The Best Online Master’s in School Counseling

by TBS Staff
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School counselors play an integral role in the educational support system by guiding students through critical turning points in their lives.

Common areas where counselors play a role include academic development, career and college development, and social development.

Nearly every state requires school counselors to hold a master's degree and a state license. The best candidates also hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Students who pursue a master's in school counseling enter a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% increase in demand for this role through 2028. Students should note that wages and job availability vary by geographic location. Job availability also fluctuates by industry and target population.

This page provides information about the top online master's programs in school counseling, including how to select one, curricula and licenses, career trajectories, and professional organizations.

The Best Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs

  1. Wake Forest University
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    Founded in 1834, Wake Forest enrolls more than 8,000 students across 45 programs of study.

    Wake Forest offers a master of arts in counseling with a school counseling track. The curriculum covers lifespan development, counseling skills and techniques, issues in school counseling. Coursework takes place entirely online, and students complete practicums and internships in school settings to gain hands-on experience.

    Applicants must submit proof of an undergraduate GPA that exceeds 2.5 as well as GRE scores, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation.

  2. North Carolina State University at Raleigh
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $14771

    A top research institution, NC State teaches over 36,000 students in hands-on programs emphasizing science, education, and social sciences.

    NC State offers an online master of education in counselor education for students interested in working as professional school counselors. Courses include career counseling and development, strategies for clinical assessment, and special problems in guidance.

    This program meets course requirements for professional licensure in North Carolina.

    Applicants must reside in North Carolina and submit official transcripts, GRE or MAT scores, and three letters of recommendation.

  3. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    As a top private research institution, USC teaches 46,000 graduate and undergraduate students each year.

    USC offers an online master of education in school counseling for students seeking work in K-12 settings. Coursework takes place entirely online and includes classes such as legal and ethical issues in counseling, human development theory, and research methods and data analysis for counselors.

    To graduate, students must complete a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. Graduates qualify for California's Pupil Personnel Services-School Counseling (PPS-SC) credential.

    The program prefers applicants with a GPA of at least 3.0.

  4. Lehigh University
    Location

    Bethlehem, PA

    With origins stretching back 150 years, Lehigh teaches just over 7,000 students each year.

    Lehigh offers a master of education in international school counseling for students who work in educational settings outside of the U.S. Most coursework takes place online, but students must attend summer intensives on-campus.

    Courses include counseling and therapeutic approaches, culture-centered career intervention, and helping skills in an international setting. Students must also complete at least 100 hours of in-person fieldwork.

    U.S. citizens can qualify for Pennsylvania certification as school counselors. International students may qualify for certification in other states.

    Applicants must demonstrate an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0.

  5. University of Louisiana at Monroe
    Location

    Monroe, LA

    Tuition

    $9455

    With 80 years of experience educating students, ULM now provides more than 35 online degree programs to support student success.

    ULM offers an online master of science in counseling with a school counseling track. Courses include counseling theories, clinical assessment and psychometrics, and principles of administration in school counseling programs. Students may optionally choose a focus area in pediatrics or marriage and family.

    To graduate, students must complete 60 credits, nine of which fall under practicum and internship courses.

  6. Harding University
    Location

    Searcy, AR

    Founded in 1924 as a Christian college, Harding continues to offer a Christ-based education to nearly 5,000 students each year.

    Harding offers a master of science in professional school counseling that meets course requirements for K-12 licensure in Arkansas. Most courses are available online or in a hybrid format. Classes include trauma-focused behavioral therapy, tech-assisted and distance counseling, and legal and ethical issues in counseling.

    To graduate, students must complete 60 credits and a practicum and internship.

    Applicants must submit official transcripts with a minimum GPA of 2.5 and MAT or GRE scores.

  7. Southeastern Oklahoma State University
    Location

    Durant, OK

    Tuition

    $8490

    Founded in 1909, Southeastern teachers over 4,700 students each year.

    Southeastern offers an online master of education in school counseling in an accelerated and flexible format. The 42-credit program includes courses in social and cultural diversity issues, human growth and development, and psychopathology and treatment planning.

    Students must complete a minimum of 100 hours of practicum work, 40 of which must include direct contact with clients.

    Applicants must hold a valid teaching certificate and demonstrate a GPA of at least 2.0. The program does not require GRE scores. Depending on GPA, students may need to demonstrate two years of work experience.

  8. Angelo State University
    Location

    San Angelo, TX

    Tuition

    $11558

    Founded in 1928, ASU serves nearly 10,800 students across 85 academic programs.

    ASU offers an online master of science in professional school counseling that prepares students to take the Texas Examination of Educator Standards for the Texas School Counselor Certificate. Courses include social and cultural influences, legal and ethical principles, and career and occupational counseling.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a GPA of at least 2.75. The program does not require GRE scores.

    To be certified in Texas, students must have two years of teaching experience.

  9. University of the Southwest
    Location

    Hobbs, NM

    Founded in 1962, USW provides a Christian education through online and on-campus graduate and undergraduate programs.

    USW offers an online master of science in education - school counseling for students pursuing licensure in a K-12 setting in New Mexico. Courses include psycho-educational assessment, child and adolescent counseling, and crisis and trauma intervention.

    To graduate, students must earn 42 credits through core courses, electives, and practicum and internship experiences.

    Applicants must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA for all undergraduate coursework.

  10. University of North Dakota
    Location

    Grand Forks, ND

    Tuition

    $15374

    Founded in 1883, UND teaches more than 13,600 students across 225 online programs.

    UND offers an online master of arts in counseling - K-12 school counseling that can be completed in as little as three years. Courses include foundations in counseling, group theory and process, and trauma and crisis counseling.

    To graduate, students complete 60-65 credits include a practicum and an internship.

    Applicants must submit transcripts demonstrating a 2.75 GPA or higher and the completion of undergraduate courses in abnormal psychology and developmental psychology.

Online Master's in School Counseling Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, 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.

Featured Master's in Counseling Programs

Choosing an Online Master's in School Counseling Program

Colleges and universities create their own curricula, so students pursuing an online master's in school counseling need to research prospective programs to determine if coursework satisfies local licensure requirements. Students should also consider other factors that may influence their own personal goals. Some factors to consider:

  • Program Cost: School counseling programs vary in cost. For instance, students may want to consider in-state programs over out-of-state programs, as out-of-state students often pay higher tuition rates.
  • Transfer Policies: Students who have transfer credits from previous graduate-level study should be sure to thoroughly research the transfer policy at any possible school. Being able to transfer credits can save you time and money in a master's program.
  • School Size and Type: When selecting a program, students should consider their learning style. The size and structure of a school can influence the student experience. For example, students who need more individualized attention may prefer a smaller school.
  • Program Length: Online school counseling programs vary in length. For instance, some institutions may follow traditional semesters, while others offer year-round accelerated programs.
  • On-Campus Requirements: While fully online programs do not require in-person attendance, except for internships and field experience, hybrid programs may require in-person attendance for coursework.
  • Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements: An online master's in school counseling usually requires a thesis, and the best programs typically require field experiences to satisfy licensure requirements.

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

Each university creates unique programs based on its own core educational values, so school counseling master's programs often emphasize different aspects of the field. For instance, focus areas may include college and career readiness, restorative justice, or trauma-informed practice.

In addition to specialzations, accredited school counseling programs cover fundamental knowledge and skills students need to qualify for licensure. While actual titles vary, courses usually include legal and ethical issues in counseling, human development theory in school counseling, research methods and data analysis for counselors, and the counseling process.

Aspiring school counselors can earn certificates through organizations like the National Board for Certified Counselors, which reinforces their professional credibility and create a competitive advantage. National certification can also lead to higher wages and professional advancement.

Online Master's in School Counseling Curriculum

Child and Adolescent Counseling

This course explores counseling techniques and theories that apply to children and adolescents. Student outcomes include identifying common emotional and behavioral disorders, evidence-based interventions, cultural and environmental factors that impact treatment, and emerging trends. This course may include a final exam or special project. Students can use this opportunity to focus on their ideal target population.

Career Development

School counselors often provide career development. This course emphasizes development theories and strategies for decision-making. Topics include relationships between roles of life and career development, cultural influences, and relevant assessments. Course objectives include identifying a healthy work-life balance. This course often requires a comprehensive final exam.

Group Counseling

School counselors need to understand interpersonal influences on behavior, developmental stages of a group, and theoretical approaches for counseling groups. This course emphasizes group leadership skills. Learning outcomes include demonstrating knowledge and competence in both advanced and fundamental counseling skills. This course often includes a group project.

Ethics and Legal Issues in School Counseling

This course explores the relationship between ethical standards and legal regulations in counseling. Students also explore regulations for professional counseling practices, identify professional issues that impact counselors, and study ethical and legal standards in school counseling.

School Counseling Certifications and Licenses

An accredited master's in school counseling is required to earn a state license. Students must pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors, which includes 200 multiple-choice questions. Topics include social and cultural diversity, human growth and development, group counseling and group work, and research and program evaluation.

Requirements vary by state. Students should visit their local department of education website to determine specifics. Requirements typically include logged contact hours. For instance, states may demand a specified number of practicum hours acquired under a licensed practitioner, or two or more years of teaching or counseling experience.

Students should also consider reciprocity guidelines if their career goals include moving to a different state. Professionals may need to complete additional coursework for applied experiences before earning reciprocity. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards also offers a voluntary certification that recognizes K-12 professionals who demonstrate skill with standards-based evidence.

Accreditation for Online Master's in School Counseling Degree Programs

Accrediting agencies establish a minimum standard of quality for educational institutions. Other universities, licensing boards, and employers use these standards to verify that students have been trained properly. Regional accrediting agencies are generally considered more prestigious than national accrediting agencies, which typically only accredit trade and specialty schools.

Transferring to another institution may prove difficult if your school is not regionally accredited, so it's important to check the accreditation status of your institution. There are six regional accrediting agencies. Additionally, students may want to compare state licensing requirements to ensure they qualify to take the exam upon graduating.

Students should also consider programmatic accrediting agencies to verify the quality of a particular school counseling master's degree. For school counselors, these agencies include the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council.

School Counseling Careers

Students who earn a master's in school counseling have multiple career options. For instance, this degree can prepare graduates for a career in school psychology, where they can address learning and behavioral disorders. Depending on the school, students may need to also earn a doctorate.

Similarly, a master's in school counseling can also prepare students for a career as a substance abuse counselor, especially when working with adolescents. These counselors may work in mental health treatment facilities, where their responsibilities include educating patients' families on intervention methods. A few more job options are explored below.

School Counselors

School counselors help students establish and reach academic goals. These professionals usually work in elementary and secondary schools. For instance, high school counselors may examine students' career interests to help them identify what they should study in college.

School counselors also help students apply for financial aid, write essays for scholarships, write resumes if they're immediately entering the workforce, and find internship opportunities. School counselors may also administer aptitude tests or collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and other team members. This role typically requires a master's degree and an unencumbered state license.

Median Annual Salary

$57,040

Projected Growth Rate

8%

Career Counselors

Career counselors primarily work with adolescents and young adults to make career or academic decisions that help students reach their career goals. Typical duties include small group or individual counseling, mock interviews, and classroom instruction. These professionals may also administer aptitude tests, advise clients on how to address conflict, or build professional networks.

Career counselors often work in high schools, colleges, or universities. However, placement firms or alternative schools also hire career counselors. This role requires a master's degree and an unencumbered license. Practitioners need to earn continuing education credits periodically to keep their licenses.

Median Annual Salary

$57,040

Projected Growth Rate

8%

School Counseling Professional Organizations

The counseling field demands ongoing research to solve modern problems. School counselors benefit from memberships in professional organizations, which provide active global networks and access to cutting-edge research and practices. Additionally, professional organizations allow graduates to collaborate with seasoned practitioners and receive mentorship.

ASCA outlines ethical standards for school counselors. Membership allows access to cutting-edge resources and statistical data, professional development opportunities, and annual conferences. Professional members also have voting power. However, students earning a master's or doctorate may apply as nonvoting members. ACA advocates for culturally diverse and ethical practices that improve counseling services. It also provides information regarding policy changes and government affairs. Members can access online publications, career advancement resources, continuing education credits, and job opportunities. ACAC advocates for equal access to mental health services for children. It also provides resources for professional counselors working with youth and helps develop innovative prevention and intervention methods. Membership perks include networking opportunities and research grants.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Earning a master's in school counseling prepares graduates to help students develop social and academic skills in school. Professionals often work in K-12 schools or postsecondary institutions.

How Much Does a School Counselor Make With a Master's Degree?

BLS data indicates that school counselors earn a median annual salary of $56,310. However, students should survey local rates to identify their true earning potential.

Do You Need a Master's for School Counseling?

Both K-12 and postsecondary schools typically require school counselors to hold an unencumbered state license, which requires applicants to earn a master's degree.

How Long Is a Master's in School Counseling?

Students can earn an online master's in school counseling in two years with full-time attendance. Part-time students should anticipate earning their degrees in four years.

Can You Be a School Counselor With a Master's in Education?

School counselors typically need to hold a master's in school counseling or education psychology. It is also often acceptable to earn a master of education with a school counseling specialization.

What Does It Take to Be a School Counselor?

Students need to earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field from an accredited institution, then go on to earn a master's degree in school counseling. Most states also require specialized state licensure.

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