The Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

The Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

| Staff Writers

The Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs
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Counselors help people navigate the various and complex relational and emotional challenges in their lives. While the job can be demanding, it is also a deeply rewarding career where professionals can make a difference in people’s lives.

Graduates of an online master’s in counseling program can expect to join a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the field of school and career counselors to increase 8% from 2019-29, while the number of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to increase by 25% in that same time period.

While a bachelor’s degree in counseling prepares graduates for entry-level careers in the field, most counseling professionals hold a master’s degree in counseling and state licensure. Additionally, pursuing an online counseling degree allows students to study on their own time and without the commute to campus. Online programs can prove especially great for learners with other work or family responsibilities.

To learn more about this degree, explore some of the best counseling master’s programs online in the list below.

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Top Online Master's in Counseling Degree Programs 2020

Rank School Location
1 Creighton University Omaha, NE
2 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
3 Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ
4 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD
5 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA
6 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
7 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV
8 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
9 Bradley University Peoria, IL
10 Messiah College Mechanicsburg, PA
  1. Creighton University
    Location

    Omaha, NE

    Creighton University is home to Best Counseling Degrees’ top low-cost online graduate program. Housed in the university’s Education Department, the Master of Science in School Counseling & Preventive Mental Health is designed to prepare competent school counselors. The online degree program explores challenging areas of youth development, from bullying to drug use to self-esteem. Students in the program may specialize in areas such as counseling in elementary school or secondary school settings, or in guidance counseling in pre-kindergarten to twelfth-grade environments. 

    Upon completion of 600 hours of internship, students will meet the requirements for Nebraska school counseling certification. Students from other states can work with an adviser to tailor their program to meet their state certification requirements. Creighton students can earn a low-cost MS in School Counseling & Preventive Mental Health in approximately two years of study. Students have the option to apply to the program through Creighton’s Magis Catholic Teacher Corps, a specialized learning experience that prepares teachers for Catholic schools.

    Courses Include

    • Data-Driven Perspectives in School Counseling
    • Diagnosis & Mental Health Issues in Children & Adolescents
    • Ethical Guidelines for School Counselors
    • Issues in Child & Adolescent Development for School Counselors
    • School Justice & Diversity in School Counseling

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $15,300
    • Credits Required: 36-39
    • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

     

  2. University of North Dakota
    Location

    Grand Forks, ND

    The University of North Dakota’s Master of Arts in Counseling program offers an emphasis in K-12 School Counseling. Applicants should have completed at least 20 undergraduate credits of coursework in the behavioral sciences, including areas such as classroom management, educational psychology, and statistics. The online degree program takes a data-driven, multicultural approach to professional school counseling. Students can expect to explore the development of elementary, middle, and high school students in academic, professional, personal, and social contexts. 

    Each student completes a data-driven, school-based project; a school counseling practicum; and a two-semester, 600-hour internship in a local elementary or secondary school setting. Each student must also pass a comprehensive exam in their final semester of study in order to graduate. Students can typically earn their MA in Counseling from UND in two and a half years. Upon completion of all program coursework, students will be eligible for licensure through North Dakota’s department of education. The university’s Department of Counseling Psychology & Community Services also offers a graduate certificate program in K-12 School Counseling.

    Courses Include

    • Counseling Research Laboratory
    • Ethics: Counseling and Counseling Psychology
    • Psychological Testing
    • School-Based Family Counseling
    • Theories of Counseling, Personality, and Development

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $7,688 in-state; $20,526 out-of-state
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

     

  3. Seton Hall University
    Location

    South Orange, NJ

    Seton Hall University’s College of Education and Human Services houses a Master of Arts in School Counseling. The online degree program is designed to prepare school counselors, consultants, advocates, and leaders for geographically, racially, and socially diverse K-12 school settings. Prior counseling experience or prerequisite courses are not required for admission to the program. Students enter the program as part of a cohort learning team that progresses through the program as a group. 

    Approved by the New Jersey Department of Education, the degree program meets the New Jersey Department of Education credentialing requirements. The curriculum includes foundational counseling and clinical courses and culminates in a school counseling internship. It builds students’ skills in counseling, early identification, and prevention in child and adolescent developmental challenges. Students can also expect to learn how to provide coping strategies, crisis interventions, and strong disaster response in school communities. Students can earn their MA in School Counseling in eight semesters, which typically takes two to two and a half years. 

    Courses Include

    • Abnormal Psychology
    • Counseling and Community Agencies
    • Counselor Ethics in Practices
    • Principles of Learning and Behavior Modification
    • Psychology of Learning and Behavior Modification

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $21,816
    • Credits Required: 48
    • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

     

  4. University of South Dakota
    Location

    Vermillion, SD

    Individuals who are particularly interested in guiding clients beyond addiction and substance abuse issues may choose to pursue the University of South Dakota’s Master of Arts in Addiction Studies. The online degree program provides advanced professional training in alcohol and drug prevention, counseling, education, and treatment. While each applicant is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, preferred applicants will have at least one year of relevant professional or volunteer experience. 

    Depending on their academic and professional background, students can pursue a 33-credit advanced track or a 45-credit standard track toward the degree. Supervised field experiences are required for both tracks. Students can expect to complete licensure-oriented courses through the university’s Addiction Studies Department and to graduate eligible for the highest level of licensure in the state of South Dakota. Students who reside in other states should refer to their state’s Chemical Dependency Certification/Licensure Boards to ensure the program meets their needs. The USD Addiction Counseling and Prevention Department also offers a 15-credit online graduate certificate program in Addiction Studies.

    Courses Include

    • Gambling and Process Addiction
    • History and Culture of Addiction
    • Public Policy & Addiction
    • Relapse Prevention
    • Wellness, Recovery, & Maintenance

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $7,553 in-state; $14,521 out-of-state
    • Credits Required: 33-45
    • Accreditation: National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission

     

  5. Virginia Commonwealth University
    Location

    Richmond, VA

    Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Science in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program aims to prepare culturally responsive, ethical counselors. The degree program is designed to provide graduates with the theoretical knowledge and practical experience they need to become certified rehabilitation counselors and licensed professional counselors. Students enter the program in the fall, and they can choose to progress toward their degree on a part-time or full-time basis. 

    The degree requires 60 graduate credits, including 48 credits of didactic coursework, three credits of electives, 100 clock hours of fieldwork, and 600 clock hours of supervised internship in counseling and rehabilitation. The curriculum covers areas such as cultural diversity, disability, human development, job development, and technological adaptation.

    Full-time students can earn their MS in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling from VCU in six semesters, including two summer sessions. The degree program is housed in the Department of Rehabilitation within the university’s College of Health Professions. The department also offers a post-master’s certificate in Professional Counseling.

    Courses Include

    • Addiction Counseling
    • Case Management
    • Couples and Family Counseling
    • Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Health Disorders
    • Group Counseling Theories and Techniques
    • Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Disabilities

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $11,466 in-state; $23,487 out-of-state
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Council on Rehabilitation Education

     

  6. Nova Southeastern University
    Location

    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Nova Southeastern University houses a Master of Science in Counseling program within its College of Psychology. Preferred applicants must have an undergraduate or graduate degree in behavioral science, education, psychology, or a related field. Professional and/or personal experience in counseling can also boost program applications. Designed for practicing and aspiring counseling professionals, the online degree program provides practitioners with advanced counseling training while accommodating busy schedules. 

    Depending on their career interests and goals, students can choose from concentrations in Applied Behavior Analysis, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, and Substance Abuse Counseling. Credit requirements and delivery formats vary by concentration but each program suits working professionals through either online or weekend intensive course delivery.

    Each MS in Counseling student can expect to complete a core general counseling curriculum in addition to specialized courses for their chosen track. The Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, and Substance Abuse Counseling and Education concentrations require supervised field placements with accompanying live virtual courses. The Clinical Mental Health concentration also requires students to attend three days of residency on the university’s campuses in Fort Lauderdale or Orlando, FL. 

    Courses Include

    • Career and Lifestyle Assessment
    • Couples and Family Counseling Strategies
    • Ethical, Legal, and Professional Issues for Counselors
    • Psychological Testing for Individual Evaluation
    • Substance Abuse

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $18,932
    • Credits Required: 48-60
    • Accreditation: N/A

     

  7. West Virginia University
    Location

    Morgantown, WV

    West Virginia’s Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation & Mental Health Counseling is unique in its dual-specialization approach. With coursework in both clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling, the program prepares individuals for work in counseling settings from hospitals and rehab facilities to mental health therapy centers.

    Though coursework is delivered online, each student must attend a week-long on-campus intensive for an internship seminar and program evaluation. In their last semester, students are eligible to sit for the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor certification. Students may otherwise pursue certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.

    Graduates of the program are prepared to help guide and rehabilitate clients with a variety of challenges, from individuals with addictions to veterans seeking career support. The program can also provide a foundation for entering the integrative health care realm. Applicants to the program are evaluated on an academic and professional basis, but those with human relations coursework are best prepared. Each student can expect to engage in a research seminar, supervised counseling practicum, and a supervised clinical practice internship. 

    Courses Include

    • Addictions Counseling
    • Career Development and Job Placement
    • Cultural Issues
    • Disability Across the Lifespan
    • Rehabilitation Client Services

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $9,450 in-state; $24,390 out-of-state
    • Credits Required: 63
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

  8. Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Liberty University’s School of Behavioral Sciences houses an online program leading to a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The degree program is designed to train students to gain state licensure and work as licensed professional counselors. Like all Liberty programs, the MA in CMHC program is delivered through an evangelical Christian worldview. Though the majority of the program’s coursework is delivered entirely online, each student must attend two intensives on the university’s campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia. 

    Even though campus visits are required, scheduling remains flexible to accommodate busy student schedules. Students can expect to observe professional counselors at work through the practicum experience and to apply their own skills during two semesters of counseling internships. Transfer students with relevant approved coursework may transfer in up to half of the degree requirements. Students typically earn their MA in CMHC from Liberty in two and a half years of study. Prior to graduation, each student must pass a Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination and Integration Exam.

    Courses Include

    • Clinical Diagnosis & Treatment Planning
    • Counseling Techniques & the Helping Relationship
    • Integration of Spirituality & Counseling
    • Substance Abuse: Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention
    • Theories of Family Systems

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $8,217
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

  9. Bradley University
    Location

    Peoria, IL

    Bradley University offers an online Master of Arts in Counseling program with specialty tracks in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Professional School Counseling. It is designed to prepare individuals to work with client populations such as students facing academic challenges, veterans facing lifestyle challenges, individuals battling addiction, and so on. Students complete their studies online on a flexible schedule but must visit the university’s campus in Peoria, IL, twice for week-long residency experiences. 

    Students attend their first residency in their first term of study, and the second in their eighth term. Students can also expect to complete the program’s required field experiences in settings in their local community with supervision from an approved supervisor of their choice. The university’s counseling faculty members guide graduate students in exploring how counseling affects the brain through a unique “neurocounseling” approach. Graduates of Bradley’s MA in Counseling program will be prepared for the National Counselor Exam.

    Courses Include

    • Counseling: Ethics and the Law
    • Human Growth and Development
    • Loss and Grief Counseling
    • Neurocounseling: Bridging Brain and Behavior
    • Substance Abuse Counseling

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $15,660
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

  10. Messiah College
    Location

    Mechanicsburg, PA

    Messiah College offers an online Master of Arts in Counseling with underpinnings in Christian principles. The degree program is designed to prepare graduates to become Christian-informed clinical mental health counselors, couple and family counselors, and school counselors in a variety of settings. It has rolling admissions, meaning it offers multiple start dates throughout the year. Students can expect to complete 30 core credits and 30 credits in their area of specialization. 

    Designed for working professionals, the program delivers most of its courses online. Online coursework is supplemented by weeklong intensive courses on the university’s campus in Mechanicsburg, PA, with small class sizes and personalized attention. Students can choose to progress toward their MA degree on a timeline that meets their needs, usually between two and six years.

    Graduates of the program are prepared for professional counseling licensure, marriage, and family therapy licensure, or school counselor certification in the state of Pennsylvania. The program is offered at a no-fee tuition rate, which means there are no hidden fees for courses or resources. Students may alternatively pursue the university’s Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in counseling, which helps satisfy state certification and licensure requirements. 

    Courses Include

    • Career Counseling Across the Lifespan
    • Crisis, Trauma, and Grief Counseling
    • Human Sexuality
    • Multicultural Issues for Counseling Professionals
    • Spiritual Formation and Faith-Based Counseling

     

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $11,610
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

     

Applying to an Online Master’s in Counseling Program

Admission requirements for online and on-campus counseling master’s programs are similar. Prospective students must usually hold a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field. Schools may consider applicants with an undergraduate degree unrelated to counseling, although incoming students may need to take prerequisite courses.

Applicants should submit their undergraduate transcripts to prove they meet the minimum GPA requirement, which schools usually set between 2.5 and 3.0. Most schools require applicants to meet a minimum score on the GRE or MAT. Prospective students usually also submit personal essays and recommendation letters. Finally, schools may require candidates to participate in an interview.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do counselors work?

    Counselors work in many different environments, depending on their specialization. School counselors work in elementary, middle, and high school settings. Other counselors work at outpatient mental health centers, residential mental health facilities, individual and family services, hospitals, prisons, or juvenile detention facilities.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Accreditation assures that programs provide students a quality education that adequately prepares them for their careers. Counseling students should look for regionally accredited schools and programs with accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

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

    A counseling degree is a great option for any student who hopes to pursue a career in professional counseling. As long as you pursue a master’s in counseling online from an accredited program, your degree will hold the same value as a traditional, on-campus program.

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

    An online master’s in counseling prepares graduates to become counselors within many different specialties. Some go on to become school and career counselors, while others pursue focus areas in substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counseling. A master’s degree can also serve as a stepping stone for students to receive a doctoral degree in the field and work in research or academia.

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