Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

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.

Updated September 8, 2022

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Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Are you ready to find your fit?

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.

FAQ on Master's in Counseling Degrees

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.

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.

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.

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 Salary Outlook
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%
Rehabilitation Counselor $35,950 10%

Source: BLS

 
 

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.

Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship

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

Tomorrow's Counselors Essay Competition

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

Master's Degree Scholarship in Counseling and Psychology

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

#1 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Liberty University

  • Lynchburg, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Without significantly interrupting their lives, graduate students can earn a master of arts in clinical mental health counseling at Liberty University, an institution that emphasizes flexibility and accessibility. This counseling degree is among the 67 online master's degrees the school delivers from its Lynchburg, Virginia, campus. The program’s appeal includes a flexible online format that allows degree-seekers to work and pursue other interests.

The admissions criteria for a master's varies depending on the degree, but applicants typically need a bachelor’s in a related major. Many students find a master's degree to be a worthy undertaking because the investment often pays off with advanced job opportunities and potentially higher pay. The program also prepares graduates for a terminal degree such as a Ph.D.

Tuition costs $7,980 annually. Degree candidates can contact the financial aid department to learn if they qualify for grants and scholarships. Many enrollees also pursue loans.

Average Tuition
In-state
$15,417
Out-of-state
$15,417
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
51%
Students Enrolled
85,586
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Concordia University-Irvine

  • Irvine, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

At Concordia University-Irvine, prospective graduate students can earn a master of arts in clinical mental health counseling while they work or juggle other responsibilities. The California-based school offers top-ranked degrees such as the master's in clinical mental health counseling among the 11 online master's programs. This adaptable program opens up access to full-time workers and others with scheduling challenges preventing in-person graduate education.

Applicants usually need a bachelor’s degree in the major or a related one unless otherwise stated on the program or admissions website. Candidates engage in intensive coursework that prepares them for more advanced career opportunities than undergraduate programs allow. A doctorate or another terminal degree is the next step for some master's degree-holders.

Students pay an average of $7,953 in tuition annually. Many learners receive grants and scholarships, both from the school and outside sources, to help finance their degrees. Loans provide another source of financial aid, which students can pursue from the government or private banks.

Average Tuition
In-state
$35,990
Out-of-state
$35,990
Retention Rate
73%
Admission Rate
71%
Students Enrolled
3,911
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
63% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#3 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Concordia University-Wisconsin

  • Mequon, WI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Counseling students attend Concordia University-Wisconsin for top-ranked degrees such as the master of science in school counseling. The program prepares learners for higher-level work in the field than a bachelor's degree typically allows. A terminal degree like a doctorate is the next stop for some master's graduates.

A big draw to this program is the convenient online format that many learners appreciate. The program is built to accommodate busy students such as those who work and have pressing family obligations. Degree-seekers often perform better in educational environments such as this, where personalized learning is emphasized and faculty support is available to all.

The school typically requires that master’s degree-seekers hold a bachelor’s degree to apply. About 64% of applicants get accepted to this school on average, but applicants may find that programs post different averages. Students can expect to pay around $11,052 per year for tuition if they live in Wisconsin. Enrollees can use grants, loans, and scholarships to help fund their education.

Average Tuition
In-state
$30,060
Out-of-state
$30,060
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
64%
Students Enrolled
5,777
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
39% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#4 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

LeTourneau University

  • Longview, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Located in Longview, Texas, LeTourneau University is a private college. The institution’s 13 online master's degrees are a big draw to students who want to attend graduate school online. Among the school's programs include a master of arts in clinical mental health counseling.

Logistics is no barrier to earning this degree, which was designed with adaptability and flexibility in mind. 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.

Applicants receive acceptance letters at a rate of 45% each year, with variations expected across programs. For consideration, degree-seekers usually need the requisite background like a bachelor’s in the major or a related field. Consult with the program to learn more about entrance and application requirements like transcripts, interviews, and recommendation letters.

Average Tuition
In-state
$30,520
Out-of-state
$30,520
Retention Rate
76%
Admission Rate
45%
Students Enrolled
3,150
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
60% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#5 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

University of the Cumberlands

  • Williamsburg, KY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

University of the Cumberlands, a private college in Williamsburg, Kentucky, develops programs that provide a unique learning experience requiring little to no in-person attendance. Students can choose from 25 master's degrees available online, including a master's in addiction counseling.

Graduate students can use online education such as this program to accomplish a goal that may otherwise seem unachievable because of logistical issues. Recorded video sessions may be available to allow anytime viewing, and faculty may let enrollees complete coursework at their own pace within a given timeframe. The degree provides a rigorous education that does not sacrifice strong preparation for career advancement.

Applicants receive acceptance letters at a rate of 80% each year, with variations expected 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.

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,875
Out-of-state
$9,875
Retention Rate
69%
Admission Rate
80%
Students Enrolled
16,966
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
91% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#6 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Prairie View A&M University

  • Prairie View, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Prairie View A&M University, a public college located in Prairie View, Texas, specializes in rigorous programs that meet the diverse needs of today's learner. A leader in online graduate education, the school offers three remote master's programs. Among the options is the master's in educational leadership and 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. This format does not come at the expense of academic rigor or advanced career preparation.

According to the latest data, the school accepts about 80% of applicants annually, but that may vary by program. The requisite background for entry into a master’s program is usually a bachelor’s degree and other requirements. Applicants may also need to participate in an interview and submit official transcripts and recommendation letters.

Average Tuition
In-state
$7,043
Out-of-state
$21,911
Retention Rate
66%
Admission Rate
80%
Students Enrolled
8,940
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
20% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#7 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

California Baptist University

  • Riverside, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

California Baptist University offers many graduate programs through its online platform. The master of science in counseling psychology program features several of the qualities learners with a bachelor’s in counseling need to advance their education in this field. The program provides the rigorous education expected from a graduate program using a flexible online format.

The school’s 16-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio provides personalized learning opportunities. Faculty teach a rigorous curriculum that both educates and engages counseling learners. Graduates leave the program well-prepared for careers in academia, business and industry, or a doctoral program in some cases.

Tuition costs $12,830 annually. Many degree-seekers qualify for financial aid such as grants and scholarships from the school and third parties. Degree candidates can also explore student loans, which about 69% of enrollees use to afford their education.

Average Tuition
In-state
$32,942
Out-of-state
$32,942
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
11,045
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#8 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Lamar University

  • Beaumont, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

At Lamar University, prospective counseling graduate students can pursue a master's in education with a concentration in clinical mental health counseling. From the Beaumont, Texas, campus, the school delivers 13 online master's degrees. Learners can pursue these degrees from anywhere, which adds to the curriculum’s appeal.

Unless otherwise stated, a bachelor’s degree in the major or the equivalent is usually required for admission. Earning a master's degree brings many benefits, including higher-level job possibilities and enhanced pay. In addition to enhancing career prospects, this program prepares degree recipients for a doctoral degree.

The current tuition rate stands at $6,324 per year for Texas residents and $13,920 for out-of-state residents. Qualifying learners can use grants and scholarships to help fund their education. Many students may also want to consider loans as an option to afford tuition.

Average Tuition
In-state
$6,032
Out-of-state
$16,160
Retention Rate
66%
Admission Rate
84%
Students Enrolled
15,460
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
73% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#9 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Prescott College

  • Prescott, AZ
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

A private college located in Prescott, Arizona, Prescott College has a lot to offer. Students looking for graduate programs they can pursue from a distance can choose from 23 master's degrees available online. One of these is the master's in clinical mental health.

Online education's flexibility and adaptability attract many graduate students to this program. Professionals, caretakers, and other workers can schedule their studies on the evenings, weekends, and other convenient times. The program provides a rigorous education that does not sacrifice strong preparation for career advancement.

Overall, about 97% of applicants get admitted each year, with some variations to be expected depending on the program. Degree-seekers need a bachelor’s degree for admission to most master’s programs. To learn more, contact the program about application requirements.

Average Tuition
In-state
$30,888
Out-of-state
$30,888
Retention Rate
61%
Admission Rate
97%
Students Enrolled
993
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
65% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#10 Most Affordable Online Master’s In Counseling Degrees

Mid-America Christian University

  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Earning a graduate counseling degree is achievable at Mid-America Christian University because of an institutional emphasis on flexibility. Learners can choose the master of science in counseling from five online master's programs, some of them top-ranked degrees offered from the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, school. This adaptable program opens up access to full-time workers and others with scheduling challenges preventing in-person graduate education.

A bachelor’s in the major is a typical requirement for many master’s programs, but criteria vary depending on the program. There are many benefits of a master’s degree, with the most notable being higher-level job possibilities and enhanced pay. Degree recipients can also apply to terminal programs in their field, such as a Ph.D.

Tuition costs $11,124 annually. Many learners receive grants and scholarships, both from the school and outside sources, to help finance their degrees. In addition to financial aid students don’t need to pay back, they may also want to consider federal or private loans.

Average Tuition
In-state
$17,568
Out-of-state
$17,568
Retention Rate
63%
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
1,768
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

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