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 2021

Rank School Location
1 University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY
2 New York University New York, NY
3 Angelo State University San Angelo, TX
4 LeTourneau University Longview, TX
5 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
6 University of Kentucky Lexington, KY
7 Santa Clara University Santa Clara, CA
8 University of North Texas Denton, TX
9 Auburn University Auburn, AL
10 Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY

The 12 Best Low-Cost Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

  1. University at Buffalo
    Location

    Buffalo, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, offers an online master's degree in rehabilitation counseling that prepares learners to become nationally certified rehabilitation counselors. Degree-seekers can pursue their online counseling degree through a part-time format, typically completing the program in about three years.

    UB students participate in three semesters of field placement training alongside two courses each semester. Throughout the program, learners complete more than 750 experiential contact hours. Program faculty members ensure the program meets the qualifications for the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification Exam and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs standards of accreditation.

    Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree in a related field and provide unofficial transcripts from all previous college coursework. Admission requirements include a completed application, a statement of intent, and two letters of recommendation.

    Courses Include

    • Medical and psychosocial aspects of disability
    • Legal and ethical issues in counseling
    • Field work and counseling techniques
    • Rehabilitation foundations

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $15,895
    • Credits Required: 48
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  2. New York University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students can earn a master's in counseling online at NYU and pursue either the school counseling or mental health counseling track. Both programs promote the skills and field training necessary to pursue certification in the student's counseling specialty.

    Degree-seekers can choose part- or full-time enrollment. Learners in the school counseling program can pursue an optional concentration in bilingual school counseling. The mental health counseling curriculum allows students to tailor their program to align with their individual goals by choosing from a variety of elective courses.

    Program length varies depending on the track. While both programs require learners to complete a 600-hour internship, a 100-hour practicum, and a counseling lab, credit requirements differ. In the school counseling program, learners complete 48 credits of coursework, allowing them to earn their degree in 18 months. Mental health counseling students must complete a 60-credit curriculum and can graduate in 21 months.

    Courses Include

    • Research and evaluation in behavioral sciences
    • Program development and evaluation in counseling
    • Cognitive behavior therapy: theory and application
    • Child language development
    • Professional orientation and ethics for school counseling

    Unique Features

    • Credits Required: 48-60
    • Tracks: Mental health counseling or school counseling
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  3. Angelo State University
    Location

    San Angelo, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    ASU, based in San Angelo, Texas, offers a counseling master's program online that focuses on mental health and wellness counseling. Enrollees complete their coursework asynchronously and can finish the program in one year.

    Counseling students interested in earning their master's degree online can also enroll in the professional school counseling program, which prepares them to take the Texas Examination of Educator Standards for the Professional Certificate for School Counselors. The program allows enrollees to participate in extensive field experience, including internship and practicum opportunities.

    Counseling applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and possess a minimum 2.75 GPA. Prospective students do not need to submit GRE scores. Applicants to the school counselor program should complete two years of teaching experience to pursue certification after graduation.

    Courses Include

    • Social and cultural influences
    • Introduction to school and community counseling
    • Introduction to crisis, trauma, and mental health concerns
    • Human growth and development

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $11,558
    • Credits Required: 30
    • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  4. LeTourneau University
    Location

    Longview, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students at LETU can consider a variety of flexible graduate programs, including a master's in counseling online program that focuses on clinical mental health counseling. Throughout the rigorous curriculum, learners develop the skills needed to pursue national counselor certification, with LETU graduates boasting a National Counseling Exam pass rate of 94%.

    Clinical mental health counseling students focus on understanding how to work with varied populations and integrate counseling through a Christian perspective. The curriculum emphasizes holistic attention and ethical practice, and promotes social involvement.

    Prospective students need a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a 2.5 minimum GPA for admission. Applicants must also provide any official college transcripts. Upon meeting the initial admission requirements, potential enrollees must participate in an interview with a faculty member for full approval and admission to the program.

    Courses Include

    • Psychological testing, clinical appraisal and diagnostic evaluation in counseling
    • Career counseling and lifestyle development
    • Human sexuality and sex therapy
    • Addictions counseling
    • Psychopathology: diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders

    Unique Features

    • Credits Required: 66
    • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  5. University of North Dakota
    Location

    Grand Forks, ND

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Master's students enrolled in the online counseling degree at UND can choose a specialization, tailoring their degree to personal interests and career goals. Specialization areas include rehabilitation counseling, addiction counseling, community mental health counseling, and K-12 school counseling.

    Enrollees can complete their program requirements in 2-3 years depending on their chosen track. Each specialization allows students to learn from diverse faculty members with extensive experience. Learners collaborate with the Rural Psychology Integrated Care program, focusing on the behavioral and mental health needs of residents.

    In addition to the required coursework, counseling students in all specializations must participate in an internship with a local agency in their area of interest. Online learners complete both asynchronous and synchronous coursework and can enroll in a thesis or non-thesis format.

    Courses Include

    • Diagnostic and prevention strategies in counseling
    • Psychology of women, gender, and development
    • Multicultural counseling
    • Dynamics of addiction
    • Theories of counseling, personality, and development

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $15,374
    • Specializations: Addiction counseling, community mental health counseling, K-12 school counseling, rehabilitation counseling
    • Credits Required: 60-71
    • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  6. University of Kentucky
    Location

    Lexington, KY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UK, located in Lexington, Kentucky, offers a master's in counseling online program that allows students to pursue a specialization in either mental health counseling or rehabilitation counseling. UK features the only rehabilitation counseling master's program in the Commonwealth.

    For their program final, degree-seekers in the rehabilitation counseling specialty can complete the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, while learners enrolled in the clinical mental health counseling specialty can complete the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam. Any enrollees who do not take a national certifying exam at the end of their program must complete a 100-question multiple choice exam covering the same content.

    All counseling students must satisfy 60 credits of coursework alongside 200 hours of supervised practicum experience and 600 hours of internship experience. Each applicant must possess a bachelor's degree with a 2.75 minimum GPA or a graduate degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA. Prospective students should also provide three letters of recommendation and a written statement with their application.

    Courses Include

    • Data-driven perspectives in school counseling
    • Diagnosis and mental health issues in children and adolescents
    • Ethical guidelines for school counselors
    • Issues in child and adolescent development for school counselors
    • School justice and diversity in school counseling

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $19,762
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Specializations: Community mental health counseling or rehabilitation counseling
    • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  7. Santa Clara University
    Location

    Santa Clara, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students can pursue a master's in counseling online degree at SCU and choose between four specialization options, including Latino counseling, health psychology, LGBT counseling, and correctional psychology.

    SCU's counseling program prepares learners to work in college student services, career counseling, community services, and other careers in the field that do not require a license to practice. The curriculum caters to enrollees who want more experience in the mental health field or those who want to pursue a doctoral degree but do not need a professional license. The full-time program takes students two years to complete.

    Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA. With their admissions application, prospective students must submit a statement of purpose, current resume or curriculum vitae, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation.

    Courses Include

    • Psychology of interpersonal communications
    • Ethical and legal issues in counseling
    • Foundations of psychotherapy and personality
    • Substance abuse treatment
    • Psychology of relationships

    Unique Features

    • Concentrations: correctional psychology, health psychology, Latino counseling, LGBT counseling
    • Credits Required: 52.5 quarter units
    • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
  8. University of North Texas
    Location

    Denton, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students can pursue a master's in counseling online degree at SCU and choose between four specialization options, including Latino counseling, health psychology, LGBT counseling, and correctional psychology.

    SCU's counseling program prepares learners to work in college student services, career counseling, community services, and other careers in the field that do not require a license to practice. The curriculum caters to enrollees who want more experience in the mental health field or those who want to pursue a doctoral degree but do not need a professional license. The full-time program takes students two years to complete.

    Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA. With their admissions application, prospective students must submit a statement of purpose, current resume or curriculum vitae, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation.

    Courses Include

    • Psychology of interpersonal communications
    • Ethical and legal issues in counseling
    • Foundations of psychotherapy and personality
    • Substance abuse treatment
    • Psychology of relationships

    Unique Features

    • Concentrations: correctional psychology, health psychology, Latino counseling, LGBT counseling
    • Credits Required: 52.5 quarter units
    • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
  9. Auburn University
    Location

    Auburn, AL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Auburn, Alabama, Auburn University features one of the most affordable counseling master's programs online that prepares graduates for careers as professional school counselors working in both public and private elementary, middle, and high schools.

    Learners can enroll part- or full-time and participate in practicums and internships. The curriculum offers specialized courses to students, allowing them to build their degree plan and tailor their program to suit their personal interests and career goals. The program prepares graduates for Class A Alabama professional educator certification.

    The program boasts specialized accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. All applicants must possess a bachelor's degree and clear a background check. In addition to a completed application, prospective students should provide three reference forms, a statement of intent, and complete an interview with a faculty member.

    Courses Include

    • Career development and vocational appraisal
    • Counseling children and adolescents
    • Counseling applications of lifespan development
    • Crisis intervention in counseling
    • Counseling diverse populations

    Unique Features

    • Cost: $23,205
    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  10. Columbia University in the City of New York
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students at Columbia can earn their master's degree in counseling online. Columbia's program focuses on school counseling, preparing enrollees to pursue school counselor certification in New York after graduation.

    Enrollees complete their coursework asynchronously. The 60-credit curriculum requires degree-seekers to complete at least 48 credits at the Teachers College, and learners can choose their own elective courses. In addition to the required 60 credits, learners must complete a special project during the same semester they apply for the Ed.M. Before graduating, students must pass a comprehensive exam.

    As part of the program requirements, enrollees participate in one year of supervised fieldwork in psychological counseling and rehabilitation, elementary school counseling, and secondary school counseling. Students can enroll part- or full-time, with full-time learners typically graduating within five semesters.

    Courses Include

    • Human growth and development
    • Social cultural foundations of counseling
    • Counseling theory and practice
    • Lifestyle and career development
    • Psychopathology

    Unique Features

    • Credits Required: 60
    • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

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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