Licensed counselors help patients and communities by providing assessment, treatment, and advocacy services. Continuing changes in the U.S. healthcare system, as well as an environment where people are encouraged to seek help, contribute to occupational growth in this field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling positions will increase by 23% through 2026, translating to more than 60,000 new jobs.
Although students can attain entry-level counseling and social work positions with associate and bachelor's degrees, they must complete graduate training to qualify for state licensure. The best online master's in counseling programs offer advanced training in areas like psychotherapy and treatment of trauma disorders. Graduates benefit from greater job prospects and better pay. BLS reports that those with a master's degree earn $12,000 more in average annual salary than individuals with baccalaureate credentials. Experienced counselors who want to occupy senior clinical positions or work as postsecondary teachers and research scientists go on to earn their Ph.D. in counseling psychology.
2019's Best Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs
Due to the wide range of counseling programs, it can be difficult to pick the school that best suits your needs. The following rankings lay out key characteristics like costs and application requirements as well as each program's degree plan, including prerequisites, core classes, and capstone requirements. The profiles also detail concentration options, which will help you choose the program with relevant specialized skill training and career development support to fit your personal situation.
Students who pursue their master's in counseling online often take asynchronous classes powered by platforms like Blackboard or Moodle. However, some schools feature different course formats. The rankings below detail whether each program requires real-time class involvement, cohort learning, or on-campus participation.
You should confirm details and obtain additional information by contacting your school's admission counselors. These advisors can also help navigate the application process. You can access this page to learn about scholarships available to counseling and psychology majors.
|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.
The following pages provide crucial academic information necessary for finding the online counseling program that aligns with your academic interests and career goals. The guides contain descriptions of individual programs and important characteristics like tuition cost, delivery format, and contact information.
Explore Online Counseling Rankings
This counseling career guide offers in-depth details on the profession, including educational paths, certification/licensure requirements, and specialization options. Students also gain insight into the daily challenges counselors face from a working practitioner in the field.