELORS ARE EXPECTED TO GROW BY 23% THROUGH 2026 BUT REQUIRE A MASTER’S DEGREE AS PART OF ACCREDITATION.
Online counseling master’s programs are designed to build on the skills and knowledge you developed as an undergrad. The curriculum focuses on theoretical approaches to counseling, along with case studies and research-based evidence. Many counseling master’s degree programs allow students to specialize in areas like substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, or school counseling. These programs typically require students to engage in supervised, hands-on training as part of a practicum course or worksite-based internship.
Learn more about what you can do with a master’s degree in counseling and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.
- HOW MUCH IS AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN COUNSELING?
Most online master’s in counseling programs consist of 48-60 credits of coursework and charge tuition rates of $400-$800 per credit.
- WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A COUNSELING MASTER'S DEGREE?
Graduates with a counseling master’s degree can pursue careers as marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, and school counselors.
- HOW DO I GET A DEGREE IN COUNSELING?
After being accepted into the program, students must meet all curriculum requirements and maintain a minimum GPA.
- CAN YOU GET A COUNSELING LICENSE WITHOUT A MASTER'S DEGREE IN COUNSELING?
No. While requirements vary by state, you must have a master’s degree, passing scores on one or more relevant examinations, and complete a supervision period to become licensed.
Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs
|Evanston, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 11%||
Northwestern offers an online master's degree in counseling, with an optional child and adolescent specialization. Though the majority of coursework can be completed online, the university incorporates a hands-on approach, requiring clinical field placement, and unique immersion experiences in addition to distance learning. Courses are accessed through a virtual learning platform called 2U, which also provides access to online student resources including tech support, networking opportunities, clinical placement assistance, and other services provided by the student support team. Curriculum is designed to be comprehensive in the online MA in counseling, centered on in-depth exploration of primary functions of mental health professionals, including understanding the psychodynamic perspective and the central purpose of the therapeutic relationship. A typical program for full-time students encompasses 24 courses, as well as a practicum and internship, completed over the course of six consecutive semesters.
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
|Lubbock, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 37%||
The Texas Tech University System is made up of four institutions, making it one of the state’s largest public university systems. The Texas Tech University Health Science Center offers degree programs in healthcare fields such as nursing and pharmacy. TTUHSC also provides patient care and conducts important research in various biomedical and clinical areas. In addition to the classes offered at TTUHSC’s five campuses around the state, students can also take courses online. TTUHSC offers three different online master’s programs in counseling: addiction counseling, clinical rehabilitation counseling, and mental health counseling.
All three unique counseling programs at TTUHSC are master of science degrees. Each program requires a minimum of 60 credit hours of coursework, including core classes in psychopathology, addictions, treatment planning, counseling theory, and group counseling. Distance learners must also complete an internship in their local community.
Photo: Fredlyfish4 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Touro University Worldwide
|Los Alamitos, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 86%||
Touro University Worldwide offers an online master's in counseling in marriage and family therapy in several track options: non-clinical, clinical, and Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling (LPCC.) The program focuses on exploring interpersonal relationships between couples and families and providing systematic treatment options for issues they are experiencing in the here-and-now. Courses are accessed through Blackboard. The Student Success Center provides access to advisement services, career counseling and orientation courses and training online. The non-clinical program does not include clinical or practicum hours, though the clinical and LPCC programs require practicum coursework, on-site clinical hours, and practicum hours to complete the degree. The university offers the same set-rate for tuition per credit to all students, regardless of geographic location.
Photo: Bridget Canfield / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
George Washington University
|Washington, DC||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 30%||
George Washington University is located in the heart of Washington, D.C., just four blocks from the White House. Its unique location allows students to take advantage of the school’s connections, including partnerships with leading national and international corporations and organizations.
Distance learners interested in counseling may consider the master of arts in rehabilitation counseling program at GWU. This 48-credit hour program incorporates coursework in multicultural counseling, case management, psychosocial aspects of disability, and ethical standards in counseling. Students learn how to help patients gain and maintain employment. Graduates work with populations affected by HIV/AIDS, disabilities, and chronic health issues. On average, it takes students about two to three years to complete the program. The school provides rehabilitation counseling training and merit scholarships.
Photo: Ingfbruno / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Palo Alto University
|Palo Alto, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 36%||
Palo Alto University was originally founded in 1975 as the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology. Now an accredited private university, Palo Alto offers undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of fields, including psychology and counseling. The university’s master of arts in counseling program features two areas of emphasis: clinical mental health practice and marriage, family and child counseling.
Palo Alto University utilizes the Zoom videoconference platform for weekly live virtual remote classes for all online courses. These “Virtual Remote Classrooms” include real-time lecture, discussion and clinical skills training enabled by videoconference technology. This synchronous format gives students the opportunity to interact with a diverse student body and learn clinical skills through real-time interaction with instructors.
In order to meet licensure guidelines, all students must complete a minimum of 700 experience hours over the course of a year. PAU helps students secure positions for this field requirement. Students gain skills in assessment, intervention, research, and professional practice. Coursework in the program consists of 93 quarter-units of coursework and a capstone project. Both emphasis tracks are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Education. Graduates may pursue licenses such as Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Clinical Counselor.
California Institute of Integral Studies
|San Francisco, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 18%||
Located in San Francisco, the California Institute of Integral Studies hosts degree programs that are cross-cultural, creative, and that embrace different perspectives of learning. The master of arts in counseling psychology with an emphasis in expressive arts therapy prepares students to use art as a form of therapy. Students learn how to combine art with academic knowledge, clinical practice, and community engagement. Students also complete intensive coursework in psychotherapy and counseling psychology. Graduates are eligible for credentials from the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association.
Students can complete this 60-unit online master’s degree in counseling in two to three years. Distance learners can complete the low-residency program mostly online, with a one-week residency at the start of each semester. The program emphasizes hands-on learning. Each online student receives a personal learning coach. The program includes a year-long practicum during the final year of study.
New York University
|New York, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 8%||
Located in the heart of New York City, NYU Steinhardt is home to eleven different academic departments and nearly 6,000 students. The master of arts in counseling for mental health and wellness requires 60 graduate credit hours to complete. Students learn how to assess patients from different races, genders, sexual orientations, and economic situations. The program focuses on forming relationships to help clients grow.
Students must complete a minimum of 600 internship hours. NYU helps distance learners find a site within their own community to fulfill these hours. Online students in the counseling program also have the opportunity to take part in a three or four day campus visit, during which they can interact with other students and take part in intensive training. Students can complete the program in as few as 21 months. Some courses include synchronous meetings and live discussions. This is a license-qualifying program.
|Malibu, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 21%||
Pepperdine University is a Christian school located on a sprawling campus in Malibu, just north of Los Angeles. The school offers 73 different degree and certificate programs across five graduate and undergraduate schools. The master of arts in clinical psychology prepares students to become marriage and family therapists or professional clinical counselors. Students learn how socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, affect couples, individuals, and families. Courses cover topics such as mental health diagnosis, psychopharmacology, sexuality, multicultural counseling, and substance abuse treatment.
Pepperdine’s online counseling master’s degree requires 62 to 68 units. Distance learners can usually complete these requirements in 8-12 academic sessions. Students complete four clinical rotations to observe professional counselors and gain hands-on experience working with clients. Graduates are prepared for licensure in California and they may also pursue licensure in other states.
|Oakland, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 8%||
Saybrook was created by a group of psychologists who founded the humanistic psychology movement. This movement asserts that each person is a work in progress and that we all have the ability to influence our own development. This movement is still an integral part of Saybrook’s mission. Many of the school’s degrees are offered online, including an online master’s program in counseling.
The master of arts in counseling at Saybrook is a hybrid program. Students meet faculty and their fellow cohort members at a residential conference at the start of each semester. The remainder of coursework can be completed online. Students complete three semesters of field work, including a practicum and internship. The program prepares students for licensure as professional counselors, professional clinical counselors, or mental health counselors. Students can complete the program within three years. The program requires 60 credits.
|Irvine, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 72%||
Originally established as a branch of Chapman University, Brandman University is now a separate private institution based in Irvine, California. Brandman’s original purpose was to serve the Marine Corps members at the nearby El Toro Air Station, but has expanded to also provide flexible, affordable education to adult learners and nontraditional students of all kinds.
The online counseling master’s program at Brandman requires 48 credit hours. Students can complete the program entirely online or in a hybrid format. The concentration in pupil personnel services with a credential in school counseling is an ideal program for students interested in working with young people and adolescents. Students learn about state and federal regulations that affect school guidance programs. Coursework includes inclusive schooling, group leadership, children and youth in development, positive behavior supports, and mentoring in school counseling. This program is only available to California residents.
Wake Forest University
|Winston-Salem, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 11%||
Wake Forest University is a private university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. WFU enrolls over 8,000 students, 3,000 of whom are in graduate programs. U.S. News and World Report ranked Wake Forest as one of the best value schools in the country and one of the top national universities. Distance learners can take advantage of the school’s online graduate programs, including an online master’s degree program in counseling. The program features concentrations in school counseling and clinical mental health counseling.
Each concentration option requires 60 credit hours, including 12 credit hours of foundational courses and 18 credit hours of concentration courses. The program boasts a 100 percent pass rate on the National Counselor Exam, which is required for licensure in most states. Students can complete the program in about three years. The school counseling program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
University at Buffalo
|Buffalo, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 16%||
The University at Buffalo is the largest school in the State University of New York system. The main campus is located in Amherst. UB offers nearly 300 graduate and professional programs and serves over 9,000 postbaccalaureate students. Students can pursue many of these graduate programs online, including an online master’s in counseling offered specifically for distance learners who live at least 75 miles from campus.
The master of science in rehabilitation counseling features coursework in foundations of rehabilitation, counseling theory, and tests and measurement. Students can complete the program in less than three years by taking two courses each semester. All students participate in an internship consisting of at least 300 contact hours. Students also complete a portfolio and pass a comprehensive exam. Although the minimum requirement is 48 credit hours, UB urges students to take more credits through optional electives in their areas of interest.
University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus
|Denver, CO||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 25%||
About 45 percent of the 19,000 students at CU Denver are enrolled in a graduate or professional degree program. One of the most popular graduate programs is counseling. The master’s program in counseling includes a concentration in couple and family therapy, designed for students who wish to eventually help couples and families work through relationship issues. The program addresses multicultural and diversity issues in counseling, as well as counseling adolescents and their parents.
This degree program requires 63 credit hours to complete. These courses emphasize foundations and skills in counseling theory, counseling techniques, group counseling, sex therapy, and mental health diagnosis. In addition to required coursework, students must also complete an internship, pass a comprehensive exam, and complete a thesis project. All of these program elements prepare students to meet state licensure requirements. Students may join the Beta Alpha Omega counseling honor society.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Chicago
|Chicago, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 1%||
Founded in 1979, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology serves 4,000 students across the U.S. TCSPP campuses are scattered around the country, allowing students in different states to access quality higher education in psychology. The online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling focuses on ethics, research, multiculturalism, diagnosis, prevention, and advocacy. Students learn how to address grief, anxiety, depression, stress, relationship issues, self esteem problems, and suicidal thoughts.
Distance learners can complete the program in about three years of part-time study. While all coursework can be completed online, students must attend two residencies on the Chicago campus. Each residency is about four days long. Students complete 100 hours of practicum experience and 600 hours of clinical practice. Coursework in this program meets the licensure requirements in many states, but students should always check with their specific licensing board. Graduates may find jobs in government, business, healthcare, nonprofits, or education.
Golden Gate University-San Francisco
|San Francisco, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 51%||
Founded in 1901, Golden Gate University operates four campuses along the west coast: three in California and one in Washington state. The university emphasizes adult education. Most of the students at GGU are pursuing graduate degrees and 85 percent are enrolled on a part-time basis. In 1996, GGU was one of the first universities in the U.S. to develop web-based degrees. Today, GGU offers a long list of fully online and hybrid graduate programs, including a master of arts in counseling psychology.
The 60-credit hour online master’s degree in counseling provides students with important fundamental knowledge of psychology, as well as real-world skills and practice in the field. Coursework includes group counseling, community mental health, child and adolescent psychology, and cross-cultural psychology. Students also take a practicum in counseling psychology and complete 50 hours of psychotherapy under the supervision of a licensed therapist or clinician.
Nova Southeastern University
|Fort Lauderdale, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 51%||
NSU offers a master of science (MS) in counseling in four specializations: mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and education, applied behavior analysis, and advanced applied behavior analysis. Depending on their specialization, students can expect to complete between 45 and 60 credits in a combination of core, practicum, and internship courses. Courses are accessed through the SREB electronic campus, providing support through resources including collaborative chat rooms and discussion boards and online research tools. Core coursework in the master's degree in counseling online is universal for all specializations within the counseling major and is designed to provide a broad overview of diverse therapy styles and demographics. Major courses explore psychological testing methods, adult psychopathology, and ethical and legal issues, among other topics. The same set-rate tuition prices per credit are offered to in- and out-of-state NSU students.
Divine Mercy University
|Arlington, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 73%||
Founded in 1999, Divine Mercy University is a Catholic graduate school that offers master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology. Divine Mercy integrates the Catholic-Christian view of human nature with the science of psychology. Students pursuing the master’s in counseling online complete 66 credit hours of coursework, a 100 hour practicum, and a 600 hour internship. Typically, students can complete all program requirements within three years.
Students take courses in general counseling areas (theories and heloing skills) and in specialized areas such as addictions counseling, crisis and trauma, human growth and development, and marriage and family systems. In line with Divine Mercy’s Catholic-Christian views, students also take courses in moral character and spirituality. This program emphasizes compassion, respect for all individuals, and a person-centered approach to counseling. Students will work with a region-specific training and internship director to identify potential clinical placement sites to meet the internship requirements. Courses are asynchronous with some synchronous elements such as video conferencing and three extended-weekend residencies.
|Newark, NJ||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 17%||
Recently celebrating its 250-year anniversary, Rutgers University serves over 69,000 students, making it the largest institution of higher education in the state of New Jersey. Online students can earn a master of science in rehabilitation counseling with an emphasis in clinical mental health counseling. Coursework includes classes in psychopathology, counseling techniques, social and cultural diversity issues, and counseling theory.
This online counseling master’s degree consists of 60 credit hours, including 39 core credits, 9 credits of clinical practice experience, and 12 credits of the clinical mental health counseling courses. Students must attend a short residency in New Jersey at the start of each academic year. Distance learners must complete the practicum and internship requirements in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, or Delaware. Students can earn the degree in about three years of part-time enrollment or two years of full-time enrollment.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 96%||
Liberty offers a two master of arts (MA) degrees, one in marriage and family therapy and one in professional counseling. The online marriage and family therapy master's degree is designed to ready students for a Marriage and Family Therapy License (MFT), while the professional counseling master's degree online aims to prepare students for licensure as a Professional Counselor (LPC). Both programs are designed to emphasize a faith-based approach to the clinical practice of counseling and the ethical and legal issues therein. Courses are accessed through Blackboard. The exclusive MyLU portal also provides access to academic advising opportunities, Webinars, career planning services, and more. Online students who are local may want to browse the university's Online Student Life page, offering a schedule of on-campus events geared towards the online student community. Students must satisfy 60 credit hours, including an internship, practicum, and five on-campus intensives, to complete the degree.
The University of Alabama
|Tuscaloosa, AL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 38%||
The University of Alabama is the state’s oldest public institution of higher learning. Based in Tuscaloosa, UA is well-known for its spirited student body, high-performing athletic teams, and academic excellence. Designated as a senior comprehensive doctoral-level institution, UA offers more than 150 graduate-level programs, including a growing number of fully online degrees. UA’s master of arts in rehabilitation counseling emphasizes providing mental health care to patients with disabilities and their families.
Coursework in the program provides a strong foundation in counseling technique and theory, as well as valuable practicum and internship experience. Students explore topics like multicultural counseling, substance abuse counseling, lifespan development, and psychopathology. The internship requires a field placement; it is the responsibility of the student to secure a site to meet this requirement. UA provides a number of university scholarships and financial aid options to distance learners.
Governors State University
|University Park, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 32%||
Located about 40 miles south of Chicago, Governors State University offers 64 degree and 25 certificate programs to more than 5,000 students. GSU offers over 200 different fully online courses and 62 hybrid courses for students who want some on-campus interactions and experiences. One of the school’s seven fully-online programs is the master in addiction counseling program. This program prepares students to work with individuals dealing with or recovering from substance abuse or addiction. The program prepares students to earn the Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor credential.
Coursework in the program consists of 60 required credit hours, including hands-on clinical field experience in the form of an internship. While most of the required courses can be completed online, there are some courses that must be taken on-campus. Consequently, this program is most ideal for students who live close to one of GSU’s campuses. The program is accredited by the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association, Inc.
California State University-Northridge
|Northridge, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 14%||
Located in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California State University Northridge has educates over 38,000 students. The school provides 58 master’s degree programs in areas including art history, education, and counseling. CSUN offers five master of science degrees in different areas of counseling and therapy: career counseling, college counseling and student services, marriage and family therapy, school counseling, and school psychology.
These online master’s programs in counseling 64-67 credit hours of coursework. Students may choose either a hybrid of fully online format. The programs culminate in a directed study or a thesis project. Students in all program options take core courses in career interventions in mental health counseling; counseling theory and practice; diversity in counseling; and law, ethics, and professional issues in family therapy. All students complete a practicum and fieldwork in the community. The school also offers certificates for students seeking additional credentials.
The University of Texas at Tyler
|Tyler, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 78%||
The University of Texas at Tyler is located halfway between Dallas, Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana. The school also operates two smaller satellite campuses in Longview and Palestine, Texas. As one of the 14 institutions within the University of Texas system, students have access to renowned academic programs and professional resources. The master of arts in school counseling program offered by UT at Tyler can be completed entirely online with no residency requirements.
Unlike most counseling graduate programs that require 48 credit hours or more, this program requires just 39 credits. As a result, students can graduate within 18 months. Coursework emphasizes the skills needed to work with young people and adolescents. Students take classes in ethics of school counseling, behavior modification, and counseling children and adolescents. Students also undergo a supervised internship in school counseling. Current K-12 teachers in the program are eligible for a renewable scholarship.
Clarks Summit University
|Clarks Summit, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 67%||
Clarks Summit offers an online MS in counseling, leading to licensure for professional counselors in and outside of the Christian ministry. The 60-credit online master's degree program in counseling at Summit can be completed by full-time students in as few as three years. The university also offers a non-licensure MA in counseling, encompassing 30 credit hours in core Biblical counseling topics. Courses are accessed through an exclusive student portal and designed to encourage collaboration between students at all levels in the virtual learning environment. Support tools for online learning include electronic library access, online writing labs, and tech support. Coursework in the online program combines rigorous study of theoretical concepts in counseling and on-site practical experience. The school offers the same set-rate tuition prices, per credit, to in- and out-of-state students in this program; Clarks Summit alumni receive an even greater discount via special per-credit pricing.
John Brown University
|Siloam Springs, AR||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 48%||
Founded in 1919, John Brown University is a Christian school located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. While JBU emphasizes Christian values and missions, it has no specific denominational affiliation and accepts students of any faith. JBU serves over 2,000 students across three physical campuses in Arkansas and a growing offering of online degree programs and courses. Many of JBU’s graduate programs can be completed at least partially online, if not entirely. The school offers three master’s in counseling programs: the MS in clinical mental health counseling, the MS in marriage and family therapy, and the MS in school counseling.
Each program requires similar core courses, as well as supervised clinical experience. Students can complete the clinical experience through JBU’s CARE clinic, which provides affordable mental health counseling services to the local community. Each program consists of 64 credit hours, including 22 credits in the counseling core. All students take a course in Christian foundations of counseling, which emphasizes JBU’s Christian values.
Choosing a Program
Will An Online Master's In Counseling Program Provide Me With The Skills I Need To Advance My Career?
A master’s degree is widely viewed as the minimum educational requirement for a career in professional counseling. Some career paths require additional training. Mental health counselors, for instance, must complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised post-degree clinical experience and sit for a licensure exam in order to practice in any U.S. state. School counselors are also required to obtain a state-issued certification. The best master’s in counseling online programs are designed to not only advance your training as a counselor, but also prepare you for the post-degree requirements associated with your specialization.
Will An Online Master's In Counseling Work With My Schedule?
Online programs offer a convenient alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar education. Interactive software allows you to access course readings and lectures, turn in written assignments, take exams, and communicate with your professors on your own time from the comfort of your home. Additionally, the latest technology allows you to study on-the-go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other portable device. You can also work with master’s program officials to find practicum or internship opportunities near your residence. This flexible format is especially convenient for students who must juggle other commitments while in school, such as employment or childcare.
What Jobs Can I Get With My Master's In Counseling?
Earning your master’s in counseling degree is the best way to advance your career in this competitive field. A master’s degree is required to pursue licensure in areas like mental health counseling and school counseling. An advanced degree can also boost your job prospects in industries where a master’s isn’t strictly required for licensure, such as substance abuse counseling.
What Are The Best Online Master's In Counseling Programs?
Choosing a master’s degree in counseling online program is a very personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online counseling master’s programs in the United States.
If you are considering an online master’s in counseling, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings. Please note that the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the official accreditation body for counseling degree programs; students are urged to stay away from master’s programs that are not accredited by the CACREP.
Interview with Laura Morlok
Laura Morlok is a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) and registered play therapist (RPT) based in Damascus, Maryland. She earned her master's in counseling in 2010, and works as a therapist for children, adolescents, and families in multiple settings, including private practice, acute inpatient treatment, and a partial hospitalization program. She also provides supervision to recent graduates and other clinicians.
- Why did you choose a career in counseling? Was this something that always interested you?
After earning my undergraduate degree in psychology, minoring in sociology, I knew that I loved psychology but had no idea where that left me for career options. I also knew I wanted to work with kids one-on-one or in small groups, but that teaching wasn’t quite the right fit.
It turned out that an amazing therapist and professor was my neighbor and that’s how I learned about Johns Hopkins University’s counseling program, as well as their play therapy certificate. I started researching and it just clicked -- play therapy, yes, this is it!
- What are some of the most crucial skills you gained in your studies that apply to your job on a daily basis?
Listening, listening, listening! If your clients don’t feel heard then you aren’t providing them with a safe space. But if you can give them a safe space and truly connect with your clients, everything else will almost be easy.
[Having an] understanding of different theories of counseling and psychology is invaluable. It helps me to conceptualize what’s going on with a client and form a plan of action, all based on the theories I connect with.
- What was the job search like after earning your master's in counseling? Did you feel prepared to make the transition from student to professional?
Connections are so important. I was lucky enough to have already been working as an office manager at a group therapy and testing practice, so I was able to intern there and then eventually become a contractor. In order to earn the hours and get the supervision necessary to get my full license as an LCPC (licensed clinical professional counselor), as well as have benefits, I found another job at a psychiatric hospital.
A big thing I believe is missing from graduate programs is the business side of things. How does insurance work? How do you run a private practice? What about nonprofits? In our career counseling course, the most valuable thing we did was create a well-crafted resume that I was able to use for my applications.
- Why did you choose Johns Hopkins University when earning your master's in counseling? What would you recommend students look for when choosing an undergraduate or graduate degree program in counseling?
To the best of my (limited) knowledge, most undergraduate degree options aren’t in counseling but in psychology, so this is more about selecting a grad program.
CACREP accreditation should be your #1 criteria. Rule out any school that doesn’t have it. This accreditation assures that your education has met a certain standard that employers and even some licensing boards are looking for.
I chose JHU for its reputation as well as it’s location. I was able to attend the vast majority of my classes at a satellite campus near where I worked and lived. If classes are hard to attend, that’s just one more stressor to manage!
- What advice would you give to counseling students who want to get the most experience they can out of their collegiate studies? What resources or experiences can they take advantage of to give themselves a head start?
Find an amazing supervisor AND an amazing personal therapist. They will be invaluable. Get jobs that will complement your studies -- admin assistant or office manager for a therapy practice, for instance.
- Why did you choose to earn a master's degree in counseling? Was a graduate degree required to pursue your career goals?
Once I knew I wanted to become a therapist, I had to decide to pursue either a master’s degree or a doctorate. I was specifically interested in a Psy.D. and even applied to some programs. Ultimately, it came down to a choice about debt and what my career goals were. Knowing I wanted to do counseling, not testing/assessment, teaching, or research, a master’s made the most sense.
- How important is continuing education in counseling?
Continuing education is extremely important in counseling, because 1. most licenses require it (I can’t speak to all states, but in the ones I’m aware of), and 2. it keeps you invigorated and connected to what’s going on in the field. You can always find a new technique to try out or a new approach to explore, to be more flexible in meeting the needs of your clients.
- What advice would you give to counseling students who are debating whether to earn their degree online or on campus?
Counseling is such a personal and vulnerable experience. In my opinion, an online teaching format cannot fully capture that unless they also include in-person and video components. You also miss out on local networking opportunities, though that may only be applicable if you end up practicing in the same state your college is located in. For me, I’m still connected to many people from my graduate program, and we are a source of referrals for one another.
- What was the process like for establishing your own private practice? Was there anything that surprised you about this process?
This is a super hard question to answer because the process is HUGE. Highlights:
- Learn from others. If you can, be part of another practice and learn the ropes. Ask about the business side, go to marketing meetings -- watch what other people are doing and see what you do and don’t like.
- Hire an attorney and an accountant. The up-front cost of those professionals will pale in comparison to the cost of fixing a major mistake down the road.
- Networking! Meet other professionals -- people you can refer to who may refer to you and who can help you along.
It surprised me how much I actually like the business side and the strategy, while at the same time the related anxiety about it can keep me up at night writing emails in my head.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Counseling Program?
Admission requirements for online master’s in mental health counseling programs may vary depending on the school, but some core elements will likely exist across all programs. Prior to entering a master’s program, you typically must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Certain counseling programs may require a bachelor’s degree in the same field, or a directly-related field, due to certain prerequisite undergraduate requirements you may need to meet.
Some online schools for counseling require field or work experience prior to admission, but many allow students to gain this experience as part of the program. Generally, applicants must submit official GRE scores and transcripts from all postsecondary schools attended. A minimum GPA between 2.5 and 3.0 will often meet admission requirements.
Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s Degree in Counseling
- Marriage and Family Therapy
The marriage and family therapy concentration in a counseling master’s program emphasizes skills and practice in couples’ counseling, social work, and family counseling. This concentration prepares students to help couples and families work through emotional and interpersonal issues, both in groups and one-on-one.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Marriage counseling, social worker, family therapist
- Substance Abuse Counseling
A concentration in substance abuse counseling includes courses that prepare students to work with clients suffering from addiction.This concentration may offer classes in rehabilitation and substance abuse and the diagnosis and treatment of clients dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Rehabilitation counselor, substance abuse counselor
- Adolescent Counseling
The adolescent counseling path in an online counseling master’s program develops the interpersonal skills necessary to work with young people dealing with a variety of emotional and social issues. These courses may cover subjects like the treatment of trauma, behavioral disorders, and adolescent psychology.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Mental health counselor, behavioral therapist, adolescent counselor
- School Counseling
School counseling concentration options generally include courses geared toward working within public and private school systems. In addition to psychology and counseling courses, students may also learn about school policy, working with young people, and the educational aspect of working as a school counselor.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For: School counselor, guidance counselor, career counselor
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Clinical mental health professionals work in licensed, clinical roles in a variety of behavioral health settings. Courses in this concentration examine the clinical aspects of counseling, including the biological basis for certain types of mental illnesses and behaviors. Courses may prepare students for licensure exams.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Clinical mental health, counselor, licensed social worker
Sample Courses for an Online Master’s in Counseling Program
Actual coursework may vary depending on which online master’s in mental health counseling program you choose. However, the sample curriculum below serves as a broad representation of what students can expect to take.
- Human Development: Human or lifespan development courses follow the physiological, emotional, and social development processes of human beings. Students may examine different aspects of the lifespan, including aging, brain development, and cognitive function. Students may also study childhood development processes and the factors that influence the development of mental health issues.
- Psychopharmacology: An important aspect of treating clients with mental illness is the use of medications. Courses in psychopharmacology provide students with information on diagnosing various types of mental illnesses and identifying which medications will best treat them based on the chemical makeup of the drugs.
- Addiction Counseling: Many counselors work with clients who deal with some form of substance abuse or addiction. Courses in addiction counseling address best practices for working with these clients, both one on one and in group settings. Students also explore treatment for addiction and substance abuse.
- Ethical Issues in Counseling: Clients with mental illnesses and disorders constitute a vulnerable population, and working with them involves a level of ethical responsibility. Courses in ethics in counseling and therapy prepare learners to navigate these ethical responsibilities and may also explore the legal obligations of a counselor.
- Diagnosis and Assessment: Diagnosing, assessing, and treating clients with mental illnesses make up a large part of a mental health counselor's work. This course provides foundational knowledge in the diagnostic process of mental health issues and how to assess clients when determining the best treatment plan options.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s in Counseling?
Depending on which online mental health counseling degree you choose, your completion time may vary. Each program has its own unique requirements, and the pace at which you move through them can depend on a variety of factors. For example, enrolling on a part-time basis can lengthen your program compared to taking classes full time. Some online programs may require certain on-campus courses or residencies, which can also impact the time it takes to complete degree requirements.
Master’s programs may follow a cohort learning design, which allows learners to begin and complete their degree with the same group of peers. Students in a cohort learning program take classes at the same pace and complete coursework on a set schedule. Self-paced programs allow for more flexibility, as students can begin and complete the program on their own time following an individualized course schedule. Generally, online master’s in mental health counseling programs require around two to three.
Skills and Competencies Gained in an Online Master's in Counseling Program
What students can expect to learn in counseling and psychology master’s programs can vary. Depending on the specific concentration students select, the program may emphasize different sets of skills and competencies to suit the academic goals of the specialization. The skills below serve as examples of what students can expect to gain in online counseling courses.
- Graduate programs often place a strong emphasis on developing research skills. This could include conducting student research, reading and analyzing research in the counseling field, and assisting professors and mentors with research projects.
- Counselors must have strong communication skills in order to feel comfortable working in both one-on-one and group client settings. Counseling master’s programs help students develop healthy, informed communication skills through practice and theory.
- Counselors often help clients work through interpersonal issues, sometimes also working with couples and families to resolve emotional and social issues. Graduate programs in counseling help students understand the foundations of mediation and how to apply this skill in a clinical setting.
- Diagnosing mental illnesses and behavioral issues serves as one of the primary responsibilities of mental health counselors. A master’s degree in counseling provides the necessary knowledge to diagnose all types of mental illnesses and disorders.
- In addition to diagnosing mental health issues, counselors also create and implement treatment plans for clients based on those diagnoses. This may include suggesting certain medications, implementing cognitive therapy, or other treatment methods.
Additional Requirements for an Online Master's in Counseling
In order to earn licensure, all counseling students must complete a certain amount of supervised practice hours. This practicum internship makes up the latter portion of any counseling program or directly follows the completion of coursework. Some programs also require additional practicum hours outside of the requirements for licensure. Furthermore, online master’s in mental health counseling programs may also require capstone courses and/or thesis projects that students complete prior to graduation and after the completion of coursework. Capstone courses include some type of culminating project related to the course material. Thesis projects are typically formal, full-length research papers.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Counseling Prepares For
- Mental Health Counselor: To become a licensed mental health counselor, you must earn a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited university. Graduates must complete a minimum amount of supervised practice hours, often around 3,000. Requirements for becoming a licensed mental health counselor vary from state to state.
- Marriage and Family Counselor: Marriage and family counselors must earn a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited university. Graduates must pass a licensure exam and complete a minimum number of supervised practice hours in a marriage and family counseling setting. Other state-specific requirements may exist.
- Addictions Counselor: Depending on the state of residence, requirements for addictions counseling licensure may vary. Most states require a minimum of a master’s degree in addictions counseling and a certain number of practicum or internship hours completed in the field and supervised by a licensed counselor.
Employment Outlook for Master’s in Counseling Graduates
Master Of Counseling Vs Bachelor Of Counseling
Professional counselors with a master’s degree enjoy excellent employment rates and higher salaries compared to their bachelor's degree counterparts. According to BLS data, 48% of today’s professional counselors, roughly 239,000 people, have a master’s degree. By comparison, 26% of counselors finish their education with a bachelor’s. As a whole, bachelor’s degree holders make up 35% less than those with a master’s degree, earning $37,000 and $50,000, respectively.
EARNING A LIVING
Although a master’s degree in counseling will boost your potential salary, it’s important to remember that your earnings will also increase over the course of your career. The following data table features career salary expectations for four different counseling professions over time.
|Job Title||Salary for Entry-Level Employees||Salary for Mid-Career Employees||Salary for Experienced Employees||Salary for Late Career Employees|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||$50,000||$55,000||$64,000||$73,000|
|Mental Health Counselor||$38,000||$41,000||$44,000||$46,000|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$34,000||$38,000||$41,000||$44,000|
Of the professions listed above, marriage and family therapists enjoy the highest salary growth over their career, earning 46% more from entry-level to late-career. Marriage and family therapists also enjoy the highest starting and ending salaries.
A master’s degree in counseling serves as the educational standard for most practicing counselors. Licensure to practice clinical counseling requires a minimum of a master’s degree, regardless of which specific concentration or specialty area the counselor practices in.
According to data from the National Center of Education Statistics, more students earned a master’s in counseling than those who chose to pursue a doctorate. In the 2014-2015 academic year, 275 students earned a master’s degree in clinical counseling, while only 68 earned a doctorate in the same field. Similarly, 9,160 students earned a master's degree in counseling psychology, compared to just 537 doctorates. This difference in the number of degrees conferred could derive from the typical master’s-to-practice path many counselors take, earning their master’s degree and then immediately entering the field as clinical counselors, rather than continuing on to a doctoral program.
Based on their specialization, counselors with a master’s degree may pursue roles in a number of fields. Below are a few of the employment opportunities available for teachers with a master’s degree in counseling.
School and Career Counselors: School counselors work with students to help them achieve academic success and address personal concerns. Elementary and middle school counselors generally specialize in skill-building and emotional support, while counselors in high schools and postsecondary institutions tend to focus more on academic advisement and professional development. Career counselors provide information about college programs, job skills training, and other post-graduation pathways for adults. These counselors are generally found at high schools and colleges, but they may also work with individuals who are already in the workforce.
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Mental health counselors and marriage and family counselors specialize in helping people, couples, or families cope with a range of emotional and interpersonal issues. They diagnose mental and emotional disorders, administer therapy, and help clients lead happy, productive lives. Depending on their specialization, these counselors may offer individual, couple, family, and group therapy sessions.
Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors assist clients living with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities. They administer counseling in a one-on-one or group setting, working with clients to develop long-term plans that enable them to live independently and comfortably. Many rehabilitation counselors specialize in working with certain subsets of society, such as children, the elderly, or military veterans. Vocational rehabilitation counselors help clients with job-related issues.
Addiction Counselors: Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (also known as addiction counselors) specialize in treating patients who struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, and other potentially destructive habits. These counselors help clients explore the problematic behaviors that trigger their addictions; they also assist clients during the treatment and recovery phase. Addiction counselors may offer therapy in different formats, including one-on-one, couple, family, or group therapy.
|Position||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate (2016-26)||Degree and Licensure Requirements|
|School and Career Counselor||$55,410||13%||Minimum master’s degree; state-issued license or certification is required; some states require 1-2 years of classroom teaching experience for licensure; criminal background check required|
|Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists||$48,790||23%||Minimum master’s degree; state-issued license required; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); annual continuing education required for licensed counselors|
|Rehabilitation Counselors||$34,860||13%||Minimum master’s degree; state-issued license required for those who work with patients or clients; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); annual continuing education required for licensed counselors|
|Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors||$43,300||23%||Minimum bachelor's degree; state-issued license required for those in private practice; 2,000 to 4,000 post-degree supervised hours required for licensure (varies by state); annual continuing education required for licensed counselors|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Making professional connections and learning about different counseling approaches is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for professional counselors. These organizations host networking events, provide online training, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists: The leading professional organization for counselors specializing in marriage and family counseling, the AAMFT represents more than 50,000 licensed counselors worldwide. The website features a job board and licensure links, an online information library, and a virtual networking center.
- American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, the ACA is considered the world's largest professional organization for professional counselors, and has more than 52,000 current members. The ACA website features an extensive virtual knowledge center that contains information about licensure requirements, diagnostics, ethics, and other important areas of the field. Continuing education opportunities, journal publications, and an online job board are also available.
- American School Counselor Association: The ASCA serves school counselors at all academic levels across the country. Members receive discounts on site publications, free liability insurance coverage, and information about professional development and continuing education opportunities.
- International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors: Founded in 1989, the IAMFC today represents a network of counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals working in marriage and family counseling. Members receive access to two online publications: The Family Journal and The Family Digest, along with information about certification, credentialing, and access to an extensive job directory.
Financing Your Online Master's in Counseling
Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce costs.
Completing the FAFSA is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process of filling out the FAFSA, along with answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and school. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
Students who pursue online degrees will be eligible for scholarships, grants, and other financial aid that is unavailable to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Here, you can learn more about these financial opportunities.
Scholarships for Counseling Students
- Future Counselors of America Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Graduate and undergraduate students in psychology or counseling programs may apply. Applicants must have a 3.5 minimum GPA and submit a 500-900 word essay about the psychology of online dating.
Amount: $1,000View Scholarship
- American Addiction Centers Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in a counseling program with a minimum 3.2 GPA may apply. Applicants must submit a 500-word essay about current challenges for getting clients into addiction treatment and their proposed solutions.
Amount: $2,500 - $5,000View Scholarship
- Recovery Village Healthcare Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in an accredited college or university pursuing a career in mental health counseling may apply. Preference is given to students pursuing a career in addiction counseling. Applicants must submit a 500-word essay about why they are passionate about addiction counseling.
Amount: $1,000View Scholarship
- Pride Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Students pursuing degrees in various fields and areas can apply for these funds. Some awards may require students to be residents of the northwest United States, and/or attend specific institutions in that region. Students in the LGBTQ+ community should apply.
Amount: VariesView Scholarship
- American Psychological Association Dissertation Research Award
Who Can Apply: Graduate students at an accredited institution working on their dissertation may apply. Applicants must be members or student affiliates of the APA and submit a dissertation proposal for award consideration.
Amount: $1,000 - $5,000View Scholarship
- American Psychological Association Grants for Student Research
Who Can Apply: Graduate students in psychology or counseling who are student affiliates of the APA’s Law Society may apply. Students must be working on empirical research that explores psycholegal issues and policy.
Amount: $1,000View Scholarship
- Roy Scrivner Memorial Research Grants
Who Can Apply: Graduate students working on empirical research in LGBT family psychology and therapy with an IRB-approved project may apply. Applicants must have approval and support from a supervising professor.
Amount: $11,000View Scholarship
- American Association of University Women Career Development Grants
Who Can Apply: Women who hold a bachelor’s degree and plan to enroll in further education at an accredited institution may apply. Applicants may pursue a second bachelor’s, master’s, or technical degree. Distance learners are also eligible to apply.
Amount: VariesView Scholarship