During an online master’s in counseling program, graduate students strengthen their interpersonal and communication skills. The program also incorporates clinical training to prepare graduates for careers working with adults and children.
Our list ranks the most affordable counseling master’s online programs. Prospective counselors can use our ranking to identify the best fit for their budget and professional goals. This article also introduces career paths and earning potential for counselors, licensure requirements, and scholarships for counseling master’s students.
What is the difference between a counselor and a therapist?
Counselors and therapists both work with clients to improve their mental health. However, they may or may not specialize in different areas. For instance, counselors may focus on substance abuse or behavioral disorders, while therapists focus on relationship-building.
Do you need a bachelor's degree in counseling to get a master's in counseling?
No. Master’s programs in counseling admit candidates with bachelor’s degrees in many fields, including psychology, social work, and human services. Some programs may set prerequisite undergraduate coursework.
Can I earn a master's in counseling online?
Yes. Students can earn a master’s in counseling degree online. The best counseling master’s online programs hold accreditation and prepare graduates for licensure.
Do I need a master's to become a licensed counselor?
In most states, licensed counselors need a master’s degree from an accredited institution. However, some states grant licenses to substance abuse counselors with a bachelor’s degree.
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Career Paths and Outlook for a Master’s Degree in Counseling
Professionals with a master’s degree in counseling can work in roles such as behavioral disorder counselor, marriage and family therapist, and mental health counselor. Specialized programs also train counselors for careers in school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, and substance abuse counseling.
In addition to counseling careers, graduates can pursue roles like social worker, social and community services manager, and academic advisor. This section introduces common career paths for graduates with an online master’s in counseling degree, including the earning potential and projected job growth for counseling jobs.
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor
These counselors treat clients who are struggling with substance use disorders, eating disorders, and other mental health issues. They help clients modify their behaviors and develop coping strategies. These counselors may provide individual and group therapy, counsel family members on support strategies, and refer their clients to support services.
Marriage and Family Therapist
These therapists help couples and families improve their relationships. By using counseling methods, they help clients build strategies to manage challenges in their lives and adapt their behavior. Marriage and family therapists also work with clients to process changes in their lives and make decisions.
School and Career Counselor
These counselors help learners strengthen their academic and social skills while identifying opportunities for improvement. While school counselors focus on issues related to success in school, career counselors emphasize educational training and career development to prepare students for the workforce. Both types of counselors may conduct evaluations, offer counseling services, and recommend support services.
These counselors work with clients who have physical, developmental, emotional, or mental disabilities. They create treatment plans for clients based on an evaluation. They then assist clients in living independently, managing psychological issues, and obtaining employment services.
Counselors who work directly with clients need a license to practice from their state board. The process and requirements for licensure vary depending on the state, but they typically include a graduate degree from an accredited program, supervised professional experience, and passing scores on one or more examinations.
In Illinois, for example, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation grants licenses to professional counselors. Candidates need a master’s in counseling from a regionally accredited institution, pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification, complete a residency as a master’s student, and complete at least 1,680 supervised hours after earning their degree.
After earning a counseling license, professionals must meet continuing education requirements to maintain their credential. Licensed counselors can often receive a reciprocal license in other states after meeting their state’s requirements.
Prospective counseling applicants should always choose an accredited university and program. Accreditation shapes a counselor’s educational experience and career opportunities. Accredited counseling programs follow the highest standards for educating future counselors, and only accredited degrees meet the requirements for a counseling license.
A master’s degree in counseling builds the theoretical, clinical, and practical knowledge required for counseling careers. During an online master’s in counseling program, graduate students take courses on topics like counseling theories, clinical methods, and counseling ethics. They may specialize in areas like marriage and family therapy, substance abuse counseling, or rehabilitation counseling. Degree-seekers also gain clinical skills through an internship or practicum.
This section introduces common courses in online counseling master’s programs. While the specific curriculum and course descriptions vary depending on the program, many programs include the following classes.
This course introduces learners to topics like counseling ethics, professional identity, and legal restrictions. Students also examine evaluation and decision-making models for treating clients and building counseling practices. The introductory course prepares master’s students for advanced classes.
Theory-based courses on counseling examine the major theories on counseling methods, approaches to counseling, and the history of therapeutic intervention. Topics may include psychoanalysis, family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and rational emotive behavioral therapy. Learners also examine the relationship between theory and practice in counseling.
Learners explore counseling skills and the methods for effectively working with clients. The course emphasizes areas such as communication, professional identity, and relationship-building. Students complete projects, assignments, and experiential requirements to strengthen their clinical skills and learn effective counseling techniques. The course may include a practicum or internship component.
This course covers ethics rules, legal requirements, and professional standards for conduct. Enrollees may also study specific ethical guidelines from organizations like the American Counseling Association (ACA). The course prepares graduates for licensure to practice as a counselor.
Enrollees examine group dynamics and approaches to counseling for groups of clients. Topics may include group psychotherapy, evaluation in group therapy, and group dynamics. The course prepares graduates to organize group sessions, build strong interpersonal skills, and provide therapy in group settings.
Scholarships for Counseling
Counseling students can use scholarships to help cover the cost of their master’s degree. Professional associations, private foundations, and mental health organizations all offer scholarships for graduate students in counseling. This section introduces several scholarship opportunities for counseling students. Degree-seekers can also research scholarships based on their career plans, school, or state.
Who Can Apply: The American Addiction Centers awards this scholarship to graduate students pursuing a degree in behavioral health or addiction-related studies. Applicants need a minimum 3.2 GPA and must submit an essay. Amount: $5,000
Who Can Apply: ACA hosts an annual essay competition for graduate counseling students. Applicants must be ACA student members and submit an essay for consideration. The winning essay will be published in Counseling Today. Amount: $1,000
Who Can Apply: Awarded by Learn.org, this scholarship supports full-time graduate students earning a master’s degree in community counseling, marriage and family counseling, counseling psychology, guidance counseling, or mental health counseling. The committee selects recipients based on their academic history, extracurricular activities, and work history. Amount: $500
Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees 2021
A private university based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty offers an onlinemaster of arts in clinical mental health counseling. The 60-credit program prepares students for state licensure as licensed professional counselors. Students can complete the program in about 2.5 years.
Course topics include human growth and development, psychotherapy, crisis counseling, and clinical diagnosis and treatment planning. Students must also complete an observation-based practicum in their local area and an internship that spans two semesters.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 2.7 to qualify for admission. The school allows students to transfer up to 50% of the total required program credits toward their degree. Military students can take advantage of a $275 per-credit reduction in tuition.
Liberty is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Students can complete the 60-credit program in about 2-3 years. The program features seven-week courses along with a supervised practicum, training, and internships. All students must also attend a four-day, on-campus intensive at the beginning of the program. Course topics include theories of counseling, clinical psychopathy and diagnosis, and advanced consultation skills.
The school allows students to transfer up to six credits from a regionally accredited university towards their degree. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 GPA to qualify for the program. CUI is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Students choose either a 45- to 48-credit school counseling track or a 60-credit professional counseling track. Both tracks prepare students for licensure in Wisconsin. Course topics include counseling theory, consulting strategies, and trauma counseling. The school counseling track requires students to complete a three-part portfolio and six credits of practicum to qualify for the degree. Those enrolled in the professional counseling track must complete three credits of practicum and a six-credit internship experience.
The school allows students to transfer up to six credits towards their degree. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. CUW is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The 66-credit program focuses on subjects such as counseling skills and techniques, group counseling methods, cognitive behavioral therapy, and addictions counseling. Students must also complete a counseling practicum and two internships as a part of the core curriculum.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 2.5 to qualify for admission. Program prerequisites include undergraduate psychology and statistics coursework. LETU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
All students take the same 48-credit core courses and then choose their own 12-credit specialization courses on addiction counseling and mental health counseling. The curriculum includes topics such as psychological assessment in clinical practice, multicultural counseling, etiology and diagnosis of mental disorders, and advanced clinical assessment. Students must also complete 100 hours of counseling practicums and two 300-hour internships to qualify for the degree.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. The school allows students to transfer up to 30 credits from regionally accredited institutions toward their degree. UC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.
The 48-credit program includes courses such as theory and practice of counseling, counseling techniques, school consultation, and crisis and trauma consultation with children. The program also requires students to complete three credits of practicum experience and two, three-credit internships.
The school allows students to transfer up to six credits from other accredited institutions towards their degree. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Students must also possess a minimum of one year of prior teaching experience for program eligibility. PVAMU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A private, nonprofit university located in Riverside, California, CBU offers an onlinemaster of science in counseling psychology. The program provides students with the skills they need to seek licensure in California as marriage and family therapists or licensed professional clinical counselors.
Students can complete the 60-credit program in as little as 24 months. The school offers the program in two formats: a virtual hybrid format that involves synchronous online sessions as well as an accelerated asynchronous online format for those seeking to learn at their own pace. Course topics include human growth and development, advanced psychopathology, family therapy, and addictions counseling. Students graduating from the program must also complete a written case report examination based on their practicum experience.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 2.75 to qualify for admission. CBU is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
Both 60-credit programs include an in-person residency, as well as a practicum and internship experience. All students take the same core courses followed by their own specialization courses. All programs offer courses in abnormal human behavior, multicultural counseling, career development, and group counseling theories and techniques.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and possess a minimum GPA of 3.25 to qualify for admission. Students seeking admission into the professional school counseling concentration also require a valid teaching certificate and two years of teaching experience at an approved public or private school.
LU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A private, nonprofit university based in Prescott, Arizona, Prescott offers an onlinemaster of science in counseling. Students can choose from four areas of emphasis, including addictions counseling; marriage, couple, and family counseling; social justice in counseling; and somatic counseling. Students can also pursue post-graduate certificates in adventure-based counseling, nature-based counseling, and expressive art therapy.
The program prepares students to become licensed mental health counselors or licensed professional counselors. The 60-credit program includes core course topics such as social and cultural diversity in counseling, professional counseling ethics, and addiction counseling. Students must also complete 100 hours of practicum experience and a 600-hour clinical internship. All students must also attend a minimum of four seminars on campus throughout the program.
The school allows students to transfer up to 15 credits from other accredited institutions towards their degree. Prescott is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.
A private university based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, MACU offers an onlinemaster of science in counselingprogram with a licensed professional counselor emphasis. The program teaches students the necessary skills to seek roles as professional counselors in public, private, and nonprofit settings. Possible roles include academic counselor, marriage and family counselor, and substance abuse counselor.
The fully online program includes course topics such as psychopathology, career counseling and development, marital and family treatment techniques, and advanced counseling and psychotherapy techniques. Students must also complete 100 hours of practicum experience and a 600-hour internship to complete the program.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree to qualify for the program. The school also allows students to transfer up to 30 credits from accredited institutions towards their degree. MACU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
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