Professional counselors see clients who are struggling with various interpersonal issues and help them overcome them through different therapy techniques. This rewarding field includes many subdivisions, and counselors typically specialize in niche areas of their profession. These specializations include school and career counseling, addiction counseling, marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling and rehabilitation counseling. Counselors also vary in their preferred methods of therapy delivery. Some primarily counsel clients in a one-on-one setting, while others provide therapy to couples, families and large groups.
What are the best counseling programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:
|1||Toccoa Falls College||Toccoa Falls, GA|
|2||Clarks Summit University||Clarks Summit, PA|
|3||Bay Path University||Longmeadow, MA|
|4||Crown College||Saint Bonifacius, MN|
|5||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA|
|6||Ecclesia College||Springdale, AR|
|7||Fort Hays State University||Hays, KS|
|8||Calvary University||Kansas City, MO|
|9||Johnson University||Knoxville, TN|
|10||Regent University||Virginia Beach, VA|
A master's degree in counseling is the minimum education level for most counseling jobs, and counselors who offer services in private practices or public schools must also earn full licensure in all 50 states. However, a bachelor's degree in counseling is a critical first step for those who aspire to a career in this profession. Programs typically include degree specialization or concentration options, as well internship or residency courses. Many of today's students are choosing to earn their bachelor's degree in counseling online. The best online bachelor's in counseling programs follow the same rigorous curriculum as brick-and-mortar options, and the self-paced schedule of most online degrees is ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other commitments that may interfere with campus-based learning.
Learn more about what you can do with an online bachelor's degree in counseling and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.
Choosing a Program
WILL AN ONLINE COUNSELING DEGREE PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
An online bachelor's degree in counseling will introduce the fundamental theories and methods that currently guide the counseling profession. Courses will cover topics like psychology, mental health and behavioral disorders, human growth and development and empirical research methods, as well as laws and ethics for licensed counselors. Internship and residency courses also enable students to visit active worksites and receive supervised training from experienced professionals. The best online bachelor's in counseling programs will also prepare students for post-graduation requirements, such as licensing exams.
WILL AN ONLINE COUNSELING DEGREE PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Online counseling bachelor's programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional classroom learning. Students can access course readings and lectures, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors at the click of a mouse. Current technology also enables them to study away from the home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other Wi-Fi-compatible devices. For added convenience, online counseling students can usually coordinate internships, residencies and any other onsite courses at locations near their current address.
WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY BACHELOR'S DEGREE IN COUNSELING?
Although some entry-level jobs at counseling centers may be available, a bachelor's degree will not be sufficient for most counseling careers. Many counselors earn a master's degree ― and in some cases, a Ph.D. ― before entering the workforce, and those who plan to offer private practice services must complete all licensure prerequisites for the state where they plan to work. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that a bachelor's degree may be adequate for those with career plans in substance abuse counseling. College graduates with a bachelor's in counseling may also be able to land jobs in fields related to counseling, such as social work or human resources.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE BACHELOR'S IN COUNSELING PROGRAMS?
Choosing a program is an incredibly 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 bachelor's degree in counseling programs in the United States. If you are considering an online bachelor's in counseling, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific bachelor's degree requirements and offerings.
2020 Best Accredited Online Bachelor's in Counseling Programs
Toccoa Falls College
|Toccoa Falls, GA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
TFC is a Christian university in Georgia that offers several online degrees, including a bachelor of science in counseling psychology. Online learning at TFC uses an asynchronous format that allows students to complete coursework remotely.
Students typically take two courses per eight-week session. The curriculum includes coursework in crisis and trauma therapy, developmental psychology, psychology of religion, and Christ-centered counseling. TFC also gives students the opportunity to complete an independent study project that entails writing a research paper.
Applicants must submit high school transcripts and SAT, ACT, or CLT test scores. Students must also submit a personal testimony statement detailing their relationship and commitment to Christ.
Clarks Summit University
|Clarks Summit, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
CSU is a Christian university in northeast Pennsylvania. The school offers several remote programs, including an online bachelor of science in counseling. CSU also offers a dual-enrollment program that allows students to begin graduate coursework and earn a bachelor's and master's in a shorter amount of time.
The 123-credit bachelor's program uses an asynchronous format, allowing students to complete all coursework online at any time of day. The curriculum explores topics such as tests and measurements, personality theory, and marriage and family dynamics. The program does not require an internship, but CSU encourages students to complete one.
CSU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and offers tuition discounts for Christian workers, military members, and CSU alumni. Applicants must submit official transcripts and complete an interview.
Bay Path University
|Longmeadow, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
Bay Path — based in Longmeadow, Massachusetts — offers an online bachelor's degree in counseling through the American Women's College. The program's asynchronous learning format may appeal to students who need to continue working or juggle other responsibilities.
It typically takes four years to complete this program, but students may select an accelerated option and graduate faster. The curriculum includes communicating for leadership, behavioral research methods, and counseling ethics and professional development. Students must complete a capstone to graduate.
Bay Path is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. Applicants must possess a high school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA or a GED, HiSET, or TASC certificate. Applicants must submit official transcripts and complete a phone interview.
|Saint Bonifacius, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 52%||
Crown is a Christian university located in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota. The school offers a variety of degrees, including an online bachelor's degree in counseling and psychology. Online learning allows students to complete all coursework remotely at any time of day.
The 125-131-credit program typically takes four years to complete. Students explore topics such as the foundations of Christian thought, diversity issues in counseling, crisis intervention, and group dynamics.
First-time college students should possess a high school diploma or the equivalent. Applicants must submit official transcripts from previously attended schools and a spiritual life essay. They also need to sign the Crown College Statement of Faith agreement form.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Liberty — based in Lynchburg, Virginia — offers an evangelical Christian education in a variety of subject areas, including counseling. Its online bachelor's degree in Christian counseling is available entirely online and uses an asynchronous format. Liberty allows students to transfer in up to 75% of their degree requirements, which may save students time and money.
The 120-credit program typically takes 3.5 years to complete and prepares students to pursue a graduate degree. The curriculum explores Christian counseling for marriage and family, Christian counseling for children, and psychology and Christianity. Students must complete an internship to graduate.
To qualify, students must possess a minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA in previous high school and/or college coursework. Applicants must submit official school transcripts, a high school self-certification form, and an online application.
|Springdale, AR||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 20%||
Ecclesia College is a Christian university in Springdale, Arkansas. It offers several online degree programs, including a bachelor of science in psychology and counseling. Online learning at Ecclesia College uses an asynchronous format that allows students to complete all assignments remotely at any time of day.
The 120-credit program uses a Christ-centered approach to prepare students for a career in counseling. The curriculum includes coursework in human sexuality; Holy Spirit in counseling; counseling skills; and urban social issues: people, problems, and policy. Students must also complete a capstone that involves a counseling practicum and a senior ministry project.
Ecclesia College is nationally accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education. Applicants must submit proof of high school graduation (or the GED equivalent), SAT or ACT test scores, and references.
Fort Hays State University
|Hays, KS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 44%||
FHSU — in Hays, Kansas — offers an online bachelor of arts or bachelor of science in sociology with an addictions counseling track. Students may complete all coursework online, although some professors may require proctors for exams.
The 120-credit program comprises general education, core, and track courses, including grant writing, social inequality, ethics in addictions counseling, pharmacology and high-risk medical issues, and client management procedures. Students must also complete an internship to graduate.
To qualify, students must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate. FHSU also accepts transfer credits from regionally accredited colleges or universities. Applicants must submit official transcripts from previously attended schools and SAT or ACT test scores. Transfer students or adult learners over the age of 21 do not need to submit test scores.
|Kansas City, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 29%||
Calvary is a Christian university located in Kansas City, Missouri. It offers over 48 online degree programs, including a bachelor's in biblical counseling. Online learning uses an asynchronous format, and students typically complete the program in four years.
This online bachelor's degree in counseling includes 126 credits and focuses on developing counseling skills based on biblical principles. The curriculum includes classes like introduction to Christian missions, counseling addictions, biblical counseling of youths, and counseling troubling emotions. Students must complete an internship and counseling project to graduate.
Qualifying candidates must be high school graduates or possess a GED certificate. Applicants must submit official transcripts from previously attended schools, ACT or SAT scores, a pastoral reference form, and a personal reference. They also need to read the university's statement of faith. Calvary is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
|Knoxville, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
JUTN is a Christian university in Knoxville, Tennessee. The school offers several online options, including a bachelor's program in pastoral care and counseling that caters to working professionals looking to launch a career in Christian counseling.
Students who earn this bachelor's in counseling take 120 credits and can complete all coursework remotely. The curriculum covers topics like exegetical methods, conflict and communication, spiritual formation, and biblical teaching and preaching. Students must also complete a counseling ministry practicum.
Prospective students must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate. The program requires applicants to submit official transcripts, ACT or SAT test scores, a reference from a spiritual mentor, and an essay. Students must also formally commit to the JUTN lifestyle.
|Virginia Beach, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 59%||
Based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent educates about 10,000 students annually. The school offers many options to distance learners, including an online bachelor's in clinical and counseling psychology that is taught from a Christian perspective. Faculty deliver online classes through eight-week sessions.
In addition to general education requirements, participants take 36 credits of psychology courses, including a capstone seminar in ethics and professional identity. Students also complete 15 credits dedicated to the clinical and counseling psychology concentration, covering topics like group facilitation and counseling skills.
To apply, online students must submit unofficial transcripts and proof of a government-issued ID. Regent is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
What to Expect from an Online Counseling Degree Program
|Timeline||4 to 5 years|
|Program Costs||$15,000 to $32,000 in annual tuition|
|Popular Minors and Dual Areas of Study||Psychology, Education, Behavioral Science, Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, School and Career Counseling, Substance Abuse Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling|
|Accreditation||Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)|
Employment Outlook for Bachelor's in Counseling Graduates
The counseling profession as a whole is expected to grow by a substantial margin between 2014 and 2024. This increase is due in part to the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act (ACA); according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 20 million previously uninsured Americans now have medical coverage. Under the ACA, mental health issues are to evaluated and treated the same way as other chronic diseases. An aging baby boomer population is also contributing to the demand for licensed counselors, particularly those specialized in clients with dementia and other mental health issues associated with elderly populations.
According to BLS projections, more than 80,000 counseling jobs will be added over the next decade. The following table breaks down these BLS estimates for four of the most common counseling professions.
|Profession||Number of Jobs in the Industry (2014)||Projected Growth Rate for Jobs (2014-24)||Projected Increase in Number of Jobs (2014-24)|
|Mental Health Counselors and Marriage/Family Therapists||168,200||19%||31,400|
|Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors||94,900||22%||21,200|
|School and Career Counselors||273,400||8%||22,500|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
These healthy job growth predictions have already translated into low unemployment rates for licensed counselors. The latest estimates from U.S. News & World Report found that substance abuse and behavioral counselors, marriage and family therapists and school counselors all face an unemployment rate of 3.3%. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for all occupations is currently set at 4.9%.
Earning a Living
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for all occupations in 'community and social service occupations' (including counselors) is $42,010. However, earning potential for counselors will vary by their career specialization, as well as other factors like educational attainment, licensure status and city/state of employment. The next table looks at salary expectations for common counseling careers at four different benchmarks.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)||Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||$46,671||$50,213||$60,632||$65,918|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$33,577||$37,850||$40,422||$43,796|
|Mental Health Counselor||$37,230||$40,294||$45,048||$48,676|
Of the five careers listed, school counselors experience the highest rate of career salary growth: 46.0% between the entry-level and late-career stages. However, the rate of growth was comparable between all five professions; the remaining four ranged between 30% and 42% salary growth after 20 years in the workforce.
Career and Further Education Opportunities
Although a graduate degree and full licensure will be required for most counseling careers, college graduates with a bachelor's degree in counseling will be qualified for numerous entry-level jobs in the field. Four common career pathways for counseling degree majors are outlined below.
School and Career Counselors: Found in public and private schools at all grade levels, school counselors work with students to address and overcome personal issues related to their academics and home life. Elementary and middle school counselors primarily help students build fundamental learning skills and provide them with emotional support. At the high school and postsecondary levels, counselors generally support students through career and college planning advice. While most of these counselors work in school offices, some may find employment through companies that provide after-school counseling services.
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: These counseling professionals help clients cope with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues. They often observe and diagnose clients, and then provide the appropriate level of therapy. Mental health counselors specialize in various interpersonal issues, while marriage and family therapists mainly help clients tackle domestic issues.
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor: These counselors (also referred to as 'addiction counselors') help patients who struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling and other potentially destructive behaviors. Addiction counselors first help clients pinpoint 'triggers', or aspects of their life (such as work or family) that can lead to addictive spirals. They also support clients during the treatment and recovery phases.
Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation (or 'rehab') counselors help clients who live with physical and/or emotional disabilities. These counselors support clients by helping them seek employment, take care of day-to-day tasks and otherwise maintain an independent lifestyle. Many rehab counselors specialize in niche groups, such as children/students or military veterans who have been wounded in action.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary||Degree and Licensure Requirements|
|Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists||$43,190||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||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||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|
|School and Career Counselors||$53,660||Minimum master's degree; State-issued certification, license or other teaching credential; 1 to 2 years of classroom experience; Criminal background check|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to counseling 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 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 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.
- This global organization (NAADAC for short) represents roughly 85,000 counselors, educators and other addiction-related personnel in the U.S., Canada and overseas. Member benefits include reduced rates on professional development courses, complimentary journal subscriptions and discounts for malpractice and liability insurance.
Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program
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 your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and 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 earning their degree. 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.