Best Online Master’s in Counseling

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by TBS Staff Writers

Updated September 26, 2022

reviewed by TBS Rankings Team
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Online Masters in Counseling

Graduates with online master's degrees in counseling can find employment as school counselors, marriage and family therapists, and substance abuse counselors. Earning a master's in counseling online prepares graduates to work with children and adults on aspects of mental health. In these programs, learners explore advanced concepts and theories in psychology and sociology. An online master's in counseling also includes practical and research components to facilitate entry into the counseling profession, which students can often complete with local organizations. After an online counseling degree, students can pursue licensure in the field.

Improvements in technology have increasingly allowed for remote counseling sessions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As more individuals seek counseling services, the need for therapists is expected to grow; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster-than-average job growth for counselors from 2019-2029. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors have a 25% projected job growth rate, while marriage and family therapists have a projected 22% job growth rate.

While online master's degrees in counseling vary in curricula and requirements, most programs share some common elements. This page explores what students can expect when earning a master's in counseling online.

Choosing an Online Master's in Counseling Program

Students pursuing a master’s in counseling online take coursework that builds on foundational concepts in psychology, sociology, and the health sciences. Graduate programs also emphasize ethical concerns and research standards and techniques. Learners gain not only important theoretical knowledge, but also the ability to apply best practices.

Additionally, because much of what counselors do involves interacting with people, practicums represent an important part of the curriculum in master’s degree in counseling online programs. Many schools provide options for students to complete these field experiences in their communities or at their current jobs, while other programs offer intensive on-campus practicum sessions over the summer. These options give distance learners the flexibility to complete requirements without dramatically interrupting their schedules.

Online master’s programs in counseling share many similar characteristics, but they may differ in terms of specialization options. Counseling is a large field and some schools offer a wide variety of concentration areas. Common specializations include clinical mental health, school counseling, marriage and/or family counseling, and substance abuse. Other programs focus on only one particular area, such as professional counseling. Your professional goals determine which online counseling master’s degree best suits your needs.

Featured Online Master's Programs

Best Online Master's in Counseling Programs

#1

New York University

School Information
Location New York, New York
Admission Rate 16%
Graduation Rate 85%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Graduate students interested in a master's in counseling can earn their degree from New York University. The master's in school counseling program draws on a rigorous curriculum that prepares graduates for leadership responsibilities. Earning a master's degree can help candidates advance in their current career or pursue a new career path entirely.

The master's curriculum emphasizes research methods and analytical skills. Learners focus the program with electives or a concentration. Applicants without a counseling background may need to complete prerequisite courses to enroll in the program.

Online enrollees complete internships in their local community to gain real-world experience. The program encourages graduate students to attend networking events to expand their professional connections.

New York University at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 16%

Total Online Master's Programs: 28

Program Name: Master's in school counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $33,408

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $33,408

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#2

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California offers an online master's in counseling. The master of education in school counseling program encourages career training throughout its curriculum, preparing graduates for leadership positions. Earning a master's degree can also help candidates pursue new career opportunities.

The master's curriculum covers methodological and research perspectives. Learners prepare for the job market by choosing a specialty through electives. The master's program recommends that applicants bring a background in counseling or a related field.

Online enrollees participate in internship programs at approved locations in their area. The program encourages graduate students to attend networking events to expand their professional connections.

University of Southern California at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 11%

Total Online Master's Programs: 55

Program Name: Master of education in school counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $46,272

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $46,272

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#3

Clarks Summit University

School Information
Location South Abington Township, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 41%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Based in South Abington Township, Pennsylvania, Clarks Summit University hosts a top-rated online master's in counseling. The master of science in counseling program builds specialized skills for leadership roles in the counseling field and related industries. A master's degree also helps candidates pursue new career paths.

The master's curriculum examines advanced theories and practices in counseling. Learners often choose a specialized concentration, which can help them stand out in a competitive job market. Applicants without a counseling background may need to complete prerequisite courses to enroll in the program.

Online enrollees coordinate with the program to complete internships at approved sites in their local area. Graduate students expand their professional connections by attending virtual networking events.

Clarks Summit University at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 41%

Total Online Master's Programs: 5

Program Name: Master of science in counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $8,160

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $8,160

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#4

Wake Forest University

School Information
Location Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Admission Rate 30%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The online master's degree in counseling at Wake Forest University, located in Winston-Salem, offers high academic quality. Graduates train for leadership roles in the field while earning their degree from the online master's in counseling program. With a master's degree, candidates advance their current career or more into new career paths.

The master's curriculum covers methodological and research perspectives. Learners choose electives or a specialization to stand out in a competitive job market. Applicants without a background in counseling may need to complete prerequisite courses before enrolling in the master's program.

Online enrollees work with the school to find internship opportunities in their local area. The program encourages graduate students to attend networking events to expand their professional connections.

Wake Forest University at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 30%

Total Online Master's Programs: 4

Program Name: Online master's in counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $38,650

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $38,650

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#5

University of the Southwest

School Information
Location Hobbs, New Mexico
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 32%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 100% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The master's in counseling degree at the University of the Southwest, located in Hobbs, uses a flexible distance learning format. The master's in clinical mental health counseling  program emphasizes industry-relevant knowledge and skills, preparing graduates for decision-making responsibilities. A master's degree can also lead candidates to new career paths.

The master's curriculum emphasizes research methods and analytical skills. Learners prepare for the job market by choosing a specialty through electives. The master's program recommends a background in counseling or a related field for those applying.

Online enrollees gain real-world experience through internships offered in their local area. The program encourages graduate students to participate in hands-on experiences and networking events to grow their professional connections.

University of the Southwest at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 45%

Total Online Master's Programs: 19

Program Name: Master's in clinical mental health counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $22,500

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $22,500

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#6

Hope International University

School Information
Location Fullerton, California
Admission Rate 37%
Graduation Rate 54%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Located in Fullerton, California, Hope International University enrolls master's students in its top-ranked online counseling program. The master of science in counseling program helps graduates move into leadership roles and increase their earning potential. A master's degree allows candidates to move up the career ladder or pursue a new career path.

The master's curriculum explores counseling research and methodologies. Learners take electives and other specialized courses to gain career-specific training. Applicants who majored in counseling or a related field typically meet the admission requirements.

Online enrollees gain hands-on experience during professional internships in their local area. The program encourages graduate students to participate in networking events to grow their professional connections.

Hope International University at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 37%

Total Online Master's Programs: 9

Program Name: Master of science in counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $13,764

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $13,764

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#7

Liberty University

School Information
Location Lynchburg, Virginia
Admission Rate 51%
Graduation Rate 47%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University hosts a top-rated online master's in counseling. The MA in clinical mental health counseling program encourages career training throughout its curriculum, preparing graduates for leadership positions. After completing a master's degree, candidates often pursue career advancement in their current field or a new one.

The master's curriculum emphasizes research methods and analytical skills. Learners choose electives or a specialization to stand out in a competitive job market. The master's program recommends that applicants bring a background in counseling or a related field.

Online enrollees participate in internship programs at approved locations in their area. The program hosts networking events and other professional development activities to help graduate students expand their professional connections.

Liberty University at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 51%

Total Online Master's Programs: 67

Program Name: MA in clinical mental health counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $7,980

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $7,980

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#8

Keiser University

School Information
Location Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Graduation Rate 69%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 47% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The online master's degree in counseling at Keiser University, located in Fort Lauderdale, offers high academic quality. The master of science in clinical mental health counseling program helps graduates increase their salary potential and take on more professional responsibilities. Earning a master's degree can help candidates advance in their current career or pursue a new career path entirely.

The master's curriculum emphasizes theory and practice in counseling. Learners focus their training by choosing electives based on their interests and career goals. Applicants with a background in counseling typically meet the admission requirements.

Online enrollees work with the program to identify internship opportunities at approved sites in their local community. Graduate students also participate in networking events to expand their professional connections.

Keiser University at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Total Online Master's Programs: 15

Program Name: Master of science in clinical mental health counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $27,162

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $27,162

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#9

University of the Cumberlands

School Information
Location Williamsburg, Kentucky
Admission Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 44%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 91% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The University of the Cumberlands, located in Williamsburg, enrolls master's students in its online counseling program. Graduates prepare for advanced roles in the field during the rigorous online master's in addiction counseling program. Earning a master's degree can also help candidates pursue new career opportunities.

The master's curriculum emphasizes the best practices in counseling. Learners focus their training by choosing electives based on their interests and career goals. The master's program recommends individuals have a background in counseling before applying.

Online enrollees add to their resume by pursuing internship opportunities at approved locations in their local area. The program encourages graduate students to participate in hands-on experiences and networking events to grow their professional connections.

University of the Cumberlands at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 80%

Total Online Master's Programs: 25

Program Name: Online master's in addiction counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $5,670

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $5,670

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#10

LeTourneau University

School Information
Location Longview, Texas
Admission Rate 45%
Graduation Rate 63%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 60% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The online master's in counseling degree at LeTourneau University, located in Longview, Texas, prioritizes flexibility. The master of arts in clinical mental health counseling program emphasizes advanced practice skills, training graduates for leadership roles with increased salary potential. Earning a master's degree can help candidates advance in their current career or pursue a new career path entirely.

The master's curriculum covers theoretical and practical approaches to counseling. Learners individualize their course of study by selecting electives and concentrations. Applicants with a background in counseling typically meet the admission requirements.

Online enrollees work with the program to identify internship opportunities at approved sites in their local community. The program hosts networking events and other professional development activities to help graduate students expand their professional connections.

LeTourneau University at a Glance:

Type of School: Private, nonprofit, four-year

Admission Rate: 45%

Total Online Master's Programs: 13

Program Name: Master of arts in clinical mental health counseling

Graduate Tuition In State: $18,618

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $18,618

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Online Master's in Counseling Programs 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.

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.

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

While online master’s degree in counseling programs generally build from the same pool of required coursework, other curricular specifics—such as advanced classes and capstone requirements — depend on the faculty and departmental focus. Most online counseling master’s programs also prepare students for professional examinations and state licensing requirements; however, you should be sure to check that a program provides the support you need to achieve your goals.

Featured Master's Programs

Curriculum for an Online Master’s Degree in Counseling

Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Counseling Prepares For

Students must pass this exam to become a licensed counselor 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. Passing this exam 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 accredited to confer valid degrees recognized by most professional bodies and employers. National accreditation is granted by organizations who have received authority from the U.S. Department of Higher Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which determine a school’s eligibility for federal funding and the quality of its programs, respectively.

Regional accreditation, which is usually considered more valuable than national accreditation, is granted by CHEA-recognized agencies and operates on a regional level. Six bodies grant this kind of accreditation in the United States, ensuring that schools meet certain academic and professional standards. Additionally, an online master’s degree program in counseling may hold accreditation from a field-specific institution, such as the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs or the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council.

Online Master’s in Counseling Careers

The counseling field encompasses many professions, and workers can find employment in hospitals as clinical counselors or at colleges and universities as career counselors. They can also develop their own practices as family and marriage counselors. By enrolling in an online counseling master’s program and obtaining the necessary postgraduate experience and licensure, individuals can build a career that is both lucrative and meaningful.

Genetic Counselor

Median Salary 2020: $85,700 Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 26%

These professionals provide assessment and support for families whose members find themselves at risk of an inherited condition, such as birth defects or genetic disorders. They guide patients through testing and connect them with healthcare and social support resources. Genetic counselors can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, physician offices, and laboratories. Certified counselors are required to have a master's degree.

Mental Health Counselor

Median Salary 2020: $47,660 Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 23%

These professionals can work in many different organizations, including private hospitals and pubic treatment centers. They diagnose conditions and provide one-on-one support to patients suffering from mental illnesses and related challenges like addiction. They also connect patients to community resources, including outpatient programs and job opportunities. To be a licensed mental health counselor, professionals must obtain a master's degree or higher.

School Counselor

Median Salary 2020: $58,120 Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 11%

Dedicated to the academic success and personal health of their students, school counselors can work in any education environment, from K-12 institutions to colleges and universities, depending on what degree they hold. These professionals provide academic guidance, community support, and career counseling. Many also possess the skills needed to handle cases of child neglect or abuse.

Questions About Earning a Master's in Counseling

What Can You Do With a Master's in Counseling?

With a master's in counseling, graduates can work in clinics, hospitals, or private practice. Counselors can also work with specialty populations, including children or adults; address issues related to substance abuse or rehabilitation; or work within healthcare or educational organizations.

Should I Get a Master's in Social Work or Counseling?

Counselors often work with individuals, while social workers offer services to groups and communities. Individuals interested in working in clinical settings often need master's degrees in counseling, though MSW-holders can also work as counselors in private practice. It's best to check local and state regulations when deciding between a social work or counseling master's degree.

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

Most master's in counseling degrees include two years of coursework and practical requirements. Some online master's in counseling programs offer accelerated pathways that allow for earlier graduation, while part-time students can often take five years or more to complete their degrees. Master's students also need bachelor's degrees before they can apply.

What Degree Is Best for Counseling?

Individuals interested in pursuing master's degrees in counseling first need undergraduate degrees in psychology, sociology, social work, or another related field. The best degree for counseling at the graduate level depends on individual career goals. Degree specialty options include substance abuse counseling, marriage and family counseling, and rehabilitation therapy.

Is It Hard to Get a Master's in Counseling?

A master's degree in counseling often includes challenging coursework and topics, which can be emotionally draining. Coursework can also be quite complicated. However, with dedication, effective time management, and hard work, students can excel in graduate programs in counseling.

Featured Master's Programs

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