According to the American Counseling Association, “Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” There are numerous contexts in which the skills of a counselor are beneficial. Possible career paths include educational, vocational, and school counselors, rehabilitation counselors, mental health counselors, addiction and substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorder counselors, marriage and family counselors, pastoral counselors, and more. Employment of community and social service occupations, of which counselors are a part, is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, counseling jobs are expected to grow faster than average. With a median pay higher than the median annual wage for all occupations, a career in counseling is a promising field for those with the care, compassion, and commitment it requires.
As noted, counseling offers a diversity of career paths. Because of this, graduate degrees in counseling can be found in a variety of models and through a wide array of schools. You will find institutions in our list that offer Masters of Arts, while others offer Masters of Science, all with some sort of counseling focus. Sometimes the programs are administered by an institution’s School of Education, sometimes by its School of Allied Health or Health Professions, or some other school, college, department, or division. There are degrees that lead to licensure and are accredited by one of several professional accrediting bodies like the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
If you are looking to become a licensed counselor, you will want to consider the school’s accreditation. You will also want to be aware that almost no licensure-track graduate degree in counseling can be completed fully online. Schools vary in the amount of coursework that must be completed on campus or at some other off-campus location. The schools that made our list have a majority of their courses available online and self-designate as online or distance learning programs. Even for those programs with all courses available online, you can expect to have to fulfill a practicum and internship, which are physical requirements that can almost always be met in your home region. You will want to take note of the residency, practicum, and internship requirements for the schools you are interested in and the license for which their program prepares you. And since licensing for counselors varies from state to state, you will want to be aware of the requirements of the state in which you plan to pursue a career if it is different from the state in which the school is located. Most schools offering licensure-track degrees have resources for assisting students pursuing licensing in another state, but it is up to the student to research the requirements for licensing in those states. There are included in our list programs that do not lead to licensure and which can be completed fully online.
There are many things that go into building a counseling career, primary among them is a graduate degree in counseling. Obtaining a graduate degree, however, is not always easy for people whose life circumstances prevent them from being a full-time resident student. College Choice has collected information on the top online graduate programs in counseling with these sorts of students in mind. Using data from U.S. News & World Report, National Center for Education Statistics, Council for Higher Education Accreditation, Payscale.com, the accrediting agencies listed above, and other publicly available sources, we have created a list of the Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees. We hope the list below will help you make an informed decision about the Master in Counseling that is right for you.
If you have a desire to help people work through life’s challenges and want to turn that desire into a rewarding career, the first step may very well begin in one of the following best online graduate programs in counseling.
College Choice Score: 100
Cost per Credit Hour: $487
Through their Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Science, Capella University is one of the few schools with online masters degrees accredited by both CACREP and COAMFTE. Capella offers graduate degrees in a variety of counseling disciplines, including Masters of Science in General Addiction Studies, General School Counseling, General Studies in Human Behavior, Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling.
The credit requirements vary by discipline, ranging from 48 to 92 hours, and each degree requires some residency and fieldwork. Residencies are held at hotel conference centers at alternating locations each year. Locations are selected based on the number of Capella students in the area. Past locations include Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando, and Arlington.
The school’s clear and useful website provides prospective students with much helpful information and resources for the various degrees and their requirements. They also offer licensing support for students and graduates who want to obtain professional licensing in their discipline and state.
College Choice Score: 95.88
Cost per Credit Hour: $510
Walden University was founded in 1970 by two teachers who wanted to offer a way for professionals to continue working while earning a graduate degree. The university has been a pioneer in distance education ever since.
They offer online Masters of Science in Addiction Counseling and School Counseling, as well as two CACREP accredited degrees: the Master of Science in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling; and the Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling.
Each of these degrees are 75-90 credit hours, offer various specializations, and require field experience and two six-day residencies. The residencies are held in various convenient locations throughout the year and offer students opportunities for consultation, supervision, skill development, and more through interaction with fellow students and Walden’s expert faculty.
Seton Hall University
College Choice Score: 92.75
Cost per Credit Hour: $739
Seton Hall’s College of Education and Human Services, accredited by the APA, COAMFTE, and NCATE, offers an online Professional Counseling program with two options: a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling (MA) or a combined degree of a Master of Arts and Education Specialist (MA/EdS). The MA is 48 credit hours and the combined degree is 60.
The program is designed for students wanting a career as a professional mental health counselor. It takes about three years to complete and requires two on-site residencies at the campus in South Orange, NJ. Students will learn from experts in teacher and leader preparation as well as professional psychology and family therapy.
Believing that supporting and improving the lives of children, families, and communities is a complex process, the college encourages collaboration within and between departments. Many of the faculty are themselves involved in schools and community agencies.
University of North Dakota
College Choice Score: 91.09
Cost per Credit Hour: $477.52
The University of North Dakota’s College of Education and Human Development offers a 50-hour online Master of Arts in Counseling with an emphasis in School Counseling. The program takes 2.5 years to complete and requires two four-day visits to the campus in Grand Forks each summer (4 total visits). It focuses on the American School Counselor Association’s National Model for comprehensive school counseling programs and incorporates many theoretical approaches to working with students.
Classes are held online in evenings, during which students and instructors meet together for live interactive classes. The strong theoretical background coupled with the hands-on experiences will provide graduates with the skills and training to become a professional school counselor.
College Choice Score: 89.08
Cost per Credit Hour: $540
Located in Lynchburg, VA, Liberty University offers a wide array of online graduate degrees in counseling. The Master of Arts in Human Service Counseling is available in ten different specializations, while the Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling is offered in seven. Liberty also offers two sixty-hour licensure-track degrees: the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and the Master of Arts in Professional Counseling.
The MA in Marriage and Family Therapy requires four one-week intensives in addition to a three-credit-hour practicum and a three-credit-hour internship. The MA in Professional Counseling requires the same number of hours for practicum and internship, but only three one-week intensives. All of the online graduate degrees are comprehensive and are “taught from a biblical worldview,” offering an ideal education for prospective students wanting to integrate faith into the counseling practice.
University of Massachusetts Boston
College Choice Score: 82.32
Cost per Credit Hour: $505
The Department of Counseling and School Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston offers two online counseling degrees: a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling (MS) and a Master of Education in School Counseling (MEd). Both degrees are sixty-hour programs, requiring two courses to be completed over a two week period in the summer on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus (students are enrolled, however, as UMass Boston students).
The programs also require an internship and practicum, which can be completed in students’ home areas. Some online courses are synchronous, weekly one-hour to one-and-a-half-hour classes in which students have the opportunity to verbally participate in an online classroom with their peers and professor. The on-campus experiences and the cohort model give students ample opportunity to meet and interact with their fellow classmates.
College Choice Score: 80.22
Cost per Credit Hour: $275
The Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Lamar University (a member of the Texas State University System) is one of the best return on investments for online graduate degrees in counseling. The sixty-hour program can be completed in thirty months and prepares graduates with knowledge, training, and practical experience to help persons coping with substance abuse, marriage, family, career, and other emotional issues.
The program requires two residency courses, one practicum, and two internships for clinical experiential credit. Courses are designed to meet the educational requirements set forth by the Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
Grace College and Theological Seminary
College Choice Score: 76.42
Cost per Credit Hour: $568
Grace College offers an online 60-credit hour Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Annually students must complete a 7-10 day residency on the campus in Winona Lake, IN.
Grace is committed to the Scripture as the foundation for truth with a complementary understanding of the truths of psychology and the social sciences. Grace provides curriculum maps that set the course for students to complete the program in 6-8 semesters. The online program is further committed to the professional and interpersonal development of students and the essentials for effective counseling practice.
Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion
College Choice Score: 71.15
Cost per Credit Hour: $507
Indiana Wesleyan University, an evangelical Christian university, offers a Master of Arts in Counseling with several possible specializations: Addictions Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Community Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy, School Counseling, and Student Development Counseling and Administration. Some specializations are available completely online, while others are in the hybrid format (online with on campus intensives).
Programs are 36, 48, and 60 credit hours, with the longest being licensure tracks. The Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, and School Counseling specializations are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The School Counseling specialization is also accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
College Choice Score: 71.08
Cost per Credit Hour: $615
The faith-based counselor training available through LeTourneau University’s Master of Arts in Counseling program prepares individuals for rewarding careers by helping them build knowledge of counseling theory and develop counseling skills while also teaching them to use scripture, prayer, and other Christian disciplines appropriately to help people work through their issues and problems in the context of counseling.
Students may choose one of three program tracks: Licensed Professional Counselor Specialization, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Specialization, School Counseling Specialization. The hybrid program requires a combination of online courses and a three-day intensive learning experience at the main campus in Longview, Texas.
University of the Southwest
College Choice Score: 69.06
Cost per Credit Hour: $599
Students at the University of the Southwest can choose one of two Masters of Science in Education (MSEd) degrees in counseling. The MSEd in Mental Health Counseling has 48-hour and 60-hour tracks. These programs include practicum and internship requirements wherein students complete hours in professional settings observing and working with licensed therapists and clients.
The program in Mental Health Counseling also offers a variety of elective courses including Play Therapy, Program Development and Management, Clinical Supervision, Counseling Traumatized Clients, Addictions Counseling, Human Sexuality, and Psychopharmacology. The MSEd in School Counseling is a 42-hour program available completely online and includes coursework in counseling theories and techniques, counseling ethics, career development, and group, family, and child/adolescent counseling.
Nova Southeastern University
College Choice Score: 68.82
Cost per Credit Hour: $705
The College of Psychology at Nova Southeastern University offers a Master of Science in Counseling with specializations in Mental Health Counseling, Substance Abuse Counseling and Education, or Applied Behavior Analysis. All courses for this 60-credit-hour program are taken online.
Like all similar programs, Nova Southeastern does require on-the-ground internship/practicum, which is placement in a qualified agency where the student will provide counseling services under the direction of a qualified supervisor. Depending on the concentration, most students complete their degrees in 2-3 years and enter professional careers working with issues such as substance abuse, family violence, divorce, aging, and general emotional problems.
Sacred Heart University
College Choice Score: 67.41
Cost per Credit Hour: $850
One of the only programs in our list that is not strictly a counseling degree. Sacred Heart University offers a Master of Science in Applied Psychology. After completing foundation coursework, students may choose among three concentrations. The focus on Industrial-Organizational Psychology prepares students to apply psychology in the workplace to achieve maximum employee satisfaction and productivity.
The concentration on Community Psychology prepares counselors for the care of individuals and the general public in settings such as not-for-profit organizations and social service agencies. In the General Applied Psychology concentration, students may select electives to suit their career needs from the two other concentrations.
The degree, whichever concentration one chooses, is a research-based program and not one that leads directly to clinical licensure. There is no clinical component. Students are able to complete the degree in two years.
College Choice Score: 67.21
Cost per Credit Hour: $250
The Master of Arts in Christian Counseling at Amberton University is designed for those wanting to integrate counseling methodologies with the Christian faith in order to facilitate the helping relationship from a spiritual context. The 36-hour program does not prepare one for licensure, but it does well prepare ministers, church leaders, and church members seeking to minister to individuals, couples, and families in the local church and community.
Amberton also offers the Master of Science in Family Studies online. This is an interdisciplinary program that merges the fields of Counseling and Human Behavior and Development, preparing graduates for career opportunities in social service agencies, religious institutions, parent education programs, juvenile services, day care facilities, foster care programs, and retirement and/or assisted living facilities. It too is a 36-hour program.
Fort Hays State University
College Choice Score: 66.99
Cost per Credit Hour: $253.07
Fort Hays State University has two online counseling degrees designed with the needs for flexibility, convenience, and educational quality that working professionals demand. The Masters of Science in School Counseling requires 45 credits for graduation, while the Masters of Science in Community Counseling requires 60.
Both programs involve a practicum for three credit hours and an internship for six credit hours. Three, four-day, on-campus courses are also required during the program. Once students are admitted into the program, an expert in their areas of interest will guide them throughout their studies. Courses often include a unique combination of communication methods including Blackboard, Skype, videoconferencing, Google Apps for Education, Blogs, Wikis, Youtube, and other technologies.
Grand Canyon University
College Choice Score: 65.90
Cost per Credit Hour: $500
The College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University, a private Christian university in Phoenix, AZ, offer a Master of Science in Professional Counseling. The degree program is 62 credit hours and ends with a supervised practicum and internship to help students apply what they have learned in their coursework into actual practice situations.
This professional counseling degree prepares its graduates to provide counseling services to a wide variety of clients with diverse psychological or emotional challenges. In the program students cover a variety of specializations, including addictions and substance use disorders; group counseling theory and practice; and more.
Wake Forest University
College Choice Score: 64.66
Cost per Credit Hour: $1,340
Wake Forest University is a nationally recognized private university in Winston-Salem, NC. Its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offers three online Masters of Arts (MA) for students interested in counseling careers.
The MA in School Counseling is a 60-hour program that prepares students for licensure as a school or professional counselor. The MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is also a 60-hour program and it prepares its graduates for careers as counseling professionals in a number of different settings, including community agencies, behavioral health care facilities, hospitals, employee assistance programs and substance abuse treatment centers. The MA in Human Services is a 39-hour program that combines a core set of counseling courses with classes that focus on critical administration skills for managing non-profits and human services organizations.
The combination of counseling and management training uniquely prepares graduates to succeed in administration and leadership roles in the vast network of human services professionals.
College Choice Score: 63.70
Cost per Credit Hour: $858
Northcentral University’s Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) program is the first distance-based master’s-level marriage and family therapy program to earn the highly-coveted COAMFTE accreditation. Courses are primarily online, though students are required to complete face-to-face clinical training (practicum) and a nine-month internship in their local community.
NCU offers many specializations including General Family Therapy, Medical Family Therapy, Military Family Therapy, Child and Adolescent Family Therapy, Couple Therapy, and LGBTQ Couple and Family Therapy. The degree is designed to meet general requirements for licensure with opportunities for students to take additional courses beyond the 45 hours required for the degree, if needed, to meet specific requirements in their state, country, or area.
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
College Choice Score: 62.97
Cost per Credit Hour: $420
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) began as Texas Tech Medical School. It has since grown into a seven-campus university that is a leader in education and patient care for West Texas and beyond. Its School of Health Professions offers a Master of Rehabilitation Counseling, which is conducted through the Department of Clinic Administration and Rehabilitation Counseling, and has been accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) since 2003.
The program is designed to prepare counselors to assist clients through counseling, advocacy, assessment, medical and psychological services, independent living skill development, and career and job training. The curriculum includes 36 credit hours of core courses, 3 elective credit hours, and 12 credit hours of practicum and internship, for a total of 51 total credit hours for the entire program. All requirements can be met without attending a physical classroom.
University of Louisiana at Monroe
College Choice Score: 60.87
Cost per Credit Hour: $475
The Master of Science degree in Counseling offered online by the University of Louisiana Monroe has two options for degree concentration, both of which are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). For Clinical Health Counseling and School Counseling, requirements include 48 credit hours of core courses plus a minimum of 12 credit hours of specialty coursework, totaling 60 semester hours.
Full-time students are able to complete the degree in two years. Applicants are expected to meet the admission requirements of the Graduate School, which include an application packet, supporting information, and letters of reference. Graduates of this selective program will be skilled to provide supportive, educational, and counseling services to individuals from diverse backgrounds in a wide variety of settings.
Oregon State University
College Choice Score: 60.82
Cost per Credit Hour: $521
Oregon State University (OSU) has a unique and well-established program for a Master of Counseling with a specialization in School Counseling available in a hybrid format. This 75-credit graduate program requires two weekends on campus in Salem, Oregon each term and live online synchronous practicum and internship courses in years two and three. Otherwise, all courses are available online.
Courses are taught by renowned counseling faculty within OSU’s College of Education. The program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, as well as Oregon’s Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
The University of Alabama
College Choice Score: 60.76
Cost per Credit Hour: $360
The University of Alabama offers a Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling that is available fully online and adheres to the learning standards set by the Council on Rehabilitation Education. All rehabilitation courses are offered as synchronous courses and require weekly participation via live virtual classroom. Sessions are recorded so that students have the opportunity to review what occurred during the live class.
The degree can be completed with 48 credit hours, but the school offers an additional 12 credits for those students wishing to have 60 hours of graduate-level courses, which may assist graduates pursuing licensure. The curriculum culminates with a 600-hour internship under the supervision of a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.
Missouri Baptist University
College Choice Score: 60.59
Cost per Credit Hour: $588
The Master of Arts in Counseling at Missouri Baptist University prepares students for a career as an elementary and secondary school guidance counselor. The program offers courses year round and gives students the flexibility to study when their schedule permits, making it ideal for working students with outside obligations.
Although flexible, the program still offers the same rigorous coursework one would experience in a traditional on-campus model. The degree usually takes 2-3 years to complete the 48-67 necessary credit hours. It incorporates the latest techniques, flexible subject programs, and certification qualifications so that students can focus on both current and future professional roles.
College Choice Score: 59.71
Cost per Credit Hour: $548
Concordia University’s graduate program in School and Professional Counseling offers an online Master of Science in Education–Counseling. This 45-48 hour degree program allows students to choose between collaborative and self-paced classes taught by professionals and practitioners in the counseling field. Two of the courses, which require hands-on instruction and experience, must be taken on campus.
The full curriculum allows students to learn the basic skill areas of counseling, including assessment, consultation, individual and group counseling, ethics, and research. It is also a curriculum with Christian values, allowing students to integrate their faith into their work. Graduates have the freedom to choose their practicum sites based on their academic interests and their own talents.
University of the Cumberlands
College Choice Score: 59.12
Cost per Credit Hour: $400
The flexible online Master of Arts in Counseling at University of the Cumberlands (UC) is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and provides the foundation for graduates to become a licensed professional counselor. The university reviews and accepts applications for the Master of Arts in counseling degree program year-round, allowing students to start the program at the beginning of any of its six bi-semesters.
Students can choose between two program tracks, both of which require 60 hours of graduate-level coursework, and both of which are accredited by Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Clinical Mental Health Counseling track will set students on a path to become licensed counselors. Addiction Counseling specialization is a dual licensure track fulfilling the requirements for becoming a licensed professional counselor and licensed/certified addiction counselor. UC claims to offer the only CACREP accredited online Addiction Counseling program in the country.
Virginia Commonwealth University
College Choice Score: 58.24
Cost per Credit Hour: $430
The School of Allied Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University is a national leader in the professional preparation of certified rehabilitation counselors. Its Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling prepares graduates to enhance the personal, social, and economic independence of individuals with disabilities. The minimum requirements are 48 graduate credits, including 36 credits of required didactic coursework, 100 hours of practicum, 600 hours of internship, six credits of electives, and a comprehensive examination.
A majority of the coursework may be completed online. Some courses will require on-campus residency. The school also offers a Master of Science in Patient Counseling that is available completely online. This 44-credit degree provides clinical education for pastoral care professionals as well as other health care providers in the spiritual care of patients and families within an interdisciplinary context.
College Choice Score: 57.80
Cost per Credit Hour: $574
Auburn University’s College of Education and Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation and Counseling offers a Master of Education in Rehabilitation Counseling. The 60-hour program requires online students to be on campus one week each semester, generally the first or second week of the semester. This week gives students time to interact with their instructors and fellow students.
Following the on-campus week, students participate in the remainder of their classes via the internet where they watch weekly lectures, have group meetings, and participate in various projects. The on-campus component facilitates a strong peer-support network evidenced by a high graduation rate and 100% student success on the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor examination.
Summit University of Pennsylvania
College Choice Score: 57.66
Cost per Credit Hour: $445
Formerly Baptist Bible College and Seminary, Summit University is a Christian university offering online and on-campus degrees. It offers several options for those looking to get an online graduate degree in counseling. The Master of Science in Counseling, which is a 48-hour program, and the Master of Science in Professional Counseling, a 60-hour program, are licensure-track degrees. The Master of Arts in Counseling is ideal for those not seeking licensure.
The licensure-track programs include a prerequisite of nine hours in undergraduate psychology or counseling, as wells as a handful of Bible and theology courses. Courses are hybrid, accelerated, eight-week sessions. Students are expected to attend the first week on campus. The final seven weeks are completed online in asynchronous environments.
Colorado Christian University
College Choice Score: 57.51
Cost per Credit Hour: $614
Colorado Christian University’s College of Adult and Graduate Studies offers an online Master of Arts in Counseling that is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. The 60-hour program can be completed in two and a half years of intensive study. Classes are usually held in 7-week or 14-week blocks.
Online students are required to attend three separate 5-day, integrative intensive residential trainings at the school’s Lakewood Campus. Students follow a lockstep cohort progression by taking the required coursework in the prescribed sequence in order to move forward on their track. The curriculum allows for opportunity to integrate knowledge and faith into experiential learning.
College Choice Score: 56.13
Cost per Credit Hour: $655
The online Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at Thomas University prepares students to pass the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor exam and be academically prepared to become a Licensed Professional Counselor, giving them opportunity to work as professionals in the field of rehabilitation and mental health counseling. This rigorous and intellectually challenging 63-hour program helps student become competent in a variety of counseling focus areas.
There is no residency requirement at the campus in Thomasville, GA, and the practicum and internship requirements may be met in the student’s present geographical location. With 12 further credits students completing the clinical curriculum can specialize in Addictions and Alcoholism Counseling. Full-time students can complete the degree in two and a half years.