2020 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

What Are the Goals of a Master’s in Counseling?

Society needs compassionate, patient counselors to help clients maintain and regain mental health. Many counselors work as self-employed individuals and set their own schedules. Others work in a hospital, group home, or rehabilitation setting. Counselors spend their days talking to clients. They engage in active listening and offer advice as needed. These professionals also write detailed notes and keep records of what their clients say. 

Colleges and universities design their master’s in counseling programs with certain goals in mind. These programs aim to educate students on the theories and practices that can aid individuals in their mental health pursuits. Professionals with this qualification can emerge as leaders in the counseling field and form a fulfilling career with rewarding pay. 

Degree-seekers can earn a master’s in counseling while maintaining a full-time job thanks to flexible online programs. Keep reading to learn more about earning a counseling degree online.

Top 10 Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees 2020

Rank School
1 University of the Cumberlands
2 Touro University Worldwide
3 North American University
4 Nova Southeastern University
5 Brandman University
6 New York University
7 University at Buffalo
8 University of Southern California
9 Lamar University
10 Campbellsville University

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a counselor and a therapist?

Counselors work with their clients to alleviate specific issues with a solution-based approach. Therapists help their clients understand the cause of their mental health issues.

Do you need a master’s degree to be a counselor?

Licensed counselors need at least a master’s degree. However, licensing requirements vary by state. Some employers require a doctorate.

Do you need a license to be a counselor?

To work as an independent counselor, individuals must earn a license. Some employers allow professionals, such as career counselors, to work in counseling roles without a license.

Can counselors prescribe medication?

Licensed counselors cannot legally prescribe medications. They can refer clients to licensed psychiatrists who can prescribe mental health medications.

2020 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Finding the right online master’s in counseling takes research. To help, we collect data and frequently update a list of the best online counseling programs. However, we encourage you to conduct further research before selecting a program. Read through the class program descriptions to ensure they align with your career goals and state licensing requirements.

See our rankings methodology page.

1

University of the Cumberlands

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Average Net Price: $5,970

The University of the Cumberlands is a private, nonprofit Christian institution located in Williamsburg, Kentucky. Founded by Baptist ministers in 1888, the school manages four colleges that serve over 13,000 degree-seekers.

Cumberlands administers two online master’s in counseling programs: a master’s in addiction counseling and a master’s in clinical mental health counseling. Both programs require 60 credits and focus on working with vulnerable populations. Learners receive general instruction in counseling fundamentals and focused training in their chosen specialty. Cumberlands uses a combination of synchronous and asynchronous formats to deliver course content.

Students can transfer up to 30 credits toward the degree. Applicants must hold a relevant bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit official transcripts, an academic writing sample, and two letters of reference.

2

Touro University Worldwide

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Average Net Price: $9,000

A private education system headquartered in New York, New York, Touro University Worldwide offers programs designed for busy learners and working professionals. Established in 1971, TUW provides instruction in business, psychology, and human services and remains the largest private institution with Jewish roots in the country.

TUW offers an online master of arts in marriage and family therapy with two tracks: clinical and non-clinical. Regardless of their track, all learners study topics like human sexuality, trauma, group counseling, and psychopathology. TUW offers the program entirely online using innovative tools that encourage self-direction and peer interaction.

Applicants to the online master’s in counseling degree need a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA. Learners with previous academic experience can transfer up to 30 credits into the program.

3

North American University

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Average Net Price: $5,777

Located in Houston, Texas, North American University promotes cultural competency, personal growth, and responsible citizenship. The private, nonprofit institution provides programs in business, criminal justice, and education.

The fully online master of education in school counseling requires 48 credits and prepares degree-seekers for work as guidance counselors in K-12 schools. The curriculum develops knowledge and skills in counseling and career development, concluding with an integrative practicum component. Most learners complete the program in two years or less.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and submit official transcripts, a personal statement, and two letters of recommendation.

4

Nova Southeastern University

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Average Net Price: $20,620

Founded in 1964, Nova Southeastern University values integrity, innovation, diversity, and opportunity. The private, nonprofit institution offers more than 150 programs of study, including a fully online master of science in counseling.

The 33-credit program offers clinical mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and applied behavior analysis concentrations. Learners receive instruction through convenient platforms that include threaded discussion boards and real-time online classes.

Applicants to the online master’s in counseling need a relevant bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also submit a personal statement and two letters of recommendation.

5

Brandman University

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Average Net Price: $19,450

Established in 1861, Brandman University is a private, nonprofit institution based in Irvine, California. Brandman offers a variety of on-campus and online graduate, undergraduate, and professional programs, including an online master’s in counseling with PPSC school counseling credentials.

The integrative, 45-credit program prepares learners to work as school counselors. Courses cover topics like indirect intervention, leadership and systems change, and counseling best practices. Students learn how to understand state and federal laws that affect school programs, apply research-based theories to address school challenges, and create effective counseling programs.

Applicants need a bachelor’s degree with a competitive GPA. They must also submit a resume, a brief autobiographical essay, and two letters of recommendation.

6

New York University

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Average Net Price: $45,426

New York University is a private, nonprofit research institution established in 1831. The school hosts over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students on a flagship campus in New York City, at satellite locations around the world, and online.

The school offers two online master’s in counseling degrees: a master’s in mental health counseling and a master’s in school counseling. The degrees take 18-21 months to complete and prepare graduates to work in community agencies, schools, and private practices.

Applicants must hold a relevant bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and submit official transcripts, a resume, a statement of purpose, and two recommendation letters.

7

University at Buffalo

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Average Net Price: $16,870

Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a public sea- and space-grant institution based in upstate New York. The school hosts undergraduate and graduate students through 13 schools and colleges that administer nearly 300 programs of study.

UB offers a fully online master of science in rehabilitation counseling. The 48-credit program emphasizes rehabilitation foundations, counseling techniques, and career development. The program culminates with a practicum and internship, giving learners hands-on experience in the field. Many learners graduate within three years.

The school accepts applications for the online master’s in counseling on a rolling basis. Prospective learners need an accredited bachelor’s degree in a related field. They must also provide unofficial transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of intent.

8

University of Southern California

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Average Net Price: $45,561

Founded in 1880, the University of Southern California is the oldest private research institution in the Golden State. Students can choose from programs in law, engineering, social work, business, and medicine.

The 49-credit online master of education in school counseling prepares learners to work in K-12 schools. Students can choose from three focus areas: college and career readiness, restorative justice, and trauma-informed practice. Regardless of their focus area, all learners study topics like field foundations, human development, and learning theory.

Applicants must hold a relevant bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit a personal statement, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and responses to essay questions.

9

Lamar University

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Average Net Price: $9,969

Founded in 1923, Lamar University is a public space-grant institution and a member of the Texas State University System. LU enrolls over 15,000 learners through 150 programs across seven schools and colleges.

LU offers two online master’s degrees in counseling: a master of education in clinical mental health counseling and a master of education in counseling and development. Both programs require 60 credits. The counseling and development program offers specializations in couples and marriage counseling and professional school counseling.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree and submit GRE or GMAT scores, a statement of purpose, transcripts, and a letter of intent.

10

Campbellsville University

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Average Net Price: $10,380

Located in central Kentucky, Campbellsville University administers graduate and undergraduate programs rooted in the liberal arts. A private, nonprofit institution established by Baptist ministers in 1906, CU values academic excellence and rigorous research.

CU offers an online master of arts in education with a school guidance counseling concentration that comprises 48 credits. Most students graduate within 18 months. Learners study topics like counseling theory and practice, human development, and cultural competency. The program features a mix of synchronous and asynchronous coursework.

Applicants need a relevant bachelor’s degree. They must also submit transcripts, GRE scores, and a personal statement; complete a series of disposition assessments; and complete a background check.

11

Regent University

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Average Net Price: $16,179

Established in 1977, Regent University is a private, nonprofit school that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in business, healthcare, psychology, and education. An evangelical Christian institution, Regent prepares thoughtful leaders for lives of service.

The school offers online master’s in counseling degrees with the following specializations: marriage, couple, and family counseling; pastoral counseling; school counseling; and clinical mental health counseling. The programs comprise 30-60 credits and feature eight- and 16-week sessions. Regardless of their degree, all counseling students take core courses on topics like research and statistics, theories of counseling, and assessment techniques in counseling.

Admission requirements vary by program. General requirements include a relevant, accredited bachelor’s degree, official academic transcripts, a resume, and standardized test scores.

12

Northwestern University

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Average Net Price: $54,620

Northwestern University is a private research institution located just north of downtown Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1851, Northwestern offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, including many online options.

The 24-credit, fully online master’s in counseling includes coursework in psychotherapy, research methods, substance abuse, and human development. In addition to coursework, students complete an internship that prepares them to work in clinics, hospitals, and other treatment facilities.

Applicants need a bachelor’s degree in a closely related field (psychology or human services preferred). They must also submit transcripts, a professional resume, a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and a supplemental essay.

13

Liberty University

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Average Net Price: $8,333

A private, evangelical Christian institution, Liberty University confers degrees in medicine, aeronautics, engineering, business, and applied studies. The school hosts students on a 7,000-acre suburban campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, and online.

Liberty offers over 30 online master’s in counseling degrees in areas like school counseling, addiction counseling, pastoral counseling, human services, and marriage and family counseling. Most programs require 30-48 credits. Liberty delivers all coursework in eight-week sessions through flexible, synchronous platforms. Select programs require a practicum.

Learners can transfer up to half of a program’s required credits toward the degree. Applicants must hold a relevant, accredited bachelor’s degree and submit official transcripts. International applicants must demonstrate English language proficiency.

14

University of North Texas

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Average Net Price: $9,185

Founded in 1890, the University of North Texas serves nearly 40,000 learners through 13 schools and colleges. The school hosts students on a main campus in Denton, at several satellite locations throughout the state, and online.

The 60-credit, fully online master of science in rehabilitation counseling comprises 19 classes. Courses cover topics like counseling principles and techniques, medical and psychosocial aspects of rehabilitation, and case management. Students culminate the degree with a comprehensive examination and over 700 hours of supervised fieldwork.

Applicants to the online master’s in counseling must hold a bachelor’s degree and submit transcripts, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a brief personal statement. Some applicants may need to complete an interview.

15

Concordia University-Irvine

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Average Net Price: $7,774

Concordia University Irvine is a private, nonprofit liberal arts institution affiliated with the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. CUI offers traditional and degree-completion programs in nursing, behavioral science, business, and communications.

The school’s Townsend Institute administers an online master’s in counseling with a clinical mental health concentration. The 60-credit program covers topics like clinical psychopathology and diagnosis, assessment practices, counseling techniques, lifespan development, and human sexuality. Learner’s receive instruction through flexible and convenient delivery methods.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree and submit transcripts, a resume, a statement of intent, and at least one letter of recommendation.

16

University of Texas at Tyler

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Average Net Price: $9,423

Located in the Lone Star State’s northeastern region, the University of Texas at Tyler is a member of the University of Texas System. UT Tyler administers nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate programs across six professional schools and colleges.

The online master of arts in school counseling includes courses on topics like cultural diversity, counseling theory, and human development. Degree-seekers also participate in supervised practicum placements where they apply their skills and knowledge in the field.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and submit recent GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. UT Tyler also requires an admission interview.

17

University of West Alabama

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Average Net Price: $10,017

Founded in 1835, the University of West Alabama offers comprehensive programming in education, technology, nursing, and business. The public research institution hosts on-campus and online students across eight divisions and colleges.

The school offers online master’s in counseling programs in the following specialties: counseling and psychology, clinical mental health counseling, family counseling, and guidance and counseling. These programs require 30-60 credits. UWA delivers all courses in eight-week sessions using flexible, accessible learning environments.

Applicants need a relevant bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. They must also provide official transcripts, a professional resume, recommendation letters, and a professional goals essay. The goals essay should discuss the applicant’s potential for success and their career aspirations.

18

West Texas A&M University

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Average Net Price: $5,105

West Texas A&M University is a public institution located just south of Amarillo. Founded in 1910, WTAMU offers over 100 undergraduate and graduate programs in science, medicine, and the liberal arts.

WTAMU offers two online master’s in counseling degrees: a master of education in school counseling and master of arts in counseling. Learners develop the skills and knowledge they need to work as clinicians, therapists, case managers, and school counselors. Coursework in both programs covers topics such as instruction in counseling theories, human development, assessment and evaluation, and psychopharmacology.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree and submit a resume, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation. Applicants to the school counseling program also need an active teaching license and at least one year of classroom experience.

19

North Carolina State University

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Average Net Price: $17,161

Established in 1887, North Carolina State University is a public land-, sea-, and space-grant institution. The school serves over 35,000 learners through diverse on-campus and online programs, including a fully online master of education in clinical mental health counseling.

The 60-credit program prepares degree-seekers for professional licensure and careers as guidance counselors, mental health clinicians, and behavioral therapists. Learners receive expert instruction in group counseling and clinical assessment through flexible, interactive learning tools.

Most working professionals enroll on a part-time basis, completing all program requirements in three years or less. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree, GRE or MAT scores, official academic transcripts, and three letters of recommendation. Qualified applicants must also sit for an interview.

20

City University of Seattle

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Average Net Price: $9,628

Founded as a training institute for working professionals in 1973, City University of Seattle is a private, nonprofit institution located in downtown Seattle. Students can choose from a variety of online and on-campus programs, including an online master of arts in counseling that prepares graduates to work as family therapists and mental health counselors.

The 60-credit program includes courses on topics like professional ethics, counseling techniques, testing and assessment, and systems theory. Each course emphasizes practical applications, self-awareness, and cultural diversity. CityU delivers all program material through real-time, synchronous class sessions.

Learners interested in pursuing this master’s in counseling online need a relevant bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. They must also provide official transcripts. Students can transfer up to 12 credits toward the degree.

21

University of the Southwest

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Average Net Price: $14,376

Located in Hobbs, New Mexico, the University of the Southwest is a private, nonprofit Christian institution founded in 1962. USW awards degrees in business, education, and the arts and sciences and serves just over 1,000 learners each year.

The 42-credit, fully online master of science in education in school counseling prepares degree-seekers for professional licensure as school counselors in K-12 settings. The curriculum focuses on the interaction between students and their school environment, outlining strategies that ensure a quality education. The program concludes with practicum and internship experiences that give students hands-on experience in the field.

Admission requirements for the online master’s in counseling include a relevant bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, a professional resume, and a 500-word personal essay.

22

Adams State University

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Average Net Price: $8,589

Founded in 1921, Adams State University offers undergraduate and graduate programs in areas like art, science, communications, and behavioral science. Located in Alamosa, Colorado, the school promotes innovation, integrity, and ethical leadership.

The 60-credit online master of arts in counseling offers school counseling and clinical mental health counseling concentrations. Regardless of their concentration, all students must complete a two-week, intensive residency on ASU’s main campus. Most learners complete the program in three years or less.

Applicants need a relevant, accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA. They must also submit official transcripts, a current resume, a statement of intent, and three letters of recommendation.

23

Concordia University-Wisconsin

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Average Net Price: $10,848

Established in 1881, Concordia University Wisconsin is a private, nonprofit institution located in Mequon. CUW is affiliated with the Lutheran Church and offers diverse undergraduate and graduate programs across five schools and colleges.

CUW’s Department of Graduate Education offers an online master of science in education with an emphasis in school and professional counseling. The program focuses on evidence-based theories and techniques. Degree-seekers take courses on topics like human development, consultation strategies, and trauma counseling. CUW delivers the program through convenient platforms that encourage self-direction and group collaboration.

Applicants must possess an accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit transcripts, a current resume, an essay, and two signed letters of recommendation.

24

Bellevue University

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Average Net Price: $11,025

Established in 1966, Bellevue University is a private, nonprofit institution located in eastern Nebraska. BU offers undergraduate and graduate programs in business, education, healthcare, and the humanities.

The 60-credit online master of science in clinical mental health counseling prepares learners for professional licensure in the discipline through courses like quantitative research methods, counseling technique, and theories of psychopathology. In addition to coursework, students complete 700 clinical hours to gain hands-on experience in the field.

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA and submit a resume, official transcripts, a 1,000-word statement of interest, and two letters of recommendation.

25

Creighton University

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Average Net Price: $17,376

Located in Omaha, Nebraska, and founded in 1878, Creighton University is a private, nonprofit school affiliated with the Catholic Church. Creighton serves nearly 10,000 learners through a variety of on-campus and online programs.

Creighton confers an online master of science in school counseling and preventive mental health that comprises 48 credits and develops core skills in program assessment, professional ethics, group dynamics, and childhood development. Learners access all learning materials through customizable and convenient online tools. Students culminate the degree with a practicum, applying degree knowledge and skills to a real-world setting.

Admission requirements for the online master’s in counseling degree include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, official transcripts, a current resume, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. Students can transfer up to six credits toward the degree.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Counseling

Accreditation ranks as one of the most important factors to consider when you are selecting a program. The U.S. Department of Education selects third-party accrediting agencies to grant regional and national accreditation. Employers and prospective schools generally view degrees from schools with regional accreditation as more prestigious.

Examples of regional accrediting agencies include the Higher Learning Commission and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The U.S. Department of Education hosts a helpful database of regionally accredited schools.

Programs can also earn accreditation. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs serves as one of the top accreditation agencies for this field.

Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors

Individuals who earn a counseling degree online often pursue jobs as counselors or therapists. These professionals specialize in different fields. For example, some work solely with children, while others work with couples.

Keep reading to learn about common counseling careers. As you read through the descriptions, try to imagine yourself working in each role. You can tailor your studies to focus on your ideal career by pursuing related internships and focusing class projects on this subject.

  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: These professionals work with clients who experience problems like alcoholism or drug addiction. They also help patients experiencing mental or behavioral problems. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual pay of $46,240 for these professionals and projects a job growth of 22% between 2018 and 2028.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Marriage and family therapists help couples and families overcome trying issues. They examine family dynamics and actively listen to both parties. They come up with creative resolutions to disputes. BLS reports a median pay of $49,610 per year for these professionals and projects a job growth of 22% between 2018 and 2028.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors help individuals with addictive, mental, and physical disabilities live independently. These professionals work in rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, and youth guidance centers. BLS reports a median pay of $35,950 per year for these professionals and projects a job growth of 10% between 2018 and 2028.
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth
Rate (2018-2028)
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder,
and Mental Health Counselors
$46,240 22%
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,610 22%
Rehabilitation Counselors $35,950 10%

Licensure for Counseling

Counseling licensure requirements vary by state. For example, Missouri requires licensed counselors to complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience, 1,200 of which must include direct patient contact. Missouri counselors must renew their licenses every two years. Georgia only requires 600 supervised practicum hours and requires license renewal every two years.

Luckily, many states participate in reciprocity agreements. This means if counselors move to a state with similar licensure requirements, they can continue practicing. Specific requirements vary depending on the services the professional intends on providing. For example, aspiring family therapists must complete practicum hours with couples and families and seek continuing education opportunities related to this field for license renewal. Missouri requires 40 continuing education hours each year, while Georgia requires 35 hours every two years.

Scholarships for a Master’s in Counseling

Earning a counseling degree online serves as an affordable way to further your education, as many schools offer reduced tuition for online students. You can save even more money on your education by applying for scholarships. Most scholarships require essays, so save time by applying for scholarships that align with your qualifications. The list below includes funds reserved for students pursuing a master’s in counseling.

David H. and Beverly A. Barlow Grant
Who Can Apply: Each year, the American Psychological Foundation reserves funds for master’s students pursuing a counseling-related degree. To qualify for this award, individuals must conduct research about anxiety and anxiety-related disorders and communicate their qualifications for this research. Applicants must also maintain affiliation with a nonprofit organization.
Amount: $8,500

John B. and Frances H. Harmon Family Scholarship for Women
Who Can Apply: Female students who attend William and Mary School of Education may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must pursue their master’s in counseling. The school’s faculty nominates students for this award through a letter. Nominees must submit a resume with the number of their completed credits and expected graduation date.
Amount: Varies

National Board for Certified Counselors Foundation Minority Fellowship Program
Who Can Apply: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers this fellows programs for individuals who wish to provide mental health services to underserved minority populations, specifically to transition-age youth (age 16-25). Applicants must attend a school that earns accreditation through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Amount: Up to $20,000

Services for Transition Age Youth Fellowship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports students earning their master’s in counseling or another mental health-related field. Applicants must possess a commitment to working with ethnic minority youth ranging from age 16-25. The American Psychological Association provides this scholarship, so recipients also receive a year-long membership to the organization.
Amount: $10,000

Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This award aids students working on graduate-level scholarly projects relating to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. To apply, individuals must submit a resume, an outline of their project scope and budget, and a recommendation letter. The recipient must attend an accredited university and demonstrate a commitment to reducing the mental illness stigma upon graduation.
Amount: $5,000

Courses in Counseling

Earning a master’s in counseling online allows students to hone their counseling skills through diverse courses. Examples of skills students can acquire during their studies include active listening, analytical, and research skills. Keep in mind colleges and universities normally tailor their programs to meet the licensing requirements of their own state, so consider attending a school based in the state in which you wish to practice.

Read the class descriptions before applying to a program, and ensure they align with your career goals. For example, if you wish to work with individuals struggling with drug addiction, ensure the program features courses that cover this topic. See below for five courses you can find in a typical counseling program. Keep in mind that exact classes vary by program.

  • Assessment and Testing for Counselors: This course presents methods and instruments counselors use to measure individuals’ psychological states. Learners study systems professionals use in elementary and secondary school settings and in private practice. This course covers the concepts and strategies counselors use to administer psychological evaluation. Students also learn the profession’s terminology.
  • Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice in Counseling: Students learn the history and philosophy behind their field, centered in school and community mental health counseling. Learners use this information to develop their own philosophies of counseling and create plans to operate ethically in the practice. Individuals also learn about the legalities and current issues within the counseling profession.
  • Human Growth and Development: Students in this class examine psychological development through various stages of life, including childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Students apply this information to their field. This course encourages learners to analyze ways to use human growth and development theories to provide better counseling to their clients.
  • Couple and Family Counseling: Some counselors focus on relational counseling with families and couples. This course examines strategies to navigate common conflicts faced in these scenarios. Instructors often use role-playing and demonstration as methods of teaching in this class, providing students hands-on experience. Students may also expect to have a lab class where they put their knowledge into practice.
  • Counseling Practicum: Many schools require master’s in counseling students to complete a practicum. This experience allows students to receive supervised, hands-on mental health counseling experience in a public school setting or community clinic. Students complete specific milestones during their experience and receive regular feedback, easing their way into the profession.

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