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.
What is the difference between an MS and an MA in counseling?
- Marriage and couples counseling
- Substance abuse counseling
- Grief counseling
- School and career counseling
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:
Review our tips for applying to graduate school
- 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.
Read about the best online master's degree programs in clinical mental health counseling
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.
Take a look at our financial aid guide
Learn more about counseling scholarships and grants
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 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 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 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
What is a mental health therapist?
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
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.