Best Online Counseling Degrees of 2021

by TBS Staff
TheBestSchools.org

thebestschools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

An online counseling degree is the first step towards becoming a licensed counselor.

Successful counselors help others through life challenges, and possess strengths such as patience, careful listening, and perceptive thinking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors is expected to grow 23% through 2026, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in the country. Graduates with an online bachelor’s degree in counseling enter a dynamic, rewarding field, and work with patients coping with trauma, anxiety, mental or emotional disorders, relationship problems, substance abuse, self–esteem issues, or simply navigating a change in life.

Prospective counseling students are faced with numerous options to earn their degree. Face–to–face learning on a brick–and–mortar campus may be the traditional route, but it may not fit all students’ needs. Conversely, an online degree allows students to manage their additional responsibilities, such as work or raising a family, without sacrificing a quality education. Additionally, many online programs cost less than traditional programs, making it a more financially viable option. Learners who want to pursue a career in counseling while maintaining their personal and financial flexibility may find an online bachelor’s degree in counseling to be the right choice. 

The Best Online Bachelor's in Counseling Programs

Fort Hays State University true View School Profile $$ Hays, KS 44% 39% 83% Fort Hays State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A public university founded in 1865, FHSU offers an online bachelor of science or art in sociology with a concentration in addictions counseling. The program provides a pathway for licensure in the state of Kansas.

Students begin with sociology core coursework, such as sociology theory and literature and advanced sociological research, before moving to concentration workshops. Notable topics include individual counseling in addictions, ethics in addictions counseling, and group counseling with addiction populations.

Applicants need a high school diploma or GED equivalent to qualify for admission. Students must also possess a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.25 or a minimum ACT score of 21 (SAT 1080).

University of Louisville true View School Profile $$$ Louisville, KY 57% 39% 23% University of Louisville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A public research facility founded in 1798, UofL offers a bachelor of science or art in organizational leadership and learning with a concentration in counseling and human relationships.

Students complete organizational core coursework, such as managing projects in the workplace and supporting organizational change, before jumping into concentration courses. Learners finish 15 credits with classes such as theories of counseling, emotional intelligence, and mental health and helping professions.

Students can apply for one of five start dates per year. Applicants need a minimum GPA of 2.25 and previous relevant work experience or training to qualify for admission.

Regent University true View School Profile Virginia Beach, VA 59% 80% 91% Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A private Christian university founded in 1977, Regent offers a bachelor of science in psychology in clinical and counseling psychology. Students take courses in convenient eight-week formats, focusing on fewer courses at a time.

Students complete courses such as theories of personalities, marriage and family, physiology psychology, and survey of psychological assessment. Students complete at least 120 credits entirely online and explore counseling from a Christian perspective.

Students need a high school diploma to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

Toccoa Falls College true View School Profile Toccoa Falls, GA 59% 42% 58% Toccoa Falls College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A private Christian college founded in 1907, TFC offers an online bachelor of science or arts in counseling psychology. Students explore counseling from a faith-based lens.

Required counseling core coursework includes crisis and trauma therapy, Christ-centered counseling, abnormal psychology, and personality theories. Students can participate in an internship or a research project, as well as psychology electives.

Applicants first apply for the school with a high school diploma and complete at least 12 credits of general education before applying to the program. The program requires students to possess a minimum GPA of 2.0 to qualify for admission.

Liberty University true View School Profile Lynchburg, VA 50% 60% 90% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A private Christian university founded in 1971, Liberty offers an online bachelor of science in psychology with a concentration in crisis counseling. Students complete courses in convenient eight-week terms, focusing on fewer courses at once.

Students complete courses such as foundational principles of crisis response; psychology and Christianity; and acute stress, grief, and trauma. Students must also complete a 125-hour internship to finish the degree.

Applicants need a high school diploma or GED equivalent with a minimum GPA of 2.0 for admission in good standing.

Best Online Bachelor's

Online Bachelor's in Counseling Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

Featured Online Bachelor's in Counseling Programs

The Advantages of a Counseling Education

Prospective counseling students can pursue either an associate or bachelor’s degree in counseling, though career outcomes vary depending on which type of degree they choose. An associate degree typically prepares students to pursue a bachelor’s degree in counseling, but opportunities for jobs in the field are relatively limited. In fact, students may have a difficult time finding a school with an associate degree in counseling.

An online bachelor’s degree in counseling qualifies graduates for positions such as school counselor, mental health counselor, or an entry–level position at a community health center. While a bachelor’s degree opens more career possibilities, learners who want to become licensed counselors should also expect to complete a master’s program. Continue reading to learn about common counseling jobs for those with bachelor’s degrees and their typical salaries.

Choosing an Online Counseling Degree Program

An online counseling degree serves people from many different backgrounds, and it can be a flexible alternative for students with personal or professional commitments that preclude them from pursuing a traditional bachelor’s degree on–campus. However, the sheer amount of available online counseling programs means it is important to do your research to select the best option. Prospective students should consider program requirements such as required campus visits and program length. Individuals should also pay close attention to tuition costs, as most schools offer a more affordable rate for in–state students. Several other important considerations are listed below.

  • Program Cost: The cost of any degree program is an important factor. Learners should search for the option that offers the best value for their education. For example, many schools offer a lower rate for in-state students, while others offer a flat rate for online courses. Students should also explore opportunities for scholarships or grants, as these can help make an online counseling program more affordable, lowering the debt a learner must take on.
  • Transfer Policie: Most schools accept transfer credits from prior college coursework, but students should expect to complete a certain number of credits at the school. Prospective learners should search for schools that accept most previously earned credits, as this can impact the program's overall length. Acceptance of transferred credits relies on the discretion of the other school, but students can usually appeal for courses from previous institutions to fulfill requirements of their major. Additionally, some schools may offer credit for life experience or relevant vocational training.
  • School Size and Type: Factors like class size matter — even for online students. Some students may prefer smaller class sizes where they can receive more one-on-one time with their instructors. Conversely, others may prefer larger class settings so they can learn from their peers. Students typically find larger class sizes at public schools and smaller classes at private schools.
  • Program Length: Students can attend a program full or part time, and some schools offer accelerated tracks, too. Students who can complete coursework on a full-time or accelerated basis can finish the program more quickly. Part-time students may take more time to finish their degree, but can also focus on other obligations, like work or family, more easily.
  • On–Campus Requirements: Some online counseling degrees may require students to complete some on-campus requirements during their program. For example, some schools expect learners to complete a two-day residency for students to meet their peers and professors, while other programs require weekly face-to-face classroom check-in sessions. To properly plan, note if the program includes any on-campus requirements.

Accreditation for Online Counseling Degrees

As you explore prospective programs, accreditation should play an important role in your decision–making process. An accredited institution regularly receives assessments to ensure that it provides a quality education. Schools can earn regional or national accreditation; the former is administered by six regional accrediting bodies throughout the country, and is usually considered more prestigious among future employers.

Students should identify and prioritize online counseling degrees that hold regional accreditation, as they can be assured of receiving a quality, rigorous education. Prospective students should keep an eye out for schools accredited by organizations such as the Higher Learning Commission, New England Commission of Higher Education, and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and other regional accrediting bodies.

Additionally, some schools or programs within an institution can receive programmatic accreditation. For instance, the Council of Accreditation Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP) accredits quality counseling and psychology programs.

Accrediting bodies receive permission to evaluate schools from the United States Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The ED is a federal government agency that establishes policy for academic institutions, while CHEA grants accrediting bodies permission to assess colleges and universities. These organizations maintain consistency and quality in what accreditors look for. Either of these institutions may evaluate regional and national accreditors. Readers can find more information and a list of accredited schools on the ED’s or websites.

Counseling Concentrations

The field of counseling is incredibly diverse, and students can take advantage of many different career possibilities. Most counseling professionals must gain certification in a specific area in order to work in their field, and programs offer certifications or specializations to prepare students for careers they aspire to hold.

Family and Human Development

Individuals interested in studying how humans change and develop may consider a concentration in family and human development. Learners study how people grow socially, mentally, and physically and focus on influences from family and relationships. This specialization prepares individuals for various counseling careers.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For:

Family and relationship counselor; mental health counselor

Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse

These professionals provide help to those who suffer from addiction and substance abuse. This concentration requires courses that focus on the science behind addiction and how to help rehabilitate individuals in this situation.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For:

Rehabilitation counselor; addiction counselor

Relationship Counseling

Students who wish to work with people who need help navigating their relationships can pursue this concentration. The types of relationships this concentration focuses on includes marriages, peer relationships, and family dynamics. Some courses also focus on society as a whole and the influence of media and technology on modern day relationships.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For:

Relationships counselor; therapist; school counselor

School Counseling

Professionals with an interest in helping students at a variety of levels may want to choose a program offers a specialization in school counseling. As young students adjust to different changes in their lives, having a reliable adult can help, and a school counselor could be the role model they need. Choosing this concentration provides learners with important skills to give students the attention they need.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For:

School counselor

Music Therapy

Some programs offer concentrations in music therapy, allowing professionals to use music to uplift and soothe patients. Professionals in this field might find themselves working in nursing homes, hospitals, or schools. Possessing some kind of musical background prior to enrolling helps students get the most out of their studies.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For:

Music therapist

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Counseling?

Various factors can impact how long an online counseling degree takes, such as program pace and required credits. For example, most programs require 120–150 credits and take 3–4 years for a full–time learner to complete; students who transfer credits from a previous institution can complete their degree in a shorter time frame. Some programs may also offer accelerated programs to allow for faster degree completion; in this case, students take courses in shorter, more frequent terms, including during the summer.

Taking courses part time provides learners more flexibility to take fewer credits in order to balance school with their other responsibilities. Whichever path you choose, find an online program that offers a program that fits your personal and professional goals.

Courses in an Online Bachelor’s in Counseling Program

There are several factors to consider before selecting an online bachelor’s in counseling degree, including your interests and career goals. Most programs include a series of core courses designed to impart fundamental concepts and skills such as counseling theories, human growth and development, and research methodology. Additionally, some programs offer concentrations, or specialized academic tracks that focus on specializations like behavioral analysis, marriage and family therapy, and school counseling. Choosing a concentration lets you develop a specialty while earning a degree, which prepares you to sharpen your skills further in graduate programs or begin a career in a particular field.

An online bachelor’s degree in counseling may also include an internship or practicum component, which requires a period of direct participation in a professional or clinical setting. While some distance learners prefer programs that offer hands–on experience, others may not have the time or resources to fulfill an in–person requirement.

  • Introduction to Counseling: Nearly every online counseling degree requires an introductory course that prepares students for the rest of their coursework. This course provides information on the basic theories and fundamentals of counseling, including an overview of various concentrations within the field.
  • Marriage and Family Relationships: Because counselors work with people at various stages, students should familiarize themselves with the different family relationships humans have throughout their lifetime. These courses focus on different family dynamics throughout a person's life, from parents and siblings during childhood, to spouses and children in adulthood. Proper knowledge of these relationships allows counselors to better serve their patients.
  • Foundations of Addiction and Substance Abuse Disorders: Those with a concentration in addiction and substance abuse often take an introductory course on this subject, however, students pursuing other concentrations may also take this course. Topics include the stages and impact of addiction, and the role professionals play in helping people in these situations.
  • Introduction to Psychology: Students must possess a strong understanding of the foundations of psychology in order to fully grasp higher-level counseling courses. This course serves as an introduction to the theories and major themes of psychology, such as human development, behavior studies, and how psychology plays a role in everyday life.
  • Conflict Resolution: This course provides students with an overview of helping others work through conflict. Students learn strategies and theories for helping others work through a variety of interpersonal issues in a healthy way.

Counseling Degree Salary Information

Counselors work with diverse populations and specialize in many different areas. Whether you’re interested in assisting the elderly or helping high school students select the right college, your personal strengths and interests will undoubtedly align with one of counseling’s many subfields. Graduates can pursue a variety of jobs, including the following examples.

true School Counselors $43,000 $45,000 $50,000 $58,000

School counselors work in academic settings to provide guidance for students. This career typically requires a master's degree in counseling, but an online bachelor's degree in counseling serves as an excellent first step towards this position.

true Correctional Treatment Specialist $31,000 $40,000 $52,000 $60,000

These professionals work with law offenders on probation or parole, and provide rehabilitation and correctional treatment. Those who wish to go into this field may have to complete a written, oral, and psychological evaluation.

true Marriage and Family Counselor $44,000 $45,000 $51,000 $57,000

Counselors who specialize in marriage and family therapy help couples work through issues and encourage couples and families to communicate their feelings with one another. These professionals often need to complete a master's program in order to work in this field, but a bachelor's program in counseling serves as the first step towards this rewarding career.

true Rehabilitation Counselor $39,000 $40,000 $47,000 $51,000

These individuals help patients grow and become more independent. Rehabilitation counselors work with people with physical, mental, developmental, and emotional disabilities to help them live on their own. This career typically requires additional certification and a master's degree, but earning a bachelor's degree in counseling is the first step.

Source: PayScale

Counseling Membership Associations

This organization represents school counselors at all levels, and provides them with resources to grow in their field. This includes an annual conference to network with other professionals, and a student discount. Founded in 1976, this organization for licensed mental health counselors serves as a resource for those pursuing careers in this field. Members have access to liability insurance, networking opportunities, and numerous discounts. By providing resources for multicultural counselors, this organization leads globally in advocating for issues involving race, ethnicity, and more. Members of this organization receive support in their field, networking opportunities, access to important research, and opportunities to publish research of their own. This organization provides advocacy and support for those who are in the field of grief counseling, including certification and continuing education offerings.

Learn more, do more.

More topic-relevant resources to expand your knowledge.

Popular with our students.

Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

woman in an office