An online counseling master’s program offered by an accredited institution typically adheres to the same curriculum and rigor as an on-campus program. A master’s degree in counseling qualifies graduates to practice in a variety of settings, depending on their specialization. Salaries vary significantly by factors like location, experience, and specialization.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors earn a median annual salary of $46,240, while school counselors earn a median salary of $57,040 per year. However, the BLS projects a much faster growth rate for addiction and mental health counselors (25%) than school counselors (8%) between 2019-2029.
This guide ranks the best online master’s in counseling programs. It also covers other important information for prospective students, including scholarship opportunities.
What can you do with a master's degree in counseling?
In most states, a master’s degree in counseling meets the educational requirements to work as organizational counselors, sports psychologists, geriatric counselors, and clinical social workers.
How many years is a master's degree in counseling?
Most master’s in counseling programs take two years of full-time study to complete.
How much does a counselor with a master's degree make?
Salaries vary by role. According to the BLS, rehabilitation counselors, marriage therapists, and school and career counselors earn median annual salaries of $35,950, $49,610, and $57,040, respectively.
Do counselors make more than teachers?
Many types of teachers earn a higher salary than counselors. College professors earn the highest among teachers, making a median annual salary of $79,540.
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Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees 2021
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A private Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty offers an online master of arts in clinical mental counseling. The 2.5-year program consists of 60 credits and provides the training required to receive state licensure as a licensed professional counselor.
Core courses include psychopathology, crisis counseling, and human growth and development. Candidates complete all coursework online while completing the required hands-on practicum and internship fieldwork in their local area.
Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree with a 2.7 or higher cumulative GPA. The school does not require applicants to submit test scores. Transfer students may transfer up to 50% of the required credits from another institution.
Liberty is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
A private Lutheran university based in Irvine, California, CUI offers an online master of arts in counseling that emphasizes clinical mental health. Students can complete the program in about 24-36 months. Students take one or two seven-week classes at a time, earning a total of 60 credits.
Core courses include clinical psychopathology and diagnosis, foundations of crisis and trauma counseling, and foundations of addiction counseling. Clinical mental health coursework includes a class on the foundations and contextual dimensions of mental health counseling, as well as a 100-hour supervised practicum and two 300-hour supervised internships.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university to qualify for admission. Applicants must also possess a cumulative GPA of 3.0. The program leads to licensure as a counselor in most states, but students should verify whether the program satisfies the licensure requirements in their state.
CUI is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Located in Longview, Texas, LETU offers an online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling. LETU follows an interdenominational Christ-centered approach to instruction.
The 66-credit program develops ethical decision-making skills, spiritual counseling techniques, and an understanding of contemporary issues, such as those related to gender and addiction. Core courses include group counseling methods, psychopharmacology, and counseling diverse populations. Students must also complete a 100-hour counseling practicum and two 300-hour, field-based internships.
Graduates leave the program ready to sit for the state licensure exam in Texas and other states. Applicants must possess a bachelor's or master's degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5. Candidates must also complete 12 credits of undergraduate psychology courses, or nine credits of psychology courses and three credits of statistics, prior to enrolling in the program.
LETU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Concordia University Wisconsin
Located in Mequon, Wisconsin, CUW offers an online master of science in education in school and professional counseling. The program integrates evidence-based counseling theories and techniques into a professional practice curriculum aimed at creating gifted counselors.
Graduates completing certain coursework leave eligible to become licensed substance abuse counselors in training. Another degree option for students to pursue includes the school counselor (K-12) track. Students may also obtain a Christian counseling certificate upon completion of the required coursework.
Required counseling courses include human growth and development, social and culture foundations, and helping relationships. The 45- to 60-credit program provides a pathway for graduates to become guidance counselors, vocational counselors, and counseling psychologists.
Applicants must possess a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. CUW is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of the Cumberlands
A private Baptist university located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, Cumberlands offers two online counseling degrees: a master of arts in clinical mental health counseling and a master of arts in addiction counseling. These programs take a modern and practical approach to the latest research and advancements in counseling.
Core courses for the clinical mental health counseling degree include marriage and family counseling, private practice and clinical supervision, and advanced counseling theories and techniques. Core courses for the addiction counseling degree include psychopharmacology and addictions, family therapy in addiction treatment, and spirituality and values in counseling.
Students in both programs participate in a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships. The program has a foundation in Christian leadership and emphasizes empathy, personal responsibility, and leadership through service.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. The school does not require applicants to submit standardized test scores. Cumberlands is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
California Baptist University
Located in Riverside, California, CBU offers an online master of science in counseling psychology. The program provides a firm understanding of psychological science from a Christian worldview. The program offers both synchronous and asynchronous courses and takes students about two years to complete.
The 60-credit program prepares graduates to become marriage and family therapists or professional clinical counselors. Courses include human sexuality, couples therapy and intimate partner violence, and psychodiagnostics. Students must also complete two supervised practicums that provide real-life counseling experience. Students may complete an additional six credits to meet requirements to obtain licensure in California as a licensed professional clinical counselor.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA for conditional admission or a 2.75 minimum GPA for unconditional admission. Students must also complete 24 hours of individual psychotherapy or 50 hours of group psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist prior to enrollment.
CBU is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
Prairie View A&M University
Prairie View, TX
Located in Prairie View, Texas, PVAMU offers an online master of arts with an emphasis in school counseling. The 48-credit program satisfies the requirements of the Texas Education Agency for graduates to become school counselors.
Courses include professional ethics for school counselors, human growth and development, career development counseling, and crisis and trauma counseling with children. The program concludes with an intensive counseling practicum and a two-part internship.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Applicants must also submit GRE scores for consideration. The university prefers applicants with a valid teaching certificate and one or two years of classroom experience.
PVAMU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A private Baptist university in Ottawa, Kansas, OU offers an online master of arts in counseling that combines 39 credits of online core classes with nine credits of field placement experience. Graduates leave prepared to take the state licensure exam.
The program offers four concentrations: Christian counseling, expressive arts therapy, hero counseling, and treatment of trauma abuse and deprivation. Core course topics include counseling theories, human growth and development, and professional and ethical issues in counseling. Students then pursue additional coursework based on their concentration.
Admission requirements include an undergraduate degree and 12 credits in psychology or related behavioral science courses. Other prerequisites include the completion of an undergraduate statistics course. Applicants must also possess a minimum GPA of 3.0 for field-related coursework and on the last 60 credits of overall coursework. The school also considers volunteer or work experience in the field when reviewing applicants.
OU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Located in Prescott, Arizona, Prescott offers an online master of science in counseling. The program offers four areas of emphasis, including addictions counseling; marriage, couple, and family counseling; social justice in counseling; and somatic counseling.
The 60-credit program includes courses such as social justice in counseling, counseling theories, and helping relationships. Students must also complete a supervised practicum and internship, as well as an exit exam. The program also offers several post-graduate certifications, including adventure-based psychotherapy, ecotherapy, and expressive art therapy. Some certificate programs require in-person attendance and experience-related sessions.
Applicants must possess an undergraduate degree to qualify for admission. Prescott is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Based in Beaumont, Texas, LU offers an online master of education in counseling and development with a specialization in professional school counseling. Students can complete the program in about 30 months.
The 60-credit program teaches students to identify risk factors and incorporate appropriate strategies to meet youth counseling needs. Courses include foundations of professional counseling, career development, and abnormal human behavior. The program meets coursework requirements to obtain the school counseling certification and licensed professional counselor designations. Completion of the program requires a residency, a 15-week practicum, and a 15-week internship.
LU also offers an online master of education in clinical mental health counseling. This program also requires students to complete a residency, practicum, and internship experience. Courses include multicultural counseling, professionalism ethics and law, and substance abuse counseling.
LU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
What Are the Goals of a Counseling Degree?
Students can earn an online counseling degree at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Undergraduate programs in general psychology often offer counseling as a concentration. Some schools offer a master’s in counseling as a terminal degree, while others grant it only en route to earning a doctorate.
Students earning an online counseling degree can often specialize in areas including school and career counseling, marriage and family therapy, substance abuse and addiction counseling, and art and music therapy.
Why Get a Counseling Degree?
Graduates with an online master’s in counseling degree enjoy many benefits. The following list outlines five common benefits of earning the degree.
- Improve Skills
- Counseling master’s degrees help students master active listening, communication, analytical, and interpersonal skills.
- Expand Knowledge
- A master’s in counseling gives students deep knowledge of counseling theories and practices, making them experts in the field.
- Increase Compensation
- According to the BLS, master’s degree-holders earn significantly higher salaries than workers with only a bachelor’s or associate degree. Additionally, they often qualify for leadership and managerial positions.
- Diversify Professional Options
- Many practitioners with a master’s degree in counseling choose to work directly with clients. However, the degree also qualifies graduates to work in areas like research, teaching, clinical testing, and forensics.
- Enhance Credibility
- A master’s degree in counseling demonstrates a commitment to the counseling field and related professional responsibilities.
Top 10 Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees
||Concordia University Wisconsin
||University of the Cumberlands
||California Baptist University
||Prairie View A&M University
||Prairie View, TX
What Are the Requirements for a Counseling Degree?
Similar to other postgraduate programs, online master’s in counseling programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Some programs prefer candidates with an undergraduate degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field. Many schools also require applicants to submit GRE or GMAT scores.
Master’s in counseling programs often require supervised client contact hours or an internship experience. Some programs also require a thesis, capstone project, or a comprehensive exam to graduate.
What is Accreditation and Why Does it Matter?
Professional Organizations for Counseling Students
Counseling students and professionals benefit from joining professional organizations. Many organizations offer networking opportunities, professional development resources, and job opportunities. Organizations may also offer membership discounts for students.
American Counseling Association
Established in 1952, ACA welcomes members from different counseling specializations. Members can access free continuing education opportunities and exclusive training programs, workshops, and publications.
American Mental Health Counselors Association
Exclusively for mental health counselors, AMHCA provides continuing education credits and professional development opportunities through webinars and workshops. The organization also sponsors an annual national conference that provides networking, mentoring, and collaboration opportunities.
National Association for Addiction Professionals
NAADAC members include addiction counselors, educators, social workers, and addiction-focused healthcare workers. The organization provides free webinars, online training, and independent study courses that can count as continuing education credits.
Scholarships for Counseling Students
Students pursuing an online counseling master’s program can take advantage of scholarship opportunities to help offset the cost of a degree. Professional associations, nonprofits, and state and federal agencies offer scholarships for counseling students, several of which we outline strongelow.
Who Can Apply: This program welcomes applications from full-time students pursuing an accredited master’s or doctoral degree focused on mental health. Applicants must sustrongmit a resume, transcripts, two recommendation letters, and an essay.
Who Can Apply: The National Board for Certified Counselors administers several financial aid programs for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in counseling. Scholarship and fellowship opportunities exist for populations like minority students, military service memstrongers, and addiction counselors. Eligistrongility requirements vary strongy opportunity.
Who Can Apply: Applicants must show commitment to pursuing a career in mental health serving young people of color and their families. They must also show proof of enrollment in a terminal master’s program leading to licensure. Scholars gain access to enrichment experiences and supplementary training opportunities.