Counselors help children improve their academic performance, work with adults to overcome behavioral challenges, and counsel couples on improving their relationships.
By earning a master's degree, counselors meet the requirements for licensure. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects strong job growth for marriage and family therapists, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors, and school counselors between 2019 and 2029. In these roles, counselors use their training to help diverse client groups.
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.
|Career||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor||$46,240||25%|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||$49,610||22%|
|School and Career Counselor||$57,040||8%|
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.
Look up the professional counselor licensure board in your state for more information.
Accreditation for Counseling Degrees
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.
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) grants accreditation to counseling master's programs. CACREP-accredited degrees prepare graduates for licensure as a counselor. For more information on why accreditation matters, visit our accreditation guide.
Courses in a Master's Program in Counseling
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most Affordable Online Master's in Counseling Degrees 2021
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