Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs of 2022

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

portrait of Staff Writers
by Staff Writers
Published on December 21, 2021
Reviewed by Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC

Our Review Network

BestColleges is committed to delivering content that is objective and accurate. We have built a network of industry professionals across healthcare and education to review our content and ensure we are providing the best information to our readers.

With their first-hand industry experience, our reviewers provide an extra step in our editing process. These experts:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Our growing Review Network currently consists of professionals in fields like business, nursing, social work, and other subject-specific industries; professionals in higher education areas such as college counseling and financial aid; and anti-bias reviewers.

Reviewers typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for BestColleges as a side project. Our reviewers are members of the Red Ventures Education Freelance Review Network and are paid for their contributions.

See a full list of our Review Network contributors.

Edited by Colin Weickmann

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

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

The growing acceptance of counseling as a form of healing and personal advancement has led to employment growth that far exceeds the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029.

Our master's in counseling program guide offers a comprehensive look into career opportunities, how to choose a program, and admission requirements.

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

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

Most online master's degrees in counseling require 60 credits and take 2-3 years to complete. Practica and internships provide the experience required for state-specific and occupation-specific licensure.

Most master’s in counseling programs require students to choose a concentration for a specialty, however, students are not committed to this specialization for life. While progressing through their program, students will acquire some level of training for a multitude of counseling subjects, such as addiction counseling and mental health counseling, regardless of the specialization chosen. Specializations tend to play a more important part in a student’s career after graduation when they seek licensure for a specific concentration.

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

Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling

This specialization provides students with the skills required to evaluate and treat individuals with addictions.

Mental Health Counseling

This concentration prepares students for a career as a licensed professional clinical counselor or marriage and family therapist.

Trauma Studies

This concentration teaches students about the impact, prevention, and treatment of traumatic stress.

School Counseling

Students interested in working in an education setting may consider this specialization.

Christian Counseling

This specialization focuses on faith-based fundamentals and prepares students to work in Christian ministries or churches.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

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

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

Group Counseling

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

Counseling Diverse Populations

Students learn the skills and theories needed to evaluate and counsel people from diverse populations. Covered topics include social identification, ethnicity, gender roles, and advocacy. Degree-seekers also learn about their role in promoting social justice.

Ethical, Legal, and Professional Standards

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

Crisis Counseling

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

Addiction Counseling

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

Related Programs That Might Interest You

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

Admission Requirements for Online Master's in Counseling Programs

All online master's in counseling programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. While most programs do not require a bachelor's in counseling, some prefer coursework in relevant fields like psychology, statistics, or research methods. Most programs require a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.7-3.0.

In addition to official transcripts, most programs require up to three letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors. Applicants pursuing a master's in school counseling may need professional experience in a school setting or a teaching license.

Furthermore, prospective students should look into counseling licensure requirements in their state to be sure their program will help lead to employment. CACREP accreditation is a good indicator that the program will fit licensure requirements.

Learn more about applying for graduate school and common admission requirements in our Graduate Admissions Guide.

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

Career Outlook

A master's in counseling online prepares students to help individuals, families, and groups suffering from mental and behavioral disorders. These professionals work in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospitals, community service organizations, addiction centers, correctional facilities, and schools.

Counseling should be an in-demand field over the next decade. The BLS projects 22% job growth for marriage and family therapists and 25% job growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors between 2019 and 2029.

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

Career Paths

Addiction and Recovery Counselor

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

Trauma Response Counselor

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

School Counselor

School counselors help K-12 students succeed in their social and academic lives. These professionals work with students, teachers, and parents as they identify the causes of poor school performance, behavioral problems, and social disorders. School counselors may also provide academic and career guidance and address the issues of bullying, addiction, and domestic abuse.

Marriage and Family Counselor

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

Mental Health Counselor

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

Counseling Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

2022 Best Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Counseling Programs

Is a master's in counseling worth it? true

Yes. If you possess the drive and passion to help people overcome psychological and behavioral challenges, a master's in counseling provides the education necessary to excel in this field. Most counseling professions require a master's as well as internships, postgraduate clinical hours, and a state license. In U.S. News & World Report's list of 100 best jobs for 2021, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor ranked 16, while marriage and family therapist ranked 20.

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

Graduates with a master's in counseling go on to become counselors specializing in addiction, mental health and behavioral disorders, trauma, education, or marriage and family counseling. Some counselors focus on treating certain populations, such as the elderly, children, or veterans.

In addition to direct client care, master’s in counseling program graduates can become clinical supervisors, program directors, or even open their own practices. Some students go on to get their Ph.D. and conduct counseling-related research or become professors.

Are counselors in demand? true

The BLS projects that the already high demand for counselors will continue to increase. As states turn from incarceration to treatment and counseling programs to address drug addiction, the number of addiction counseling job opportunities will continue to grow. Mental health counselors are also in high demand, particularly in underserved communities and rural areas. The BLS projects that jobs for these counselors will grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029.

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

Annual salaries for graduates with a master's in counseling vary based on the counselor's specialty and industry. The BLS reported a median annual salary of $47,660 in 2020 for substance abuse and mental health counselors. Substance abuse and mental health counselors who work in the government sector earned a median annual salary of $54,070 in 2020.

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

According to the BLS, marriage and family therapists working in the state government sector earned a median annual salary of $78,450 in 2020. Additionally, school and career counselors in elementary and secondary schools earned a median annual wage of $64,960 that same year.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

A professional addiction counselor describes her business and discusses life in the field. Is a psychology degree worth it? Explore potential career opportunities for psychology degrees and the benefits of continuing your education in the field. Learn about scholarships and financial aid available for students pursuing a degree in psychology.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

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