Best Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees 2021

A master's degree in counseling can lead to new and exciting career opportunities. Here, we list the top online programs.

Best Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees 2021

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Therapy and Counseling Degrees Online

An online master's in counseling gives learners the optimal knowledge base for client-facing careers in human services. Licensed counselors work in individual and group settings to help clients overcome personal challenges and improve their lives. Social workers, psychologists, and religious or spiritual community leaders also benefit from counseling-focused academic training.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates mounting demand for licensed counselors through the 2020s. The BLS projects a 25% job growth rate for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors from 2019-2029. Educational requirements vary among U.S. jurisdictions, but counseling roles often require a traditional or online master's counseling degree.

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What Is a Master's in Counseling Degree?

Counselors help clients navigate and overcome personal challenges so they can live more fulfilling and productive lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has created what many experts call a burgeoning mental health crisis, marked by sharp increases in substance abuse, mood disorders, and stress. Counseling professionals may play a key role in helping society heal and move forward.

Counseling emerged from psychology and psychotherapy, which first developed during the 19th century. Counseling evolved into its present form during the 20th century. Many historians credit U.S. psychologist Carl Rogers with shaping the field's early foundations.

Counselors help clients navigate and overcome personal challenges so they can live more fulfilling and productive lives.

Educational institutions started offering counseling degrees as psychotherapy gained traction in the medical and cultural mainstream. Counseling programs and practicing professionals now specialize in specific issues like school, marriage and family, substance abuse, mental health, and grief counseling.

Online counseling degrees are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Master's degrees typically provide deep, robust, and specialized training to help graduates earn their licensure. Most importantly, these degrees equip learners with the advanced knowledge and skills needed to make strong, lasting impacts on their clients' lives.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Counseling?

The American Counseling Association notes that all U.S. states and some U.S. territories require professional counselors to hold valid licensure. Educational qualifications for licensure vary among jurisdictions. A master's in counseling provides advantages, even if it is not a prerequisite for licensure. Graduate programs offer greater depth than their undergraduate counterparts, guiding learners to more complete knowledge.

Other important benefits of online master's programs in counseling include:

  • Increased Earning Potential: Professionals with master's degrees tend to earn significantly more than those with only an undergraduate education. BLS data from 2020 shows that workforce participants with master's degrees earn an average of 18.4% more than those with bachelor's degrees.
  • Improved Access to the Job Market: The BLS also reports significantly lower unemployment rates among professionals with master's degrees. In 2020, just 4.1% of master's degree-holders were unemployed, compared to 5.5% of those with bachelor's degrees and 7.1% of those with an associate degree.
  • Enhanced Specialization Opportunities: Not all undergraduate counseling programs offer area-specific concentrations. For aspiring counselors seeking to specialize in a distinct practice area, a master's degree offers more opportunity.

What to Expect From an Online Master's Program in Counseling

Master's online counseling degrees typically consist of 60-66 credits (20-22 courses). Learners who commit to rigorous full-time schedules can usually complete them in two academic years. Those proceeding at a decelerated pace often graduate within three years, and some programs offer part-time students extended timelines of five years or more.

Most curricula emphasize a set of core classes, which usually comprise at least half of the overall degree requirements. Many master's programs emphasize specializations, meaning that even core subjects cover a specific, concentrated area of focus. Electives delve deeper into niche topics relevant to the concentration.

Note that earning a master's in counseling online often carries some in-person components. Some programs include limited campus residencies each academic year, while many others require students to complete an internship, practicum, or other field experience to qualify for graduation.

Admission Requirements

Schools set their own admission standards, which vary from one institution to the next. Programs leading to master of science designations and those with a clinical psychology focus often require an undergraduate educational background in psychology, education, social work, behavioral science, or another relevant subject area.

In other cases, schools welcome applicants from broader academic backgrounds. However, institutions may expect posttertiary coursework in statistics, social science research methods, psychology, or other pertinent subjects. Candidates lacking these prerequisites may choose to complete a preparatory course sequence prior to entering the program.

Candidates for online counseling degrees must submit statements of purpose and letters of recommendation in most cases. In evaluating these documents, admission officials look for evidence of the candidate's ethical standing and suitability for the profession as assessed by an authoritative figure.

Concentration Options

Counselors help their clients deal with complex problems in targeted areas of their lives. This demands specialized training. A person dealing with alcohol addiction needs a much different type of help than a person grieving the loss of a loved one. As such, online master's in counseling degrees usually focus on specific areas of concentration.

Examples include:

Marriage and family counselors help clients improve domestic harmony and overcome challenges related to internal relationship dynamics. These specialists hold advanced training in helping individuals overcome substance abuse disorders. The BLS projects an atypically strong growth rate of 25% in this specialization over the course of the 2020s. Losing a loved one, especially suddenly or tragically, presents major emotional challenges. This specialization offers complete training in the special sensitivities needed to help grieving people heal. Other niche concentrations include school and career counseling, education counseling, art and music therapy, spiritual counseling, and rehabilitative counseling, among others.

Unspecialized counseling degrees often maintain a strong clinical focus intended to complement existing training in psychology or behavioral science. These study opportunities support careers in clinical, research, forensic, and/or behavioral psychology.

Popular Counseling Courses Online

Course offerings vary widely, as specialized online counseling degrees cover many different areas of focus. Programs for future career counselors feature different classes from those for grief or addiction counseling. Even so, many programs offer comparable courses on core topics. Most counseling programs also include a field practicum, allowing students to apply developing skills in a real-world setting as they prepare for licensure examinations.

Examples of commonly offered courses include:

  • Counseling and Psychotherapy Theory

    This core course reviews the leading theories and practice models counselors and psychotherapists draw on when assisting clients. It also examines an array of therapeutic viewpoints, including cognitive-behavioral, common factors, feminist, humanistic, multicultural, and psychodynamic therapy models. Students thus gain a broad working familiarity with multiple frameworks.
  • Trauma Theory

    Clients often turn to counselors for help with problems rooted either directly or indirectly in trauma. As such, certain specializations demand a cultivated sensitivity to the causes, dynamics, and effects of psychological and emotional trauma. This elective course offers clinical and theoretical perspectives on various forms of trauma and their impact cycles.
  • Counseling Capstone

    Master's programs often culminate with a major original research project, which prompt learners to apply the sum of their newly gained knowledge. Some schools require these capstone projects, while others offer a choice between a capstone and an intensive field-learning experience.

How Much Will a Master's Degree in Counseling Online Cost?

Public institutions tend to offer more affordable tuition rates, especially to in-state learners. Research activity, private standing, and prestige impact degree pricing. Schools that attract recognized leaders in the field and schools with robust, active research wings tend to include higher fees.

The most affordable online counseling degrees cost between $300-$700 per credit. However, online learners tend to save money in multiple ways. Some colleges offer advantageous fees to distance learners, and flexible program structures allow students to hold jobs as they work toward degree completion.

Degree-seekers may qualify for many options to bridge shortfalls in their education funding. Nonrepayable forms of financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and bursaries help the most. Federal loans and reserve private loans constitute a last resort, as they do not offer borrowers the same advantages as government-issued student aid.

Jobs for Master's Degree in Counseling Graduates

An online master's in counseling primarily qualifies degree-holders for client-facing roles in human services. Most counseling specializations require professional practitioners to hold proper licensure. State-level authorities issue these licenses. Eligibility guidelines vary, so research the standards that apply to the jurisdiction where you plan to work.

While most learners plan to become licensed counselors, a master's degree opens up other career paths. Explore some popular options beginning with these examples:

School or Career Counselor

School counselors mainly work in high schools and help students build strong academic habits, identify aptitudes, and improve their educational outcomes. Career counselors usually work for posttertiary institutions and guide clients to potential career paths that match their skills, interests, and talents.

Required Education: Master's degree; most school and career counselors also require state licensure
Job Outlook (2019-29): +8%
Median Annual Salary: $58,120

Clinical Social Worker

This specialized social work discipline involves case assessments, during which the social worker aims to identify and diagnose possible mental or behavioral health issues. They also counsel clients in individual and group settings.

Required Education: Master's degree plus at least two years of supervised clinical experience and state licensure
Job Outlook (2019-29): +13%
Median Annual Salary: $51,760

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor

These specialists lead client-focused interventions that treat drug and/or alcohol abuse, behavioral disorders, or mental illnesses. Practitioners typically specialize in one area, though overlap becomes possible with accrued professional experience.

Required Education: Varied; some positions require little posttertiary training, while others require a master's degree plus licensure. Candidates with master's degrees generally experience fewer barriers to entry.
Job Outlook (2019-29): +25%
Median Annual Salary: $47,660

Marriage or Family Therapists

Marriage and family counselors apply their advanced insights to domestic dynamics affecting couples, parents, and children. They help clients identify, manage, and move past the issues that contribute to persistent relationship problems.

Required Education: Master's degree plus licensure
Job Outlook (2019-29): +22%
Median Annual Salary: $51,340

Choosing the Right Counseling Graduate Program

Ranked lists offer valuable insights to degree candidates weighing their options. Yet, they mainly consider quantitative factors in determining the inclusion and positioning of represented schools. Other, more qualitative factors not accounted for in the rankings may hold high importance to individual learners.

Thus, prospective students should take more personal factors into close account when researching programs and consider program attributes such as:

Available Concentrations/Specializations
Some specializations, such as art and music therapy, are rarer than others. Fewer schools offer them, often prompting interested candidates to expand their program searches beyond simple rankings.
Program Philosophy or Culture
Some counseling programs adhere to an underlying program philosophy, set of foundational principles, or religious affiliation. Ensure these align with your personal and professional goals.
Experiential Learning Opportunities
Research the field settings available to students fulfilling practicum requirements. Some may hold particular appeal, making them worth extra consideration.

Above all, ensure that any institution under your consideration holds current national or regional accreditation. Optional endorsements from specialized accreditors like the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs carry additional prestige and value.

Why You Should Get Your Counseling Degree Online

Online education has matured considerably since its initial introduction. Programs closely replicate the traditional classroom learning experience, and counseling degrees online provide as much educational value as their campus-based counterparts.

Most online master's programs in counseling use asynchronous formats to deliver courses: Students can access pre-recorded lectures anytime and anywhere, enhancing their scheduling flexibility. As such, many graduate students work while they study, which eases their financial burdens and helps them emerge from their programs with less debt.

However, not all learning styles and personal preferences align with the virtual classroom. Succeeding in an online program requires independent self-direction. Peer and faculty exchanges also take place in digital spaces, potentially making traditional environments a better match for learners seeking enriched, interactive learning experiences.

Finally, keep in mind that most master's programs in counseling include a practicum, internship, or other field experience. Candidates must complete these in person, even if all their other coursework features digital delivery.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master Counseling Degrees

What should I major in to become a counselor?

Accredited colleges offer counseling programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and these are ideal for aspiring counselors. Candidates can consider majoring in psychology, behavioral science, social work, or another discipline that informs your planned area of professional practice.

Is getting an online counseling degree worth it?

Yes. Online counseling degrees provide the same rigor and educational value as traditional campus-based programs. They also offer additional advantages: Asynchronous course delivery enhances scheduling flexibility, and online learning leads to significant cost advantages.

How long are online master's programs in counseling?

Curricula typically cover about 60 credits, or the equivalent of approximately 20 courses. Graduation timelines depend on scheduling: full-time learners can usually complete programs in about two years, while part-time students may need three years or longer.

What can I do with an online counseling psychology master's?

An online counseling psychology master's leads to career paths in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological research. Most people who earn this degree go on to obtain counseling or psychotherapist licensure, then proceed into professional practice.

What are counseling courses I can take online?

Institutions vary in their course offerings, but schools increasingly offer both core and elective counseling courses in digital delivery formats. Note that in-person requirements apply to most online counseling programs, especially regarding internships and practicums.

Best Online Master's in Counseling Degrees

See our rankings methodology page.


Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is a private college. Students interested in graduate programs they can pursue from a distance can choose from 67 master's degrees available online. The master of arts in clinical mental health counseling is ideal for learners interested in the human services field.

The program lets enrollees earn an advanced degree without sacrificing rigor or other obligations. Caretakers, professionals, and other busy enrollees may immediately see how they can balance work, family, and their education. This online format allows faculty to seamlessly integrate academic rigor, advanced career preparation, and flexible scheduling.

Based on their latest statistics, the school accepts about 51% of applicants each year. Degree-seekers need a bachelor’s degree for admission to most master’s programs. The department can provide information about application requirements such as transcripts, interviews, and recommendation letters.

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Concordia University-Irvine

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 71%
Graduation Rate 63%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 63% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

At Concordia University-Irvine, degree-seekers can choose from a variety of online graduate programs. The master of arts in counseling - clinical mental health is an excellent choice for bachelor's degree-holders who want to advance their education. This program successfully blends a rigorous curriculum and a flexible online format.

More individualized attention and opportunities to collaborate with peers are key benefits of the program's 16-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio. Learners complete a strong counseling curriculum delivered by faculty with industry expertise. This academic preparation is a prerequisite for higher-level careers in business and industry or a doctoral program in some cases.

Tuition costs $7,953 annually. Many learners at the institution qualify for grants and scholarships to help cover this cost. About 61% of enrollees take out student loans, so there are plenty of ways to fund this degree.

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LeTourneau University

School Information
Location Longview, Texas
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 63%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 60% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

At LeTourneau University, prospective graduate students can earn degrees while they work or juggle other responsibilities. Remote learners can choose from 13 online master's degrees, including the master of arts in clinical mental health counseling, delivered from the Longview, Texas, location. This adaptable program opens up access to full-time workers and others with scheduling challenges preventing in-person graduate education.

Applicants should review the program page for more admissions information, but a bachelor’s is usually a starting point for a master's program. A big draw to a master’s program like this is the intensive coursework that provides enrollees with advanced preparation in their field. This credential lays the foundation for a doctorate or other terminal degree.

Students pay an average of $18,618 annually in tuition. Many enrollees help foot the bill by securing grants and scholarships from the institution and outside sources. In addition to financial aid learners don’t need to pay back, they may also want to consider federal or private loans.

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Concordia University-Wisconsin

School Information
Location Mequon, Wisconsin
Admission Rate 64%
Graduation Rate 64%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 39% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Mequon-based Concordia University-Wisconsin is a private college. Students who need flexibility are drawn to the institution because of 25 master's degrees available online. The master of science in education - school counseling is ideal for learners interested in the field.

Graduate students can use online education's flexibility and adaptability to accomplish longstanding goals. Caretakers, professionals, and other busy enrollees may immediately see how they can balance work, family, and their education. Deep experience providing rigorous degrees that emphasize both quality and flexible learning is a hallmark of this institution.

The admissions rate for this school is 64% on average per year, but expect some variations across programs. Master's degree-seekers usually need a bachelor's degree in the same or a similar field in order to receive consideration. Contact the school to see how to apply to this program and submit the required documents.

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University of the Cumberlands

School Information
Location Williamsburg, Kentucky
Admission Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 91% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

University of the Cumberlands, a private college, develops programs that provide a unique learning experience requiring little to no attendance on the Williamsburg, Kentucky, campus. The institution’s 25 online master's degrees are a big draw to many degree-seekers who want to study from wherever they live. One of these is the master's in clinical mental health counseling.

Graduate students can appreciate online education's flexibility and adaptability. Professionals, caretakers, and other busy enrollees can attend virtual sessions and complete assignments at convenient times. Strong career preparation is a key feature of the program, which does not sacrifice rigor for convenience.

An acceptance rate of 80% of applicants is the average, with some variations across programs. Degree-seekers usually need a bachelor’s degree in the major or a related field for entry into a master’s program. Consult with the program to find out more about entrance and application requirements like transcripts, interviews, and recommendation letters.

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