2020 Best Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Best Masters in CounselingCounselors work with different types of people to help them cope with a variety of personal and professional issues. They guide their clients through difficult life transitions by helping them identify their strengths and weaknesses. Completing a master’s in counseling degree gives you the skills and knowledge to work directly with patients while under the supervision of a licensed counseling professional. If you are passionate about helping others through challenges, a counseling career could be right for you.

Quick Look: Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Rank School Tuition Per Credit
1 University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign $794.11
2 University of Wisconsin-Madison $1,202.95
3 University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill $739.52
4 Columbia University $1,454
5 University of Kansas $674.50

In addition to helping people, counselors typically earn higher salaries than the national median for other occupations: $56,310 versus $38,640. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth in jobs for qualified counselors, which is faster than the projected 5% average growth rate for all other occupations. Graduates of accredited counseling programs can look forward to a robust job market with plenty of opportunities for professional growth and advancement.

Read on to explore the best mental health counseling programs.

What Are the Top Counseling Degrees?

Many U.S. colleges and universities complete a rigorous and lengthy accreditation process even though it is not required. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee the accreditation process for the nation’s postsecondary schools. Regional accrediting bodies focus on degree-granting two- and four-year nonprofit institutions, while national accrediting agencies focus mostly on for-profit vocational and sectarian schools.

Accreditation speaks to a school’s program quality. Employers know this and consequently often prefer graduates of accredited institutions. Additionally, the ED channels funds only through accredited schools. If you plan to seek financial assistance from the federal government, make sure that you enroll in an accredited school.

The ED and CHEA also oversee organizations that evaluate specific programs rather than entire schools. In the counseling field, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) are the foremost accrediting body for graduate counseling programs. CACREP accredits on-campus and online programs both in the U.S. and overseas.

Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs for 2020

Deciding on a counseling psychology master’s program can sometimes prove challenging. Reliable school rankings can serve as a starting point in the decision-making process because schools have been carefully and meticulously vetted using a clear set of relevant factors. Begin your search for the ideal counseling graduate program from the list of schools below.

See our rankings methodology page.


University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign

College Choice Score: 100

Tuition Per Credit: $794.11

Program Website

The University of Illinois system’s flagship campus, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) offers all the resources necessary to produce highly skilled professionals in the field. Upon completion of the school’s master of counseling, future professionals can become a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) and thereafter enter the field with the necessary certification to council in the state of Illinois, one of the most highly populated states in the country. Learners typically complete the program in four semesters. UI maintains regional accreditation from HLC.


University of Wisconsin—Madison

College Choice Score: 99.59

Tuition Per Credit: $1202.95

Program Website

Stationed between two placid lakes, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UW) famously scenic campus draws students from across the country. UW’s master of science in counseling, a terminal degree for the field, requires students to complete 60 credits. The degree satisfies the 2018 changes in state of Wisconsin licensure requirements. According to the school, learners can expect to complete the program over the course of two academic years and two summers.


University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

College Choice Score: 97.7

Tuition Per Credit: $739.52

Program Website

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Education offers an online master’s in counseling (M.Ed, school counseling) that learners generally complete in 14 months. The program is cohort-based and may be pursued without completion of the GRE (to be exempt, applicants must hold either a 3.5 GPA or already have a master’s degree). Due to the program’s short length, the program intensive and highly concentrated, and the program includes extensive fieldwork. UNC-Chapel Hill is the flagship institution of the University of North Carolina system. UNC-Chapel Hill maintains regional accreditation from SACS.


Columbia University

College Choice Score: 93.09

Tuition Per Credit: $1454

Program Website

At its campus in New York, New York, world-renowned institution Columbia University offers learners a masters of counseling (M.Ed.) program that features two seperate tracks: a concentration in mental health counseling and another in school counseling. Both prepare learners for futures in the field by providing all preparation necessary for certification. CU’s program places a particular emphasis on racial-cultural focuses and social justice, highlighting the necessity of ethics and consideration of systemic problems. Columbia University is regionally accredited by MSCHE.


University of Kansas

College Choice Score: 89.25

Tuition Per Credit: $674.5

Program Website

Conducted on-campus in Lawrence, University of Kansas offers its master’s in counseling in two tracks: a terminal MS track and a Ph.D. aspirant track. The school designs the terminal track for the needs of learners who intend to enter the field upon completion (and certification), whereas the the Ph.D. aspirant track offers students the ability to continue into the Ph.D. level. Learners generally complete the degree in about two years. The University of Kansas holds regional accreditation from the HLC.


University of Iowa

College Choice Score: 89.18

Tuition Per Credit: $2227

Program Website

The state’s flagship institution, the University of Iowa offers students a master’s in school counseling at its Iowa City campus. UI designed its counseling program to meet all state requirements for the degree and provide learners with the foundation necessary to move forward in the field in the state of Iowa. However, learners accepted into the program by UI without teaching licensure will need to complete additional coursework before graduation. The University of Iowa holds regional accreditation from the HLC.


Temple University

College Choice Score: 85.13

Tuition Per Credit: $1011

Program Website

Temple University offers students an on-campus masters of education in counseling psychology at its campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Temple restricts its classes to small sizes (for example, the school limits its clinical courses to 15 students) and the program ends with a year-long practicum and internship. The school makes the program available in two concentrations: agency counseling and school counseling. The first concentration provides training and background for a variety of clinical environments, whereas the second track allows students to focus on school counseling. Temple maintains regional accreditation from the MSCHE.


New York University

College Choice Score: 79.81

Tuition Per Credit: $1596

Program Website

Based in New York City, New York University Steinhardt (NYU Steinhardt) offers learners an online master’s in mental health counseling and wellness. The NYU Steinhardt’s program does not require learners to complete the GRE before applying. Over the course of the program, students complete over 600 internship hours, 100 hours of practicum, a counseling lab, and 60 graduate-level credits. Learners may begin the program at three points throughout the year, and may complete the program in as little as 21 months. NYU Steinhardt is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.


University of Missouri—Columbia

College Choice Score: 79.5

Tuition Per Credit: $482.75

Program Website

Based in Columbia and the state’s flagship campus, the University of Missouri (Mizzou) offers learners an usually large amount of master’s degree in counseling options from which to choose. For example, at Mizzou, students can pursue specialized tracks in counseling psychology, career counseling, school counseling, and sports psychology. Additionally, the school offers a graduate minor in multicultural psychology. According to the school, its counseling psychology program was one of the first to be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Mizzou maintains regional accreditation from the HLC.


Virginia Commonwealth University

College Choice Score: 76.05

Tuition Per Credit: $676.50

Program Website

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), based in Richmond, offers students a master’s degree in counseling. The school does not offer a terminal degree and designs the program to lead to a Ph.D. degree in general psychology. VCU’s program focus is interdisciplinary and presents students with a variety of theoretical models while providing generalist training appropriate for the field. In turn, the program emphasizes diversity as a central component. VCU’s program has held accreditation from the APA since 1984, and VCU maintains regional accreditation from SACS.

Why Are More Students Choosing College Online?

Distance education enrollment has increased steadily in the past 14 years. Online learning has transformed the national and global educational arena. Students give several reasons behind their decision to learn off campus, whether they enroll in one course or pursue an entire program completely online.

Many degree-seekers cite flexibility as a key reason for learning online. They can attend class from anywhere with a fast and reliable internet connection. Students also cite affordability as another reason for enrolling in online courses. They save on additional lodging, board, and transportation expenses.

Learners often find online programs to be more convenient since they offer more start dates than onsite programs. Enrollees can begin a program as soon — or as late — as their schedules and finances allow. Online programs also offer more options in terms of enrollment (part time or full time) and course selection (synchronous or asynchronous classes). Finally, online graduates earn the same degree as their on-campus counterparts with nothing on their diploma to indicate that they earned their degree off campus.

Online programs allow learners to meet their educational goals without disrupting their personal and professional lives. Perhaps this is part of the reason online students consistently give their overall student experience a higher satisfaction rating than campus enrollees.

What Are the Requirements for a Master’s Degree in Counseling?

Every school follows its own set of admission and graduation requirements for students pursuing a master’s in counseling degree. Many institutions require online students to submit the same documents and meet the same academic standards as on-campus enrollees.

Colleges and universities typically require applicants to possess a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field. Holding a degree in a non-related field may result in enrolling in prerequisite coursework and can add to program length. Many master’s in counseling psychology programs require applicants to have an undergraduate GPA of 2.7-3.0 to be considered for admission. Applicants must also often submit at least two recommendation letters from a colleague or supervisor, transcripts from all schools attended, and test scores from a graduate admission exam like the GRE.

To graduate from a master’s in counseling program, students must complete all required coursework with a satisfactory grade. Some schools require learners to pass a comprehensive test. Most schools require the completion of an internship experience prior to graduation.

What Can I Do With a Counseling Degree?

Completing a master’s in counseling psychology program from an accredited school can lead to an array of career options in several professional arenas. One of the most common options for counseling graduates involves working directly with clients in a one-on-one setting in private practice. Keep in mind however, that until you have a doctorate in the field and complete the required number of practice hours, you must work under the supervision of a licensed counseling practitioner.

Counselors often make excellent training and development specialists for human resource departments of large corporations. Their people skills and familiarity with testing design and interpretation can serve them well in such environments. Many counselors also work in school settings. They may advise junior and senior high school students about college options, or work in a college or university as career counselors. A master’s in counseling opens a variety of possible career options, most of which involve helping people make informed choices.

How Much Money Will I Make With a Degree in Counseling?

According to the BLS, counselors earn a median annual salary of $56,310. As with other occupations, several factors influence salary levels, including job location, industry, and academic and experience levels.

The top-paying states for counselors include New Jersey ($62,860), Nevada ($61,100), Alabama ($59,150), Alaska ($58,800), and Texas ($58,110). Counselors working in an elementary and secondary school environment earn the highest annual mean salary ($61,510) followed by counselors working in nursing care facilities ($60,790). Counselors employed by colleges, universities, and professional schools earn the third highest annual mean salary of $59,220. Counselors working in local government agencies (excluding schools and hospitals) earn an annual mean salary of $59,020.

The data above illustrates the variety of income opportunities open to counselors with a master’s degree from an accredited institution. Earning a postgraduate certificate in a specialized counseling area or a doctoral degree can further improve your income potential.