Whether you’re interested in working with young children or adolescents, whether you see yourself in a school’s halls and classrooms or in an administrator’s office, whether you’re passionate about child development or social and cultural issues, you’ve chosen a good career because school counseling is ranked first in the nation among best social services jobs.
It’s no surprise that school psychologists are so happy with their careers; they make a demonstrable difference every day in children’s lives, and therefore in the future of the country. Furthermore, their jobs are notably stable, recession-proof, and offer many opportunities for advancement and change.
On average, those with just an undergraduate degree in school counseling make around $34,000 annually, while those with a masters degree can start making over $55,000 with the potential of earning upwards of $120,000 (in an administrative role).
Moreover, the demand for school counselors is expected to rise another 8 percent in the next few years, ensuring this career as one that is stable with many opportunities to grow.
Thus, it is an ideal time to earn a graduate degree in school counseling and guarantee your own future, as well as the futures of all the children and adolescents you’ll work with throughout your career.
Online degrees are an affordable, flexible, and convenient way to enhance your professional development and career opportunities.
These programs allow students to study from a distance, move through the program at a desired pace, and to continue working full time. Additionally, most programs offer the same curricular experience taught by the same on-campus faculty as “traditional” programs. Meaning, you’ll have access to a similar graduate school experience, but at a fraction of the cost and with far more freedom.
Meaning, you’ll have access to a similar graduate school experience, but at a fraction of the cost and with far more freedom.
What are the Best Online Master’s Programs in School Counseling?
Though some of the programs below emphasize elementary school counseling and others middle or high school counseling, they are all—hands down—the best online MS in School Counseling programs in the nation.
We’ve investigated discrete data sets from online school counseling programs across the country to arrive at the best—that is, those marked by reputation, retention, affordability, and return on investment.
While reputation refers to a school’s academic and research rankings, retention reflects student satisfaction.
Likewise, affordability represents low credit-hour costs and return on investment means we looked at the average early salaries of graduates from these programs to conclude which students made the most money after earning the degree. You can also check out our list of the most affordable master’s degree programs offered online.
What we arrive at is a thoroughly researched list providing empirical evidence of academic excellence.
Founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, Liberty University is the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world. Although its on-campus enrollment is just around 13,800 students, Liberty University has over 100,000 students enrolled in its online program. Though Liberty University educates people from all walks of life, Liberty tends to take a religiously conservative approach to their curriculum.
Liberty University ranks number one on our list of Best Online Master’s degrees in School Counseling for a number of reasons: its affordability, its respectable early career payscale, its financial aid package, and its competitive acceptance rates. The 48-credit-hour online School Counseling program itself also has a number of stand-out features:
An online format with a few “intensive” courses on Liberty’s 7,000-acre campus
A flexible transfer policy (50% of program hours)
A 6-credit-hour internship at the end of the program
Liberty University’s online degree program stands out for its interactive format and its small class sizes (classes are capped at 25 students) so you can be guaranteed one-on-one attention. The Young America’s Foundation recently ranked Liberty University in the top ten most conservative colleges in the United States. Liberty also holds the 37th ranking in US News & World Report’s Best Colleges for Veterans.
Located in Hobbs, New Mexico, the University of the Southwest originally existed as a two-year junior college with Baptist roots. However, in 1961, it was renamed and relocated as a private university and now holds non-denominational affinity. This small school is home to just 1000 students, and offers both baccalaureate degrees (in Business, Education, and Arts & Sciences) and master’s degrees (through its MBA and Masters of Science in Education program).
The fully online Master of Science in Education for School Counseling at the University of the Southwest prepares students to become licensed in primary, elementary, middle, and high schools. The 42-credit-hour program splits its curriculum into three categories:
Major Requirements (e.g., Group Counseling, Crisis and Trauma Intervention)
Elective Requirements (e.g., Psychopathology for School Counselors, Human Sexuality)
University of the Southwest is home to twelve vibrant student organizations, including academic, cultural, and religious groups. Students enrolled in any of the online programs at USW stay connected to the school through technology support and helpful online tutoring resources. USW takes special interest in meeting the needs of US military, veterans, and families through its online services.
A small school located in Plymouth, Wisconsin, Lakeland University was founded by German immigrants in 1862 who were fleeing religious persecution. Now affiliated with the United Church of Christ, Lakeland offers 30 majors to its 850 traditional students and over 2600 evening, weekend, and online students.
The online Master of Arts in Counseling at Lakeland allows students to focus in one of three areas: community counseling, higher education counseling, or school counseling. The 60-credit-hour school counseling program is completed in 14-week semesters. Through their coursework, practicums, and internships, students gain valuable experience in the following:
Individual student planning
Collaboration with parents and teachers
Though its roots are in the midwest, Lakeland University spreads its education to many corners of the world, with students from 24 different countries, a two-year international campus in Tokyo, and an online program that connects people from all over. The online format uses BlendEd, which allows students to choose to attend classes in person (at one of the 7 online centers around Wisconsin) or fully online.
The University of Massachusetts is a public university that enrolls 73,000 students across its five campuses—Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, and UMass Medical School. UMassOnline is known for the same rigorous standards as its on-campus counterpart. In fact, any diploma you receive from UMassOnline will show up as the same diploma as students who attend class in person. You’ll be taking the same courses taught by the same academically-acclaimed faculty—the only difference is that you’ll be learning from the comfort of your own home!
Other than two weeks of required on-campus study at the beginning of your program, students enrolled in the Master of Education in School Counseling can complete their degree fully online. The 60-credit-hour program prepares students to be certified PreK-12 school counselors in the state of Massachusetts. The online program at UMass is beneficial for students who need the following:
Flexibility: The schedule of this online program lets you hold down a full-time job as you complete your masters. Do it on your own time!
Written Communication: Most of the information you learn is through written correspondence (emails or discussion boards), which lets you take time to form your ideas.
Time to Think: The flexibility of spacing out classes lets you soak in all the material thoroughly.
New Ideas: You’ll be using technology that isn’t always typical in a standard classroom like discussion boards and podcasts.
UMass enjoys a number of notable rankings and awards. Other than being the largest and one of the oldest universities in Massachusetts, UMass ranks as the number one public university in New England by the Times Higher Education. Its faculty are renowned in their field; in 2015, eight faculty members were named to the list of the World’s Most Scientific Minds.
Based in the heart of the San Luis Valley in Alamosa, Colorado, Adams State University is a small liberal arts school that was founded in 1921. Enrolling almost 4,000 students, the Adams State Grizzlies offer graduate degrees in art, history, business, and counselor education, among others. Most of its masters and doctoral programs are offered online.
The 60-credit-hour online Master of Arts in Counseling gives students the choice of two tracks: Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling. All students begin by taking core counseling classes such as Introduction to Research, Assessment in Counseling, and Ethics and Professional Issues. Beyond that, some of the classes included in the School Counseling track include:
Professional School Counseling
Counseling Modalities in the School Setting
Internship (two 3-hour courses)
Online Plus, the online educational platform used by Adams State University, is designed to meet the needs of students who require flexibility to their education. Students are required to attend two one-week intensive residencies (usually held during the summer) in Alamosa throughout their 7-semester program.
Founded in 1895 by the Sisters of Divine Providence—a Catholic institute based in Lorraine, France—Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) is a private university based in San Antonio, Texas. Originally started as a two-year college for women, the university expanded its curriculum in 1919 to admit women and men.
As part of the online Master of Education in School Counseling at OLLU, students use classwork and practicums to analyze student behaviors and issues, implement career choices and planning in the high school setting, and learn the in’s and out’s of the profession. Some of the courses you can expect to take as a student in this program are:
Ethical Issues in Schools
Child and Juvenile Psychological Development
For as long as OLLU has offered the degree, 100 percent of graduates of the School Counseling program have passed the TExES (Texas Examinations for Educator Standards). Out of its almost 3,000 students, 76 percent are Hispanic or Latino and a core part of its mission and identity is Mexican American studies.
Missouri Baptist University is located on a beautiful, 80-acre campus in Creve Coeur, Missouri. Founded in 1957 as an evangelical Christian institution, MBU has since grown into a strong liberal arts university that offers almost 580 degrees to 4,800 students.
Taking a specifically religious approach to school counseling, the Master of Arts in Counseling at Missouri Baptist University hirers exclusively Christian faculty. The program prepares graduate students for the following:
An estimated program length of 24-36 months
A career in school counseling, church staff membership, or church mentorship
The chance to pursue a doctoral program in mental health counseling or school counseling
If you choose Missouri Baptist University, you’re assured a tight-knit community; the average student to faculty ratio—for both on-campus students and online students—is 14:1. Even more, MBU gives out generous financial aid; on average, its student body only pays half of the full tuition.
Located in Beaumont, Texas and a member of the Texas State University System, Lamar University is a research institution that got its start in 1923. Though it’s most commonly praised for its strong engineering program, Lamar University offers 50 different reputable and affordable master’s programs (in addition to over 100 bachelor and doctoral degree programs).
Their online Masters of Education in School Counseling program will train you in the full range of counseling requirements. Through classes like Multicultural Counseling, Crisis Prevention & Intervention, and Human Growth & Development, you’ll gain the tools to counsel students at any level. In addition, Lamar offers the following perks to their program:
Two 5-day residency seminars at the Beaumont campus
The chance to complete your degree in less than two years (22 months)
Two field-based internships in counseling in an agency or school setting
Lamar University is a small but mighty school; it consistently ranks high among schools in Texas and throughout the country. It recently received a coveted “A” rating from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni among colleges who offer both a well-rounded and a competitive education. The school is known primarily for its engineering program, which consistently ranks among the top 10 in the state.
Almost fully based online, Capella University is a for-profit university with a headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Started in 1993, Capella has since grown to enroll close to 36,000 students through over 1600 online courses. Students from all over the United States and all over the world (over 60 countries!) are enrolled in their programs—which range from certificates to bachelor to master’s to doctoral.
The online Master of Science in School Counseling program at Capella emphasizes the importance of incorporating online coursework, residencies, and field experiences into the overall education, which is one of the reasons this program sticks out. Other reason include:
Hands-on clinical experiences to make sure you’re ready for licensure
Accreditations by both CACREP and NCATE, which builds on the American School Counselor Association national model
Well-educated and highly-experienced faculty members
Capella University offers an enormous range of programs, and is often recognized for its accessibility and affordability. Recently, the National Security Agency awarded Capella with a National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education designation.
The largest private religious university in Nebraska, Creighton University is located just outside of Omaha on an urban, 140-acre campus. Founded in 1878, Creighton has a long history of strong academics and teaching true to its Jesuit Roman Catholic faith.
At Creighton University, you would earn a Master of Science in School Counseling and Preventative Mental Health. This 36-credit-hour program offers three different tracks:
Elementary School Guidance Counselors Track
Secondary School Guidance Counselors Track
PK-12 School Counseling Track
All students must complete 24 hours of required courses before choosing their concentrations. Some of these core classes include Data-Driven Perspectives in School Counseling, Social Justice and Diversity in School Counseling, and Career Perspectives for Children and Adolescents.
As part of the school’s mission, students at Creighton are devoted to community service and local engagement. The Center for Service and Justice organizes weekly service projects, trips, and educational outreach on local social justice issues. This kind of passion and intentionality will certainly come through in your online education, too, if you choose Creighton University.
Located on a leafy urban campus in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University is a nationally renowned private research institution with a nearly 150-year history. It enrolls around 12,700 students annually through its four undergraduate and six graduate schools. The Commodores (the nickname of the school’s founder, Cornelius Vanderbilt) are NCAA Division I athletes.
Vanderbilt University offers its online Master of Education in Human Development Counseling through the Peabody College of Education and Human Development. Though this 60-credit-hour program is considerably more expensive than others on the list, it also stands out for important reasons:
A 1-year internship (rather than a 3-credit-hour internship)
An impressive 4:1 student to teacher ratio
Two intensive immersion classes on the beautiful Nashville campus
A nationally acclaimed education that will easily land you a position
The Vanderbilt Peabody College of Education ranks number 7 on US News & World Report’s Best Education Schools list. Even more, Vanderbilt University ranks 15th among all national universities in 2016.
Originally founded as a grammar school for deaf and blind children in 1864, Gallaudet University has since grown into a federally-chartered, private higher-education university. Based in Washington, DC, Gallaudet caters to around 2,200 students who are largely bilingual, since the school uses both American Sign Language and English to conduct its curriculum.
Gallaudet University advertises its online Master of Arts in School Counseling program to individuals who have prior experience working with deaf and hard of hearing people in the educational system. The 63-credit-hour hybrid summer/online program is structured as follows:
A 3-year completion plan
Students attend classes on campus for 3 summers and take online courses for 6 semesters
A full-time internship that serves deaf and hard of hearing students in K-12 settings
At Gallaudet University you could be guaranteed not only a truly unique education (the world’s only university in which all programs are aimed at serving the deaf and hard of hearing), but also the chance to have small discussion and class sizes, with 90 percent of classes containing less than 20 people.
Recognized as one of the most influential universities on a global scale, New York University is a private research institution located in the heart of Manhattan (though its satellite campuses reach all around the world, from Abu Dhabi to London to Shanghai). NYU was founded in 1831 and has produced Pulitzer Prize winners, members of the National Academies of Sciences, and Nobel Prize winners.
Students who choose the online Masters of Arts in Counseling and Guidance at NYU (housed in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development) get to choose between two concentration options: school counseling or bilingual school counseling. The 48-credit-hour program at NYU contains a curriculum that has been divided into three categories:
Foundational: classes in professional orientation and foundations of counseling
Intermediate: classes in cross-cultural counseling and group counseling
Clinical: classes through counseling labs and a hands-on internship
Though the price tag at NYU is much higher than others on this list, the reputation is worth it. Considered on the world’s most influential research institutions, New York University has a lot to be proud of; ranking among the top 30 universities in the world by US News & World Report, Times Higher Education, and Academic Ranking of World Universities is just the start. The graduate programs in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development enjoy high rankings in nearly every category.
Wake Forest University, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a private coeducational research institution that was founded in 1834 to originally cater to Baptist ministers. Since then it has been reshaped into a nonsectarian university. Wake Forest is a highly regarded school in terms of academics and is rated as “most selective” in terms of admissions, with a 29 percent acceptance rate.
The online Master of Arts in Counseling at Wake Forest allows students to choose to specialize on one of three tracks: School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and Health Services. Here are some of the most winningest features of the program:
100 percent of Wake Forest graduates have passed the CACREP National Counselor Exam since 1996.
A high percentage of Master of Arts in Counseling graduates go on to pursue PhD programs
A thorough curriculum (42 hours in foundational classes, 18 hours in School Counseling)
Wake Forest University is among the more prestigious schools on this list, ranking 27th on US News & World Report’s list of Best National Universities. While you’ll end up paying more for your education at Wake Forest, you’ll end up reaping the benefits—in reputation, early career payscale, renowned faculty, and a well-rounded school counseling curriculum.
Based in Magnolia, Arkansas (just north of Louisiana), Southern Arkansas University is a public university that enrolls close to 5,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate level. Though the school was founded in 1909, SAU gained accreditation for its Master of Education Degree (which the School Counseling program falls under) in 1975.
The hybrid-online Master of Education in School Counseling program at Southern Arkansas University is taught by an involved team of faculty members who provide one-on-one attention and resources to their students. Even more, this program features the following opportunities:
The option of earning a K-12 Add-On Licensure for students who hold a current, valid Arkansas teaching license
A Practicum in Counseling as well as two internships (elementary and secondary school)
The chance to finish the 48-credit-hour degree in 3 years
As one of the most affordable programs on our list, Southern Arkansas University is attractive on a number of levels. Its small size allows SAU to maintain a 17:1 student to teacher ratio and the hybrid graduate programs let students invest in their classes both online and through face-to-face interactions.
A four-year public college located in Chadron, Nebraska, Chadron State College was founded in 1911 as part of the Nebraska State College System. The small, 280-acre campus houses over 50 majors for undergraduates and graduates and holds the distinction of being the only four-year, graduate-degree granting college in western Nebraska.
The online Master of Education in School Counseling program at Chadron State certifies students to be licensed professional counselors in Nebraska. All of the 39 credit hours at Chadron State College are offered online except for the following, which are offered at the Nebraska campus during summer semesters:
Counseling and Communication Skills
Practicum and Internship in counseling
Chadron State College was recently named a “Best Buy College” by GetEducated for its overall affordability as well as its high-quality education. Similarly, it is one of the most affordable online school counseling programs on our list, costing $325 per credit hour.
Mercy College—a private, coeducational research institution—has a main campus located in Dobbs Ferry, New York, though it also has satellite campuses in Manhattan, Bronx, and Yorktown Heights. Founded in 1950, Mercy College expanded into offering online classes in the 1990s, and now offers over 40 undergraduate and graduate programs through the online format.
Designed for both full-time and part-time students in New York, the online Master of Science in Counseling degree at Mercy College prepares students with a baseline counseling education as well as a certification in School Counseling (48 credits) or Bilingual School Counseling (51 credits). Students in the Bilingual School Counseling track take the following additional classes:
Two internship courses in a bilingual school setting
Multicultural Perspectives and the Teacher Learning Process
Theory and Practice in Bilingual Education
Mercy College enjoys a number of high rankings, in both its on-campus programs and its online programs. Recently, US News & World Report ranked it as a top online learning program, and Affordable Colleges Online ranked Mercy College as being among the top 15 percent of New York colleges for its return on investment.
Oregon State Ecampus, the online facet of Oregon State University, delivers more than 50 degree and certificate programs online. OSU, a regionally accredited university, works with its on-campus faculty to develop its online curricula, and all Ecampus graduates receive the same transcripts and diplomas as their on-campus counterparts. The online master’s degree in school counseling at OSU comprises 75 credits, including a combination of synchronous and asynchronous courses. The university also provides its school counseling students with licensing information, and all OSU Ecampus counseling programs are formally approved for professional licensure outside of Oregon.
Founded in 1971 as part of the University of Texas System, the University of Texas at Tyler is a coeducational public institution that enrolls close to 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students annually. The beautiful 200-acre campus, which hosts over 90 degrees at all academic levels, is located just outside Tyler, Texas on Harvey Lake.
The online Masters of Arts in School Counseling program uniquely does not require a practicum or internship course, which lets students finish the 39-credit-hour program much faster than others. Some additional features stand out at the University of Texas Tyler:
A 100 percent pass rate on the TExES professional school counselors certification exam
The chance to finish your online master’s degree in just 18 months (almost a full year shorter than many others on our list)
The use of some of the best online learning technology available, like iChat and Illuminate
Even though UT Tyler is a relatively small school, the programs are equipped with an impressive roster of faculty members. All programs at UT Tyler—both at the undergraduate and graduate level—average a 20:1 student to teacher ratio. The faculty members for the school counseling program all hold doctorate degrees in Psychology or Counseling and are active professionals in their field.
University of Central Arkansas offers a plethora of online programs for students with professional or family obligations, who require flexible, convenient distance learning options. The academic standards for UCA’s online courses are the same as those for its on-campus courses, and all online students have direct access to their program coordinators, to ensure they receive the academic support they need. The master’s degree in school counseling at UCA Online comprises 48 semester hours, including practicum and internship field experiences. Most online classes in this program are synchronous, with the exception of occasional asynchronous and face-to-face learning opportunities.
Originally founded in 1772 as a primary school, Salem College is a liberal arts women’s college located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Salem College holds the distinction of being the oldest female college in the South. However, there are exceptions to the rule; men are admitted into the Continuing Education program and the graduate degree programs (including the online Master of Education in School Counseling degree).
The online Master of Education in School Counseling program at Salem College covers all the bases of the profession—from legal issues and advocacy to action research and classroom assessment and beyond. Considered one of the top Master of Education degrees in the state, the 48-credit-hour program follows a similar structure as some other programs on this list:
Online classes taken in consecutive order with a 600-hour internship capstone
Two weekend seminars on the Winston-Salem campus
A cohort model in which students start in the fall and finish in 36 months
Salem College is small but mighty. Despite a student body of under 1000 and a staff of around 40 faculty, Salem was recently named among the top 100 of Forbes’ list of America’s Best Colleges. Since they share the same city, Salem College has a close relationship with Wake Forest University (also on our list!) and students from both schools have the option of attending classes at either institution.
The largest university in the state, the University of Missouri—Columbia (sometimes known as MU) is a public research institution that is known as the flagship campus of the University of Missouri System. Enrolling close to 33,000 students each year in both undergraduate and graduate programs, MU is also a member of the SEC Academic Consortium, which works to promote research and scholarship within its conference.
The University of Missouri offers two different online degrees in school counseling that are similar but distinct: Educational Specialist in Mental Health Practices in Schools and Master of Education in Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology. Since the latter is a master’s degree (rather than a specialization) we’ll highlight the features here:
100 percent online (no weekend or summer residencies)
34 credit hours
Unique electives like Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues in Schools, Bully and Youth Violence: Prevention and Reduction, and Building Resiliency and Optimism in Youth.
Mizzou Online, the online platform for the University of Missouri, offers over 100 online degree and certification programs and serves over 16,000 online students every year. The programs are specifically designed for working professionals and people looking to get back into the professional world; the average age of an online student at the University of Missouri is 34.
A private Christian university located in Waxahachie, Texas, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University was founded in 1927. As the only Assemblies of God university in Texas, SAGU offers a number of degrees in church ministries and theology, in addition to its core liberal arts programs. Almost 70 years later, the Harrison Graduate School was added in 1996, which offers 19 different graduate programs, both in person and online.
The 100 percent online Master of Education in School Counseling program at Southwestern Assemblies of God University gives students full flexibility to complete the degree on their own terms. Totalling 36 credit hours, the program at SAGU is split into specific components with corresponding classes:
Research Component (3 hours)
Professional Component (9 hours)
Core Component (12 hours)
Resource Area Component (6 hours)
Practicum Component (6 hours)
One hugely notable component of this program is its involvement in financial aid and student services. If you’re ready to commit to the program this semester (summer 2017), Southwestern Assemblies of God University will give you a 20 percent tuition grant, which adds up to about $1000 per semester! If you’re not ready to enroll until the next semester (fall 2017), you’ll be given a 15 percent grant award. Not too shabby!
Located in South Orange, New Jersey, Seton Hall University is a private, religious university that was founded in 1856, making it the oldest diocesan university in the United States. Rooted in Roman Catholicism, the university is structured and governed by a 16-member board, most of whom belong to the Archdiocese of Newark. Seton Hall’s 11 schools and colleges educate close to 10,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate level.
The 48-credit-hour Masters of Arts in School Counseling at Seton Hall University approaches school counseling from a number of different angles. The curriculum breaks up the course listings accordingly:
Counseling Core (15 credits)
Psychological Foundations (6 credits)
Sociological Foundations (6 credits)
Research (3 credits)
Supervised Experience (9 credits)
Professional Orientation (6 credits)
There’s a lot that stands out about Seton Hall University. For one, US News and World Report ranked it #5 for the “Most Connected Campuses in the United States.” It’s also considered to be among the top 10 universities for the highest paid graduates in New Jersey, and Buzzfeed recently named it among the top colleges for graduates who land the “highest-paying jobs for smallest investment in tuition.”
Though it originally began in 1835 as a Presbyterian school for women, the University of West Alabama is now a public university that admits both men and women. Located in rural Livingston, Alabama, the university is known for its small-town feel and beautiful surroundings, with nature trails, a lake, and 600 acres of land all contained in its campus.
The University of West Alabama’s online Master of Education School Counseling degree is designed for students with a graduate background in education and two years of experience in teaching. Within the curriculum, which splits in coursework into Professional Courses and Certification Courses, you can expect to take some of the following classes:
Life-Span Development and Learning
Strategies for Crisis Intervention
Counseling Multicultural Populations
Most of the University of West Alabama’s accolades come in the form of affordability and quality. Best College Value recently ranked the online Master of Education in School Counseling program at the University of West Alabama in its top 10 “Most Affordable” list for school counseling programs. It also ranks 20th overall in the state of Alabama.
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