Counseling degrees lead to a multitude of career options, including academic advisors, guidance counselors, human services counselors, pastoral counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and substance and behavioral disorders counselors. Opportunities abound in fast-growing specialty areas, such as career advising in postsecondary schools or higher education, family counseling at healthcare organizations, and school counseling at the K-12 level.
Students looking for the fastest and most efficient pathways for completing their counseling programs can save money on their education and focus on targeted coursework that relates to their professional goals. Accelerated and online counseling programs offer the quickest routes, particularly those that allow learners to take more credits per semester, transfer credits toward their degree, and follow an asynchronous study plan at their own pace rather than adhering to scheduled cohort or synchronous curricula.
Our rankings can help you find the best fast-track counseling degree options for your schedule.
The Department of Special Education, Counseling and Student Affairs at Kansas State University offers students the opportunity to earn a Master of Science in Academic Advising online for 30 credits. This graduate program can be completed in less than two years when students take two classes per term. For students who are interested, additional coursework is available in: administration of academic advising; and intercollegiate athletics and the college student athlete. The program is designed for individuals who want to pursue a career in academic advising, as well as for current professionals in the field who want to strengthen their work of academic advising and career planning with college students.
Courses include: research methods in education; learning principles; foundations of academic advising; interpersonal relations for academic advising; student development theory; multicultural aspects of academic advising; college student athletes; trends in career development; and college students with special needs.
A Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling is available online at Liberty University. This 36 credit online degree emphasizes integrating biblical principles into the practice of counseling. Coursework will cover psychology, theology, and counseling. This non-licensure track degree will prepare graduates for careers such as: associate pastor; church counselor; non-licensed counselor; pastor; and women's ministry director. Graduates may also be able to work towards professional licensure with additional graduate study.
Courses include: introduction to pastoral counseling; foundational doctrines for pastoral counselors; multicultural issues in pastoral counseling; spiritual formation in pastoral counseling; crisis intervention in pastoral counseling; marriage and family counseling; theories and techniques in pastoral counseling; integration of psychology and theology; theology and spirituality in counseling; healthy sexuality; gerontology and counseling; and counseling women.
Credits Required: 36
Graduate Tuition: $565 / Credit Hour
Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling Online
Liberty University offers a Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling. Liberty University, a Christian University, has been offering courses through distance education since 1985. This online degree can be completed for only 30 credits. Students in the program will select an area of specialty (12 credits) to complete along with the core courses (18 credits). This unique format allows graduates to enter the field of Human Services Counseling with a unique and focused area of concentration. Students can select the area of concentration that is of personal and professional interest. Courses can be completed fully online with some specialization courses potentially available through on-campus intensives.
Areas of specialization include: addictions and recovery; business; christian ministries; criminal justice; crisis response and trauma; executive leadership; family advocacy, public policy, and the future; health and wellness; life coaching; marriage and family; and military resilience.
A Master of Arts in Counseling is available online at Hampton University. This online counseling program can be completed for only 31 credits (30 credits of coursework plus a comprehensive examination). This degree provides students with a preview of the counseling field with concentrations available in: community mental health counseling; student affairs and college student development counseling; and school counseling. Graduates will be prepared to pursue certification as a Qualified Mental Health Provider (QMHP). Students interested in licensure as a professional counselor or therapist will need to take additional coursework.
Courses include: assessment and appraisal in counseling; life span development; theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy; group process in counseling; career development; treating the substance abuser; identity, ethics, and legal aspects of counseling; community mental health and welfare services; introduction to research and program evaluation; and counseling with diverse populations.
The University of South Dakota offers 33 credit advanced track online Master of Arts in Addiction Studies. The program offers two tracks of study, the Advanced Track (33 credits) and the Standard Track (45 credits). The Advanced Track is set up for students who have completed some educational coursework (such as a bachelor's degree in addiction studies), credentialing, and/or have previous professional experience in addictions. A handful of unique electives are available to choose from for the Advanced Track, including: working with families on alcohol and drug issues; alcohol and drug use in diverse populations; Native Americans and substance use and abuse; and psychopathology and addiction. Graduates of the program will be prepared to be leaders in the field of addictions, prevention, treatment, and recovery.
Courses include: advanced legal/ethical issues and the addiction profession; wellness, recovery, and maintenance; addiction counseling; addiction studies research; addiction profession supervision; public policy and addiction; case management and assessment of co-occurring disorders; history and culture of addiction; and relapse prevention.
Grand Canyon University offers a 36 credit online Master of Science in Addiction Counseling. This program is designed to train students through coursework and supervised clinical internships to work as professional addiction counselors. Students will learn skills in assessment, treatment, and prevention and how addiction impacts individuals, couples, and families. Graduates will be prepared for careers in addiction counseling in the setting of their choice including private practice, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, and hospitals.
Courses include: introduction to graduate studies in health sciences; professional counseling orientation and ethics; counseling theories; introduction to addictions and substance use disorders; group counseling theory and practice; social and cultural diversity issues in counseling; psychopharmacology and addictions; co-occurring disorders; family issues and addictive disorders; diagnostics, assessment, treatment; and counseling chemical dependency adolescents.
Credits Required: 36
Graduate Tuition: $500 / Credit Hour
Online Master Of Science in Mental Health And Wellness
A Master of Science in Mental Health and Wellness is available online at Grand Canyon University. This degree only requires the completion of 34 credits. Courses are generally 8 weeks in length. This program is designed to support graduates in integrating theories and practices for mental health and wellness in their professional career. Students can be creative in how they choose to use their degree professionally. The program is not designed to prepare graduates for professional licensure as a counselor or therapist but will support graduates in understanding and delivering culturally competent and ethically sound services related to mental health in a variety of community settings and human service careers.
Courses include: introduction to graduate studies and liberal arts; introduction to mental health and wellness; ethics and cultural diversity in mental health and wellness; human development; group dynamics; community health; documentation, research, and information literacy in mental health and wellness; mental health, wellness and health care integration; and mental health and wellness capstone.
Online Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling; Online Master of Science in Applied Psychology
Angelo State University offers two different counseling degrees that can be completed online for 36 credits each. Students can earn a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling 100% online for 36 credits. This degree is designed for students who wish to pursue a career as a public school counselor or a college and university counselor. A Master of Science in Applied Psychology is also available online for 36 credits. This degree is designed to prepare graduates to apply psychology to societal issues in an effort to improve people's lives in areas such as health, safety, and education. Courses for these degrees are offered in 8 weeks sessions, allowing students to complete the program in less than two years.
Courses include: social and cultural influences; tests and measurements; lifespan development; legal and ethical principles; individual counseling; group counseling; theories of counseling; career and occupational counseling; dysfunctional behavior; leadership; social psychology; theories of personality; research methods; applied economic psychology; social perception; health and wellness psychology; sports psychology; cognitive and behavioral neuroscience; developmental psychology; and motivation, emotion, and stress.
Online Master of Science in College Student Personnel Services
The College of Education and Behavioral Science at Arkansas State University offers a 36 credit Master of Science in College Student Personnel Services. This online degree is designed for students who want the flexibility to earn their degree while continuing their professional career. The program prepares graduates to work with college student populations in areas such as: testing centers; campus health centers; residence life; career services; multicultural centers; student leadership; academic advising; recreation; and disability services. Students in the program will have the opportunity to complete a practicum experience in a higher education setting. Practicum opportunities are available at Arkansas State University as well as at other colleges and universities across the country.
Courses include: the community college; student personnel services in higher education; college student development; organization and administration of college student personnel services; legal aspects of higher education; higher education finance; multicultural dynamics in higher education; development and advancement in higher education; and assessment, accreditation, and accountability in higher education.
Online Master of Science in College Student Personnel
Arkansas Tech University offers a Master of Science in College Student Personnel. This 36 credit degree can be completed online in two years. Applicants who are interested in this program can apply for unconditional admission if they meet specific requirements. Additionally, the program welcomes individuals with bachelor's degrees in a variety of areas to apply. The program offers rolling admissions with students having the opportunity to enter the program at multiple start dates throughout the year. The program provides training and education to students through coursework, field experiences, and mentorship. Graduates will be prepared to support college students as they navigate their life in all areas outside of the classroom.
Courses include: student development theory; college students and subcultures; legal issues for professionals in college student personnel; counseling theories and helping skills; assessment and evaluation in higher education; administration in college student personnel; ethical leadership in higher education; advising student groups; academic advising; career counseling; and diversity and inclusion in student affairs.
A Master of Arts in Christian Counseling is available online through the Graduate School of Ministry at Dallas Baptist University. This 36 credit counseling degree is offered through evening courses on-campus, in hybrid format, and also online for students working to balance their professional and personal lives with their educational aspirations. This non-licensure track program is designed for students who want to provide Christian counseling in a variety of non-secular settings such as churches or ministry-based organizations.
Courses include: biblical servant leadership; spiritual formation and worship; christian history and heritage; counseling theories and techniques; lifespan human development; abnormal psychology; christian counseling skills; introduction to christian counseling; group counseling methods; marriage and family counseling; counseling victims of trauma; a christian approach to human sexuality; biblical foundations and models for small group ministry; conflict resolution in ministry; and victim assistance ministry training.
The Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University offers a Master of Arts in Pastoral Care. This is a 36 credit degree that is available online with a one week on-campus residency requirement during the summer to support students in strengthening their practical counseling skills. This program has a history of attracting a variety of students from diverse professional backgrounds who bring a depth of experience in areas such as working with at risk youth, the elderly, and as chaplains in hospitals. Graduates of the program will have the foundational skills to provide pastoral counseling through ministry work to diverse populations experiencing a variety of challenges.
Courses include: pastoral counseling theory; human growth and development; professional ethics in pastoral counseling; theology of pastoral counseling and spiritual care; pastoral counseling skills; social and cultural foundations of pastoral counseling; marriage and family therapy; and death, dying and bereavement.
The Division of Graduate Counseling at Indiana Wesleyan University offers a Master of Arts in Counseling with specializations in six different areas. The Master of Arts with a major in Community Counseling is available online for only 36 credits. Students in this program will learn to provide competent and compassionate care to individuals, couples, and families experiencing life challenges. Graduates will be prepared to provide non-clinical counseling related services in a variety of settings such as human service agencies; faith-based organizations; and churches.
Courses include: human growth and development; multicultural counseling; theory and techniques in the helping relationship; theory and techniques in group counseling; theory and techniques in career counseling; research and evaluation of methods and practice; legal, ethical and professional issues; issues in addiction recovery; and assessment and intervention in clinical mental health.
Luther Rice College and Seminary offers an online Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. This 36 credit online program can quickly be completed in only 18-24 months. This non-licensure track Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling degree prepares graduates to provide Christian counseling and pastoral care in a variety of settings such as those connected to the church. Additionally, graduates may use this counseling degree to serve individuals, couples, and families in the role of: church counselor; ministry staff; lay counselor; jail/prison chaplain; counseling center director; youth and family pastor; and law enforcement chaplain.
Courses include: introduction to the Old Testament; introduction to psychology and counseling theories; foundations of biblical counseling; helping skills; spiritual formation; marriage and family counseling; issues, ethics, and legal concerns for counselors; crisis counseling and pastoral care; methodology for biblical counseling; and biblical counseling practicum.
Online Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Courses include: career counseling and development; cross-cultural counseling; theories and techniques of counseling; group counseling; multicultural lifespan development in educational context; clinical assessment; special problems-substance abuse counseling; techniques of counseling; practicum in counseling; introduction to clinical mental health counseling; and internship in clinical mental health counseling.
Online Master of Arts in Student Affairs in Higher Education
A Master of Arts in Student Affairs in Higher Education is available online at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. This program works to support students individual needs and interests with students having opportunities to complete the program at a part time or full time pace and to select electives of personal interest. Another unique benefit of the program is that out of state fees are waived for all online students. Graduates will be prepared to pursue careers in various positions in community colleges, technical colleges, and public and private four year colleges and universities. Full time students will be able to complete this 36 credit program in two years.
Courses include: introduction to student affairs in higher education; history of higher education; organization and administration of student affairs in higher education; educational research; action research; the american college student; legal and ethical issues; multicultural and diverse populations; and current issues.
Online Master of Arts in Ministry with a concentration in Pastoral Care and Counseling
Ohio Christian University offers an online Master of Arts in Ministry with a concentration in Pastoral Care and Counseling. This non-licensure track counseling degree will prepare graduates to pursue ministry careers with the counseling skills to support individuals and families during challenging times. The program courses cover practical areas such as: assessment, goal setting, and intervention strategies. Additionally, students will examine the role of spirituality in client's well being and ethical standards for practice in the counseling profession. Ohio Christian University aims to support military families by providing qualifying students with tuition as low as $250 per credit.
Counseling concentration courses include: methods of pastoral counseling; spiritual issues in pastoral counseling; ethical and legal issues in pastoral counseling; and pastoral intervention in crisis.
A Master of Education in School Counseling is available online at Southwestern Assemblies of God University. The program offers flexible online scheduling to accommodate working students. Students will learn professional counseling skills to work effectively with diverse populations of individuals and groups. Graduates will be prepared to assess and meet the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual needs of students in school settings. Currently, Southwestern Assemblies of God University is offering students who enroll in this program this summer (2017) a 20% tuition grant that works out to $1,000 a semester! Students who enroll this fall (2017) will be eligible for a 15% grant.
Courses include: educational leadership and supervision for public schools; teaching students of diverse cultures; school guidance and counseling; studies in classroom management; crisis intervention; introduction to play therapy; principles and practices of early childhood education; and personal lifestyle and career development.
Onine Master of Arts in Human Services, Emphasis in Addiction Counseling
Washburn University offers an online Master of Arts in Human Services with an Emphasis in Addiction Counseling. This program allows students to complete the courses fully online and to complete fieldwork in their own community. Students can complete this 36 credit low-cost online counseling program in two years of full time study. Graduates of this NAADAC approved program will have completed the coursework required to work towards becoming a Licensed Clinical Addiction Counselor. As always, because licensure requirements vary by state, applicants should consult their home state licensing board to determine if this program meets their home state licensure requirements.
Courses include: integrative human services; advanced methods of individual counseling; advanced methods of group counseling; professional ethics and practice; advanced pharmacology and substance use disorders; diagnosis of substance use disorders; integrative approaches and treatment of dual diagnosis; addiction and recovery services; lifespan development; and narrative practices.
Post University offers an online Master of Science in Human Services. Students in the program will complete a total of 37 credits made up of 25 credits of core courses and 12 credits of their concentration. Counseling concentrations available include the: alcohol and drug counseling concentration; clinical mental health counseling concentration; and forensic mental health counseling concentration. This degree is available fully online providing students with the flexibility to maintain their current professional commitments while studying to advance their career. Graduates of Post University have gone on to secure positions in a variety of areas within the field of human services including: mental health clinics; correctional facilities; homeless shelters; and centers for children and families.
Courses include: human services ethics and diversity; human development through the life-cycle; human services policy; human services management; applied research methods in human services; practicum or internship; and capstone research project.
The American Public University System offers an online Master of Arts in Psychology that can be completed in 2 years. Students in this program will learn how to increase mental health and well-being in diverse populations of individuals, families, and communities. The program is designed to support students in advancing their careers and pursuing continued graduate study. Already one of the most affordable programs available on this list, of the fastest online degrees, American Public University System is committed to offering additional financial support to students affiliated with the military by offering a tuition grant for U.S. active-duty service members, Guard, Reserve, military spouses and dependents, and veterans.
Courses include: research and statistical methods; tests and measures; lifespan development; learning and cognition; social psychology; personality and counseling theories; physiological psychology; psychopathology; professional ethics and standards; contemporary issues in psychology; multicultural issues in human behavior; substance abuse and addiction; and crisis and emergency intervention.
A Master of Education in School Counseling is available online at Chadron State College. This 39 credit online program also requests that students take a few credits of coursework in a face-to-face classroom setting, making this program a great fit for students who live in Nebraska near Chadron State College but want the flexibility of an online program. Another reason that applicants to this program may want to live near campus is that all applicants will complete an in person interview with faculty members before being accepted to the program. Students in the program will receive training in working with elementary, middle, and high school students in private and public schools. Students in this program also have the option of preparing for licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor with the completion of five additional courses.
Courses include: counseling and communication skills; counseling ethics and professional identity; fundamentals of assessment; multicultural counseling; family development; counseling children; crisis counseling; counseling theories; career and lifestyle development; school counseling; and advanced human development.
Online Master of Science in Student Affairs and Higher Education
Indiana State University offers a Master of Science in Student Affairs and Higher Education. This 39 credit degree is available online and can be completed in three years (or two years of study on campus). Applicants should note that students in the program are required to complete (and then transfer credits of) three courses in a traditional classroom at an accredited university. This means that students can complete almost all coursework with the flexibility of Indiana State University's online programming while having the added benefit of some face-to-face contact in a traditional classroom, perhaps in their hometown or nearby at a location that is convenient. Graduates of the program will be prepared to pursue careers in college and university campuses in the field of student affairs and college counseling.
Courses include: legal aspects of educational administration; introduction to student affairs and higher education; student development-theory, assessment, and application; the multicultural campus; leadership and administration in student affairs and higher education; group dynamics and leadership; techniques of interpersonal interaction; and practicum in student affairs and higher education.
A Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling is available online through the distance education program at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School. This 39 credit degree offers courses in the semester format running 15 weeks long plus a week for exams with three semesters offered each year. The distance education program at Shasta Bible College and Graduate school strives to offer online students flexibility with the ability to access the online classroom 24 hours a day and with downloadable audio and visual lectures. Graduates of the program will be prepared to integrate Biblical principles with counseling theories when working with individuals, couples, and families in a counseling setting.
Courses include: physiology for biblical counseling and family life education; foundations of interpersonal relations and conflict resolution; the biblical counselor and family life educator; courtship, marriage, and the family; theology of biblical counseling; marital and family counseling; counseling children, adolescents, and their families; addictions; self-confrontation for the biblical counselor and family life educator; premarital preparation and counseling; and principles of biblical counseling.
Online Master of Science in Counseling, Pastoral and Spiritual Direction emphasis
Mid-America Christian University offers a Master of Science in Counseling with a Pastoral and Spiritual Direction emphasis. This 42 credit degree is available online. This degree is designed for professionals in the field of ministry that want to enhance their ability to offer pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. Through the coursework students will gain a strong foundation in counseling theory and skills integrated with a Christian faith-based perspective. Graduates will be prepared to provide supportive counseling to individuals throughout the life cycle in church and ministry settings.
Courses include: psychopathology; advanced principles and techniques of pastoral counseling; theories of counseling and psychotherapy; spiritual direction and spiritual formation; individual counseling and psychotherapy techniques; interpersonal communication in counseling and relationships; marriage and family systems and treatment; marital and family treatment techniques; human development; research methods; multi-cultural treatment planning for individuals and families; prayer, spirituality, and ministry; ethics and professional studies; and assessment of individuals and families in counseling.
Online Master of Science in Education with a specialization in School Counseling
The School of Education at University of the Southwest offers an online Master of Science in Education with a specialization in School Counseling. This 42 credit degree can be completed fully online. The School Counseling program at University of the Southwest emphasizes a commitment to multicultural diversity, advocacy, and social justice. Graduates of the program will be prepared to become licensed and work as a professional school counselor in elementary, middle, and high school settings. As always, applicants are encouraged to consult their home state licensing board for state specific licensing requirements.
Courses include: counseling theories; counseling techniques; professional/ethical issues in counseling; child and adolescent counseling; career development and life planning; group counseling for schools; crisis and trauma intervention in schools; psychopathology for school counselors; introduction to play therapy; introduction to addictions counseling; counseling families; and human sexuality.
Concordia University offers an online Master of Science in Education-Counseling degree. Students in this online program will take foundational courses, core courses, and electives. Coursework throughout the program integrates Christian principles and perspectives. Available electives include: psychopharmacology; addictions counseling; psychopathology; and educating students at risk. Students in the program will choose a practicum site that matches their individual interests and career goals. Graduates will be prepared to work in a variety of K-12 school settings including public and private schools. Christian School Educators may be eligible for a 25% tuition discount.
Courses include: counseling theories and issues; social/cultural foundations in counseling; models and methods of christian family counseling; human development; professional ethics in the helping profession; career counseling foundations; christian trauma counseling; classroom management for counselors; individual counseling; group counseling; addictions counseling; foundations in mental health counseling; christian perspectives of family development; and educating students at risk.
Online Master of Science in Counseling - School Counseling Concentration
Fort Hays State University offers an online Master of Science in Counseling with an emphasis in School Counseling program. This 45 credit degree is one of the most affordable per credit hour on this list. Students in the School Counseling program at Fort Hays University will have the opportunity to complete three four-day on campus residencies designed to support the students growth as a counselor. Students in this program will also develop professionally through internship and practicum experiences that they can complete in their home town. Graduates will be prepared to pursue state licensure as a school counselor to work in a K-12 setting. As always, applicants should consult their home state licensing board to confirm state requirements for licensure.
Courses include: educational research; counseling skills development; lifespan human development; foundations of counseling; lifestyle and career development; appraisal in counseling; theories in counseling; management of counseling programs; group counseling-theories and procedures; social and cultural foundations; professional counseling in elementary schools; and professional and ethical issues in counseling.
Online Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy
Northcentral University offers an online Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy. This online master's program is accredited by the COAMFTE. Northcentral University provides students with flexibility by offering online students the opportunity to start the program or specific course whenever they are ready (every Monday!) without having to wait for general start dates. Students will complete courses independently at their own pace and are not required to collaborate with peers. The program also tailors to students individual interests and professional goals by offering unique areas of specialization. Students who wish to work towards licensure may be required to complete additional courses, beyond the 45 core credits, depending on home state licensure requirements.
Areas of specialization include: general family therapy; California licensure; military family therapy; child and adolescent therapy; couple therapy; LGBTQ couple and family therapy; and medical family therapy.
Online Master of Arts in Education- School Counseling
A Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in School Counseling is available online from the University of the Cumberlands. The University of the Cumberlands offers flexible online courses in synchronous and asynchronous formats in an effort to meet the various needs of all students. The 45 credit online school counseling focus prepares graduates to work professionally with K-12 students to support students social and emotional development in the school setting.
Courses include: research methods in education; research methods and program evaluation; advanced human behavior, development, and learning; introduction to school counseling; theory and practice of multicultural counseling; psychological assessment; counseling individuals with diverse needs; lifestyle and career development; counseling theories and techniques; introduction to addiction counseling; legal and ethical issues in counseling; advanced clinical assessment; group counseling; and counseling aspects of grief and loss.
Credits Required: 45
Graduate Tuition: $315 / Credit Hour
Applying to an Online Counseling Degree Program
The fastest online master’s in counseling programs comprise 30-45 credits and primarily prepare students for positions that do not require licensure. Learners can finish in two years. Clinical practitioners need to be licensed and must complete additional coursework and supervised clinical experience.
While admission criteria vary by program, common requirements include the following:
A bachelor’s degree from an accredited program
Undergraduate coursework in research methods, statistics, and general or developmental psychology
Transcripts showing a minimum 3.0 grade point average (GPA)
2-3 academic or professional letters of recommendation
A personal statement
Some programs may require Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores, particularly for applicants with a lower GPA, along with essays or writing samples. Schools may also require — or prefer — paid or volunteer experience in a mental health field or education.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are online counseling programs as reputable as in-person programs?
Accredited online counseling programs deliver the same academic quality as on-campus programs. Applicants should ensure that their college or university selections hold regional accreditation and that the counseling program is also accredited. Accreditation shows that schools and programs undergo a regular assessment process and comply with rigorous educational standards.
Who is responsible for accrediting counseling programs?
Does your undergraduate degree need to be in counseling to qualify for a graduate program?
Most counseling programs do not require an undergraduate counseling degree, but an associate or bachelor’s degree — or prerequisite coursework — in counseling, psychology, social sciences, social work, or other mental health field helps strengthen an application for admission. Education credentials and teaching degrees also bolster applications for school and college-level counseling.
Individuals facing disabilities, injuries, or illnesses may benefit from the use of recreation-based therapies. By introducing activities like dance, sport, or arts and crafts, therapists can help patients learn skills...