The Best Online Master’s in Counseling 2021

by TBS Staff
TheBestSchools.org

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

Are you ready to discover your college program?

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. The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL

The oldest and largest public university in Alabama, UA serves more than 38,000 students annually.

UA's online master of arts in rehabilitation counseling prepares students to help people with disabilities meet their personal, social, vocational, and other goals. In addition to courses such as individual and group appraisal, multicultural counseling, and education research methods, the program requires all students to complete a practicum and an internship. Those who attend full-time can graduate in just two years.

Applicants must submit transcripts showing a 3.0 minimum GPA, GRE scores of 300 or MAT 50th percentile (waived through fall 2021), a statement of purpose, and three letters of recommendation. Applicants must also undergo an online interview.

Accreditation: University of Alabama is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 72%
  • Receiving Loans: 39%
  • Online Enrollment: 39%


2. LeTourneau University

Longview, TX

A private, interdenominational Christian polytechnic university opened in 1846, LETU welcomes approximately 3,000 students each year.

LETU grounds all of its programs, including the online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling, in the intersection of science and faith. Students learn the latest tools and techniques to assist clients facing struggles from addiction to domestic violence and gain a deep understanding of theodicy and the dynamics of spirituality.

The flexible 66-credit program meets all requirements for licensure in the state of Texas. In addition to counseling techniques, group counseling methods, and trauma and theology in the developmental context, all students must complete a counseling practicum and an internship.

Applicants must submit transcripts showing a GPA of 2.5 or a resume documenting relevant full-time work experience. The program also requires an interview. Those without a psychology background may need to successfully pass remedial courses before admission.

Accreditation: LeTourneau University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 59%
  • Receiving Loans: 45%
  • Online Enrollment: 59%

View School Profile



3. University of North Texas

Denton, TX

Known as North Texas State University until 1988, UNT serves roughly 40,000 students each year.

UNT's online master of science in rehabilitation counseling prepares students for various careers, from psychiatric technician to medical and health services manager.

The 60-credit program focuses on the range of factors that impact people living with disabilities, from diversity issues to psychosocial concerns. All students take one elective course in an area such as crisis management or transition counseling, based on personal interest and career goals. They must also complete 700 contact hours of fieldwork experiences and pass a comprehensive exam.

Requirements include transcripts showing a GPA of at least 3.0, a self-statement, a resume, and two professional letters of recommendation. Qualified applicants also undergo an interview.

Accreditation: University of North Texas is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Receiving Loans: 50%
  • Online Enrollment: 46%

View School Profile



4. Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA

Founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, Liberty infuses its curriculum with an evangelical Christian perspective. The university serves more than 100,000 students each year.

Liberty's online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling requires students to attend two on-campus intensives. The 60-credit program also requires a practicum and two internship semesters.

Courses include counseling techniques and the helping relationship, integration of spirituality and counseling, and family systems theories. All students also choose one elective and must pass a comprehensive exam.

Requirements include official transcripts showing a 2.7 GPA or above, contact information for two recommenders, and a personal statement. Applicants must also agree to the university's Mission Statement and Diversity Statement.

Accreditation: Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 50%
  • Receiving Loans: 60%
  • Online Enrollment: 90%

View School Profile



5. Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem, NC

A historically Black university (HBCU) founded in 1892, WSSU today welcomes more than 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students each year.

WSSU's online master of science in rehabilitation counseling allows students to choose a concentration in rehab counseling, deaf and hard of hearing, clinical mental health counseling, vocational evaluation, or transition. The 63-credit program confers eligibility to sit for the national Certified Rehab Counselor (CRC) exam and the state clinical mental health counselor exam.

All students take 42 core credits, 12 elective credits, 9 concentration/emphasis credits. Students must also complete a 100- contact-hour practicum and a 600-contact-hour internship.

Requirements include transcripts reflecting a 2.7 or higher GPA, GRE scores, and an interview. WSSU prioritizes applicants currently working in the field.

Accreditation: Winston-Salem State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 48%
  • Receiving Loans: 74%
  • Online Enrollment: 50%


6. Concordia University-Irvine

Irvine, CA

One of nine universities in the Lutheran church's Concordia system, CUI serves nearly 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year.

CUI's master of arts in counseling: clinical mental health focuses on the transformative power of therapeutic relationships through a Christian lens. Students learn various treatment approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, family systems theory, and attachment therapy.

The 60-credit program begins with a four-day on-campus kickoff conference hosted by Dr. John Townsend, namesake of the university's Townsend Institute. Students may take 1-2 courses simultaneously, completing the program in 2-3 years. All students must complete a three-credit practicum and two three-credit internship experiences.

Applicants must submit official transcripts with a minimum 3.0 GPA, a resume, two professional references, and a written essay. Admission also requires a group interview with faculty.

Accreditation: Concordia University Irvine is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

  • Graduation Rate: 63%
  • Receiving Loans: 60%
  • Online Enrollment: 62%


7. Concordia University-Wisconsin

Mequon, WI

Part of the national Lutheran Concordia system, CUW enrolls more than 5,700 students every year.

The 45-60-credit online master of science in education – school and professional counseling program qualifies students for Wisconsin licensure in professional counseling or school counseling. Students can also pursue an optional certificate in Christian counseling and/or a substance abuse counselor-in-training (SAC-IT) credential during their program.

A strong Christian worldview runs through the program, with courses including Christian reconciliation, ethics of Christian counselors, and Christian perspectives on psychopharmacology.

Applicants must submit transcripts showing a minimum 3.0 GPA, two letters of reference, a one-page essay, and a resume.

Accreditation: Concordia Unviersity Wisconsin is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

  • Graduation Rate: 59%
  • Receiving Loans: 64%
  • Online Enrollment: 36%

View School Profile



8. Prairie View A & M University

Prairie View, TX

A historically Black university (HBCU) founded in 1876, now part of the Texas A&M system, PVAMU welcomes nearly 9,000 students per year.

The university's online master of arts in counseling: emphasis on school counseling provides classroom teachers with the tools and techniques they need to become school counselors. All students take the same series of courses, including human growth and development, school counseling in a multicultural society, and crisis and trauma counseling with children. All students must also complete a three-credit practicum.

Applicants must hold a current teaching certificate with at least one year of teaching experience (two years preferred). The university also requires a cover letter, a teaching service record, and three letters of recommendation.

Accreditation: Prairie View A&M University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 35%
  • Receiving Loans: 74%
  • Online Enrollment: 20%


9. North Carolina Central University

Durham, NC

A historically Black university (HBCU) founded in 1909 as part of the Chautauqua movement, NCCU today educates more than 8,000 students each year.

NCCU's online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling prepares students for state licensure as professional counselors. With an additional three courses, a student may, if desired, also become eligible for licensure as a clinical addictions specialist.

The 60-credit program includes topics such as psychosocial development, multicultural and gender issues, and diagnosis, assessment, and psychopathology. Students must also complete both a three-credit practicum and a six-credit internship.

Application requirements include a minimum 2.7 GPA, transcripts, GRE scores, two recommendations, and an essay.

Accreditation: North Carolina Central University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 46%
  • Receiving Loans: 78%
  • Online Enrollment: 44%


10. Thomas University

Thomasville, GA

A private, rural university founded in 1950, TU serves just over 1,300 students each year.

TU offers an online masters in clinical mental health counseling and clinical rehabilitation counseling (CMHCRC). The only one of its kind in Georgia, the program prepares students for state licensure as professional counselors and for the national Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential. Students may add a specialization in alcohol and addictions counseling for an extra 12 credits.

The 60-credit curriculum features courses in medical aspects of disability, theories and techniques of group counseling, and human sexuality. All students must complete a 100-contact-hour practicum, two 450-contact-hour internships, and a capstone project.

Requirements comprise official transcripts, a statement of purpose, and three letters of recommendation.

Accreditation: Thomas University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  • Graduation Rate: 20%
  • Receiving Loans: 60%
  • Online Enrollment: 100%

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.

Curriculum for an Online Master’s Degree in Counseling

  • 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, develop variables, handle human subjects, and apply for funding.
  • Professional ethics and law: This class helps students understand federal and state laws, along with mandatory field-specific regulations. Course content may also include a historical look at famous cases that shaped the field.
  • Child abuse and neglect: In this course, students learn to identify signs of maltreatment, provide counseling and support to children, and follow through by accessing community resources to ensure that either the family dynamic changes or that a child is placed into a safe environment. These skills prepare students for careers as family therapists, child advocates, and school counselors.
  • Human development: Another common topic—particularly for programs based in clinical counseling — this course guides students through the stages of human development, including psychological, cognitive, and biological theories of growth. Students may analyze case studies and begin to develop their own styles of counseling.
  • Group counseling: This course trains students to become effective group facilitators, covering the purpose and types of group sessions. Students also learn techniques related to engaging group members and evaluating success.

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: $81,880 Projected Job Growth: 21%

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: $46,240 Projected Job Growth: 25%

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: $57,040 Projected Job Growth: 8%

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

true 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.

true 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.

true 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.

Learn more, do more.

More topic-relevant resources to expand your knowledge.

Popular with our students.

Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

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

woman in an office