The Best Online Master’s in Family Counseling 2021

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An online master's in family counseling degree teaches students how to help families suffering from daily challenges and overwhelming experiences.

Family counselors help families through challenges like divorce and job loss. They also diagnose children with mental health disorders, work with couples to strengthen their relationships, and help families build healthy connections. A master's degree in family counseling prepares graduates for careers in marriage and family counseling.

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Marriage and family therapists benefit from a faster-than-average projected job outlook between 2019-2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS projects 22% job growth in the next decade. The median annual salary for marriage and family therapists reaches nearly $50,000.

Our list ranks the best online master's in marriage and family counseling programs to help prospective students find the right fit and reach their career goals. This page also introduces common family counseling courses, offers advice on selecting online counseling programs, and provides an overview of career paths for those who have earned a master's in family counseling.

Top 10 Online Master's in Family Counseling Programs 2021
#1 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
#2 Abilene Christian University Abilene, TX
#3 Concordia University-Wisconsin Mequon,
#4 Brandman University Irvine, CA
#5 University of West Alabama Livingston, AL

The Best Online Master's in Family Counseling Programs 2021

  1. Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA

    Liberty University encompasses 15 colleges and schools and serves over 100,000 students annually. More than 450 of the more than 700 programs offered are available completely online.

    Liberty's 60-credit online master of arts in marriage and family therapy program allows up to 30 transfer credits with a 2.5-year completion timeframe. Program costs start at $565 per credit. Admission requirements include collegiate transcripts, two references, a personal statement, and signed mission statement and diversity statement agreements.

  2. Abilene Christian University

    Abilene, TX

    Founded in 1906, ACU now supports 164 programs across seven schools and colleges. The private Christian institution boasts a 14-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

    ACU's online master of marriage and family therapy program consists of 60 credits with a minimum of 33 months for completion. Tuition runs at a cost of $825 per credit. Admission requirements include a written purpose statement, three letters of recommendation, and a virtual interview. Students must earn a minimum 3.0 GPA in their first 12 credits.

  3. Concordia University-Wisconsin


    CUW serves almost 9,000 students annually across two campuses and online. Online programs allow students to set their own schedules and finish degrees at their own pace.

    The Department of Graduate Education offers a completely online master of science in family life program consisting of 36 credits at a cost of $630 per credit. Admission requirements include a resume, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and an essay. GRE test scores are not required, and transfer credits are assessed on a per-student basis.

  4. Brandman University

    Irvine, CA

    Brandman was established in 1861 with the primary purpose of serving military students at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The institution now focuses on providing education to nontraditional and adult learners.

    Brandman offers the master of marriage and family therapy program as a hybrid option and completely online. The 60-credit program comes with a tuition of $670 per credit. Admission requirements vary based on the applicant's undergraduate GPA or completion of another master's program.

  5. University of West Alabama

    Livingston, AL



    The University of West Alabama was founded in 1835 as an all-girls, faith-based institution. Today, UWA offers more than 90 programs of higher learning both on campus and online.

    The 33-credit master of science in family counseling program typically takes one to two years for completion at a cost of under $430 per credit. Admission requirements include an online application and official transcripts. Students can transfer up to nine credits at the graduate level into this program.

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Online Master's in Family Counseling Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

What Is a Master’s in Family Counseling Degree?

A master's degree in family counseling trains graduate students in client assessment, group counseling, and psychotherapy methods. During a master's program, online learners strengthen their knowledge and skills in family counseling while building experience through a practicum. Master's students learn to create treatment plans for families, implement counseling methods when working with children, and select successful approaches for crisis management.

Earning a master's in marriage and family counseling generally takes two years. Some programs offer accelerated or part-time enrollment options.

After completing a family counseling degree, graduates can apply for a marriage and family therapist license or work as a family counselor. The degree can also lead to opportunities as a mental health counselor, behavioral counselor, or substance abuse counselor.

Choosing an Online Program

When researching online counseling programs, prospective students should consider several factors: cost, program length, practicum stipulations, and on-campus requirements. Some students may prefer a local program with the opportunity for on-campus meetings, while others may want a fully online program, where learners complete practicum requirements locally.

Researching program length, concentration options, and specialized accreditation can help students narrow their options. Learn more about how to choose an online program at the links below.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Family Counseling Program?

During a master's in marriage and family counseling, graduate students take courses covering psychotherapy theories, counseling techniques, and ethical issues in counseling. Many programs also let students choose electives based on their career interests. These courses prepare master's students for their practica, where they gain real-world experience, and for careers in family counseling after graduation.

Family Counseling Curriculum

  • Introduction to Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling: This course introduces family dynamics and the practice of family counseling. Students explore the history of the profession, its theoretical underpinnings, and ethical frameworks that guide the delivery of care. Students also review preparation standards and credentials relevant to specialty areas within the broader field.
  • Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories: In this class, students take a closer look at the therapeutic theories and techniques used in mental health counseling. Students explore the strengths and weaknesses of individual theories, learning which to rely upon in specific clinical settings. Through this overview, students develop their own personal theories of counseling.
  • Techniques in Counseling: Students in this course hone their practical counseling skills. For example, students learn to conduct interviews, make behavioral observations, appropriately interpret patient responses, and share their findings through written reports. The class also teaches students to limit the role their personal beliefs and biases play in drawing conclusions about their clients.
  • Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling: To earn a license and serve as an effective counselor, marriage and family therapists need a deep understanding of the ethical and legal challenges they may face in their practice. Students in this course critically examine and apply ethical standards of their profession, such as the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics.
  • Crisis, Trauma, and Disaster Response: This course prepares learners to help their patients cope with trauma, such as sexual assault, terrorism, or natural disasters. Topics covered include trauma therapy competencies, vicarious trauma and countertransference, crisis assessment tools, and specific diagnoses within this area of counseling, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Family Counseling Professional Organizations

Professional organizations can help family counseling graduate students transition from their master's programs into the workforce. These organizations offer networking opportunities, continuing education resources, and professional development tools for graduate students and early career professionals. Many also offer scholarships and career resources for students.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
AAMFT represents the interests of more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists in both the United States and Canada. The organization hosts information on all state licensing boards, organizes an annual conference and regional training events, and disseminates research through a scholarly journal. The AAMFT minority fellowship program also works to draw individuals from underrepresented groups into the profession.
American Counseling Association
Founded in 1952, ACA is the world's largest professional association for counselors. Members can access local knowledge centers to learn more about issues like gun violence trauma and addiction, meet continuing education requirements through webinars and in-person professional development programs, and connect with their colleagues through online forums.
American Family Therapy Academy
AFTA aims to enhance the practice of family therapy through research, advocacy, and collaboration. It publishes an academic journal focused on systemic research and theory, maintains a directory of qualified clinicians and therapists, and gives awards to recognize exemplary service to the field. The academy provides discounted membership to both students and early career professionals.
National Council on Family Relations
NCFR is an interdisciplinary organization that strengthens families through research, practice, and education. It administers the certified family life educator credential program; arranges research conferences and workshops; and hosts curated digital resource collections on topics like ambiguous loss, racial discrimination, and transgender issues.
Delta Kappa
Delta Kappa -- also known as The International Marriage & Family Therapy Honor Society -- supports the training of the next generation of marriage and family therapists. In addition to maintaining chapters on campuses across the country, Delta Kappa provides a variety of resources both for students considering a career in counseling and for those actively looking for an accredited graduate program.

Family Counseling Careers

A master's degree in family counseling prepares graduates for many career paths, including marriage and family therapist, mental health counselor, and school counselor. A master's degree also meets the requirements for many management-level roles in the social and community services field. Some careers, like counseling psychologist, require further study.

The marriage and family therapist salary potential varies depending on title, location, and experience. Many family counseling careers report strong job demand and above-average salaries.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Median Salary


Projected Job Growth


Marriage and family therapists work with couples and families to manage problems in their relationships. They help clients handle changes in their lives, build the skills needed to cope with challenges, and make decisions about the future. Marriage and family therapists may also refer clients to services like support groups.

In every state, marriage and family therapists must hold a master's degree and a license to practice. A graduate degree in marriage and family therapy, family counseling, psychology, or a related field meets entry-level requirements. This career path requires compassion, strong listening skills, and organizational abilities to manage multiple clients.


Median Salary


Projected Job Growth


Psychologists study the mind and human behavior. They observe and interview clients, identify psychological issues, and diagnose mental health disorders. Psychologists can specialize in several areas, including school psychology, neuropsychology, and developmental psychology. Counseling psychologists specialize in addressing problems through psychotherapy.

Most psychologists who work with clients need a doctorate. However, some roles, such as industrial psychology, may only require a master's degree. In most states, practicing psychologists need a license. The field requires strong observational and communication skills, since psychologists treat patients with a variety of problems. Psychologists also need patience and problem-solving abilities.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselors

Median Salary


Projected Job Growth


Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors treat clients with addictions, mental health issues, and other behavioral problems. They meet with clients to evaluate their needs and develop treatment plans. Counselors then work with clients to modify their behaviors and develop strategies to manage problems. They may also provide group counseling or participate in outreach programs.

Educational requirements vary depending on the position and state. Most mental health counselors need a master's degree in an area like counseling, psychology, or social work. Professionals in private practice must hold a state license.

School and Career Counselors

Median Salary


Projected Job Growth


School and career counselors help children and adults succeed in academic and professional settings. School counselors evaluate student abilities, identify problems that impact school performance, and counsel students on overcoming obstacles. Career counselors use aptitude assessments to help clients identify their career interests and skills. They also help clients identify job opportunities and build job search skills.

Most positions require a master's degree in counseling or a closely related field. School counselors generally need a license, and in some states, career counselors must also apply for a license. Both positions require strong analytical and interpersonal skills to work with clients.

Social and Community Service Managers

Median Salary


Projected Job Growth


Social and community service managers oversee organizations that provide services to the public. They manage staff members, implement programs, plan outreach activities to bring awareness to their organization's services, and write funding proposals. Social and community service managers also analyze data to measure program effectiveness and implement improvements.

Most positions require at least a bachelor's degree, while some may require a master's degree in social work, public administration, or a related field. Managers generally need previous work experience in their field and rely on strong communication skills to connect with clients, staff, and members of the community.

Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does It Take to Complete a Master's in Family Counseling Program?

Earning a master's in marriage and family therapy typically takes two years for full-time students. Some programs may offer an accelerated route to the degree.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Family Therapy?

Professionals with a master's in family therapy work as marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and couple's counselors. Some may also specialize in working with children.

What Is the Objective of Family Counseling?

Attending marriage and family counseling can help couples repair problems in their relationship, help children overcome social or emotional challenges, and help families build stronger relationships. During counseling, therapists work with families using group counseling methods to identify and address interpersonal problems. Family counselors also help their clients strengthen their relationships with family members.

What Is a Master's in Family Counseling?

A master of marriage and family therapy degree trains graduate students in individual and group therapy, counseling methods, and integrative care. The degree prepares graduates for careers as marriage and family therapists or family counselors.

Which Degree Is Better: Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) or Master's in Social Work (MSW)?

Both a MFT and MSW can lead to careers in marriage and family therapy or family counseling. There is a lot of coursework overlap, but the two degrees offer different focuses. Broadly speaking, MSW students take courses in social work practice, case work, and community resources, while MFT students take classes in psychotherapy, counseling methods, and mental health issues.

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