Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

| Staff Writers

Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Programs
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The counseling profession boasts high projected growth rates of 14%-25% through 2029. The specialty areas of substance abuse and behavioral disorders should see strong job growth, and mental health counselors will also be in demand, especially in rural and underserved communities.

A master’s degree in counseling online prepares graduates to provide clients with independent and individual counseling. Online education can be an affordable alternative to attending classes on campus.

Most master’s in counseling online programs take 2-3 years to complete, as there are many fast track counseling degree options. Students attend classes online, completing practicum and internship hours in person.

A core master’s curriculum typically encompasses coursework in eight areas:

  • Assessment and testing
  • Career development
  • Counseling and helping relationships
  • Group counseling and group work
  • Human growth and development
  • Professional counseling orientation and ethical practice
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Social and cultural diversity

Explore our rankings for more information on the most affordable online master’s in counseling.

Methodology

View our ranking methodology here.

Best Low-Cost Online Master’s Degrees in Counseling 2020

Rank School Degree Type
1 North Carolina State University– M.Ed. in counseling Online
2 LeTourneau University– M.A. in counseling Online
3 Freed-Hardeman University– M.A. in counseling Online
4 Northwestern University– M.A. in counseling Online
5 Messiah College– M.A. in counseling Online

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The 25 Best Low-Cost Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

  1. North Carolina State University
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Raleigh-based NC State established its counselor education program in 1946. Today, students can still earn an M.Ed. in clinical mental health counseling from NC State, but they can also pursue their studies online.

    The 60-credit program prepares graduates to become licensed professional counselors. Distance learners who enroll part time complete the program in three years. Students must enroll in courses all year, including during the summer term, taking two courses in the fall and spring semesters respectively. While learners complete most coursework online, they must travel to campus for a few weekend classes during their final year. Candidates also complete a 600-hour internship during their final year, and may take the national counselor examination in the program's final semester.

    Students applying to the online master's in counseling program must possess a bachelor's degree and submit their GRE or MAT scores, along with three recommendation letters. The program is only open to North Carolina residents.

    Courses Include

      • Multicultural Lifespan Development
      • Special Problems: Substance Abuse Counseling
      • Clinical Assessment
      • Group Counseling
      • Gender Issues in Counseling

       

      Unique Features

        • Cost: $462 per credit
        • Credits Required: 60
        • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

         

  2. LeTourneau University
    Location

    Longview, TX

    LeTourneau University is a Christian-affiliated institution based in Longview, Texas. The university offers two online master's degrees in counseling: an MA in school counseling and an MA in clinical mental health counseling. Both programs require students to complete 66 credits of coursework, including 45 core curriculum hours. Core courses focus on counseling skills, psychopharmacology, and research methods. Candidates must also complete three integrative theology courses and a class called trauma and theory in the developmental context.

    The curriculum for both programs includes a one-semester practicum and a two-semester internship. The practicum consists of a 100-hour introductory supervised field experience. Master's candidates also complete 600 hours of direct counseling services to fulfill the internship requirement. The program also includes one supplementary on-campus residency, which involves a 4-day intensive experience for an applied lab and ethics course.

    Applicants interested in these online counseling degrees should possess a master's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA and submit their GRE scores.

    Courses Include

      • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
      • Teaching Children and Adolescents
      • Human Sexuality and Sex Therapy
      • Couples Therapy and Assessment
      • Addictions Counseling

       

      Unique Features

        • Cost: $615 per credit
        • Credits Required: 66
        • Accreditation: Regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

         

  3. Freed-Hardeman University
    Location

    Henderson, TN

    Based in Henderson, Tennessee, FHU began educating students just after the Civil War in 1869. FHU is affiliated with the Church of Christ, and the university's Graduate School of Theology offers an online MA in pastoral care and counseling for individuals who want to provide counseling services in a biblical context. Many courses in the 48-credit curriculum focus on foundational counseling concepts alongside topics in ministry, Christian leadership, and theology.

    Online courses are delivered synchronously through web conferencing. While distance learners typically attend classes through the web in real time, some professors allow online students to watch recorded lectures on their own. Candidates also complete a six hour internship in the field. Distance learners must maintain a 3.0 GPA on at least 24 credits to qualify for the internship and to graduate.

    Admissions requirements include a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, a personal essay, and three letters of recommendation, including one from a pastor. Students may also submit a scholarship application.

    Courses Include

    • Suffering and the Human Condition
    • Grief Counseling
    • Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy
    • Marriage and Family Counseling
    • Crisis Counseling

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $610 per credit
    • Credits Required: 48
    • Accreditation: Regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

     

  4. Northwestern University
    Location

    Evanston, IL

    Students at this Evanston, Illinois institution can pursue a 60-credit online counseling master's degree. Northwestern uses a quarter system rather than a traditional semester system, which means that students complete four shorter terms throughout the year. Therefore, learners who enroll full time can graduate in nine quarters, or just over two years. Distance learners can also choose an accelerated track option, which allows them to finish the degree in six quarters, or 1.5 years.

    This online counseling degree includes clinical field placements and immersion experiences. During a practicum and an internship, learners complete 600 hours of supervised clinical experience at approved sites. For the two immersion experiences, students head to Chicago for a group counseling course and a capstone research symposium. Candidates can also pursue a child and adolescent emphasis that focuses on counseling young people with mental illnesses.

    Applicants should submit their undergraduate transcripts, two letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, a statement of purpose, and a supplemental letter. The admissions process also includes a group interview. While interested individuals without an undergraduate degree in psychology or counseling may apply, they must complete extracurricular requirements after gaining admission.

    Courses Include

    • Cultural Diversity in Counseling
    • Individual Systems: Psychodynamic Viewpoints
    • Theories and Techniques of Group Counseling and Psychotherapy
    • Counseling Methods: Outreach, Prevention, and Advocacy
    • Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $112,128 in total for traditional and part-time track students; $112,134 for accelerated track students
    • Credits Required: 60 credits
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

  5. Messiah College
    Location

    Mechanicsburg, PA

    A private, Christian institution based in Central Pennsylvania, Messiah enrolls about 3,300 students on campus and online. The school's accredited master of arts in counseling equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to become professional licensed counselors.

    The degree offers three specializations: school counseling; marriage, couple, and family counseling; and clinical mental health counseling. All three concentrations share the same core requirements, including courses on counseling techniques and taking a faith-based approach to counseling. Candidates on each track must complete one practicum course and two internships. The practicum serves as an initial field placement, with learners completing 40-50 direct service contact hours out of the 100 total required hours. Students must also complete 300 hours for each internship course. Those specializing in school counseling must participate in one internship in an elementary school, and one in a secondary school.

    Distance learners typically complete the program in 2-4 years, depending on how many credits they take each semester. While most coursework is presented online, distance learners participate in one-week intensive courses in January and July. Prospective students should hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit a personal statement with two recommendation letters. They must also participate in an admissions interview.

    Courses Include

    • Psychopathy and Diagnosis Across the Lifespan
    • Organization and Administration of School Counseling Programs
    • Autism Spectrum Disorders
    • Crisis, Trauma, and Grief Counseling
    • Substance Abuse/Addiction and Families

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $690 per credit
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

  6. Clarks Summit University
    Location

    South Abington Township, PA

    CSU was founded in New York and later moved to Pennsylvania, where the university still offers a private, Baptist-affiliated education today. CSU also administers a variety of distance learning programs, including an online MS in counseling that prepares students for the National Certified Counselor exam and professional counseling licensure.

    Distance learners complete 60 credits of coursework primarily online across eight-week terms. The curriculum includes three on-campus courses, which learners take in the summer as one-week modules, in addition to an internship and a practicum. Candidates can also opt to visit the on-campus counseling center and observe licensed counselors at work. Students usually complete the program in under four years, and may transfer in up to 20 credits to accelerate the process.

    Applicants to the online master's in counseling program should possess a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. CSU looks for individuals with at least nine undergraduate credits in theology, and psychology. Incoming students without these credits must enroll in prerequisite courses before beginning the master's program.

    Courses Include

    • Abnormal Behavior
    • Psychology of Grief and Bereavement
    • Evaluation and Consultation for Mental and Mood Disorders
    • Biblical Theology of Counseling
    • Behavioral Addictions

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $550 per credit
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

     

  7. Salem College
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    North Carolina-based Salem College is a private, liberal arts school for women and the nation's thirteenth-oldest college. Salem does accept male students in its graduate programs, including the online M.Ed. in school counseling. The 48-credit degree uses a cohort model, in which students progress through the program at the same pace as their classmates. Most candidates graduate in three years.

    The online counseling degree explores contemporary issues in the field, along with foundational counseling theories, strategies, and legal and ethical considerations in counseling. All students must complete a 100-hour practicum, a 600-hour internship, and a professional research seminar.

    Interested North Carolina residents may apply as long as they possess bachelor's degrees with a minimum 3.0 GPA, or if they have completed 12 graduate credits with at least a 3.0 GPA. Applicants should submit writing samples and recommendations.

    Courses Include

    • Focus on Student Advocacy and the School Counselor
    • Culturally Relevant Counselling: Exploring Educational Equity
    • Twenty-first Century Career and Educational Counseling Development
    • Assessment, Measurement, and Evaluation for School Counseling
    • Managing the Comprehensive School Counseling Program

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $525 per credit
    • Credits Required: 48
    • Accreditation: National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education

     

  8. St Bonaventure University
    Location

    Saint Bonaventure, NY

    A Catholic institution affiliated with the Franciscan order, St. Bonaventure educates about 2,000 students through its western New York campus and online. The school offers two online counseling degrees: an MSED in school counseling, and an MSED in clinical mental health counseling.

    The 60-credit programs prepare students for the licensed school counselor and licensed professional counselor credentials, respectively, which individuals need to legally practice in New York state. Terms last seven weeks, and learners can generally complete their degrees in three years. While the program primarily operates online, students must visit campus for two required four-day residencies. A 100-hour practicum at the beginning of the program's second year introduces learners to field experience. Master's candidates may then further practice their skills with two 300-hour internships.

    Each applicant must submit their undergraduate transcripts indicating at least a 2.75 GPA. They should also send in a personal statement or writing sample and two recommendations before participating in an interview.

    Courses Include

    • Abnormal Psychology
    • Advanced Human Growth and Development
    • Management of School Counseling Programs
    • Interventions for School and CMH Counseling
    • Multicultural Counseling

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $770 per credit
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

  9. University at Buffalo
    Location

    Buffalo, NY

    With about 32,000 undergraduate and graduate students, UB is the largest university in the 64-campus public State University of New York System. The university's MS in Rehabilitation Counseling trains graduates to work at alcohol and abuse recovery programs, government agencies, medical and psychiatric clinics, and many other professional settings.

    This online counseling degree requires 48 credits in total. All online students enroll on a part-time basis and take two courses each semester. Distance learners can generally graduate within three years. The curriculum includes at least 750 hours of experiential contact. The practicum requires 150 onsite contact hours, while two internships allow students to practice their clinical skills for an additional 600 hours. Distance learners also take the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification exam while enrolled in the program.

    Applicants should possess a bachelor's degree in a related field, although UB does not specify a minimum GPA needed for admission. Prospective students must also send in two recommendations and a statement of intent, and undergo an interview.

    Courses Include

    • Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Disability
    • Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling
    • Rehabilitation Foundations
    • Fieldwork and Counseling Techniques
    • Understanding Statistical Research

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $471 per credit for New York residents; $565 per credit for nonresidents
    • Credits Required: 48
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

  10. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Los Angeles-based USC offers a 49-credit online master of education in school counseling that prepares students to earn California's Pupil Personnel Services: School Counseling credential. This certification gives students the legal right to work as school counselors in the state.

    Distance learners may pursue the degree part time or full time and graduate in 2-3 years. The curriculum teaches future counselors to help kids achieve college and career readiness, aid children overcoming challenges like poverty, and support children struggling with trauma. Master's candidates must complete 700 hours of fieldwork, including a 100-hour practicum and 600-hour internship. Before students engage in onsite supervised work, they must pass California's basic skills requirement assessment. Students must also construct a portfolio of their work to graduate.

    Prospective students should submit their bachelor's degree transcripts demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA, a personal essay, two recommendation letters, and two short answer responses.

    Courses Include

    • Learning and Individual Differences
    • Counseling and Collaborative Consultation in the School Settings
    • Human Development Theory in School Counseling
    • Politics of Differences
    • School Connectedness, Climate, and Classroom Management

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $1,928 per credit
    • Credits Required: 49
    • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

     

Applying to an Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Program

Typically, candidates applying to counseling master’s programs online or on campus must hold a bachelor’s degree and a GPA of 2.5 or higher. They must also submit their official transcripts, 2-3 letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. In addition, some schools may require GRE scores, writing samples, and/or admissions interviews.

Most programs do not require a bachelor’s degree in counseling, but prefer applicants who have completed coursework in psychology, statistics, and research methods. While schools do not usually require specific work, volunteer, or research experience, demonstrating any or all of these builds a stronger application.

Certification and/or licensing may sometimes be required for program admission, particularly for master’s in education counseling candidates. Applicants may need a teaching certificate and classroom experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do counselors work?

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19% of counselors work in outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers and 16% in individual and family services. Other top employers include hospitals, residential health and substance abuse facilities, and government agencies. Counselors also find positions in corrections and employee assistance programs.

  • What is accreditation, and why is it important?

    Accredited online counseling degree programs boast curricula that meet state licensing requirements and professional standards for counseling practice. Most of the top programs hold accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Another organization, the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Education Council (MPCAC), accredits science-based clinical counseling programs.

  • Is an online master's in counseling a good degree?

    Earning an online master’s in counseling opens the door to careers with high projected employment growth rates, particularly for substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors. While salaries vary, some counselors in Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, and New Jersey earn more than $60,000 a year.

  • What can I do with a master's in counseling degree?

    Individuals with a master’s in counseling can pursue a variety of specialties and roles. They may work with students, individuals, groups, couples, and families as academic and school counselors, or serve as career counselors, marriage and family counselors, and mental health and substance abuse counselors. Other potential career paths include social work and therapy.

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