A master's degree in counseling typically takes two years of full-time study to complete and includes general courses in psychology and counseling. Specialty areas may include family, marriage/couples, substance abuse, school, trauma, or mental health counseling. Counseling master's programs also require fieldwork hours where students work under the supervision of a licensed counselor.
Counselors practice in a variety of settings, including schools; government human services agencies; private practices; healthcare settings, such as hospitals or long-term care (nursing) facilities; nonprofit agencies; rehabilitation/addiction treatment centers; or the criminal justice system.
The following rankings include schools in the western U.S., such as Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Applying to a Top Most Affordable Master's Degree in Counseling in the West
Graduate degree programs in counseling require candidates to possess at least a bachelor's degree, with some coursework in the social sciences and a minimum 3.0 GPA (varies by program), transcripts, at least two recommendations, and an application. Applications often include essay questions or personal statements about why the student wants to pursue a master of counseling degree. Schools also look for evidence of maturity, professionalism, ethics, and an aptitude for the helping professions.
Schools may require a background check. Whether a past criminal conviction would lead to rejection depends on the details, including the state and the nature of the conviction.
Master's programs in counseling do not typically require counseling experience, but students with a successful work history in social services present stronger applications.
Frequently Asked Questions
Counselors work in a variety of settings, including hospitals and health systems, private and public schools, social services agencies, rehabilitation/substance abuse treatment centers, nonprofits, the justice system, and religious organizations. They can also work with organizations where staff experience trauma, such as first responders.
Accreditation establishes the criteria for education quality and determines whether a school's program meets those criteria.The Council for Accreditation for Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the primary accreditor for master of counseling programs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for counselors may grow by approximately 25% between 2019 and 2029. Counseling can provide considerable job satisfaction for those interested in helping others and counselors can work in a variety of settings, from independent practices to large government agencies.
Almost all graduates of a master of counseling program take the national licensing examination to become a licensed counselor. Counselors work with people experiencing difficulties in their social life or with mental health issues, people who have experienced traumas, students in school settings, and people receiving treatment for addictions. They may work for themselves as private practitioners, as part of a group practice, or for an employer, such as a government agency or nonprofit.
Best Affordable Online Counselor Programs
California State University, Long Beach
CSULB, a public school based in Long Beach, California, offers a counseling and psychology master's degree program. This program prepares students for either the marriage and family therapy license or the license for professional clinical counselors. The curriculum covers topics such as trauma, spirituality, human sexuality, family systems, and alcohol dependency.
The practitioner-focused program features two-year, 2.5-year, and three-year track options. Students benefit from an onsite clinic with live supervision and a community practice site. Students complete at least 280 hours of face-to-face counseling work with couples, individuals, groups, or families. Graduates demonstrate knowledge in diagnostic skills for clinical or counseling settings, understand family systems and theoretical models, and develop appropriate treatment plans.
The GRE is not required for admission, but students must submit transcripts, hold a bachelor's degree, and fill out the official CSULB application.
Human Sexuality Counseling | Cross-Cultural Counseling | Counseling Children and Adolescents | Law and Ethics for Counselors | Trauma and Grief Counseling
2-year, 2.5-year, and 3-year track options
Onsite clinic with live supervision and a community practice site
California State University, Los Angeles
Cal State LA, based in Los Angeles, offers a master of science in counseling with an emphasis in rehabilitation counseling. This program equips future rehabilitation counselors with the tools to help people with disabilities using medical, physiological, and social training.
The program takes three years to complete and prepares students to work in rehabilitation-related jobs with competitive wages and many career pathways. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs-accredited program expects students to be able to address the needs of individuals with disabilities and maximize their rehabilitation potential. Graduates work as professional rehabilitation counselors in a variety of settings.
Students must complete 70-74 credits for matriculation, including a culminating experience in which they choose from a comprehensive examination, thesis planning, or counseling project.
Disability in Schools and Society | Lifespan Human Development for Counselors | Ethical, Legal, and Professional Issues in Counseling | Assessment in Counseling | Individual Counseling Strategies
California State University, Fresno
Based in Fresno, California, Fresno State offers a master of science in counseling. Part of the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, this program features specializations in school counseling and student affairs and college counseling. Both concentrations require 48 credits for completion.
Students may also choose an MS in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling or an MS in marriage, family, and child counseling. These degree options provide networking opportunities for aspiring counselors.
The core curriculum for all programs includes statistics, counseling and mental health, and introduction to counseling classes. All counseling degrees require research-focused coursework, clinical practice, and a project or thesis, with electives in the respective areas of emphasis.
Counseling Techniques | Multicultural Counseling | Group Counseling | Assessment in Counseling | Practicum in Counseling
Concentrations in school counseling, student affairs and college counseling, clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling, and marriage, family, and child counseling
California State University - Fullerton
CSUF offers a part-time master of science in counseling in a cohort format, where students learn with the same set group throughout their program.
This CACREP-accredited program prepares students to become licensed marriage and family therapists or licensed professional clinical counselors. Learners have the option to work with the VA or Tricare military health plans upon graduation. This degree helps students develop their personal counseling approach in a flexible, convenient format. The program requires 62 units over a three-year timespan.
Prospective candidates for Cal State Fullerton's program must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants should submit a reference letter, a personal statement, and an interview. Additionally, students must complete prerequisites in counseling theory, psychology history, research methods or statistics, abnormal psychology, and human development.
Pre-Practicum | Modes of Individual Counseling | Child and Adolescent Counseling | Crisis Intervention and Trauma Treatment | Psychopharmacology for Counselors
Part-time program with night classes in a cohort format
California State University, Bakersfield
CSUB, based in Bakersfield, California, offers a master of science in counseling psychology. This program meets California requirements for becoming either a licensed marriage and family therapist or a licensed professional clinical counselor. Students can gain hands-on experience at the CSUB University Counselor Training Clinic, which provides low-cost counseling for people in the community.
The three-year degree requires three weekday afternoons of supervised, hands-on practicum experience in the training clinic during students' second year. For both semesters of the final year, students must be available 20 hours per week for clinical field placements.
Prospective applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited university with a minimum 3.2 GPA. Other admission requirements include six undergraduate prerequisite psychology courses in introductory statistics, abnormal psychology, and developmental psychology.
Psychopathology and Diagnostic Interviewing | Adult and Family Development | Clinical Ethics and Law | Research Methods in Counseling Psychology | Cultural Intersectionality in Counseling
Practicum and traineeship are required
CSUB University Counselor Training Clinic hands-on experience opportunities