Life is stressful. When the pressures of work, depression, marriage, or career problems become too much, counseling psychologists are there to help. Counseling psychologists not only listen attentively to the issues of others, but also provide behavioral modification strategies that are grounded in psychology. Counseling psychology is a field that helps individuals with a variety of emotional, behavioral, and social problems or disorders. Obtaining a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology is an essential launching pad for a career in psychology, and it opens the door to a job in which you can make a difference in hundreds of lives.
Graduates of master’s degree programs in Counseling Psychology find work in a variety of settings, such as mental health clinics, hospitals, or private practices. Counseling psychology is often confused with clinical psychology; however, the two are slightly different. Whereas clinical psychologists tend to work with severe psychopathology, counseling psychologists work with individuals, groups, or couples with normal, developmental issues and transitions that occur in everyday living, such as anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses.
The salary outlook, of course, varies depending on which area of counseling psychology you pursue, but the median pay for graduates in 2015 was an impressive $72,580 per year,1 with a faster than average job growth rate of 20 percent.2 All of the schools on our list are top-notch contenders in the field, and are accredited by the following organizations:
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
- American Psychological Association (ASA)
The types of Counseling Psychology degrees that we list vary depending on students’ background and career goals. Some programs offer a Masters of Arts (MA), a Master’s of Science (MS) or an Educational Specialist degree (EdS). An MA in Counseling Psychology is designed for students with an educational background in something other than psychology, whereas a Master’s of Science generally attracts students who studied psychology in their undergraduate work.3 An Educational Specialist degree is often housed in the education department and intended for students who would ultimately like to work in a school setting. Take a look through our list, and see if you can find a degree and focus that fit your interests.
What are the best master’s degrees in counseling psychology?
At College Choice, we’ve listed the 15 Best Master’s in Counseling Psychology Programs by compiling and comparing academic reputation, success, and affordability. First, we chose programs with the most renowned academic reputation and from those pared the list down to those with high passing rates for the EPPP—the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which individuals must pass to become licensed.4 Finally, we compared this data with programs that provide the most economical accessibility, to arrive at a list marked by thorough research and extensive data aggregation. Our figures come from the university and colleges’ websites as well as nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.
University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign
College Choice Score: 100
Tuition Per Credit: $794.11
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a public research institute, and the flagship campus of the three-school University of Illinois system.
Consistently named one of the top five graduate programs in the country, the Psychology department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is separated into nine divisions, which includes Clinical, Cognitive, Developmental, Quantitative Psychology, and more. The Counseling Psychology program, however, is housed under the Department of Educational Psychology.
Unique to other Counseling Psychology programs, University of Illinois offers its master’s degree (MS) as a step along the way to a doctoral degree (Phd). This program heavily emphasizes the importance of the scientist-practictioner relationship, which views research and practice as interdependent. Required courses for the master’s degree include Professional and Ethics Seminar, Research Methods, and Philosophical and Social Foundations.
Students who graduate from this program consistently achieve high results in the professional field. In a survey of 48 graduates from 2005 to 2013, 73 percent of them are licensed psychologists. The majority of the other graduates (21 percent) who are not licensed work as research professors, or in business and international employment.The University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Wisconsin—Madison
College Choice Score: 99.59
Tuition Per Credit: $1202.95
Known as the oldest and largest public university in the state, the University of Wisconsin—Madison is a public research university that houses twenty schools and colleges with almost 30,000 students in attendance. The University of Wisconsin is listed as a Public Ivy school, which designates top public schools that have comparable academic and collegiate experiences to private Ivy League universities.
The 60-credit Masters of Science (MS) degree in Counseling Psychology combines core classes with practicum and internship opportunities. The practicum spans over three semesters and requires 600 hours of counseling tasks, both on-site and at the university. Some of the internship options include positions in group counseling, consultation, group instruction, individual counseling and program management.
As a capstone project, each student must complete the Professional Integration Exercise (PIE), an oral clinical case presentation in which students integrate their knowledge from their coursework with their practicum skills. Students of the program are expected to finish the degree in two full academic years, as well as two summer quarters. The University of Wisconsin–Madison is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
College Choice Score: 97.7
Tuition Per Credit: $739.52
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, located outside of Durham, North Carolina, is a public research institution. Similar to the University of Wisconsin, the University of North Carolina is one of eight universities to hold Public Ivy status, providing an Ivy League experience for a public university tuition.
The master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling (MS), offered through the UNC School of Medicine, boasts an impressive 1:8 instructor to student ratio. Throughout the two-year program, students take classes in clinical rehabilitation and counseling, in hopes to combine theories and practices of both in the professional field. Classes within this program cover counseling approaches related to additions, disabilities, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders.
At the end of the first year, students choose a speciality track in either Developmental Disabilities (DD) or Psychiatric Disabilities (PD). In the final year, then, students complete a 10-credit internship in Clinical Rehabilitation or Mental Health Counseling setting, as well as a 3-credit master’s paper/project or thesis. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
College Choice Score:
Tuition Per Credit:
College Choice Score: 93.09
Tuition Per Credit: $1454
Based in the heart of Upper Manhattan in New York City, Columbia University is a private, Ivy League research institution. As one of nine colonial colleges founded before the Declaration of Independence, Columbia College is one of the oldest higher learning institutions in the nation. Columbia Teachers College, one of the university’s twenty schools and colleges, houses the Masters of Education in Counseling Psychology (EdM) and the Masters in Counseling Psychology (MA).
Outside of the typical curriculum, the masters program at Columbia University emphasizes three core goals in its student preparation: the ability to facilitate development in individuals and groups; the development of prevention, intervention, and remediation strategies; and the use of culturally-relevant and psychologically-appropriate approaches in practice. Classes at Columbia University’s Teacher College are designed to not only to instill sound effective and ethical practices students’ professional work, but also align the clinical principles with real social justice and racial issues.
Throughout the program, students choose from an array of core and elective classes from sixteen faculty members. Among the required classes is the option of five different practicums, which involve Career and Personal Counseling, Individual and Psychotherapy, Group Therapy, Family Systems, and Research. Teachers College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Arizona State University
College Choice Score: 90.69
Tuition Per Credit: $973
With over 82,000 enrolled students, Arizona State University, located in five different campuses throughout the state, is the largest public university in the United States. Arizona State University is classified as a research university, and in 2016 it was ranked No. 1 among Most Innovative Schools in America by US News & World Report.
The Counseling and Counseling Psychology department houses Arizona State University’s Master of Counseling (MC) program, a 60-credit-hour degree based in the Tempe campus. The program not only prepares students in professional counseling, but also in working with diverse, multicultural communities.
In addition to the required coursework, students have the option of writing a final thesis or taking a comprehensive written exam, depending on the desired focus of the degree. Students who are inclined toward practicing as a counselor would design a plan of study around field experiences and the comprehensive exam, whereas students more interested in research would likely complete a master’s degree thesis.
If students complete the Master of Counseling program (30 credits of coursework and the master’s thesis) and wish to pursue further education, they have the option to apply for the PhD in Counseling Psychology offered at Arizona State University. The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Committee (HLC) of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.
University of Kansas
College Choice Score: 89.25
Tuition Per Credit: $674.5
As the largest public research university in the state of Kansas, the University of Kansas contains five campuses, with its main branch in Lawrence. With a tuition that remains 13 percent below the national average, the University of Kansas is known as a “best buy” in the region.
The master’s degree in Counseling Psychology at the University of Kansas, which typically takes no less than two years to complete, is a 60-credit-hour program taught by a highly accomplished group of eight faculty. Some of the faculty’s research expertise areas are Psychology of Women, Counseling in International and Multicultural Contexts, and Psychological Aspects of Leadership. This program offers a broad introduction to Counseling Psychology theory, clinical practice, and research, while also providing opportunities for practicum and fieldwork in the Kansas metro area.
Students who are on the track for a terminal master’s degree have the option of a final comprehensive exam, a master’s thesis, or a final project. However, the program is also designed to accommodate students who aspire to continue on to get their doctorate in Counseling Psychology. The University of Kansas is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Iowa
College Choice Score: 89.18
Tuition Per Credit: $2227
Located in Iowa City, Iowa, and the oldest university in the state, the University of Iowa is a flagship public research institution that was founded in 1847. The university provides over two hundred areas of study within its eleven different colleges.
One of them, the College of Education, offers a Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology (MA) degree. Unique to this program, students are taught exclusively in Hong Kong, China, through both correspondence classes and on-campus courses. This 33-credit-hour, non-thesis master’s degree prepares students to be recognized by the Hong Kong Psychological Society (HKPS) and meets the requirements for entering a Psychology doctoral program in the United States.
Academically, the curriculum is split into two categories: 70 percent of the focus is on research and theory, while 30 percent of the classes focus on case-studies, conceptualizations, and fieldwork. Among the core classes offered in this program are Multicultural Counseling, Psychopathology Across the Lifespan, Couples and Family Therapy, and more. The University of Iowa is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Florida
College Choice Score: 88.99
Tuition Per Credit: $569.67
The University of Florida, located in Gainsville, Florida, is a public land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant research institution. The university consistently ranks high among public universities in the United States, and its College of Education, which houses the Masters of Education in Mental Health Counseling (MEd/EdS), was ranked 30th in the nation by US News & World Report, and 6th in Counselor Education.
The Mental Health Counseling master’s degree at the University of Florida requires 72-credit hours of coursework, with an additional 6 credit hours for an optional master’s thesis project. Within the curriculum, the master’s program names four tracks of particular emphasis: Community Mental Health Counseling (with a focus on liberation counseling and social justice), Disaster/Crisis Counseling, Multicultural Counseling of Diverse Populations, and Play Therapy.
Students who complete this rigorous program will gain specialized knowledge in human behavior, development, and relationships, as well as a skillset in mental health service delivery. The required coursework is divided between Counseling (28 credits), Clinical (15 credits), Practicum/Internship (14 credits), and Electives (15 credits). University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
College Choice Score: 85.13
Tuition Per Credit: $1011
Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Temple University is a public, state-related research university. As a top research institution in the country, Temple University is one of the nation’s top producer of professional education through its 400 academic degree programs.
The 60-credit-hour Master’s of Education in Counseling Psychology (MEd) program at Temple University boasts individualized attention through small class sizes, the incorporation of experiential components in most courses, and access to state-of-the-art clinical training technology. Students may choose between the full-time program, which takes about two years to complete, or the part-time program, which takes three years.
The program at Temple University requires twenty-four semester hours of clinical training, which is the most required clinical hours in the tri-state area. In the first year, students begin training in experiential labs, and later build upon their knowledge in their second year to practicum and internship opportunities. Temple University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
New York University
College Choice Score: 79.81
Tuition Per Credit: $1596
Founded in 1831, New York University is a private, research university located in a number of campuses throughout New York City, and is one of the largest non-profit institutions in higher education. NYU consistently ranks among the top 35 universities in the world and its alumni have gone on to be Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows, and heads of states.
Students who choose to complete the Master’s in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness at New York University take classes through the Brooklyn-based Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The 60-credit-hour program is designed to combine a broad-based education of core classes and content electives with counseling labs and internships.
Students must also complete a two-semester, 600-hour internship in their second year of the program. Some past internship options have included university counseling centers, LGBT programs, addiction treatment centers, rape crisis centers, and more. Unique to this particular program, the master’s degree at New York University offers a dual-degree option with a post-master’s advanced certificate in LGBT Health, Education, and Social Services. New York University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
University of Missouri—Columbia
College Choice Score: 79.5
Tuition Per Credit: $482.75
As the first public institution west of the Mississippi River, the University of Missouri—Columbia is a well-established public research university and home to over 35,000 students, over three hundred degree programs, and nineteen academic colleges. The University of Missouri is a member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Consortium (SECU), which aims for top research and scholarship performance in the region.
The College of Education at University of Missouri offers a Master of Education in Counseling Psychology (MEd). The 48-credit-hour program gives students the option of three different tracks of specialization within counseling psychology: Research, Sport, and Career. All students take 27 credits in core master’s coursework, and then decide on one of the three tracks. Each track requires a different capstone project, which students complete with the approval and direction of their advisor.
This master’s program is open to students from all undergraduate backgrounds; however, applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a field not related to psychology will need to take 15 hours of prerequisites in behavioral science courses before or concurrently with the program. The University of Missouri also offers a doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology, and the master’s degree research track prepares students for further study in the field. The University of Missouri is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Virginia Commonwealth University
College Choice Score: 76.05
Tuition Per Credit: $676.50
Located in Richmond, Virginia as a public research university, Virginia Commonwealth University is known for its rigorous and far-reaching research activity. The university also ranks high academically; US News & World Report has named twenty-eight of its graduate programs as among the top in the nation.
The Counseling Psychology graduate program at Virginia Commonwealth University awards a Master’s of Science degree (MS) for students en route to a doctoral program. They specialize primarily in healthcare psychology and follow a scientist-practitioner-leader training model.
In order to complete the 53-credit-hour master’s degree, students take core curriculum courses that combine theory with counseling practices. In addition to a six-credit-hour practicum, students must also complete a master’s thesis and defend it in an oral examination. This program heavily emphasizes research within the field, and the master’s thesis must be a publishable piece that contributes to the field of psychology.
The Counseling Psychology program at Virginia Commonwealth yields high results in the professional world; of all the graduates from 2004 to 2012, 80 percent of them are now licensed counselors. Virginia Commonwealth University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
University of Nebraska—Lincoln
College Choice Score: 75.84
Tuition Per Credit: $559.88
The University of Nebraska—Lincoln is a public research institute, and the state’s oldest university. The campus, located in Lincoln, Nebraska, is separated out into two sections—City Campus and East Campus—both of which contain an institute area and a residential area.
The Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology (MA) program offers two tracks: community counseling and school counseling. Students are admitted to one or the other upon acceptance into the program. The community counseling track takes two and a half years to complete, but the school counseling track is designed to be completed in two years, with most of the classes taken during the summer. Both tracks require 600 hours of counseling practice before licensure, and both are a 48-credit-hour program.
Depending on the student’s desired outcomes—going on to a doctoral program or becoming a licensed counselor—students choose between a final thesis project or a field placement. In addition, all master’s students take a comprehensive exam during their last semester to test their competency in four elements: Statistics and Measurement, Cognition and Learning, Human Development, and Behavior. The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Denver
College Choice Score: 71.94
Tuition Per Credit: $1199
Founded in 1864, the University of Denver is a coeducational, private university based in Denver, Colorado. Smaller in size than most schools on this list, the University of Denver enrolls about 5600 undergraduate students and 6100 graduate students per year, making it a small, tight-knit learning community.
The Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology (MA) at the University of Denver focuses primarily on adult and adolescent counseling, and offers three concentration tracks within the degree: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Research, and School Counseling.
The Clinical Mental Health track is a 90-quarter-credit-hour program that includes a practicum, internship, and two quarters in the in-house clinic. The Research track requires 72 quarter credit hours and involves advanced coursework, a practicum, an internship, and a thesis. The 72-quarter-credit-hour School Counseling track requires students to complete a practicum, an internship in a school setting, and other classes related to a school-based environment.
All three concentrations involve coursework that aim to develop your basic individual, group, and career counseling skills. The University of Denver is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA).
University of Texas
College Choice Score: 64.86
Tuition Per Credit: 431.79
Based in Denton, Texas, the University of North Texas is a public research university made up of twelve colleges and schools, and offers thirty-four doctoral degrees. Its College of Arts and Sciences, which houses nineteen different academic departments, is also the home for the Masters of Science in Counseling Psychology (MS) degree.
This master’s degree offers two different tracks for its students: a 60-credit-hour thesis option, or a 57-credit-hour non-thesis option. For students who opt out of the thesis option, they must complete a final oral comprehensive exam. All students, however, must take eight core classes regardless of their track. Some of these classes include Legal and Ethical Issues in Professional Practice, Psychopathology, Vocational Psychology and Methods, and a practicum.
Additionally, for both thesis and non-thesis options, students must take fifteen credits in electives related to Child and Family Counseling or Mental Health and Aging Counseling. The University of North Texas at Dallas is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.