Best Master's in Counseling Degree Programs

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Updated June 19, 2024

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Looking to get a master's degree in counseling? Here, we outline the best master's in counseling programs, along with their costs, requirements, and insights.

BestCounselingDegrees.net 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.

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Why get a master's degree in counseling? Master's degree holders can benefit from career versatility, with opportunities in academia and clinical counseling.

Discover the best master's in counseling programs, including benefits, common coursework, and admission requirements.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Top Master's in Counseling Programs

Explore our ranking of the top master's degrees in counseling and mental health services. Graduates of these programs can pursue licensure or further education and training. Read our ranking methodology.

#1 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Northwestern University

  • Evanston, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

Cost per Quarter:

In-State | $21,550

Out-of-State | $21,550

Credits to Graduate: 51

Northwestern University's online master's in mental health counseling prioritizes reflective learning, provides hands-on behavioral health experience at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, where the practicum begins. The 600-hour internship at an off-site location also includes weekly case conferences with clinician supervision. 

During the practicum, students complete 50 direct counseling hours and 100 hours during group and individual counseling.

The courses integrate research methods, ethics and legal issues, theory, and counseling practice. The last quarter ends with a presentation of the capstone project. Enrollees can study online or on campus. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$60,276
Out-of-state
$60,276
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$56,067
Out-of-state
$56,067
Retention Rate
99%
Acceptance Rate
7%
Students Enrolled
23,409
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#2 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Johns Hopkins University

  • Baltimore, MD
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $1,100

Out-of-State | $1,100

Credits to Graduate: 60

Johns Hopkins mental health counseling online master's program can forge a career path in clinical mental health counseling or school counseling. The program's two concentrations prepare learners for state licensure. In addition to the curriculum, students complete a 600-hour internship and a 100-hour practicum. Courses function on the ground in Baltimore, Maryland, but select electives offer online learning options. 

Enrollees can study full or part time, taking 3-5 years to complete the degree. Admission requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited college and a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$58,720
Out-of-state
$58,720
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$58,720
Out-of-state
$58,720
Retention Rate
96%
Acceptance Rate
8%
Students Enrolled
32,049
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
80% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#3 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Boston College

  • Chestnut Hill, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council 

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $1,688

Out-of-State | $1,688

Credits to Graduate: 48-60, depending on the track

Boston College's online master's in mental health counseling program, which focuses on social justice, offers both a non-licensure and a licensure track. Enrollees take 16-20 courses, depending on the chosen track. Core coursework comprises theories of personality and counseling, psychological testing, issues in lifespan development, and health inequity.

Students can opt for the integrated behavioral health concentration if they choose to pursue a career in an integrated medical setting. Learners must pass a comprehensive exam to test their fundamental understanding of mental health counseling.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$60,530
Out-of-state
$60,530
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$32,616
Out-of-state
$32,616
Retention Rate
95%
Acceptance Rate
19%
Students Enrolled
15,577
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#4 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

University of Pennsylvania

  • Philadelphia, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Approval: National Board of Certified Counselors 

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $29,656 per semester

Out-of-State | $29,656 per semester

Credits to Graduate: 60

Penn's online master's in mental health counseling offers a two-year study plan that prepares learners to pursue certification as a school counselor and/or take the national exam to become a licensed professional counselor.

The school counseling track, a master of philosophy program in professional counseling, requires a field internship over two semesters. Learners also take 10 courses integrating advanced professional counseling interventions, assessments, and practice in communities, agencies, and organizations. An oral clinical comprehensive exam and report complete the program. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$54,652
Out-of-state
$54,652
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$38,732
Out-of-state
$38,732
Retention Rate
98%
Acceptance Rate
6%
Students Enrolled
28,038
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
20% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#5 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

California State University-Long Beach

  • Long Beach, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Approved by the Board of Behavioral Sciences Examiner and accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges 

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $2,082

Out-of-State | $2,082

Credits to Graduate: 59

California State University-Long Beach's online master's in mental health counseling combines on-campus and off-site practicum experience, with mostly evening meeting times.

Gain classroom knowledge and practical application in clinical interviewing, family systems methods, cross-cultural counseling, group counseling, and other topics. To complete the program, students write a thesis or take a comprehensive exam.

As a prerequisite for this program, learners need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college and a minimum 2.85 GPA. Additionally, CSULB requires an introductory course on educational research. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,176
Out-of-state
$16,680
Retention Rate
87%
Acceptance Rate
47%
Students Enrolled
40,190
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
87% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#6 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Northeastern University

  • Boston, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $1,815

Out-of-State | $1,815

Credits to Graduate: 60, or 63 with a concentration

Northeastern University's mental health counseling online master's degree prepares students to pursue a career as a licensed mental health counselor through concentrations in child and adolescent counseling, early intervention, or research in counseling psychology. 

Learners study ethics and professional development, assessments, development across the lifespan, diagnosis and treatment planning, and individual interventions. The practicum includes 40 hours of client experience and an internship that requires 20 hours per week.

Applicants need a bachelor's in psychology or a related degree and a minimum GPA of 3.0. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$56,500
Out-of-state
$56,500
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$25,801
Out-of-state
$25,801
Retention Rate
97%
Acceptance Rate
18%
Students Enrolled
28,167
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
33% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#7 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

New York University

  • New York, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $2,101

Out-of-State | $2,101

Credits to Graduate: 60

New York University's online clinical mental health counseling programs offer on-campus or online formats, which take 21-30 months, or 5-10 terms, to complete. Enrollees choose from a part- or full-time option. Weekly live-streamed classes cover human growth and development, cross-cultural counseling, abnormal psychology, and research and evaluation.

The counseling lab offers stimulated counseling, and learners gain experience through a 100-hour practicum, a 600-hour internship, and a three-day campus immersion in New York City. NYU also offers an online master's in school counseling, which students can complete in two years. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$53,770
Out-of-state
$53,770
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$35,982
Out-of-state
$35,982
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
13%
Students Enrolled
58,226
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
45% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#8 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Madison, WI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council 

Annual Cost:

In-State | $12,220

Out-of-State | $25,548

Credits to Graduate: 60

In the University of Wisconsin-Madison's mental health counseling program, enrollees can learn alongside students from the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education who take many of the same courses. Every course, such as the development process across the lifespan and abnormal behavior and psychopathology, includes a self-reflective process at the end.

During the program's second year, UW mandates the completion of a professional integration exercise capstone, integrating all lessons and practical experiences. Learners also gain practical experience through a 600-hour internship and practicum spanning two semesters. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$9,273
Out-of-state
$37,161
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$10,728
Out-of-state
$24,054
Retention Rate
95%
Acceptance Rate
60%
Students Enrolled
47,016
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
27% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#9 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Albizu University-Miami

  • Miami, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $620

Out-of-State | $620

Credits to Graduate: 60

Albizu University-Miami's online master's program in mental health counseling offers an interdisciplinary academic journey where learners study alongside faculty and students from various departments. The program usually takes around 2.5-3 years to complete. In addition, the online program includes a specialization in clinical mental health counseling. This program fulfills the requirements to obtain a psychology license in Puerto Rico.

Undergraduate records must show a minimum 3.0 GPA for admission into this program. Applicants must also submit Graduate Studies Admission Examination or the Graduate Record Examination scores. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$11,628
Out-of-state
$11,628
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$11,774
Out-of-state
$11,774
Retention Rate
81%
Acceptance Rate
100%
Students Enrolled
838
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#10 Best Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Texas A & M International University

  • Laredo, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council

Annual Cost

In-State | $9,254

Out-of-State | $23,390

Credits to Graduate: 60

Texas A&M International University's mental health counseling online master's program focuses on community counseling, with a practicum that trains learners to provide services to people living on the border. The curriculum hones a competency in working with people across different cultures. Courses include group counseling and psychotherapy, appraisal techniques, and multicultural issues in counseling. 

Full-time students can complete the degree in about 2.5 years, including the 600-hour field experience. The program culminates with the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination, similar to the National Counselor Examination. Applicants should submit GRE scores and have a minimum 3.0 GPA. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$3,818
Out-of-state
$13,610
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$3,350
Out-of-state
$10,694
Retention Rate
74%
Acceptance Rate
54%
Students Enrolled
8,455
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
62% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Why Get a Master's Degree in Counseling?

A master's in counseling can offer many benefits. Graduates can earn a professional license and provide clinical counseling services. Master's-level mental health counselors also tend to earn more over time, with more opportunities for growth and advancement than a bachelor's-level counselor.

Key benefits to earning a master's in counseling include:

  • Obtaining Licensure: Most states require counselors to hold a master's in the field to qualify for professional licensure and clinical practice.
  • Career Flexibility: Counselors can work in a variety of environments and specialty areas. Many counselors set their own hours. Some professionals work through virtual platforms, serving clients exclusively online from the comfort of their homes.
  • Helping Others: Many students with a desire to help others pursue careers in counseling. Counselors help create safe spaces for people dealing with crises, emotional and social issues, and difficult life events. Helping others handle these issues more effectively can prove especially rewarding.
  • Upward Mobility: Counselors often earn more over time as they gain experience and further their education. Depending on the work environment, they may also advance into supervisory roles.

What to Expect From Counseling Master's Programs

Although master's in counseling programs differ among schools, they share some commonalities. These programs typically require 45-60 credits. Most students complete a counseling master's program in about two years of full-time study or up to five years of part-time study.

Some schools offer different types of master's degrees in counseling, including a master of science, a master of arts, or a master of education. Online programs typically offer more flexibility than on-campus programs, allowing students to complete coursework on their own time with no or minimal in-person requirements.

Most counseling master's programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. Some schools require students to hold a bachelor's in counseling or a closely related field, while others allow applicants from any major.

Some programs prefer applicants with prior related work experience. Typically, applicants must hold an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. However, many schools take a more flexible approach to GPA requirements by factoring in other application materials like GRE exam scores and personal statements.

Applying to graduate school typically requires an application fee, official undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a resume or curriculum vitae. Some schools also require a statement of purpose and/or an admissions interview.

Students in counseling master's programs may pursue a variety of concentration options. Available specializations vary among schools and program types. The list below features a sampling of some available concentrations and possible career paths.

  • Substance Use Counseling: This concentration emphasizes studies in addiction and best practices for treating clients struggling with substance use and other addictive behaviors. Other common titles for this concentration include addictions counseling and rehabilitation counseling.
  • Marriage and Family Counseling: Marriage and family counselors work with families and couples to help overcome interpersonal issues and improve relationships.
  • Clinical Mental Health Counseling: A clinical mental health concentration typically prepares students to work in clinical settings, including private practice. Clinical mental health counselors work with patients dealing with mental conditions and behavioral, social, and emotional issues.

Courses available in counseling master's programs vary. Most programs feature a core curriculum all students must complete and elective courses that include the concentration or focus area. Some schools require a capstone course or thesis project to graduate.

Master's in counseling programs typically offer the following courses.

  • Research Methods: This course explores the various research types conducted in counseling and psychology. Students gain an understanding of qualitative and quantitative factors by studying research design, measurement, and statistical concepts. Students also read and discuss prior studies in counseling, analyzing the research methods used.
  • Counseling Theory: This foundational course introduces theoretical perspectives in counseling through comparative analyses of case studies. Topics include family systems theory, integrative strategy, and cross-cultural approaches. Students examine the foundations, contraindications, and empirical validation of each theory.
  • Group Therapy: Building on skills and information covered in counseling theory, students analyze group counseling theories and perspectives in this course. Enrollees combine case studies and real-world practice with role play and group sessions. This course also covers family dynamics and interpersonal relations.
  • Crisis and Trauma: Courses in crisis and trauma typically explore the origins of trauma and its lasting impact on mental and physical health. Topics include the basic pillars of trauma-informed care, including providing and fostering safety, plus ensuring patients feel empowered with choice.

Often, counseling students complete practicum and internships. A practicum typically comes first, serving as a course within the core curriculum that allows students to gain hands-on skills in a supervised space.

Students complete counseling internships at the end of a program or even after graduation. These internships typically provide the supervised practice hours most states require for counseling licensure.

Internships can last much longer than a practicum. Typically, practicums last 1-2 academic terms. An internship typically takes place in a location aligned with a student's chosen focus area, such as a substance use clinic for a student with a concentration in addiction counseling.

How Much Will a Counseling Master's Cost?

According to a 2020 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), graduate students in a health-related field like counseling spent an annual average of $33,147 on tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other personal expenses.

The NPSAS reports the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a health-related master's degree in 2020 was $15,401. Compared to public universities in your home state, tuition rates are typically higher at private and out-of-state institutions. However, online counseling master's programs may offer flat-rate or in-state tuition options for all learners, lowering the overall cost.

Fortunately, scholarships, grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid can help you pay for your graduate education.

Selecting Your Master of Counseling Program

Choosing the best counseling master's program involves more than just picking a concentration and a location. Prospective students should weigh a variety of factors when researching programs, including:

  • Accreditation: Students should look for an accredited institution and program. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the accrediting agency for counseling programs. Learn more about the CACREP and the benefits of choosing a program with this designation.
  • Program Length: Degree-seekers should consider how long the program will take to complete. Some factors that impact a program's length include required credit hours, internships and practicums, and a student's part-time or full-time status.
  • Cost and Financial Aid: Learners should consider the total costs of each program, including tuition, fees, materials, transportation, and housing. Students should also research all financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, assistantships, and employer tuition programs.

Should You Get Your Master's in Counseling Degree Online?

Online learning offers students enhanced flexibility and accessibility. Online counseling master's programs offer working professionals a pathway to earning a degree without disrupting their careers. However, online learning requires strong organization and time management skills.

Learn more about earning a counseling master's degree online.

Master's in Counseling FAQs

How long does it take to get a master's degree in counseling?

It usually takes around two years for a full-time student to obtain a master's degree in counseling. An accelerated counseling master's degree can fast-track your career with completion times under two years.

Master's degrees in psychology and counseling offer different coursework and result in different career opportunities. You can only become a licensed psychologist if you earn a doctorate degree. However, obtaining a master's degree in counseling helps prepare you to provide clinical counseling services.

Yes. Many colleges offer reputable online counseling master's programs. Coursework may offer virtual lectures and assignments you can access remotely, but you can expect to complete practicum experiences in person.

Employment opportunities in mental health-related fields are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations from 2022 to 2032. The BLS projects an 18% increase in jobs for substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, and a 5% increase for educational guidance, career counselors, and advisors. The BLS also reports that Counselors earned an average annual salary of $61,790 as of May 2022.

The degree you need to get a counseling job depends on the state. Although you can pursue entry-level occupations in the mental health field without graduate school, most states require a master's in counseling degree to become a licensed professional counselor.

Note: Page last reviewed on December 22, 2023. The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by Best Counseling Degrees.

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