The 50 Best Online Schools for a Graduate Degree in Counseling

| Staff Writers

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By BCD Staff

In this article, we present our selections for the best online schools for a graduate degree in counseling for 2015.

Distance learning is great for students with work and family commitments that make it challenging to attend classes on campus. Many students choose to pursue a degree in the online format because they are busy juggling full lives. Distance education allows for increased flexibility and independence but also requires a great deal of self discipline. If you are motivated to pursue a graduate degree choosing the school that is the best fit for you is the first step towards accomplishing your goal and advancing your career.

What to look for in an online graduate degree in counseling

Accreditation: Regional accreditation is the educational accreditation of schools, colleges, universities, and institutions of higher education (including public, nonprofit, and for-profit that are academic in nature) in the United States. There are six regional accrediting bodies recognized by U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) that can grant regional accreditation. National accreditation bodies typically accredit trade and vocational schools.

Some of the programs (about 25%) on this list are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) and/or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The benefit of attending a COAMFTE or CACREP accredited program is that these programs have been able to show that they meet professionally approved standards, resulting in a streamlined licensure application process for the graduate.

Licensure: It is recommended that you check with your state licensing board directly to determine if the program you are interested in meets the educational requirements necessary to work towards licensure in your home state. Following graduation you can begin the licensure process of completing clinical hours and supervision and taking the licensure exam. You must be licensed by your state to practice as a counselor. Contact your state board directly for further information.

Residency: Because interpersonal skills are critical to the success of professionals in the field of counseling most programs require what is called a residency. The residency is a brief visit to campus where students and faculty meet face-to-face. The goal is to support students in developing relationships with faculty and peers as well as a time to develop counseling skills. On-campus residencies typically run anywhere from a long weekend to up to two-weeks and take place once or twice over the course of the program. Generally, additional costs per residency apply (fees, airfare, lodging, meals etc.) All residences listed by the programs are included here.

Detailed criteria for selecting the top 50 schools for an online graduate degree in counseling

Schools were selected for inclusion in this article as follows:

  1. The initial pool of schools was drawn from National Center for Education Statistics data by selecting schools that offered both distance education and counseling degrees (degrees such as Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy, Christian Counseling and Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling) at the master’s and doctoral level. Those schools were checked for regional accreditation based on data collected from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
  2. From these we selected only CACREP and/or COAMFTE accredited schools offering counseling and therapy degrees at the master’s and doctorate level.
  3. We selected schools offering these degrees mostly or fully online. Hybrid programs were included if designed for distance learners as residencies or intensives.
  4. We focused on programs that enable graduates to have the option of pursuing licensure (“licensure track”) or a Ph.D.
  5. To further refine the list, preference was given to schools that clearly state residency requirements if applicable and/or schools that offer unique specializations. For example, if the program was unclear about the length of the on campus requirements and they didn’t have a unique specialization, they may have been ruled out. Alternatively, if a school was unclear about residency requirements or if perhaps they had a higher than average requirement, but they offered a unique specialization or benefit, they were further considered for inclusion.

Rather than presenting a ranked list, we present the schools alphabetically. Because the offerings vary in the type of degree specialization and on-campus requirements, we feel this manner of presentation serves our readers better than a strict rank order would. These 50 schools set high goals for themselves and their students, and have achieved a high degree of excellence in preparing graduates for practical licensure and further graduate study.

Top 10 Best Online Schools for a Graduate Degree in Counseling

Rank School Location
1 Adams State University Alamosa, CO
2 American Public University System Charles Town, WV
3 Amridge University Montgomery, AL
4 California Baptist University Riverside, CA
5 Capella University Minneapolis, MN
6 Colorado Christian University Lakewood, CO
7 Concordia University-Wisconsin Mequon, WI
8 Faulkner University Montgomery, AL
9 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS
10 Gallaudet University Washington, DC
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Featured Online Programs

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  • Adams State University

    Alamosa, CO

    Adams State University (ASU) offers two CACREP accredited programs; Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health and Master of Arts in School Counseling. The Online Plus program at ASU offers the same content as the other accredited programs at ASU in an online format. 60 credit hours are required to complete the Master of Arts in Counseling programs. A one-week, on campus, intensive is required in each of the two summer sessions; this time will allow for students to connect with peers and faculty. Each student will be a part of a cohort. Cohorts are currently starting every Fall, Spring, and Summer.

    • Tuition: $405/Credit Hour
  • American Public University System

    Charles Town, WV

    American Public University System (APUS) offers a Master of Education in School Counseling for 48 credits. This program prepares students to meet the academic, career, and personal/social needs of K-12 students. Candidates in this program must be physically located near a school district where on-site observations will be allowed. Because field work is a requirement of this degree, you are advised to confirm that APUS is approved in the state where you will complete your field work. Additionally, APUS teacher licensure programs prepare students for licensure eligibility through the West Virginia Department of Education. While many states grant reciprocity for licensure out of state, it is recommended that you become familiar with your state specific requirements in order to determine if additional coursework will be required to become licensed in your home state.

    • Tuition: $15,600 Total
  • Amridge University

    Montgomery, AL

    Amridge University is committed to the spirit of its Christian ideals as well as distance education. The School of Human Services offers several Master's and Doctoral Programs in counseling. Outlined here are the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and the Master of Arts in Professional Counseling, both of which allow graduates to prepare for licensure. These programs include support for students to prepare for the licensure examination in their home state. Successful completion of the Master's programs requires 60 hours of coursework including practicum and and clinical coursework and experience. The Ph.D. programs in Marriage and Family Therapy and Professional Counseling both require 60 credit hours. The Ph.D. programs appear to require a portion of online, face-to-face, and residency requirements.

  • California Baptist University

    Riverside, CA

    California Baptist University (CBU) teaches from a Christian worldview. The Master of Science in Counseling Psychology (62 credits) program prepares students to enter the field of Marriage and Family Therapy or Professional Clinical Counseling. The Online Professional Studies (OPS) division at CBU offers classes in one of two formats; a virtual hybrid format with synchronous high definition online interactions and an asynchronous online format that allows students to work at their own pace. The program has small class sizes with cohorts of 20-25 students to promote peer interactions and interpersonal skills through live online meetings. The program is designed to be completed in two years. Students have the option of participating in weekly lectures in person on CBU's main campus or by logging on from home. CBU has a psychotherapy requirement stating that students in this program are required to complete 24 hours of individual psychotherapy or fifty hours of group psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist prior to graduation.

    • Tuition: $640/Credit Hour
  • Capella University

    Minneapolis, MN

    Capella University offers more Master's and Ph.D. degrees in counseling than any other online program. Additionally, Capella University is the only online program offering both CACREP and COAMFTE accredited degrees. Capella has earned CACREP accreditation for the following master's programs: Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy, and School Counseling. Capella has also earned accreditation from the COAMFTE for the M.S. in Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy. This accreditation sets Capella apart because currently only two online counseling programs in the country are accredited by the COAMFTE. The credit requirements vary depending on the degree and range from 48-144 . The residency requirements also vary by degree, two six-day residential colloquia are required for Master's programs and three four-day colloquia are required for Doctorate programs. Capella has a clear and informative website outlining all important and relevant information for each specified degree. Capella is meeting rigorous criteria in order to provide CACREP and COAMFTE accredited programs and the coursework, residency, and fieldwork requirements, are in turn ambitious.

    • Tuition: $487/Credit Hour for Master's. Ph.D. varies between $2,800 - $5,100 per quarter.
  • Colorado Christian University

    Lakewood, CO

    Colorado Christian University (CCU) offers a CACREP-accredited Master of Arts in Counseling. The Master in Counseling program supports students in integrating faith into their learning process and professional development. The coursework (60 credit hours) can be completed in 2 1/2 years of intensive study. Online classes are taught in 7 or 14 week blocks. The same degree is also offered "in-seat" on campus. Three five-day residencies are required of online students at CCU's Lakewood Campus. The residencies support students in developing critical counseling skills as well as encourage developing fellowship with the CCU community. The online cohort will follow specific online progression requirements.

  • Concordia University-Wisconsin

    Mequon, WI

    Concordia University- Wisconsin Online offers a Master of Science in Education - Counseling for 45-48 credits. Coursework prepares students for the counseling field with school and professional tracks available with the possibility for dual licensure. Flexible online options include self-paced and collaborative online learning. Online courses run in 8-10 week sessions. The residency requirement involves taking two courses (Individual Counseling and Group Counseling) on the Mequon campus. The residency is offered in July and each course is a two week session. Students can select to take both courses in one summer or one course in each summer.

  • Faulkner University

    Montgomery, AL

    Faulkner University offers a Master of Science in Counseling (61 credits) in a hybrid format. The program integrates a Christian-based worldview within the mental health profession. Graduates of this program go on to work in a variety of clinical settings - from community agencies to Christian ministries. As a hybrid program, the majority of the coursework is taught online. Two one-week on-campus residencies are required during the program. Residencies are scheduled for the third weeks of January and September each year and provide hands-on field experience. As with most other online programs, graduates are eligible to pursue licensure in the state where the program is based - in this case, Alabama, with reciprocity being offered with some other states. Faulkner recommends that students verify with the counseling board in their homes state regarding the potential for licensure.

  • Fort Hays State University

    Hays, KS

    Fort Hays State University Virtual College offers a Master of Science in Counseling (61 credits) with concentrations in School Counseling or Community Counseling. This program requires the completion of three, 4-day, on campus courses. Fort Hayes reports that their Virtual College offers tuition in the lowest 2% in the United States.

  • Gallaudet University

    Washington, DC

    Gallaudet University's Department of Counseling offers the Summers and Online School Counseling Program (58 credits). This program focuses on educating practitioners to become multiculturally competent professional school counselors with the focus of working with deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students in a variety of K-12 educational settings. This is a hybrid program requiring 2 1/2 years to complete. Classes are offered on campus during three 6-week summer sessions and online during the fall and spring semesters. The on-campus requirements of this program are higher than all other online programs listed here however, this program was selected for this list because of the unique focus of study. In addition this program meets the high standards of CACREP accreditation. This program accepts applicants every 3 or 4 years and the next cohort of students is expected to begin in Summer of 2017 or 2018. Gallaudet reports that the most recent cohort of eight students was admitted in June 2011 and 100% completed the program in December 2013.

This concludes our ranking of the top online schools for a graduate degree in counseling.

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Advertisement 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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