Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Janice Monti, Ph.D.
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Updated April 15, 2024
Edited by
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Looking to become a counselor? Here, we outline the best online master's in counseling programs, along with their highlights, so you can find the right fit.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Online master’s in counseling programs offer flexibility for working students who want to advance their career and salary potential. Graduates can pursue careers as licensed professional counselors (LPC), school or career counselors, Christian counselors, marriage and family therapists, or addiction counselors.

Discover the top online master’s in counseling programs. Learn about becoming a licensed or certified counselor and salary expectations for various careers.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

#1 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

New York University

  • Location-markerNew York, NY
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$53,770
  • Out-of-state$53,770
  • Retention Rate94%
  • Acceptance Rate13%
  • Students Enrolled58,226
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment45%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Northwestern University

  • Location-markerEvanston, IL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$60,276
  • Out-of-state$60,276
  • Retention Rate99%
  • Acceptance Rate7%
  • Students Enrolled23,409
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment7%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

University of Southern California

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$60,446
  • Out-of-state$60,446
  • Retention Rate96%
  • Acceptance Rate13%
  • Students Enrolled49,318
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment46%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Wake Forest University

  • Location-markerWinston-Salem, NC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$58,708
  • Out-of-state$58,708
  • Retention Rate94%
  • Acceptance Rate25%
  • Students Enrolled8,947
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment16%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Ottawa University-Surprise

  • Location-markerSurprise, AZ
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$29,600
  • Out-of-state$29,600
  • Retention Rate54%
  • Acceptance Rate31%
  • Students Enrolled972
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment93%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles

  • Location-markerLos Angeles, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$11,328
  • Out-of-state$11,328
  • Retention Rate50%
  • Acceptance Rate37%
  • Students Enrolled3,260
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment91%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

William Carey University

  • Location-markerHattiesburg, MS
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$13,500
  • Out-of-state$13,500
  • Retention Rate87%
  • Acceptance Rate57%
  • Students Enrolled5,738
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment50%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

National University

  • Location-markerSan Diego, CA
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$13,320
  • Out-of-state$13,320
  • Retention Rate100%
  • Acceptance Rate55%
  • Students Enrolled17,135
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment80%
  • AccreditationYes
#9 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Lehigh University

  • Location-markerBethlehem, PA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$56,980
  • Out-of-state$56,980
  • Retention Rate94%
  • Acceptance Rate46%
  • Students Enrolled7,263
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment19%
  • AccreditationYes
#10 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

  • Location-markerFort Lauderdale, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$20,800
  • Out-of-state$20,800
  • Retention Rate72%
  • Acceptance Rate96%
  • Students Enrolled19,861
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment50%
  • AccreditationYes

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Counseling Program

There are many options for online counseling degree programs. Below are some guidelines and essential factors to consider.

When choosing an online master’s program, initial considerations include:

  • Ensure the prospective program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
  • Research online master’s in counseling programs and list of 3-5 possible options.
  • Familiarize yourself with each prospective program’s admissions requirements and prerequisites to ensure you meet the requirements.
  • Select between a master of arts (MA) in counseling, a master of science (MS) in counseling, or a master of education (MEd) in counseling, depending on your experience and career goals.
  • If you plan to specialize, be sure the program you select offers the specialization/licensure/certification concentration you plan to pursue.
  • Evaluate the program’s mandatory field experience. Find out if institution helps set up supervised field experience, number of required hours, and if the school requires field experience to occur at one of their partner sites.
  • Find out if your work experience can apply to transfer credits or field experience hours.
  • Check out the admission requirements (e.g., GPA, required degree, and required GRE or GMAT test scores).
  • Check the program delivery mode (e.g., 100% online or hybrid)
  • Compare tuition rates; distance learners should find out if there are additional fees for in-person residency weekends and if out-of-state tuition applies.

What Can I Expect From an Online Counseling Master’s Program?

Most online counseling master’s programs also prepare students for professional examinations and state licensing requirements for licensed professional counseling. Check that a program provides the support and meets the licensing requirements you need to achieve your goals.

Online master’s in counseling programs include advanced classes and capstone requirements. Students learn counseling theories, evidence-based research, and strategies for diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental health disorders.

How Long is a Master’s in Counseling Program?

The length of a master’s in counseling program can differ depending on various factors (e.g., which degree you have when you begin the program, whether you attend full-time or part-time, and more).

On average, full-time students can complete the program in four semesters, which translates to approximately two years. Part-time students can finish the program in three or more years.

Specializations Within Counseling

Before applying for an online master’s in counseling degree, students must choose a specialization.

Curriculum for an Online Master’s Degree in Counseling

When pursuing an online master’s degree in counseling, the specific courses you take can vary depending on your specialty or concentration. However, there are several foundational courses that provide a strong basis for any counseling specialization.

  • Advanced research methodology: This is a foundational course available in most master’s in counseling online programs. It teaches students how to conduct research according to the standards of the field, including how to write a proposal, analyze data, handle human subjects, and apply for funding.
  • Professional ethics and law: This class teaches students how to understand and apply ethical codes, federal and state laws, and field-specific regulations. Course content may also include analyzing ethical dilemmas and vignettes, including historical cases that have shaped the field.
  • Child abuse and neglect: In this course, students learn to identify signs of maltreatment, provide counseling and support to children, and trauma-informed intervention. These skills prepare students for careers as family therapists, child advocates, and school counselors.
  • Human development: Human development is a common topic in clinical counseling programs. This course guides students through the stages of human development, including psychological, cognitive, and biological theories of growth.
  • Group counseling: This course trains students to become effective group facilitators, covering the types of group sessions. Students also learn techniques related to engaging group members and evaluating success.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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Online Master’s in Counseling Careers

Earning a master’s in counseling provides a pathway to an array of careers helping people confront challenges, solve problems, and develop coping skills. Although the educational and licensing requirements for counselors vary by state and specialization, in most cases, counselors complete the following steps to enter the field:

  1. 1Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
  2. 2Complete any necessary prerequisites or training required for enrollment (i.e., some programs require related on-the-job experience, but most do not have this requirement).
  3. 3Complete an accredited graduate degree (e.g., master’s in counseling), including a minimum of 100 practicum hours and an additional 600 hours for internships.
  4. 4Apply for licensure in your state.
  5. 5Finish required post-graduate supervised field experience after obtaining a professional counselor training license (e.g., 2,000-4,000 supervised post-degree hours). Note the validity of a temporary license may vary per state.
  6. 6Apply for and pass the National Counseling Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
  7. 7Maintain your professional counseling license.

Counseling Salaries

Counselors make an average mean salary of $61,790 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, several factors influence earning potential, including specialty, location, and educational level.

Counseling Careers and Salaries
Counseling SpecializationAverage Annual Salary
Substance Abuse Counseling$53,710
Christian Counseling$46,130
Marriage and Family Counseling$58,510
Rehabilitation Counseling$44,040
School Counseling$61,710
Source: BLS, 2023

Master’s in Counseling Certifications and Licenses

Each state issues counseling licenses that grant individuals permission to practice and identify as a licensed counselor. In contrast to required state licensure, certification is a voluntary credential demonstrating that the counselor has met national standards established by the profession.

Not all licensed counselors obtain certification, but many choose to get certified to distinguish themselves in their specialty. Certification may also be required to earn licensure in some states.

State licensing boards use several titles to identify licensed counselors, including licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). Certification titles reflect national recognition such as the national certified counselor (NCC) credential. They can also indicate specializations such as the certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC) or national certified school counselor (NCSC) designation.

National Counselor Examination

Students must pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) exam to become licensed professional counselors in most states. It consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, which assess the test taker’s ability to provide effective counseling and related services. Eligibility requirements include a traditional or online master’s in counseling and 3,000 hours of post-graduate field experience, 100 hours of which must be supervised.

National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination

Passing the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) is an integral step to becoming a licensed mental health counselor in many states. The test tasks students with treating clinical issues in 10 simulated mental health cases, each of which is broken down into sections that lead students through the decision-making and treatment process. To sit for the NCMHCE, candidates must hold a master’s degree and 3,360 hours of supervised postgraduate work experience.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

Colleges and universities in the U.S. must be regionally accredited to confer valid degrees recognized by most professional bodies and employers. Organizations that have received authority from the U.S. Department of Higher Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) grant accreditation. Accreditation determines a school’s eligibility for federal funding and the quality of its programs, respectively.

Additionally, an online master’s degree program in counseling may hold accreditation from an industry-specific accrediting body, such as the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs or the Master of Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council. This programmatic accreditation ensures graduates qualify for licensure, employment, and further education.

Masters in Counseling FAQs

Page last reviewed on April 15, 2024. Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by The Best Schools.

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