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.
Bachelor's in Counseling Degree Online Ranking Guidelines
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The Best Online Bachelor's in Counseling Degree Programs
1. Liberty University
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, offers an online bachelor's in psychology with a specialization in Christian counseling. The online bachelor's in counseling teaches students to approach counseling from a Christian perspective. Students learn Bible-based counseling methods and analyze theoretical approaches and psychotherapy techniques.
The curriculum comprises 120 credit hours, 30 of which must be taken through Liberty. Students must complete half of the program's major requirements through Liberty. General education requirements include coursework in communication, math, technology, and Christian life and thought. Foundational major courses cover topics such as psychology of personality, issues of Christian counseling, and behavioral modification. Students complete an internship, which provides real-world experience.
Graduates pursue careers in case management, Christian counseling, administration, mental health services, and community relations. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent and a 2.0 GPA. Online students pay discounted tuition rates and work with on-campus advisors to explore financial aid options.
Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASC).
2. Clarks Summit University
South Abington Township, Pennsylvania
Clarks Summit University offers two programs for students earning a bachelor's in counseling online: a bachelor's of science in counseling and a bachelor's of science in counseling ministries. The counseling program teaches counseling and psychology topics from a biblical perspective; students develop counseling skills and learn to encourage spirituality in clients. The 123-credit program covers areas such as adolescent and adult psychology, building a biblical lifestyle, and personality theory. The counseling ministries program focuses on philosophies and methods of biblical counseling and is ideal for students pursuing counseling careers within the ministry. The program's 122 credits include courses in biblical studies, dynamics of discipleship, and pastoral counseling.
Online classes are offered in eight-week sessions and have structured due dates. Online coursework is delivered through Moodle. Applicants must complete a series of questions about their spiritual background and goals and must submit an essay response, high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores.
Clarks Summit University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MICHE).
3. Southwestern Assemblies of God University
Located in Waxahachie, Texas, SAGU offers an online bachelor's degree in counseling with an optional minor in addictions counseling. Students explore scripture and theological concepts and learn about personalities, events, and developments in church and Pentecostal history. Students write a philosophy of ministry, in which they explain the church's mission, and take an exam to earn credentials for ministry in their field of choice. Graduates understand the relationship between psychology and the Christian faith, and they use both to counsel clients.
The 127-credit program requires 52 general education credits, 57 major credits, and 18 elective credits. The curriculum covers topics such as methods and techniques in marriage and family counseling, psychology of selfhood and the Christian faith, and theories of personality. Online students have access to on-campus resources and facilities, including the career center, the wellness center, and the counseling center. Applicants must submit high school or college transcripts and ACT or SAT scores and must have at least a 2.0 GPA.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
4. John Wesley University
High Point, North Carolina
John Wesley in High Point, North Carolina, offers a bachelor's degree in counseling online program. The Christian counseling degree prepares students for counseling careers at local churches and faith-based ministries. Students learn to minister healing, hope, and encouragement in individual counseling sessions, group sessions, and marriage and family sessions. Graduates pursue careers as church counselors, camp counselors, and rehabilitation counselors.
The curriculum comprises general education courses, a biblical studies requirement, and core major courses. Classes cover topics such as counseling methods, principles of Christian counseling, and psychology of abnormal personality. Students learn to understand various types of people in unique circumstances and how to help them solve problems through biblical and Christian methods.
Students complete an introduction to psychology course and a psychology elective before undertaking core major courses. Electives allow students to customize their degree to fit their interests and career goals. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, must have completed high school prerequisites, must have an SAT score of at least 860 or an ACT score of at least 18, and must have a 2.0 GPA.
John Wesley University is nationally accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).
5. Crown College
Saint Bonifacius, Minnesota
Crown College in Saint Bonifacius, Minnesota, offers an online counseling bachelor's degree incorporating a biblical perspective. Students in the fully online Christian counseling program learn about psychological theories from a Christian perspective and participate in skills-based training. A minor in drug and alcohol counseling is available for students interested in careers in Christian rehabilitation or addictions counseling.
The program requires 125 to 131 credits; students customize the degree with electives. The curriculum covers topics such as foundations of Christian thought, diversity issues in counseling, and theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Graduates work as addictions counselors, human resources and services workers, community relations workers, administrators, and church counselors. Online students pay discounted tuition rates and have access to on-campus resources, including facilities that help students explore financial aid opportunities.
Applicants must submit high school or college transcripts, a form agreeing to the Crown College faith statement, and a spiritual life essay.
Crown College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
6. Toccoa Falls College
Toccoa Falls, Georgia
Located in Georgia, Toccoa Falls College offers an online bachelor's program in counseling that combines Christian principles with counseling methods. The 126-credit program includes 69 general education credits, 15 elective credits, 54 major credits, and a service and outreach requirement. Classes cover topics such as Christ-centered counseling, family therapy, and foundations of spiritual formation. A counseling internship and a service and outreach project provide real-world experience and develop practical skills to help students secure employment after graduation.
Online resources include access to an academic advisor, counseling, and career services. The IT department helps distance learners with technical issues, and online libraries and tutoring opportunities are available. Online students are eligible to study abroad, and those who live within 40 miles of campus can participate in athletics.
Toccoa Falls College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
7. Hobe Sound Bible College
Hobe Sound, Florida
Based in Florida, HSBC offers an online counseling bachelor's program. The 129-credit program includes Bible, general education, and major courses. The curriculum covers topics such as marriage therapy, crisis intervention, foundations of faith, and family therapy. Students learn to use faith and psychology to counsel people in unique situations. The program promotes spiritual development and prepares students for a variety of counseling careers. Students may receive a limited number of credits for related life experience.
Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Students submitting a GED must have a minimum score of 410 on each test and a standard score of 450. HSBC's programs are designed for students with experience in Christian ministry, though students of any age are welcome to apply. Transfer students must have at least a 2.0 GPA. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and must complete at least 30 credits through HSBC.
Hobe Sound Bible College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE).
8. Crossroads College
Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota, offers an online bachelor's degree program in counseling that prepares students for careers in counseling and caregiving. Graduates pursue careers as camp counselors, church counselors, family counselors, and marriage counselors. The 120-credit curriculum covers topics such as counseling and ethnic diversity, foundations of marriage and family systems, and theories of personality and psychotherapy. Students learn to combine Christianity and psychology to counsel clients and bring them hope and healing. During the program, students develop their faith and their counseling skills.
Applicants must submit high school transcripts or proof of GED completion, lifestyle expectations, a writing sample, two professional recommendations, and a pastoral or spiritual leader reference. Transfer students must have at least 45 transferable credits with a 2.0 GPA. Online students pay discounted tuition rates and have the opportunity to meet with an on-campus advisor to learn about financial aid options.
Crossroads College is nationally accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).
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.
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.
Mental Health Counselor:
These professionals help others suffering from a variety of disorders and conditions, such as alcoholism, drug addictions, eating disorders, or mental health issues. These counselors provide treatment and guidance for their clients as they overcome these challenges.
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.
Correctional Treatment Specialist
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.
Marriage and Family Counselor:
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.
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.
Salary by Experience for Counseling Careers
|Job Title||Entry Level
|Mental Health Counselor||$41,000||$44,000||$49,000||$52,000|
|Correctional Treatment Specialist||$31,000||$40,000||$52,000||$60,000|
|Marriage and Family Counselor||$44,000||$45,000||$51,000||$57,000|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 CHEA's websites.
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
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
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
Some programs offer concentrations in music therapy, allowing professionals to use music as a way 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.
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 Membership Associations
American Counseling Association
Founded in 1952, this professional organization provides counselors in a variety of fields with opportunities for networking, developing new skills, and liability insurance. The organization hosts an annual conference where professionals from all over the country attend to learn about the latest in their field.
American School Counselor Association
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.
American Mental Health Counselors Association
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.
Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development
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.
The American Academy of Grief Counseling
This organization provides advocacy and support for those who are in the field of grief counseling, including certification and continuing education offerings.