Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Programs 2022
Updated June 23, 2022 | BestCounselingDegrees.net Staff
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A master’s degree in counseling explores people's relationships with each other and themselves. Candidates for this degree program want to help others work through their physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual issues.
Counseling was first recognized as a profession in the 1800s. This was due to the Industrial Revolution and an increase in social reform movements.
Since then, counselors have integrated into sectors such as the military, veterans affairs, and independent practices. Counseling became a mental health profession in the 1990s. In 2002, the first counseling registry formed in California.
With increased awareness of mental health and self-care, counseling services are in high demand. Counseling was once confined to primary and secondary schools. Now, the profession expands to corporate counseling, addiction counseling, and spirituality or religious counseling.
Why Get an Online Master's in Counseling?
- Employment: Heightened mental health awareness comes with increased demand for counselors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs in school and career counseling are projected to grow 11% from 2020-2030.
- Variety of Career Paths: A master’s degree in counseling opens up many career paths. Graduates can work in school and career counseling, mental health counseling, addiction and substance misuse counseling, rehabilitation, marriage and family, and even corporate counseling.
- A Sense of Accomplishment and/or Fulfillment: Possibly the best part about pursuing a degree in counseling is the fulfillment that comes with helping others. Counselors help children and adults deal with and overcome traumatic incidents. They also assist with relationship and marital issues.
What to Expect From an Online Master's in Counseling
Most states require licensure in order to offer counseling services. A master’s degree is often a prerequisite for licensure. A master’s degree also helps in building core skills such as active listening, problem-solving, and decision-making.
A master’s degree in counseling often entails 45-60 credits. This means that a master’s degree is completed in about two years of full-time study or five years of part-time study.
You can pursue an MA or an MS in counseling. An MS degree allows graduates to move into clinical training, which is required for licensure. Many MA graduates do not pursue licensure. Instead, they tend to go into teaching and research.
Degree and Concentration Options
Master’s students should consider specializing their studies. This streamlines the transition into the workforce. Many master’s programs offer concentrations that develop both core skills and profession-specific skills.
Some concentrations include:
- Clinical and Mental Health Counseling: This concentration explores crisis intervention, advocacy, and contemporary issues. Students learn the skills needed to help future clients cope with emotional and mental issues.
- School Counseling: This concentration focuses on how young students interact socially. The specialization explores development, bullying, low self-esteem, and learning differences.
- Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling: This specialization teaches students to help patients who are recovering from addiction and substance use. Students learn skills to help promote positive lifelong change for their future clients.
- Rehabilitation Counseling: Students learn the skills needed to help patients and caregivers during recovery from a traumatic event (e.g., physical, mental, or emotional). The goal is to help people with disabilities live independently and improve their quality of life.
- Marriage and Family Therapy: Students learn the specific skills required for clients dealing with family, marriage, and other relationship issues. This specialization also explores issues of domestic violence, separation and divorce, and blended families.
An MS in counseling gives learners the clinical experience required for licensure. An MA targets candidates seeking employment in education or research.
Master’s in counseling program applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree. Some schools prefer degrees in behavioral sciences, psychology, education, or social work. Many require a minimum 2.7-3.0 GPA.
Some programs require the graduate record examination (GRE). A score of 1200 or higher is considered competitive. Make sure to research your prospective schools' requirements.
Applicants may also have to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation, official transcripts from all postsecondary institutions attended, a personal statement, and a resume. Many programs require a criminal background check as well.
Some programs may ask for some professional experience, either paid or volunteer, under supervision of a licensed counselor. Either way, professional experience may elevate your chances of admission.
Popular Counseling Graduate Courses
Graduate-level counseling courses often cover professional counseling ethics; social and cultural diversity issues; family counseling; and crisis, grief, and loss. As with bachelor’s degrees, graduate programs entail core courses. These cover the primary skills needed for a counseling career.
Graduate counseling programs also include concentration-specific courses and electives that allow you to specialize even further.
- Foundations of Counseling: This course covers the basics of counseling, foundational knowledge, and exploring the profession's history. Students develop basic skills in counseling, professional identity, and related ethics.
- Social and Cultural Foundation of Counseling: This course explores how culture and ethnicity may impact relationships. It covers gender roles, race, ethnic background, and many identities and intersections. This course works on building self-awareness, eliminating biases and oppression, and identity development.
- Trauma, Crisis, and Emergency Relief: This course looks into the impact of trauma and crisis on individuals and groups. It builds skills in crisis intervention, enhancing resilience, and emergency management.
- Blended Family Counseling: This course focuses on building highly nurturing blended families. It applies systems theory and family theory. The course builds on self-growth and incorporates skills for self awareness and eliminating bias.
Why You Should Get Your Counselor Degree Online
Earning a counselor degree online has a variety of benefits. For many nontraditional students, caregivers, parents, and students with disabilities, an online degree is the best option.
Online programs often offer asynchronous courses, which allow students to attend lectures and complete assignments on their own time. Tuition costs may be lower for online degrees as well.
Some students work better at their own pace without set meeting times. Others prefer a more traditional classroom environment. Consider your preferred learning style before choosing an online master's in counseling.
How Much Do Counseling Master's Programs Cost?
The average master’s degree cost $19,792 as of the 2019-20 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Factors affecting cost include degree type and school reputation. For example, an MBA often costs more than other master’s degrees. In-state vs. out-of-state tuition also affects the cost.
Master’s degrees take two years to complete, bringing the total cost closer to $40,000 for tuition and fees. Additional expenses may include books, accommodation, and travel.
Consider the following options for funding your degree:
- Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships: You can choose from many scholarships, grants, and fellowships to fund your degree. These types of aid do not require repayment. Options include Mental Health and Substance Predoctoral Fellowship, the Esther Katz Rosen Graduate Student Fellowship, and the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
- Federal Loans: Under the National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program, licensed counselors may receive up to $50,000 of loan forgiveness. The Federal Perkins Loan program offers loan cancelation for school counselors serving students from low-income backgrounds.
Making Cheap Online Therapist Degrees Even Cheaper
Given the hot topic of student loan debt, prospective students often search for cheaper ways to earn an advanced degree. A master’s degree has its perks, including higher earning potential, but the upfront cost can be hard to swallow.
A master’s degree can cost $30,000-$40,000, not including living and transportation expenses. Consider the following ways to lower the cost of your master's degree.
- Choose a cheaper program. Seek out more economical programs. Whether it is an in-state program, an online program, or a one-year program, treat it like bargain shopping.
- Look at funding options. Pick a program that offers graduate research or graduate teaching assistantships. Assistantships can come with a tuition waiver and stipend, which you can use to offset expenses. Part-time enrollment can also allow for part-time employment. The degree may take longer, however. For online programs, you may have the flexibility of maintaining a job while you study.
- Seek out scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Searching for scholarships, fellowships, and grants may seem tedious, but finding aid that you don’t have to pay back is well worth the effort.
- Work first; learn later. Taking time to save up for your graduate degree before entering a program may pay off in the long run. Depending on your employer, you may have tuition reimbursement opportunities.
Counseling Jobs and Salaries
Graduates with a master’s in counseling can go into school counseling, addiction and substance use counseling, marriage and family therapy, or geriatric counseling.
The BLS projects employment for school and career counselors and advisors to grow by 11% from 2020-2030. Other areas of employment have similar or better outlooks. A master’s degree can better position a candidate to be hired and earn a larger salary.
Description: School counselors help students develop the skills they need to succeed in school. Career counselors help people to develop the skills required to attain a certain occupation.
Required Education: Master's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +11%
Median Annual Salary: $58,120
Marriage and Family Therapist
Description: Marriage and family therapists help clients discuss their emotions and experiences, and cultivate healthy relationships. These professionals work with individuals and families as they deal with separation and divorce as well.
Required Education: Master's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +16%
Median Annual Salary: $51,340
Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling
Description: Addiction and substance use counselors advise people who struggle with alcoholism, narcotic use, eating disorders, and other behavioral or mental health conditions. These professionals provide treatment and support to help their clients reach a level of recovery.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +23%
Median Annual Salary: $47,660
Selecting the Right Graduate Program
To select the right graduate program, you must think about your preferred educational experience. Consider your desired career path as well.
Typical considerations include:
- Accreditation: This is especially important when it comes to those seeking licensure or any other certifications. Without attending an accredited program, gaining licensure might be difficult.
- Required Admission Materials/Test Scores: If you do not meet a program's expectations for admission, that might not be the right program for you.
- Student-to-Teacher Ratio: Small class sizes often mean more individualized attention from your professors.
- Location: Online programs are different from in person programs. Likewise, in-state schools are often more affordable than out-of-state programs.
- Program Length: Longer programs can cost more money and time in the long run. However, faster programs can be more rigorous and require more energy.
- Available Concentrations: Depending on your potential career path, the right concentration can prepare you for future employment.
Top Affordable Master's in Counseling Online Programs
University of Southern California
California's oldest private research university, USC boasts many notable alumni. Founded in 1880, the Los Angeles-area school now serves around 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Master of Education in School Counseling
The USC Rossier School of Education offers an online M.Ed. in school counseling program. It emphasizes holistic well-being and explores relevant issues in schools today. Key focus areas include college and career readiness, restorative justice, and trauma-informed practice.
USC's curriculum aligns with American School Counselor Association's National Model for School Counseling standards. The program prepares students for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing's Pupil Personnel Services: School Counseling (PPS-SC) Credential. Students complete weekly live online classes and in-person fieldwork. USC helps master's degree-seekers find local fieldwork placements to complete their required 100-hour practicum and 700-hour internship.
California offers some of the nation's most affordable higher education. USC charges higher tuition rates than many of California's public institutions. However, this well-endowed private university provides substantial need-based financial aid.
Program at a Glance
- School Type: Private
- Accreditation: The WASC Senior College and University Commission
- Tuition: $2,035 per unit for full-time online students
- Required Credits: 49 units
- Program Length: 2-3 years
- Delivery Format: weekly live online classes and in-person fieldwork
- Process: Submit official transcript, resume, recommendation letters, and essays
- GPA: No designated minimum, but usually at least 3.0
- Standardized Tests: SAT, ACT, California Basic Education Skills Test, or other approved placement examinations
- Cost: $90 application fee
Clarks Summit University
Founded in 1932, CSU initially operated out of a Baptist church in Johnson City, New York. In the 1960s, the small Christian university relocated to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Clarks Summit University on its current name in 2016 and serves close to 700 students.
Master of Science in Counseling
CSU runs an online MS in counseling program that emphasizes a biblical counseling model. Many students benefit from CSU's caring professors and small classes. The 60-credit curriculum includes core counseling courses that cover biblical counseling and professional counseling. Students take electives in focus areas such as addiction or mood disorders
Participants complete written and oral comprehensive examinations. The program includes one-week on-campus modules and supervised in-person fieldwork practicums and internships. On-campus students complete these requirements through co-counseling at Foundations Christian Counseling Center on campus. CSU's program prepares learners for the National Certified Counselor examination and Licensed Professional Counselor licensing.
CSU offers scholarships and financial aid. Christian workers and military members qualify for discounts. Learners benefit from locked tuition rates for their entire enrollment. CSU permits credit transfer, which can save time and money.
Program at a Glance
- School Type: Private
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Association of Biblical Higher Education
- Tuition: $585
- Required Credits: 60
- Program Length: Two years of full-time enrollment
- Delivery Format: Eight-week, asynchronous online courses. Five terms per year, with one-week residential modules
- Process: Submit official transcripts and a recommendation letter from a pastor or mentor
- GPA: 3.0 minimum, with some exceptions
- Standardized Tests: Not required
- Cost: $25 application fee
New York University
The nation's largest private research university, NYU opened its doors in 1832. The school maintains campuses in Manhattan and Brooklyn and serves over 51,000 students, including over 25,000 graduate students.
Master's in School Counseling or Mental Health Counseling
NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development features online master's programs in school counseling or mental health counseling. Enrollees benefit from award-winning faculty and 700-hour supervised field experiences. NYU accepts applications on a rolling basis. Learners enter NYU programs in cohorts that start in January, May, and September.
The school counseling program emphasizes cultural inclusiveness and relationship-building skills. Participants learn how to create school programming that fosters student and community well-being. Aspiring school counselors can pursue an optional concentration in bilingual school counseling.
The mental health counseling program focuses on critical counseling skills. Enrollees learn how to assess and intervene in the mental health of clients of all ages. Learners take electives in specialized areas such as trauma response, immigrant-origin youth, or adolescent sexual decision-making.
Living in New York and attending NYU is expensive. Many graduate students receive $20,500 in federal direct unsubsidized loans. Federal direct PLUS loans can also supplement costs. NYU provides merit-based, need-based scholarships to select applicants.
Program at a Glance
- School Type: Private research university
- Accreditation: The Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council and Related Educational Programs
- Tuition: $1,942 per credit, plus fees ($93,000-$113,000 total)
- Required Credits: 60 credits
- Program Length: Two years of full-time enrollment, longer for part-time
- Delivery Format: Live online classes, plus one on-campus three-day immersion experience
- Process: Submit official transcripts, recommendation letters, personal statement and curriculum vitae or resume
- GPA: 3.0 minimum
- Standardized Tests: No GRE required
- Cost: $75 application fee
Wake Forest University
Baptists founded the school in 1834 as the Wake Forest Manual Labor Institution. Now a private research university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest currently serves almost 8,800 students.
Master's in School Counseling or Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Wake Forest offers an online MA in counseling with two tracks: school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. The 100% online program accommodates working professionals and qualifies graduates for National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. The program boasts a 95% pass rate on the exam and a high acceptance rate to doctoral programs for graduates.
Wake Forest's counseling program takes a service-oriented, student-centered approach. Participants complete 15 core courses, three clinical courses, and three courses in their chosen track. Clinical components include supervised practicum and internship experiences. All enrollees complete a professional identity capstone course.
Wake Forest's Affordability
Master's students who maintain at least half-time enrollment status may qualify for federal financial aid. Wake Forest's Student Financial Services office offers interest-free monthly payment plans.
Program at a Glance
- School Type: Private
- Accreditation: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Counseling Accreditation Council and Related Educational Programs
- Tuition: $1,510 per credit
- Required Credits: 60
- Program Length: Three years
- Delivery Format: 100% online
- Process: Complete a virtual interview and submit recommendation letters and a personal statement
- GPA: 2.5
- Standardized Tests: 300 minimum GRE score
- Cost: $80 application fee
University of the Cumberlands
Baptist ministers founded Williamsburg Institute in 1889. The school became Cumberland College in 1913 and then University of the Cumberlands in 2005. The private Christian university in Williamsburg, Kentucky, serves about 13,000 students.
Online Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Cumberlands online MA in clinical mental health counseling emphasizes empathy, accountability, and service. Many graduates pursue counseling licensure. Enrollees apply and hone their counseling skills through two 300-hour counseling internships and a 100-hour practicum.
The program includes a 48-credit core curriculum covering foundational topics like psychological assessment and grief and crisis counseling. Participants take 12 elective credits in areas such as marriage and family counseling or private practice and clinical supervision. Additional specialization options include child and adolescent counseling and advanced counseling theories and techniques.
Many online learners pay under $500 per credit hour -- a fraction of the tuition at some universities. Kentucky residents often enjoy lower tuition rates and less expensive living costs than students elsewhere in the country.
Program at a Glance
- School Type: Private
- Accreditation: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, The Counseling Accreditation Council and Related Educational Programs
- Tuition: $400 per credit for part-time learners. Full-time per credit amount not listed.
- Required Credits: 60
- Program Length: At least two years of full-time enrollment
- Delivery Format: Not specified
- Process: Submit two recommendation letters and a writing sample
- GPA: 3.0 minimum, but 2.5 sometimes considered for provisional admission
- Standardized Tests: Not mentioned
- Cost: $30 application fee
Common Questions About Counselor Degrees Online
What can you do with a counselor degree online?
Online counselor degree candidates pursue counseling careers. Potential jobs include school and career counseling, substance misuse and addiction counseling, and marriage and family therapy.
How much does a master's in counseling online cost?
An online master's in counseling can cost between $18,000 and $44,000, depending on the program.
Is an online master's in counseling a good degree?
Yes, an online master's in counseling is a good degree with many opportunities for employment and high earning potential.
What degree do you need to be an online therapist?
Many online therapists have a master's degree in counseling or a related field.
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