Top Affordable Online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Programs 2021

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With more and more people seeking mental health counseling services in the U.S., the counseling profession continues to grow.

In fact, the number of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors could increase by nearly 80,000 professionals from 2019-2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s a projected growth rate of 25% — much faster than the national average for all occupations.

If you want to become a clinical mental health counselor, first you need to meet the requirements for licensure. That includes a master’s in clinical mental health counseling. These programs typically last 1-2 years, depending on the program format and the student’s past experience. Online degrees often offer more flexible options, allowing distance learners to enroll in accelerated programs or study at their own pace.

This page lists the best online master’s in mental health counseling programs, all of them accredited and offering students a valuable education.

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Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

Applying to a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program

In order to apply to counseling master’s programs, prospective students need at least a bachelor’s degree. Schools typically prefer candidates with an undergraduate degree in psychology, education, or a related field. However, some schools consider applicants who studied something entirely different. If you chose an unrelated undergraduate major, you can always boost your application by volunteering at a mental health services agency.

Applicants should also possess a minimum undergraduate GPA ranging from 2.5-3.0. They should submit their official transcripts, resume, and recommendation letters. Some programs also require a personal essay in which students describe their education and career goals. Many schools expect prospective students to submit standardized test scores from the GRE or MAT as well. During the application process, candidates may need to participate in an admissions interview.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do clinical mental health counselors do?

    Clinical mental health counselors provide mental health services to patients. Unlike nonclinical counselors, these professionals work with patients who have more serious mental or behavioral issues. They can also assess, diagnose, and treat patients with psychotherapy or other mental health approaches.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Within the higher education system, accreditation is put into place to ensure that students receive a quality education. Aspiring mental health counselors can only obtain state licensure if they possess an accredited degree. Employers look for job candidates with accredited degrees, as well. When searching for accredited programs, look for credentials from agencies like the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

  • Is an online master’s in mental health counseling a good degree?

    An online master’s in mental health counseling is a good degree for anyone who wants to become a mental health counselor. It can also serve as a good degree for students who eventually hope to earn their Ph.D. Remember to make sure you find an accredited online mental health counseling program, which guarantees that your degree will have value when looking for jobs.

  • What can I do with a master’s in clinical mental health counseling degree?

    A master’s in clinical mental health counseling prepares graduates to become licensed clinical professional counselors. Some students prefer to go into a certain specialty, like substance abuse and addiction, school counseling, or geriatric counseling. Others might aim to work in academia as a professor, while others might go into social and community services.

  • Methodology

    View ranking methodology here.

    Best Online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs

    1. Johns Hopkins University
      Location

      Baltimore, MD

      Johns Hopkins, located in Baltimore, Maryland, offers a campus-based master of science in clinical mental health counseling. While the program meets the academic requirements for Maryland state licensure, students from other states should contact their home state's licensure board for more information.

      The program blends theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience. All students must complete a 100 contact hour practicum and a 600 contact hour internship, in addition to their classroom work. Multiculturalism, social justice advocacy, and collaborative learning experiences form the cornerstones of this program.

      Courses Include

      Human Development and Counseling
      Appraisal and Testing for Counselors
      Diversity and Social Justice in Counseling
      Addictions Counseling I: Theory and Approaches
      Ethical and Legal Issues of Mental Health Counseling

      Unique Features

      Cost: $944 per credit
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

      Link to School
    2. State University of New York at New Paltz
      Location

      New Paltz, NY

      New Paltz, part of the massive State University of New York (SUNY) system, offers a campus-based full- or part-time master of science in clinical mental health counseling. Full-time students complete the program in two years, including summers, while part-time students must finish within five years.

      Meeting all academic requirements for New York state licensure, the program prepares students for clinical practice, as well as enrollment in doctoral programs. In addition to coursework, all students must complete a practicum in either mental health counseling or disaster counseling and crisis intervention. Students also complete a two-semester internship.

      Courses Include

      Ethics and Professional Identity in Mental Health Counseling
      Career Development, Counseling, and Assessment
      Professional Roles in Mental Health Counseling
      Human Growth and Development
      Research Methods and Program Evaluation

      Unique Features

      Cost: $471 per credit (in-state) / $565 per credit (out-of-state)
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

      Link to School
    3. The City College of New York
      Location

      New York, NY

      CCNY, the oldest college in the City University of New York (CUNY) system, offers a campus-based master of arts in mental health counseling. Designed for those with a bachelor's or master's in psychology, the program prepares students for New York licensure and clinical practice.

      The program accepts only full-time students, with classes typically offered during the day and early evening on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Although the school allows students to work, they must be available for 20 hours per week in practicum placements during their last two semesters, alongside their course schedule.

      Courses Include

      Theories and Techniques of Counseling
      Assessment & Diagnosis of Individuals, Families, and Groups
      Research and Program Evaluation
      Lifestyle and Career Development
      Psychoeducation and Community-Based Interventions

      Unique Features

      Cost: $470 per credit (in-state) / $855 per credit (out-of-state)
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

      Link to School
    4. University of Northern Iowa
      Location

      Cedar Falls, IA

      A public university located in Cedar Falls, UNI offers an on-campus master of arts in counseling, clinical mental health counseling emphasis. The program prepares students for careers in settings including hospices, substance abuse treatment facilities, hospitals, and community mental health centers.

      The program combines theoretical knowledge with practical, hands-on experience. All students must complete a 100 contact hour site-based practicum and a two-semester clinical internship alongside a weekly seminar. Practicum sites include the UNI Counseling Center, Hawkeye Community College, and Wartburg College.

      Courses Include

      Professional Orientation and Ethics in Counseling
      Intervention & Prevention in Lifespan Development
      Crisis and Trauma Intervention and Management
      Wellness, Self-Care, and Brain-Based Strategies
      Dynamics of Family, Couples, & Human Sexuality in Counseling

      Unique Features

      Cost: $9,159 per year (in-state) / $19,633 per year (out-of-state)
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

      Link to School
    5. University of North Florida
      Location

      Jacksonville, FL

      A public university in Jacksonville, UNF offers an on-campus master of science in clinical mental health counseling through the university's Brooks College of Health. Students who pass clinical research and outcome evaluation with at least a B and maintain an overall GPA of 3.3 in their first two semesters may, with written approval, complete a thesis. All other students take three elective courses instead.

      Other than the thesis or electives, all students must take the same courses in the same order and complete both a practicum and an internship.

      Courses Include

      Human Development Across the Lifespan
      Legal, Ethical, and Professional Issues in Counseling
      Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis
      Conceptual and Research Independent Study in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling: Theory and Practice

      Unique Features

      Cost: $493 per credit (in-state) / $1,044 per credit (out-of-state)
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

      Link to School
    6. Rowan University
      Location

      Glassboro, NJ

      Rowan, a public university in Glassboro, New Jersey, offers a campus-based master of arts in clinical mental health counseling. The program prepares in-state students for New Jersey licensure. Students who plan to practice in other states should contact the corresponding state licensing board. The program also prepares graduates to pursue a doctoral degree or a research position.

      All students must complete a 600 contact hour practicum in addition to their classroom work. The majority of students follow the advanced clinical track, which adds two electives in an area of clinical development. Students may also choose the thesis track, which can help those planning to pursue a doctorate or research career. All students must take either the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE) or the National Counselor Exam (NCE) at the end of their program.

      Courses Include

      Research Methodology and Statistics in Counseling Psychology I & II
      Social and Cultural Diversity
      Advanced Seminar in Clinical Practice
      Lifespan Development
      Psychopharmacology and Biological Bases of Behavior

      Unique Features

      Cost: $715 per credit
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

      Link to School
    7. CUNY Brooklyn College
      Location

      Brooklyn, NY

      Part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, Brooklyn offers an on-campus master of arts in mental health counseling. The program focuses on three major mental health approaches: experiential/humanistic, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic. The main emphasis is on adults and families. The program meets the academic requirements for New York licensure, though students must complete 3,000 contact hours of post-degree clinical experience before becoming eligible for licensure.

      All students take the same core courses before choosing electives to round out their experience. Students must pass a comprehensive exam after completing 48 credits and complete both a clinical practicum and an assessment practicum, as well as a two-semester internship. Students must attend full-time.

      Courses Include

      Assessment, Counseling and Psychotherapy with Couples and Families
      Experiential Approaches to Counseling and Psychotherapy
      Social, Linguistic and Cultural Foundations of Counseling
      Developmental Psychology
      Research and Program Evaluation Methods in Applied Psychology

      Unique Features

      Cost: $5,545 per semester (in-state) / $855 per credit (out-of-state)
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

      Link to School
    8. Fairfield University
      Location

      Fairfield, CT

      A private Jesuit university in Fairfield, Connecticut, Fairfield offers an on-campus master of arts in clinical mental health counseling. Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) since 1986, the program offers students numerous opportunities for skill development beyond the classroom. The program's Counselor Education Lab and Training Center provides a three-tier practicum experience. Students participate as coaches, process observers for various courses, and collaborate with faculty on research and presentations.

      All students take the same series of courses, followed by two electives. In addition to the practicum experience, students must pass a comprehensive exam before graduation.

      Courses Include

      Multicultural Issues in Counseling
      Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy
      Counseling Relationships and Skills
      Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Management, Delivery, and Evaluation
      Introduction to Marriage and Family Therapy

      Unique Features

      Cost: $875 per credit
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education

      Link to School
    9. Winona State University
      Location

      Winona, MN

      A public university located in Winona, Minnesota, WSU offers an on-campus master of science in clinical mental health counseling. The program prepares students for licensure in Minnesota as a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) and in Wisconsin as a licensed professional counselor (LPC). Students from other states should contact their state licensing board for more information.

      Students take the same series of courses, plus their choice of a counseling specialties workshop that serves as an elective. All students must complete a counseling practicum, a 600 contact hour internship, and a capstone research project.

      Courses Include

      Development over the Lifespan
      Ethical Practice and Social Change
      Orientation to Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      Diagnosis and Psychopathology of Children and Adolescents
      Theory and Practice of Sexual, Substance Abuse and Crisis Counseling

      Unique Features

      Cost: $428 per credit (MN, ND, and SD residents) / $455 per credit (WI residents) / $646 per credit (out-of-state)
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

      Link to School
    10. Springfield College
      Location

      Springfield, MA

      Springfield, a private college in Springfield, Massachusetts, offers a campus-based or hybrid master of science in clinical mental health counseling. The campus-based program requires weekday attendance, while the hybrid program schedules classes on weekends. Students may use elective credits to prepare for licensure in various states, including Massachusetts and Florida.

      All students take the same core courses along with their choice of electives. Students must also complete a 100 contact hour practicum and a 600 contact hour internship before graduation.

      Courses Include

      Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice in Counseling
      Psychopathology: Diagnosis and Treatment Planning
      Trauma and Crisis Counseling
      Behavioral Techniques for the Developmentally Disabled
      Adventure Therapy: Facilitating Life Skills through Experiential Learning

      Unique Features

      Cost: $1,073 per credit
      Credits Required: 60
      Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education

      Link to School

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