Explore Master's Degrees in Counseling

Published August 31, 2023

Considering a master's in counseling? Learn about programs, available specializations, and how to apply to a master's in counseling program.

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School counselor with master's in counseling speaking to students Credit: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Are you considering a career as a counselor? Most states require you to earn a master's degree in counseling and earn your counseling license to practice. A master's in counseling lets you study a particular field, patient demographic, or methodology in more detail, giving you the knowledge and experience you need to practice.

Explore more information on earning a master's in counseling and what you can do with this degree.

Master's Degree in Counseling Overview

A master's in counseling combines classroom learning and fieldwork to prepare you for a counseling career. You can learn about different types of counseling, different groups and their needs, and how to provide culturally competent services to a diverse population. Many master's in counseling programs require a thesis, research project, or comprehensive examination. In some programs, you can study online and complete your fieldwork in your own community.

Program Length

Most master's in counseling programs take two years to complete for full-time students. Part-time programs can take from three to four years.

Admission Requirements

Typical admission requirements for a master's in counseling include an undergraduate degree or extensive coursework in a field related to counseling, such as psychology, sociology, and education (for school counseling). Some specialty fields, like art therapy counseling or genetic counseling, require a background in those disciplines. Most schools require or strongly prefer a 3.0 GPA, and you may need to pass a background check.

Top Master's Degrees in Counseling

The right master's in counseling depends on your needs and goals. Accredited schools represent good value and positive student outcomes. Because accreditation is so important to your career success, all schools included on our list are accredited.

Featured Online Master's in Counseling Programs

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

Master's Degrees in Counseling, by State

Because each state has its own counseling license requirements, there can be an advantage to earning your master's in counseling in the state where you want to practice. However, while there is not yet an equivalent of a multi-state license, most requirements are similar enough that if your ideal school is in another state, you should be able to apply for a license in that state with little difficulty.

Explore programs by geography here.


Master's Degree in Counseling, by Concentration

Master's in counseling programs typically start with a general core of information and skills that every counselor must have, then continue with a specialization or concentration. The following include some of the most common program specializations and concentrations. In addition to a master's degree, you can also pursue certification in many of these specializations.

Online Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling

Marriage and family counseling is one of the most popular specialties. Marriage and family counselors work in a variety of settings, including private practice, mental health centers, social services, or similar organizations. Some marriage and family counselors may have formal or informal specializations within this field, such as LGBTQ marriages and families, immigrants and refugees, or other groups that may have more specialized needs. Most marriage and family counseling involves identifying family or marriage dysfunctions and helping the couple or family establish healthier relationships.

Master's in School Counseling

A master's in school counseling prepares you for a rewarding career helping students achieve academic success. School counselors are employed at all levels of education including elementary, middle, high school, and postsecondary education. With a focus on promoting healthy development, these programs equip aspiring counselors with techniques to foster a positive school environment, enhance student achievement, and steer students towards success. Through a combination of coursework, practical experiences, and field placements, graduates are prepared to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the students they serve.

Master's in Student Affairs and School Counseling

Student affairs and school counselors work in schools, including K-12, colleges, and universities. These professionals help students and their families with issues that occur or surface in school settings. Circumstances might include bullying, career and college choices, connecting children or families to needed social services or a social worker, and otherwise helping students succeed in school. In addition to counseling skills, studies include child psychology and developmental phases.

Master's in Substance Use and Addiction Counseling

Substance use and addiction counseling license requirements vary widely by state, so be sure to check the regulations for the state or states where you would like to practice. Some states do not require a master's in counseling for entry-level positions, while others do. With this specialty, you may work in private practice, as part of a hospital or health system, in the correctional system, for government or privately operated clinics, or other settings. This specialty is in particular demand due to the opioid crisis.

Master's in Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counseling focuses on using counseling techniques to help clients address specific mental health challenges. However, unlike psychiatrists, mental health counselors are not authorized to prescribe medications. Instead, they apply different counseling techniques to help patients with conditions, such as depression, anxiety, phobias, or behavior disorders. With this specialization, you can work in a variety of settings, including private practice, clinics, nonprofit agencies, hospitals and health systems, or residential facilities.

Master's in Rehabilitation Counseling

Rehabilitation counselors assist people with either physical, mental, or emotional disabilities to improve their quality of life and ability to function emotionally. Many specialize in a particular area or type of patient, such as brain injuries, loss of limbs or other major body functions, or recovery from serious accidents. These professionals regularly collaborate with physical rehabilitation and physical therapy professionals. Rehabilitation counselors often work in or with hospitals and health centers, independent rehabilitation facilities, or military facilities.

Master's in Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling is an emerging field. Unlike other counselors, genetics counselors often have an undergraduate degree or extensive coursework in genetics or a related scientific field. Genetics counselors most often work with people who have been identified as carrying genes associated with a particular inherited condition and help them understand the situation and their options. Some professionals specialize in helping people carrying certain genes to make decisions about reproduction. Genetic counselors often work in hospitals and health systems, independent practice, or with reproductive health and fertility service providers.

Master's in Art Therapy Counseling

Art therapy counseling helps clients express and process their thoughts and emotions through artistic expression. Most art therapy counselors have a background in the arts or in art education. Art therapy counselors may work for hospitals and health systems, schools, residential facilities, or other settings for adults or children. Many art therapy counselors are referred by other counselors or mental health care providers when a therapist or psychologist determines a client might benefit.

How to Choose a Master's Degree in Counseling Program

The right master's in counseling for you depends on factors, such as:

  • Specialization and curriculum
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • School reputation
  • Percentage of graduates working within their field
  • Acceptance and graduation rates
  • Certifying exam pass rates
  • Opportunity for cross-disciplinary studies, especially in fields like art and genetic counseling that draw heavily on other disciplines
  • Program format (online, hybrid, or on campus)
  • Geographic location (both for licensing and for working with a particular type of population, such as urban or rural, a particular racial or ethnic group, immigrants, etc.)
  • Fieldwork placement and support
  • The likelihood of getting fieldwork in your desired specialty (for example, if you want to work in rehabilitation counseling, a school associated with a major hospital may give you more opportunities)
  • Cost and financial aid

Accreditation is perhaps the most important factor to consider. Your eligibility to earn a license and take certification examinations requires graduating from an accredited program. All the master's in counseling programs listed in this guide are accredited.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the biggest and most general accrediting agency. It accredits master's in counseling programs across a range of specialties, including child and school, student affairs, and marriage and family counseling. The Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) is another generalist accreditor, focusing on master's programs. Other specialties may have specialist accreditations, such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) or the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's Degrees in Counseling Programs

How much can you make with a master's degree in counseling?

With a master's in counseling, you can typically earn between $30,870 and $77,980, with a median salary of $48,520, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also reports that school and career counselors typically make between $37,550 and $98,190, with a median salary of $60,510.

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

Most master's in counseling programs take two years for full-time students to complete. Part-time students generally take 3-4 years to finish the program.

Is a bachelor's in counseling required to enroll in a master's in counseling program?

No, a bachelor's in counseling is not required to enroll in a master's in counseling program. Some common undergraduate majors include psychology, sociology, social work, or similar social sciences. Some specialty counseling fields, such as genetic counseling or art therapy counseling, require a degree or significant coursework in genetics or art.

What practicum experience is required for a master's degree in counseling?

A master's in counseling typically includes an internship and a practicum, during which you will closely observe a licensed counselor, and an internship, during which you will perform counseling tasks under a licensed counselor's supervision. Practicums are usually approximately 100 hours and internships are approximately 500-700 hours.

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