Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

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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.

Jobs for marriage and family counselors are expected to grow by 19% through 2024, 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.


Most online master’s in counseling programs consist of 48-60 credits of coursework and charge tuition rates of $400-$800 per credit. Read more here.


Graduates with a counseling master’s degree can pursue careers as marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, and school counselors. Read more here.


After being accepted into the program, students must meet all curriculum requirements and maintain a minimum GPA. Read more here.


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. Read more here.


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.


Online degree 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.


Earning your master’s in counseling degree is the best way to advance your career in this competitive field. A master’s will be 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.


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.

See Methodology
Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost % Enrolled Online Location Description
1 Northwestern University RANKING SCORE 79.22 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 11% LOCATION Evanston, IL

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.

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2 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center RANKING SCORE 78.57 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 37% LOCATION Lubbock, TX

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.

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3 Touro University Worldwide RANKING SCORE 67.19 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 86% LOCATION Los Alamitos, CA

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.

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4 George Washington University RANKING SCORE 74.18 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 30% LOCATION Washington, DC

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.

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5 Palo Alto University RANKING SCORE 71.90 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 36% LOCATION Palo Alto, CA

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.

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6 California Institute of Integral Studies RANKING SCORE 69.84 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 18% LOCATION San Francisco, CA

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.

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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.

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8 Pepperdine University RANKING SCORE 68.18 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 21% LOCATION Malibu, CA

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.

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9 Saybrook University RANKING SCORE 67.85 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 8% LOCATION Oakland, CA

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.

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10 Brandman University RANKING SCORE 67.49 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 72% LOCATION Irvine, CA

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.

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11 Wake Forest University RANKING SCORE 67.31 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 11% LOCATION Winston-Salem, NC

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.

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12 University at Buffalo RANKING SCORE 66.68 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 16% LOCATION Buffalo, NY

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.

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13 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus RANKING SCORE 66.56 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 25% LOCATION Denver, CO

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.

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14 The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Chicago RANKING SCORE 65.60 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 1% LOCATION Chicago, IL

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.

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15 Golden Gate University-San Francisco RANKING SCORE 65.36 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 51% LOCATION San Francisco, CA

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.

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16 Nova Southeastern University RANKING SCORE 65.32 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 51% LOCATION Fort Lauderdale, FL

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.

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17 Divine Mercy University RANKING SCORE 63.58 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 73% LOCATION Arlington, VA

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.

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18 Rutgers University-Newark RANKING SCORE 63.57 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 17% LOCATION Newark, NJ

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.

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19 Liberty University RANKING SCORE 62.45 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 96% LOCATION Lynchburg, VA

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.

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20 The University of Alabama RANKING SCORE 62.14 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 38% LOCATION Tuscaloosa, AL

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.

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21 Governors State University RANKING SCORE 61.02 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 32% LOCATION University Park, IL

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.

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22 California State University-Northridge RANKING SCORE 60.55 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 14% LOCATION Northridge, CA

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.

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23 The University of Texas at Tyler RANKING SCORE 59.94 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 78% LOCATION Tyler, TX

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.

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24 Clarks Summit University RANKING SCORE 59.76 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 67% LOCATION Clarks Summit, PA

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.

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25 John Brown University RANKING SCORE 59.30 COST % ENROLLED ONLINE 48% LOCATION Siloam Springs, AR

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.

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1 to 2 years
Program Costs (when available)
$4,000 to $15,000 per year (tuition)
Community Counseling, Child and Youth Counseling, Family Counseling, Mental Health Counseling, Substance Abuse Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, Behavioral Counseling, School Counseling
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

Master of Counseling vs Bachelor of Counseling

Professional counselors with a master’s degree enjoy excellent employment rates and higher salaries than their bachelor’s-holding 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 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 Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Salary for Late Career Employees (20+ years)
Marriage & Family Therapist $41,376 $47,578 $55,474 $58,599
Mental Health Counselor $37,230 $40,294 $45,048 $48,676
Substance Abuse Counselor $33,577 $37,850 $40,422 $43,796
School Counselor $42,692 $48,012 $56,140 $62,343

Source: PayScale

Of the professions listed above, school counselors enjoyed the highest salary growth rate over their career, earning 46% more from entry-level to late-career. School counselors also enjoyed the highest starting and ending salaries.

While a master’s degree is seen as the standard educational pathway for professionals, very few counselors pursue a doctorate. Data from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) reveals a major difference between the number of master’s and Ph.D. graduates in 15 different counseling subdivisions. Only 320 students sought a Ph.D. in school counseling during the 2011-12 academic calendar, for example, while schools around the country conferred nearly 13,000 master’s degrees during the same year. Fewer than 20 students earned doctoral degrees in several counseling fields — including substance abuse counseling, community health counseling, and mental health counseling — during the same period.

Career Opportunities

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/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 learn to lead happy, productive lives. Depending on their specialization, these counselors may offer individual, couple’s, 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’s, family, or group therapy.

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2014-24) Degree & Licensure Requirements
School & Career Counselor $53,660 8% Minimum master’s degree; state-issued license or certification is required; some states require 1 to 2 years of classroom teaching experience for licensure; criminal background check required
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage & Family Therapists $43,190 19% 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 $34,390 9% 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 $39,980 22% 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 (2014)

Professional Organizations

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 trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT): 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 (ASCA): 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 (IAMFC): 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.

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 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (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.

Rankings Archive

Best Online Master's in Counseling of 2017
Rank School Location
1 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
2 Amberton University Garland, TX
3 Touro University Worldwide Los Alamitos, CA
4 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
5 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
6 Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ
7 Concordia University-Wisconsin Mequon, WI
8 Summit University of Pennsylvania Clarks Summit, PA
9 Corban University Salem, OR
10 Medaille College Buffalo, NY
11 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
12 University of Houston-Victoria Victoria, TX
13 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE
14 University of Massachusetts-Boston Boston, MA
15 Lamar University Beaumont, TX
16 Colorado Christian University Lakewood, CO
17 Adams State University Alamosa, CO
18 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS
19 Southwestern Assemblies of God University Waxahachie, TX
20 Ottawa University-Phoenix Phoenix, AZ
21 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA
22 Grace College and Theological Seminary Winona Lake, IN
23 California Baptist University Riverside, CA
24 Mercy College Dobbs Ferry, NY
25 Prescott College Prescott, AZ

Best Online Master's in Counseling of 2016
Rank School Location
1 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
2 Amberton University Garland, TX
3 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
4 Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ
5 Medaille College Buffalo, NY
6 Mercy College Dobbs Ferry, NY
7 Clarks Summit University Clarks Summit, PA
8 Ottawa University - Phoenix Phoenix, AZ
9 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
10 California Baptist University Riverside, CA