Best Online Master’s in Counseling 2022

by TBS Staff Writers, Sherry Christiansen
• 1 min read
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 in Counseling Programs

Best Online Master's in Counseling Programs

#1 Online College in New York

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: School counseling, mental health counseling

Accredited By: Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

Located in New York City, NYU offers two online master's in counseling programs. Both the school counseling and the counseling for mental health and wellness programs allow full- and part-time enrollment. 

The school counseling program gives learners the tools needed to work in K-12 schools. Classes focus on students' well-being, including dealing with family and community issues. Graduates leave the program knowing how to develop programming that addresses the students' academic, developmental, and social well-being. 

The counseling for mental health and wellness track covers all the stages of the human lifespan. This track prepares learners to become a licensed professional counselor and work with different populations. Students customize their education with elective courses such as substance use disorders, trauma counseling, or adolescent mental health.

Available Scholarships: The NYUSPS Grant

#2 Online College in California

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: No

Accredited By: Western Association of Schools and Colleges' Senior Colleges and University Commission, Credentialing program for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing's Pupil Personnel Services: School Counseling (PPS-SC) 

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

USC offers a fully online master's in school counseling. The program prepares students for the PPS-SC credential, required for California school counselors. Full-time learners completing the master's in counseling degree online typically finish in two years. Part-time enrollees may take 2.5-3 years.

The curriculum includes live classes, self-paced coursework, and some requirements for fieldwork/practicum sessions. Participants must complete a basic skills requirement before doing fieldwork in local K-12 schools. Fieldwork requirements include a 600-hour internship and a 100-hour practicum in the students' state of residency.

Admission requirements include official transcripts with a 3.0 GPA, a resume, and recommendation letters. Applicants also submit two short-answer responses and a statement of purpose describing how their goals align with the program.

Available Scholarships: Endowed USC Fellowships

#3 Online College in Pennsylvania

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: No

Accredited By: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

A private Baptist school in South Abington Township, Pennsylvania, CSU offers an online master's in counseling degree. The program features a theologically and biblically based curriculum. Graduates qualify to take the National Certified Counselor exam for their licensed professional counselor credential.

Students earn their online master's in counseling degree practicum hours by working under a credentialed co-counselor at the on-campus counseling center. The on-campus practicum combines live counseling sessions with biblically based theory. 

Available Scholarships: Career Ready Scholarship

#4 Online College in North Carolina

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: Clinical mental health, school counseling

Accredited By: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

WFU in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers an online master's in counseling program with two track options. Learners pick the clinical mental health counseling track or the school counseling track. 

The clinical mental health track prepares students to work with clients in a clinical setting. Degree-seekers learn to help those needing counseling for mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or family and marriage/relationship issues. 

The school counseling track prepares students to work with school faculty, students, and family members. School counselors facilitate students' development, socialization, academics, and cultural functioning. 

The 60-credit program includes 100% online classes, internships, and practicum requirements. WFU offers 24/7 technical support and tutoring services to distance learners. 

Available Scholarships: Richter Scholarship Program

#5 Online College in New Mexico

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: No

Accredited By: Higher Learning Commission, Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

USW offers a clinical mental health counseling degree meeting professional counselor licensing requirements in most states. Out-of-state students should check with their state of residency's licensing requirements for verification. Learners complete USW's master's in counseling degree online, in a hybrid format, or on campus in Hobbs, New Mexico. 

The core curriculum addresses the counseling needs of adults, children, and families. Students pick from many elective classes, some of which include Christian counseling, psychopharmacotherapy, and play therapy. 

Prerequisites include a regionally accredited bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA, a 500-word essay, and a resume with relevant work experience. 

Available Scholarships: Donor Funded Scholarships

#6 Online College in California

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

Accredited By: Western Association of Schools and Colleges' Senior Colleges and University Commission, Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education 

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

A Christian school in Fullerton, California, HIU offers a counseling program with a marriage and family therapy concentration. The 61-unit, fully online master's in counseling program includes Christian principles, research, theories, and practical application. 

Classes last 8-16 weeks. The program requires 50 hours of professional development and 300 direct client contact hours under licensed clinician supervision. Students living near the university can get clinical training and client contact hours at the on-site Hope Counseling Center. This lets them finish their degree in 2-3 years. After graduation and completion of clinical hours, students qualify to take the California LPCC or LMFT licensing test. 

Available Scholarships: FastWeb Scholarships

#7 Online College in Virginia

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: No

Accredited By: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

Liberty is a private, evangelical Christian academic community in Lynchburg, Virginia. The university offers a clinical mental health counseling master's degree through its school of behavioral sciences. 

The online master's in counseling program includes two required three-credit intensive face-to-face classes. These intensives let students meet with faculty and peers in person. Learners must also complete a three-credit practicum lasting 100 hours, including 40 direct client contact hours. 

Admission requirements include a deferred $50 application fee, an online application, and an agreement with the school's diversity and mission statements. Applicants also submit two professional references, a personal statement, official transcripts, proof of English proficiency, and a background check.

Available Scholarships: Southern Baptist Seminary Scholarships, Middle America Scholarship, Tuition discounts available for military and veterans who serve as first responders

#8 Online College in Florida

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: No

Accredited By: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

Keiser, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, offers an online clinical mental health counseling master's degree with mostly asynchronous classes. For some requirements, students must attend classes at specific times, such as in group supervision classes. Bsides the group supervision courses, students must complete three weekend-long, in-person residencies. 

The program curriculum includes evidenced-based practice, diagnostic principles, and strategies for working with diverse populations. The online master's in counseling program entails 60 credits. Near the end of the program, students must complete nine credits of in-person practicum and internships. 

Keiser's clinical mental health counseling does not hold CACREP accreditation. Learners in some states may need more clinical practicum hours to take the Licensed Professional Counselor test. Check the total practicum hours required to sit for your state board's test. 

Available Scholarships: The Faith in Action Scholarship

#9 Online College in Kentucky

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: No 

Accredited By: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

Located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, UC affiliates with the Christian faith. The school offers a dual-licensure, online master's in addiction counseling program. Enrollees prepare for licensure as a Licensed Addiction Counselor (LADC) and a Licensed Professional Counselor. 

Besides classes, students do two 300-hour internships and a practicum with 100 hours of in-person supervised clinical training. The online master's in counseling degree includes courses in spirituality, motivation, and family therapy. 

With UC approval, learners can transfer a maximum of 18 semester hours of required counseling/psychology-related courses. Students earning the master's in counseling degree online complete the coursework in two years on average.

The clinical practicum requirements for LADCs vary by state. Students should check that the UC program meets their state board's requirements for licensure testing. 

Available Scholarships: Morris Bart, LLC Scholarships

#10 Online College in Texas

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.

Fast Facts

School Type: Private

Concentrations Available: No

Accredited By: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Do Distance Learners Pay In-State Tuition? Yes

A nonprofit, private, interdenominational evangelical Christian institution, LETU resides in Longview, Texas. LETU offers a master's in clinical mental health counseling program. The fully online master's in counseling program integrates a Christian worldview. 

Program requirements include online coursework and a 15-week, in-person practicum with 100 hours of supervised clinical work. Students customize their academic schedule according to their work schedule or personal needs.

The 66-credit curriculum prepares students for the National Counseling Exam in Texas. Out-of-state students should check with their local state board of licensure to ensure the program meets requirements. 

Candidates submit an online application and official transcripts from a regionally accredited bachelor's degree with a 2.5 GPA. Students with lower GPAs can still qualify on a probationary status, provided they show relevant full-time work experience. 

Available Scholarships: Manson Stockwell Graduate Scholar Award 

#11 Online College in Oklahoma

Mid-America Christian University

School Information
Location Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Graduation Rate 33%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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 Counseling 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.

true 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.

true 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.

true 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.

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