Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs of 2021

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August 19, 2021

reviewed by Rayelle Davis

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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.

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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.

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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.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs

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LeTourneau University true View School Profile Longview, TX

A Christian school in Longview, Texas, LETU offers more than 140 graduate and undergraduate academic programs, including an online MA in clinical mental health counseling. The university boasts a 93% placement rate for counseling graduates.

This program emphasizes a holistic approach involving counseling skills and clinical assessment related to individuals, couples, families, and group counseling. Graduates are eligible for licensure as both a professional counselor and a marriage and family therapist. Coursework prepares students to sit for the National Counseling Exam, and LETU graduates boast a 94% pass rate.

The degree consists of 66 credits, including 45 core credits and six credits of clinical theology coursework. Student's also take 15 credits of specialization classes, choosing from options like addictions counseling and couples therapy, as well as a practicum and internships. Students must also attend a four-day intensive lab held at the Longview campus.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $615/credit
Credit Requirements: 66 credits
Program Length: 2-3 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.5 minimum

Contact the School

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Clarks Summit University true View School Profile South Abington Township, PA

Voted one of the most beautiful Bible colleges in the U.S., CSU lies near the Pocono and Endless Mountain regions of Pennsylvania. The school offers 21 master's options for distance learners, including an MS in counseling that prepares students for counseling careers that emphasize biblical teachings.

The program consists of 60 credits and features nine elective classes that enable students to focus on their area of interest. Elective courses include counseling children, spiritual issues in counseling, and understanding and treating addictions. The fully accredited program prepares graduates to sit for the National Certified Counselor exam and apply for licensure as a licensed professional counselor.

Five eight-week sessions are offered annually. While most courses are available entirely online, students must complete three one-week, on-campus modules. Tuition discounts are available for Christian workers and members of the military.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Science in Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $565/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Liberty University true View School Profile Lynchburg, VA

Liberty — a Christian university located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia — was founded by the late Jerry Falwell in 1971. This school requires no standardized admission testing and has not raised its tuition in several years.

The school's MA in clinical mental health counseling program prepares graduates to obtain their licensure as a licensed professional counselor. All courses are taught from a Christian perspective and include classes such as integration of spirituality and counseling and crisis counseling. The program requires two on-campus intensive courses, while the practicum and a two-semester internship may be carried out in the student's local area.

Students can transfer in up to 30 approved credits. This counseling program holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $565/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2.5 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.7 minimum

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Eastern University true View School Profile Saint Davids, PA

Initially founded as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Eastern University now oversees Pennsylvania campuses in St. Davids, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg. The core values of faith, reason, and justice form the basis of all of the school's educational programs.

The university offers an online, 60-credit MA in clinical counseling program for generalists. Students can also choose one of two concentrations. The applied behavior analysis certification track focuses on behavioral assessments, as well as intervention and prevention strategies. It can be completed online and readies graduates for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Examination.

Alternatively, the trauma studies concentration trains students to understand the impact of trauma, as well as the prevention and treatment of traumatic stress. This program features evening classes at the university's main campus, as well as asynchronous online courses.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: MA in Clinical Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $743/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online or hybrid
Instruction Style: Asynchronous and synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum
Standardized Tests: GRE or MAT scores recommended

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Concordia University Wisconsin true View School Profile Mequon, WI

As a Lutheran Christian university, CUW provides students with an education committed to the wellbeing of body, mind, and spirit. The school's 45-credit M.S.Ed in counseling program offers students the choice of pursuing a professional counseling track or a school counseling track.

By completing additional coursework, students can also earn their substance abuse counselor in training credentials through the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, as well as a graduate certificate in Christian counseling. This 15-credit training program may appeal to students interested in counseling in a church or Christian agency setting.

All courses are offered online. As part of the Wisconsin licensing requirement for school counselors, candidates must complete a three-part portfolio. Participants also complete a practicum and an internship, which feature 600-700 hours of direct, hands-on experience.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Science in Education - School and Professional Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $630/credit
Credit Requirements: 45 or 60 credits
Program Length: 1-2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Crown College View School Profile Saint Bonifacius, MN

Located in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, Crown College began offering online instruction in 1999. The school's Christian-focused flexible programs benefit students who work full time, with most coursework due each week on Thursday and Sunday by midnight.

In addition to completing online courses, students pursuing Crown's master's in counseling also complete a four-day residency on campus each May. The 60-credit program includes 12 elective credits and a structured, 700-hour internship. Students pursuing this degree may add an alcohol and drug counseling emphasis, which would take up nine of their 12 elective credits.

Courses last eight weeks, and graduates are prepared to sit for Minnesota's licensed professional clinical counselor licensure exam. Crown is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $555/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Hope International University View School Profile Fullerton, CA

HIU, founded in 1928, became a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in 1993. Based in Fullerton, California, HIU boasts a 14-to-1 student-to-professor ratio, offering students a personalized education. Students can pursue the school's online master's in counseling, preparing for licensure as a licensed professional clinical counselor.

All students must complete at least 280 direct client hours and 50 professional development hours. These two requirements include practice providing therapy to children, individuals, and groups, and attending approved seminars, workshops, personal therapy, and community service. Courses last 8-16 weeks and the program can be completed in 2-3 years.

Participants practice learned counseling skills in community sites where they receive real-world training by mental health supervisors. Before sitting for the licensure exam, graduates must also complete 3,000 supervised hours.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Science in Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $650
Credit Requirements: 61 credits
Program Length: 2-3 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

University of the Cumberlands View School Profile Williamsburg, KY

Nestled in the heart of Appalachia near the Cumberland River in Kentucky, UC enrolls more than 18,000 students, making it one of the largest private universities in the state. It also ranks as one of the most affordable. The school offers two online master's in counseling programs, each consisting of 60 credits.

The MA in addiction counseling program is the only online addiction counseling program in the nation that holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. This dual-licensure track prepares students to become a licensed/certified addiction counselor and a licensed professional counselor. Students may transfer in up to 30 approved credits.

Alternatively, UC's online master's in clinical mental health counseling program prepares students for a career as a licensed professional counselor or marriage and family therapist. Students may transfer in up to 18 approved credits.

Some courses may require students to attend synchronous sessions once a week.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master's in Addiction Counseling; Master's in Clinical Health Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $400/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Lamar University View School Profile Beaumont, TX

Located in Beaumont, LU distinguishes itself as one of the fastest-growing universities in Texas. Students at LU can choose from two master's-level counseling programs.

The M.Ed. in counseling and development program offers two concentration options. The professional school counselor pathway prepares students for a career in an educational environment. Candidates must possess at least two years of full-time teaching experience to qualify.

Alternatively, the marriage, couple, and family counseling concentration meets the requirements necessary to pursue work as a licensed professional counselor or marriage and family therapist. These concentrations require a one-week residency course at LU, a 15-week practicum, and a 15-week internship.

The M.Ed. in clinical mental health counseling program prepares students to pursue professional counselor licensure, enabling successful graduates to provide mental health and substance abuse care. In addition to practicum and internship requirements, the program includes two five-day residency seminars.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: M.Ed. in Counseling and Development; M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
School Status: Public
Tuition: $300/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2.5 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.75-3.25 minimum, depending on the program

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Prairie View A&M University View School Profile Prairie View, TX

PVAMU is a land-grant university located in a small town about 50 miles northwest of Houston, Texas. As part of the Texas A&M University System, it is the second-oldest public institution in the state. The school offers 30 master's and five doctoral programs.

Among these is an online master of arts program that features a school counseling emphasis. This program prepares students to work in an educational setting. The 48-credit curriculum includes 15 credits of core classes, as well as concentration courses like counseling techniques, psychology of abnormal behavior, and organization and administration of school counseling programs.

Participants also complete a school counseling practicum and an internship at a school.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts, Emphasis on School Counseling
School Status: Public
Tuition: $283/credit in state; $787/credit out of state (based on taking eight credits per term)
Credit Requirements: 48 credits
Program Length: 1.5-2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum
Standardized Tests: GRE

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Concordia University Irvine View School Profile Irvine, CA

Through the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling, CUI offers a master's degree in counseling in clinical mental health. In this program, students study online with Dr. John Townsend — a well-known psychologist who has written over 30 books — and other master clinicians.

The curriculum is based on the latest neuroscience, as well as biblical principles. Focused lessons cover 20 skills that help counselors create lasting change in clients through the power of relationships, emotions, and perception.

The 60-credit program begins with a four-day intensive in Irvine. Twice a month, students must attend a three-hour virtual classroom that ends in a Q&A session. The program features seven-week online courses, and participants can expect to take one or two classes at a time and spend 10-14 hours on learning activities every week.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Counseling: Clinical Mental Health
School Status: Private
Tuition: $615/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2-3 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact the School

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Mid-America Christian University View School Profile Oklahoma City, OK

Based in Oklahoma City, MACU currently offers more than two dozen programs and distinguished itself as one of the first private universities in Oklahoma to offer online courses over 20 years ago.

The university's online MS in counseling program, with a licensed professional counselor emphasis, is founded on biblical principles and prepares students to work both in Christian ministries and clinical settings. In addition to scientific counseling theories, MACU's counseling program includes spiritual, faith-based fundamentals.

The 60-credit program consists of 18 courses, including child/adolescent psychopathology, career counseling and development, and addiction and chemical dependency counseling. Students also complete a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. About 85% of students receive a job offer from their practicum location.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Science in Counseling - Licensed Professional Counselor Emphasis
School Status: Private
Tuition: $642/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.75 minimum
Standardized Tests: MAT or GRE may be required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

California Baptist University View School Profile Riverside, CA

CBU, located in Riverside's historic Magnolia Avenue district, offers more than 30 master's programs with 45 concentrations. The school operates as one of the top-rated Christian colleges in Southern California.

The university's 60-credit MS in counseling psychology program prepares students to enter professional clinical counseling or marriage and family therapy. Lessons cover psychological and spiritual principles and teach professional counseling topics from a Christian perspective. Students seeking to qualify for the professional clinical counselor designation in California must take six additional credits.

The school offers two learning options. The virtual hybrid format incorporates synchronous online interactions. The asynchronous option enables students to work at their own pace. Students in either format have the opportunity to interact with their peers and their teachers online.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Science in Counseling Psychology
School Status: Private
Tuition: $745/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.5 or higher for conditional admission, 2.75 or higher for unconditional admission

Contact the School

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Lindsey Wilson College View School Profile Columbia, KY

Located in Columbia, Kentucky, LWC was founded in 1903. Today, the college has over 20 community campuses located throughout Kentucky and has awarded more than 5,000 degrees through its extended partnership program.

The college also offers an online M.Ed. in counseling and human development that provides students with the clinical skills and practical experience needed to become a professional mental health counselor. The program's diverse and multicultural influences differentiate it from other counseling courses.

Classes include counseling Latino clients, multicultural counseling, and Adlerian play therapy. Students must attend a three-day intensive residency session on campus; this prepares them for success by addressing learning resources and providing connections to the college. The 60-credit program features eight-week courses in an asynchronous learning environment.

Graduates earn an M.Ed in counseling and human development with a specialization in clinical mental health counseling. Students may also obtain a certificate in substance abuse if they complete additional coursework.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Education in Counseling and Human Development
School Status: Private
Tuition: $484/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

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Adler University View School Profile Chicago, IL

Adler University — with main campuses in Chicago, Illinois, and Vancouver, Canada — is named after Alfred Adler, a psychotherapist and physician who founded Adlerian psychology. Grounded in the principles of this branch of psychotherapy, Adler's mission focuses on social responsibility, healthy communities, and advancing social justice.

The university's MA in counseling with a specialization in clinical mental health counseling prepares students to work at hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, and other social service agencies. In addition to online courses, the school's counseling program requires two five-day residencies on campus each year.

The school's social justice practicum consists of a 200-hour internship in which students choose a civic-minded field of interest and then work 8-10 hours a week at a related community outreach site. The program's eight-week online courses include synchronous components that require students to attend video conferencing classes at predetermined times.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Counseling: Specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,366/credit
Credit Requirements: 62 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 or higher is recommended

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

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.

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Reviewed by:

Rayelle Davis is a nationally board-certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student, she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland. She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology online at the University of Maryland Global Campus. Davis earned her master's degree in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy from Duquesne University. She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses. She is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University and practices psychotherapy in Maryland.

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.

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