Best Accredited Master’s Degrees in Counseling Online

When looking at an online counseling degree at the master’s level, it’s important to know which programs are the best, which careers you’ll be able to pursue after graduation, and what the advantages are to an online program. Read on to get those answers and more.

The decision to pursue graduate school is a big one. Completing a master’s degree in counseling online will open the doors to clinical practice and leadership positions, all while allowing you to maintain your personal and professional life. Online programs are known for being flexible, so you can keep working, fulfilling daily responsibilities, and doing the many other things that are important to you.

With a decision this big, you’re bound to have questions. How much does an online master’s degree in counseling typically cost? How long will it take? What will the classes cover? To make the best decision, gather as much information as you can so you can think things through, talk it out, and feel confident in the online counseling degree that you choose.

Best Online Counseling Master’s Programs in 2021

There are a lot of different programs to choose from when considering counseling master’s programs online. Each school and program offers something different, whether it’s the pace, the price, or the prestige. The schools below are among those with the best master’s in counseling programs available. Check back later in 2021 to review a full list of school rankings for online master’s degree in counseling.

Northwestern University

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Northwestern University has an M.A. in Counseling for those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or sufficient counseling experience. There’s also a bridge program for those starting from scratch. Choose an accelerated, standard, or part-time schedule and an optional Child and Adolescent emphasis.

Students pursuing this program visit Chicago for two brief immersion experiences that provide in-depth training and allow students to bond with peers and professors. A 200-hour practicum introduces students to the responsibilities of a professional counselor; 50 of those hours will be spent working face to face with clients under the supervision of a licensed counselor. The 600-hour internship that follows enables you to take on all the functions of a counselor and provide supervised, direct services to clients.

University of North Dakota (UND)

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The master’s degree in counseling online at UND has four tracks: addiction counseling, community mental health counseling, K-12 school counseling, or rehabilitation counseling. Depending on the track, the program requires 60-71 credits and takes two to three years to complete. The program culminates with a written thesis or, with faculty approval, a written independent study or scholarly project. Students must pass a comprehensive exam to graduate.

Core courses include Lifespan Development in Counseling; Group Theory and Process; Multicultural Counseling; Child, Couples and Families Counseling; and Diagnostic and Prevention Strategies in Counseling. Tuition is $800 per credit, regardless of the student’s residency, and admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from a recognized college or university, prerequisite courses, a minimum GPA of 2.75, and favorable professional recommendations.

West Texas A&M University (WTAMU)

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The M.A. in Counseling from WTAMU consists of 60 credit hours and requires an internship and passing a comprehensive exam. The program is designed for all counseling students to gain knowledge in ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling; human growth and development; career development; appraisal (tests and measurements); and research and program evaluation. The program emphasizes diversity issues, as graduates learn to address the needs of a progressively diverse population.

Students are encouraged to apply for funding, whether it’s through financial aid or scholarships. WTAMU’s online counseling degree is relatively affordable; graduate tuition has a cap of $503/credit hour for residents and $551/credit hour for nonresidents. Graduate students who keep their GPA above 3.0 are eligible for a financial waiver that reduces the tuition.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s in Counseling

You can’t say enough about the benefits of getting a degree online. It allows you to study wherever and whenever you want, which means you get to keep the professional and personal life you’ve already worked hard for. Below are three great advantages to earning a master’s in counseling degree online.

  1. Qualification for Clinical Practice

    To work in a clinic or to open your own practice you must have a master’s degree in counseling. Getting your master’s also makes you a much more qualified candidate for many jobs in government and healthcare.

  2. Flexibility

    If you have internet, you can complete online courses. So an online counseling degree program lets you study anywhere, whether it’s after work on the subway, during your child’s basketball practice, or late at night at the kitchen table. This allows you to continue working and fulfilling your other responsibilities. You’ll be able to do your internship in your local community, perhaps even where you already work or are hoping to work.

  3. Networking both with academics at your college and practitioners in your local area

    You’ll learn theories and techniques from the professors in your online counseling degree program, and you’ll also meet and work with the hands-on counselors practicing in your area. That perfect balance of theoretical and practical will prepare you to be a top-notch counselor.

What You’ll Learn in Master’s Level Online Counseling Degree Programs

In counseling master’s programs online, you’ll learn about diversity, addictions, human development, research methodologies, ethics, legal issues in counseling, counseling strategies, psychopathology, and the theory behind personality and social systems. If you’ve chosen to pursue a concentration, you’ll also have specific classes tailored to that area of emphasis.

Most online counseling degree programs also have practicum hours where students practice what they’re being taught in a controlled environment. After that, students participate in an internship within their community where they take on some of the roles and responsibilities held by licensed counselors. Many programs also require writing a thesis and passing a comprehensive exam. Below are some classes you’re likely to run across within an online counseling degree program.

Popular Courses

  • Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling

    This course provides an examination of American Counseling Association (ACA) ethical standards and the applications of ethical and legal considerations in professional counseling practice. It also reviews ethical decision-making models and major ethical and legal issues in the practice of professional counseling.

  • Cross-cultural Counseling

    This course is an introduction to the process of providing counseling from a multicultural perspective. Students are introduced to the cultural composition of multiple subgroups represented in society (age, gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical characteristics, etc.) and build the knowledge, awareness, and skills necessary to become effective helpers and advocates for diverse populations. Students also gain an understanding of issues and trends in a multicultural and diverse society.

  • Human Development

    This course provides a systematic analysis of various human behaviors concerned with teaching and learning. Students gain an understanding of the nature and needs of people at all developmental levels in a multicultural context, as well as implications for assessment and preventive and/or supportive intervention strategies.

  • Research Methods in Counseling

    This course introduces the language, principles, reasoning, and methodologies in counseling-related research. It provides an understanding of types of research methods, basic statistics, ethical considerations, and the principles, practices, and applications of needs assessment and program evaluations. Students learn how to critically evaluate research literature, how to recognize ethical issues relevant to conducting research, and how research can improve counseling effectiveness. They’ll learn to develop relevant research questions, design appropriate research paradigms, and write a preliminary research proposal.

  • Supervised Internship in Counseling

    After completing their practicum hours, students move into their internship. This comprehensive clinical training experience gives students the chance to do tasks that licensed counselors typically perform in schools and professional counseling settings. Students are supervised by a licensed counselor.

Specialization Options

Choosing to specialize within the field of counseling offers students the possibility of becoming a leader in a field they love. Specializing usually means the counselor is passionate about a certain area and wants to learn even more. Below are some common specializations you may see as you research online counseling degree programs.

  • Addictions Counseling

    The addictions counseling specialty has students examine the pharmacological, psychological, and sociological impact of taking legal and illegal drugs. It explores theories of addiction that apply to the process of misuse, dependency, and recovery. Students will be able to identify the various counseling and pharmacological treatment approaches used in the field with people who struggle with substance abuse, those with dual diagnoses, and their families. Students develop competency in screening for addictive behavior and an understanding of culturally specific vulnerability to addictive behaviors.

  • Marriage and Family Therapy

    This concentration prepares a student to work with couples and family groups who may be recovering from traumatic or abusive situations, are experiencing grief from the death of a loved one, or have a family member who is living with a mental illness. Students learn clinical skills to help couples and families deal with issues that may affect a family’s and/or a couple’s lives.

    Note
    This concentration is not the same as a degree in marriage and family therapy (MFT). Visit our dedicated guide to online MFT programs to learn more about earning a dedicated degree in this field.
  • Mental Health Counseling

    A mental health counseling concentration helps students learn to be responsible for providing psychotherapy treatments to all individuals and groups. Some mental health counselors focus on a specific demographic, such as children or the elderly, but in all cases, the counselor’s primary goal is to promote mental and emotional health.

    Learn more about online master’s degrees specializing in mental health counseling.

  • Rehabilitation Counseling

    This concentration teaches students how to help adults to change their circumstances, whether they’re finding it difficult to gain employment or are trying to change their lifestyle. Students learn to help individuals achieve personal, social, and professional goals, leading to a more fulfilling life. Rehabilitation counselors are employed by the federal government, state agencies, substance abuse facilities, private practices, prisons, schools, and other settings.

  • School Counseling

    This concentration focuses on the academic, career, and personal/social development of school-aged youth. Master’s students learn to work professionally with children from kindergarten through high school along with their families. They provide social-emotional support to students attending school in an era of lock-down drills and cyberbullying and gain the knowledge and skills to develop, implement, and evaluate a PreK-12 comprehensive developmental guidance program.

CACREP Accreditation for Online Master’s Degrees in Counseling

Attending an accredited school is essential to getting a quality education in your online master’s degree in counseling program. A stamp of approval from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) shows that the counseling degree you are pursuing is high caliber. CACREP also approves any concentrations related to counseling. Studies have shown that graduates of a program accredited by the CACREP score more competitively on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) and that their licensing process is more streamlined. You may also see the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) listed on a program’s accreditation page.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Counseling

Obtaining an online master’s in counseling opens a lot of doors for you. With a graduate degree, you have the opportunity for a career change, promotion within the organization you’re already working for, and a salary raise. With a license, you could even start your own practice. Private institutes, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and schools all need counselors too, so graduates are in high demand. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics many areas of counseling have much faster that average growth rates than other professions.

School Counselor

School counselors promote the academic, career, and personal/social development of school-aged youth. They work with children from kindergarten through high school and help students overcome social or behavioral issues. The American School Counselors Association has found that school counselors can cut down on bullying and improve student attendance, racial disparities in achievement, and student access to mental health resources.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$34,380 $57,040 $96,090

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors help many patients, from those who need support as they navigate their stressful lives to those who ultimately are diagnosed with a mental illness. Mental health counselors assess their patients and listen to the issues their patients are experiencing. They provide educated insights to help their clients grow. Mental health counselors need empathy, patience, and great interpersonal, listening, and speaking skills.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$29,520 $46,240 $76,080

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors help those who struggle to gain employment and change their circumstances, usually as a result of an accident or illness. Rehabilitation counselors help individuals of all abilities achieve personal, social, and professional goals leading to a more fulfilling life. They work in the federal government, state agencies, substance abuse facilities, private practices, prisons, schools, and other settings.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$23,820 $35,950 $63,790

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Medical and Health Services Managers

Though it’s not essential to have a master’s degree for this career, it’s not uncommon to see medical and health services managers with graduate school and administration experience. These professionals plan, direct, and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers. They typically work in hospitals, nursing homes, and group medical practices.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$58,820 $100,980 $189,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Human Resources (HR) Manager

An HR manager is not always in a healthcare setting. In fact, most businesses have an HR manager, regardless of their industry. HR managers help create a certain company culture, maintain the employee handbook, improve recruitment and retention, or develop performance assessment models. Licensure isn’t usually necessary for this job, but a master’s degree and relevant experience may be required.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$68,300 $116,720 $205,720

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Counseling

Obtaining an online master’s degree in counseling is a huge commitment. Not only will it take a lot of time, but it’s also going to be expensive. Fortunately, there are options for financial aid everywhere. Most schools offer scholarships, fellowships, or grants. There are governmental grants and work-study programs, and some employers offer tuition assistance programs. You’ll find lots of details and tips about financial aid here.

What Your Online Counseling Degree Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

University of North Dakota

60-71

$800

$48,000

Northwestern University

60-71

$4,836

$116,064

LeTourneau University

66

$615

$40,590

FAQs: Earning Your Master’s Degree in Counseling Online

What are the admissions requirements for an online counseling degree at the master’s level?

Each school’s admission requirements differ, but there are a few that you’ll see across the board. Apply at least two months before the semester starts, and make sure you have everything you need before you apply. Here are some of the more common admission requirements you’ll see:

  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Transcripts from your bachelor’s degree
  • Score of 300 or higher on the GRE
  • Interview or letters of recommendation

How long will it take to finish my master’s degree in counseling online?

A typical master’s degree in counseling is approximately 60 credit hours and at least 600 hours of practicums or internships. If attending full-time, this usually takes two years to complete. However attending part-time or taking a bridge program will increase the time needed to complete the degree.

Can I earn a master’s in counseling 100% online or do I need to visit campus?

The short answer is yes, but… Most, if not all, of the classes required in an online counseling degree can be completed online. However some programs may require a campus visit for certain practicum requirements or for orientation at the beginning of the program. Also, your internship will most likely need to be completed in person at an approved location in your community.