Top Affordable Online Master's in Mental Health Counseling Programs 2022

Updated November 8, 2022

Online clinical mental health counseling programs provide flexible and affordable options for those wanting to help people through difficulties. See our ranking of the top programs for details is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Licensed mental health counselors help people with their emotional and behavioral needs. A master's in mental health counseling prepares compassionate learners to professionally support, assess, and treat people with mental health conditions. Counselor hopefuls must earn at least a master's degree to qualify for licensure and begin practicing professionally. Many online clinical mental health counseling programs provide the coursework and skills needed to become a professional counselor. Accredited online programs also help prepare graduates to sit for licensure exams. This page covers what to expect from an online clinical mental health counseling program, including courses, costs, and admissions. We also ranked the top affordable online master's in mental health programs. Discover What Matters: What to Expect | Courses | Cost | Jobs and Salaries | Top Affordable Programs | FAQ

Why Get an Online Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling?

  • Positive Impact: Mental health counselors positively impact communities and people in need. Counselors address concerns and problems to help clients lead healthier, happier lives. Licensed counselors can specialize in areas like addiction, grief, or family counseling.
  • High Demand: Counseling graduates can enjoy many career opportunities and job security due to growing demand for mental health professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a 23% growth in substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling careers from 2020 to 2030.
  • Opportunities for Growth: Mental health counselors can work in a variety of settings including hospitals, private practices, schools, and government facilities. With job experience and additional education, mental health counselors can become therapists, clinical supervisors, and clinical directors.

What to Expect From a Master's in Mental Health Counseling

Master's in mental health counseling programs prepare candidates to support people and communities with emotional and behavioral problems. These 60-credit programs often take 2-3 years to complete. After graduating, candidates must pursue licensure in their state. All 50 states require that mental health counselors hold current licensure. Many online clinical mental health counseling programs help students meet the education and experience requirements to sit for their state's mental health counseling licensure exam. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers both the National Counselor Examination and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. NBCC provides a detailed content outline for the licensing exams.
Many online clinical mental health counseling programs help students meet the education and experience requirements to sit for their state's mental health counseling licensure exam.
Continue reading to learn more about degree specializations, how to apply, and how to budget for online clinical mental health counseling programs.

Degree and Concentration Options

Learners can pursue several degree options to meet state and licensure counseling requirements. Universities may offer master of arts, master of science, or master of education degrees in mental health counseling. Coursework for these degrees varies by school, but these programs often share similar core elements. Many online schools allow learners to study at their own pace. Students can opt for part-time or full-time study schedules and pursue their degrees online, in-person, or in a hybrid format. Some online clinical mental health counseling programs also offer accelerated programs that allow enrollees to finish a master's program in just one year. Master's in mental health programs generally allow learners to specialize in an area of interest. Focused studies prepare candidates to address specific needs and propose targeted solutions. Popular Specializations:
  • Marriage and couples counseling
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Grief counseling
  • School and career counseling
  • Rehabilitation

Admissions Process

Counseling applicants must provide application materials and a fee. Schools may also ask candidates for an interview, background check, and fingerprinting if their chosen concentration deals with minors. Many schools no longer require GRE test scores. Candidates should compile the following application materials:
  • Official undergraduate transcripts demonstrating GPA (3.0 or higher preferred)
  • Professional resume with any relevant mental health work experience
  • Statement of purpose
  • 2-3 academic or professional letters of reference
  • GRE scores of 300 or higher, if required

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Popular Mental Health Counseling Graduate Courses

Required courses vary by program, but degree-seekers can expect a mix of core and elective courses and a mandatory internship. Common courses include theories of counseling, ethics and legal issues of counseling, couples and family counseling, and mental health counseling practicum and/or internship.
Theories of Counseling
This core course covers counseling and psychotherapy theories. Students learn to identify problems and respond with evidence-based interventions. This course also covers how theories drive the treatment process in case studies.
Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling
This core course provides an overview of the ethics and laws that most impact mental health counseling. Enrollees may study child abuse assessment, mandatory reporting, and intervention practices. This course encourages an understanding of the cultural, social, and psychological implications of mental health.
Couples and Family Counseling
Depending on the program, this course may be a core requirement or an elective. Couples and family counseling courses provide a fundamental understanding of the cultural, gender, and ethnicity dynamics that impact mental health. Students apply theory to improve, restore, and maintain family relationships.
Mental Health Counseling Internship
After completing all graduate coursework and meeting practicum requirements, students can apply for their mental health counseling internship. Learners must apply their counseling skills in mental health settings and provide services to patients.

Why You Should Get Your Mental Health Counseling Degree Online

Online clinical mental health counseling programs offer affordability and flexibility for working students. Online programs also allow for greater accessibility to top schools without incurring moving or commuting costs. Ideal distance learners are self-motivated individuals who can independently pursue their counseling goals. Earning an online counseling degree does not mean sacrificing academic merit — many online counseling programs hold accreditation with regional or national accrediting agencies. Additionally, much of the coursework in online programs mirrors traditional on-campus programs.

How Much Do Online Clinical Mental Health Counseling Programs Cost?

The total costs of earning a master's degree in mental health counseling vary by school and program. The National Center for Education Statistics reports average graduate tuition ranging from $19,314 at public institutions to $25,929 at private institutions for the 2018-2019 school year. A school's reputation and public or private status can affect tuition rates. Students who attend school out-of-state may also incur hefty nonresident tuition rates. Fortunately, many online clinical mental health counseling programs offer flat-rate or in-state tuition options for all virtual learners.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports average graduate tuition ranging from $19,314 at public institutions to $25,929 at private institutions for the 2018-2019 school year.
Financial aid options can help lower tuition costs. Counseling students can pursue scholarships, grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid to offset educational costs. Follow the links below to learn more about funding a master's degree in counseling.

Making Cheap Master's in Mental Health Counseling Degrees Even Cheaper

Students looking into affordable master's degree programs are on the right track, but tuition rates are not the only place they can save money. Degree-seekers can lower the overall cost of education by finding cheap textbooks, carefully planning their course load, applying for course waivers, and considering all possible aid options.
  • Textbooks: Research required textbooks before the first week of courses. Look into options for renting books and buying used or electronic copies. Many online retailers sell textbooks at lower prices.
  • Course Schedule: Many online clinical mental health counseling programs allow enrollees to take classes at their own pace or pursue accelerated study. If a school charges by term instead of credit, students can save money by maxing out on credits each term. However, this method requires more effort and dedication to studying.
  • Course Waivers: Professional students sometimes have valuable work experience or past education credits that may translate to credits. Some schools make it easy to transfer credits from other schools or waive introductory credits for seasoned professionals. Contact the school admissions office to determine your options.
  • Financial Aid: Take advantage of all aid opportunities that do not need to be paid back. Researching scholarships and grants is time consuming, but may lead to considerable savings. Start looking for aid options that serve your community or subject area.

Mental Health Counseling Jobs and Salaries

The demand for mental health counseling professionals continues to grow. Many careers in mental health offer increases in salary with work experience and continuing education. Mental health professionals also benefit from advancement opportunities in leadership and management roles. Pursuing a master's degree in mental health helps professionals pursue many occupations like mental health counselor, case worker, and college admissions counselor.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors support people and communities dealing with mental health conditions. These counselors must hold a master's degree and state certification. Mental health counselors work in a variety of settings including hospitals, addiction clinics, and outpatient facilities. Required Education: Master's in counseling required Average Annual Salary: $44,705

Case Worker

Case workers or managers collaborate with health providers to advise and guide individuals and communities in need. Case workers may assist recovering addicts, elderly, ex-convicts, or people battling severe illnesses. Required Education: Master's in counseling preferred Average Annual Salary: $42,156

College Admissions Counselor

College or university admissions counselors advise incoming students for undergraduate or graduate study. These counselors support prospective students during the admissions process, recommend course options, and map course schedules to meet program requirements. Required Education: Master's in counseling preferred Average Annual Salary: $41,233

Selecting the Right Graduate Program

While cost is an important factor in any school search, counseling graduate students should also consider the following when selecting the best school for their needs:
  • Accreditation: Students should ensure that all potential schools hold both institutional and programmatic accreditations. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs approves counseling programs for rigor and quality.
  • Available Concentrations: Master's in mental health degrees are most marketable when paired with an in-demand concentration. Degree-seekers should research all concentrations offered by potential schools, ensuring the options align with their interests. Graduates who specialize in meeting the targeted needs of people and communities can better pursue impactful employment.
  • Delivery Method: Students who need flexible study times can consider online clinical mental health counseling programs. Many of these programs are 100% online and offer asynchronous instructional delivery, meaning no set class time or participation requirement. Learners may prefer hybrid instruction, which offers both online learning and in-person classes.

Top Affordable Online Clinical Mental Health Counseling Programs

Wake Forest University

A Winston-Salem, North Carolina private institution, WFU educates over 8,000 students. Its 340-acre campus sits in a suburban setting. Over half of WFU students take part in the university's study abroad programs in over 70 countries.

Master of Arts in Counseling-Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Wake Forest University offers an online master of arts in counseling-clinical mental health counseling program. The online version of the program appeals to students pursuing education while continuing to work. WFU offers the 60-hour program on a part-time basis only. By taking fall, spring, and summer semesters, distance learners complete the course in three years. Although learners take all classes virtually, some requirements occur in person, such as the internship. The face-to-face clinical rotation involves an average of 20 hours per week in a mental health setting. Internships do not start until the second year of the program.

WFU's Affordability

North Carolina's cost of living falls a little over 1% lower than the U.S. average. To save on tuition, students can transfer up to six credits with university approval. Students assigned to clinical rotations outside of Winston-Salem may need to budget for additional expenses. Travel and lodging could cost them up to $3,600. The school and the FAFSA award financial aid based on income and demonstrated financial need. Students enrolled in master's programs fill out a CSS Profile along with the FAFSA application. A CSS Profile helps determine a student's financial responsibility toward college. Because of the critical need for counselors, different health organizations offer loan forgiveness and repayment programs. Students who accept a three-year position with a Health Resources and Services Administration-approved employer can earn up to $75,000 in loan forgiveness. WFU graduate students qualify for other scholarships, such as the $3,000 Richter Scholarship program.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $1,560 per credit hour for part-time graduate students (online program available on a part-time basis only)
  • Required Credits: 60 credit hours
  • Program Length: 36 months (part time)
  • Delivery Format: 100% online classes with some face-to-face requirements
  • Admissions
    • Process: Submit a personal statement and three recommendation letters and do a virtual interview with an admissions advisor
    • GPA: 2.5 GPA
    • Standardized Tests: GRE score of 300, including a writing score of 3 (some students may qualify for a GRE waiver)
    • Cost: $80 application fee

Grace College and Theological Seminary

Founded in 1948, Grace is a private Christian institution in Winona Lake, Indiana. The school educates about 1,200 on-campus students in over 90 majors and minors. Grace offers degrees in art, science, and behavioral science.

Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Grace offers an online master of clinical mental health counseling. The program includes some religious elements because it incorporates a Christian philosophy. Unlike online courses that let students view pre-recorded lectures any time, Grace's program uses a synchronous format. Students take each of the classes as a cohort. Students must participate in a yearly face-to-face requirement at the Winona Lake main campus. The in-person experience entails a clinical rotation along with some intensive coursework. During residency, students engage in activities related to spiritual growth, skills evaluation, and other training.

Grace Affordability

To save on tuition, eligible students can transfer up to 12 credits toward their degree. Graduate learners qualify to apply for work-study loans, the FAFSA, and scholarships. Graduate degree-seekers may qualify for $20,500 in Stafford Loans annually to pay for personal and educational expenses. The Questa Education Foundation offers forgivable student loans and scholarships to graduate students in several counties in Indiana, including Kosciusko County.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $586 per credit hour
  • Required Credits: 60
  • Program Length: 3 years
  • Delivery Format: 100% online classes with yearly one-week, in-person residency
  • Admissions
    • Process: Pass a background check, provide a professional reference, pay an enrollment fee, and do a phone interview with an admissions staff member
    • GPA: 3.0 GPA
    • Standardized Tests: None
    • Cost: $50 background check fee and refundable $100 enrollment deposit

University of Western States

A private, nonprofit institution in Portland, Oregon, UWS started in 1904. The university offers evidenced-based practice in functional medicine both online and on campus. The master's and doctoral programs include nutrition, sports medicine, and clinical mental health counseling.

Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

UWS's clinical mental health counseling MS teaches enrollees to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions. The curriculum includes classes on group counseling, addiction, trauma, and family issues. Students benefit from a flexible schedule that fits their needs and accommodates work demands. UWS offers enrollment with fall and spring starting dates. Besides the program's online component, students must participate in face-to-face internships, including five clinical field placement terms. The faculty assists students in making arrangements for the mandatory practicum and internships.

UWS's Affordability

Graduate students get financial aid primarily through student loans or the FAFSA program. Degree-seekers must submit new FAFSA applications each school year. Learners can apply for loans through a lending institution, but they usually offer lower rates than FAFSA loans. UWS offers financial aid to graduate students through the Direct Grad Plus Loan program. The program lets students apply for a loan to cover attendance costs (minus other loans, grants, or scholarships). Students need good credit or a cosigner to qualify for a Direct Grad Plus loan. UWS also awards $500-$1,000 scholarships based on students' financial needs, merit, and scholarship application quality. Exact award amounts depend on funds available and the number of applicants.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $572 per quarter hour
  • Required Credits: 90 quarter hours (60 semester hours)
  • Program Length: 8-12 quarters (2-3 years)
  • Delivery Format: 100% online with required face-to-face internship hours
  • Admissions
    • Process: Submit two recommendation letters, do a virtual interview, and pass a background check
    • GPA: 2.75 GPA (3.0 GPA preferred)
    • Standardized Tests: None
    • Cost: $50 application fee and $300 tuition deposit

Antioch College

AUNE, a private school in Keene, New Hampshire, opened its doors in 1964. The university offers degrees in environmental studies, therapy, and counseling. Originally affiliated with Antioch College in Ohio, today the New England branch is an independent institution.

MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

AUNE's online clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) program features fully virtual classes and an intensive virtual or face-to-face clinical component. The in-person practicum requires 100 hours. Students must also complete 900 total internship hours. The program focuses on ethics, client assessments, and social and cultural diversity. Graduates can become licensed as National Certified Counselors after passing the credentialing exam. The requirements for internship hours vary by state. Students should check their state's criteria to ensure an online program meets eligibility requirements.

AUNE's Affordability

Best Value Schools rated Antioch University's clinical and mental health counseling MA a good value. AUNE ranked in the top 19 online schools offering the CMHC program. Online enrollees receive a waiver for the application fee. Students qualify for financial aid based on family income, financial need, and other factors. Options for financial aid include federal and state grants and direct and federal student loans. Eligibility requires at least half-time enrollment and no previous loans in default.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $757 per semester hour
  • Required Credits: 60
  • Program Length: 3-3.5 years full time/4-5 years part time
  • Delivery Format: 100% online classes, in-person or virtual two-week intensive residencies, and in-person internships and practicum
  • Admissions
    • Process: Submit two recommendation letters and attend a virtual interview with the program admissions committee
    • GPA: 3.0 GPA preferred
    • Standardized Tests: None
    • Cost: $0 application fee for the online program

Liberty University

Founded in 1971, Liberty is a private evangelical institution. The university offers 450 of its over 700 programs entirely online. Nearly 100,000 students attend classes at the 7,000-acre Lynchburg, Virginia campus each year.

Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Liberty's online clinical mental health counseling MA includes fully virtual classes and face-to-face practicum and internship requirements. The accredited program prepares graduates for the Virginia state board exam to become licensed professional counselors. Learners in states other than Virginia should check their state requirements. The 60-credit MA covers clinical skills, evidenced-based practice, multicultural counseling, and legal issues and theories. To remain in good standing and qualify for the required practicum, enrollees must maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Liberty's Affordability

Students stand to save a good amount of money by transferring up to 30 credits. Enrolling in the licensed counselor program full time also saves money. Full-time learners save about $3,000 over part-time enrollees. The school offers a no-interest payment plan option for students who choose to pay as they go. Liberty offers standard financial aid benefits, such as grants, loans, and scholarship opportunities. Minority students, members of religious affiliations, military members, and those with disabilities benefit from specialty scholarships. Virginia residents may qualify for special financial assistance or scholarships not available to out-of-state residents.

Program at a Glance

  • School Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $565 per credit hour (full time) $615 per credit hour (part time)
  • Required Credits: 60 credits
  • Program Length: 24 months
  • Delivery Format: 100% online classes with two 36-40 hour required on-campus intensives
  • Admissions
    • Process: Submit two professional recommendations, a statement of purpose, and the application fee
    • GPA: 2.7 GPA
    • Standardized Tests: None
    • Cost: $50 application fee

Common Questions About a Master's in Mental Health Counseling

What can you do with a master's in mental health counseling?

Graduates can work in a variety of counseling roles, including mental health counseling, case managing, and college admissions counseling. Counselors may work in hospitals, clinics, schools, and out-patient facilities.

How much does an online master's in clinical mental health counseling cost?

Graduate degrees cost $19,314 to $25,929 in average annual tuition and fees, according to the NCES. Educational costs depend on factors like the school's private or public status, the student's residency status, and the instruction style.

Is an online master's in clinical mental health counseling a good degree?

Master's degrees in mental health counseling can lead to impactful careers with strong growth prospects and opportunities for advancement.

What degree do you need to be a clinical mental health counselor?

Clinical mental health counselors must earn a master's degree in mental health counseling and obtain state licensure to practice clinical counseling.

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