Best Online Master’s in Counseling

Kasia Kovacs, MS
Updated October 13, 2023
Edited by
Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

Person in college

For aspiring counselors, a master’s degree is one of the final steps to becoming a licensed professional in the field.

Graduate counseling programs teach students the skills they need to become licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and school counselors, among several other counseling jobs. Plus, some learners prefer an online degree, which they can better adapt to their lifestyles and responsibilities.

If you find yourself curious to explore distance learning, then read to learn about the best online master’s degrees in counseling, including what to expect from counseling programs and careers.

Why Earn an Online Master’s in Counseling

Many people become counselors because they want to help others. They consider counseling a fulfilling and rewarding career.

In terms of job outlook, it is also a stable career. Nearly 390,000 people worked as counselors in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That number is projected to increase by over 70,000 in the next decade.

To become a licensed clinical mental health counselor, candidates need a master’s degree. For some prospective students, however, the thought of going back to school might seem daunting, expensive, and time-consuming. Online degrees offer more flexibility for students who attend to other responsibilities, such as working or caring for a family.

Did You Know…

Popular Online Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site

The Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

With so many high quality online master’s in counseling programs available, it can be difficult to narrow down the options for prospective students. By utilizing the rankings list below, prospective students can compare the best online master’s in counseling programs based on factors like student-to-teacher ratios, costs, and graduate rates.

Read Our Methodology Here

#1 Best Online Master’s in Counseling

Liberty University

  • Location-markerLynchburg, VA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$14,791
  • Out-of-state$14,791
  • Retention Rate81%
  • Acceptance Rate50%
  • Students Enrolled93,349
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment93%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Online Master’s in Counseling

Ottawa University-Online

  • Location-markerOttawa, KS
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,856
  • Out-of-state$10,856
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled221
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment0%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Online Master’s in Counseling

Prairie View A & M University

  • Location-markerPrairie View, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,253
  • Out-of-state$22,552
  • Retention Rate74%
  • Acceptance Rate76%
  • Students Enrolled9,248
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment95%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Online Master’s in Counseling

University of West Alabama

  • Location-markerLivingston, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$9,100
  • Out-of-state$18,200
  • Retention Rate63%
  • Acceptance Rate93%
  • Students Enrolled5,734
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment82%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Best Online Master’s in Counseling

Concordia University-Irvine

  • Location-markerIrvine, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$37,250
  • Out-of-state$37,250
  • Retention Rate68%
  • Acceptance Rate78%
  • Students Enrolled4,071
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment100%
  • AccreditationYes

What to Know About an Online Master’s in Counseling Degree

Learners choose to earn a master’s degree in counseling for several reasons. Students may want to become a clinical mental health counselor, which typically requires a master’s degree. They might aim to generalize in a certain field, or they could be switching careers or the area of study after earning their undergraduate education. They might also pursue a master’s in preparation for a Ph.D.

A master’s in counseling can fulfill these goals by teaching students the theory and skills they need to provide guidance to clients. This degree typically lasts two years, although some universities might offer accelerated programs. Some master’s candidates might also enroll part time, extending their completion timeline. Online programs typically offer students flexibility and accessibility that traditional programs may not provide.

Core Principles and Skills Learned in an Online Master’s in Counseling Program

  • chevron-right

    Ability to Assess, Diagnose and Treat Clients

    This is the basis of what counselors do, and many of the core classes in an online master’s in counseling program typically contribute to students learning these skills. Courses like clinical diagnosis, treatment planning and personality testing will often introduce students to clinical assessment, diagnosis techniques, and treatment planning. The required practicum and internship hours may provide the hands-on experience necessary for students to practice and hone these skills they can later apply to their own practice.
  • chevron-right

    Apply Research, Statistics and Counseling Theories to Practice

    These are all tools counselors use to provide counseling, treatment, and resolution to clients seeking help. Theories of counseling and statistics and research methods are examples of courses that can teach students how to gather information, theories, and techniques they can apply to their counseling practice.
  • chevron-right

    Ability to Interact with Diverse Populations

    This is an important skill to have as students will often work with a diverse client base during their practicum and internship and later as professional counselors. Classes, such as multicultural counseling and community and agency counseling, are examples of courses that often contribute to students learning this skill.
  • chevron-right

    Strong Professional Ethics

    It is of utmost importance that students and professional counselors follow ethical standards and guidelines in counseling and are familiar with ethical and legal issues and procedures in counseling. Online master’s in counseling students will typically become familiar with a code of ethics for counselors and learn about ethical issues and professional challenges counselors may face in classes, like ethical and legal issues in counseling.

What Courses are Offered in an Online Master’s in Counseling Program?

While each master’s program in counseling offers a unique curriculum, students generally need to take core courses, along with specialization classes or electives. Core courses might include:

  • Professional, ethical, and legal issues in counseling
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Basic counseling skills and techniques
  • Human growth and development
  • Psychopathology

Additionally, students may need to complete special requirements before they graduate, such as a practicum or supervised internship. This internship allows learners to gain professional experience to direct client contact.

What Concentrations are Available for an Online Master’s in Counseling Program?

Many master’s in counseling degrees offer concentrations for students aiming to specialize in a certain area. These focus areas can help graduates go into a specific area of counseling, such as substance abuse or school counseling. Below you can find three of the most common concentrations for master’s degrees.

Mental Health Counseling

A concentration in mental health prepares students to earn licensure and ultimately practice clinical mental health counseling. This specialization equips aspiring counselors to work in clinical, community, and human service settings. The curriculum involves supervised fieldwork as well.

School Counseling

Master’s candidates who want to work with children might prefer the school counseling concentration. Graduates work in K-12 settings, often in low-income schools. The concentration may focus on either younger or older children. Some schools may also place an emphasis on urban schools, while others may train students to work in rural schools.

Addictions Counseling

A specialization in addictions counseling prepares students to work with people experiencing addictive behaviors. Master’s candidates practice skills like assessing client needs, creating treatment plans, and teaching coping skills for the recovery process.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master’s in Counseling Program?

The best online master’s program in counseling varies by person, depending on what they value and look for in a degree. Aspiring graduate students should consider these three factors when choosing a quality online counseling master’s program.

  • Accreditation: Accreditation ensures that students receive a quality education. Accreditation agencies operate as independent organizations that evaluate higher education institutions and programs. They grant accreditation status to programs and schools that adequately prepare students for their careers. Aspiring counselors may need accredited degrees to apply for licensure or jobs.
  • Internship opportunities: Although campus location does not matter for many online students, the internship opportunities offered by the university do matter. Choose a school with internship placements that fit your career goals at locations within a reasonable distance from your home.
  • Cost: Pragmatic students understand that higher education is an investment in their future. Consider whether the cost is worth your potential earnings, and whether you can receive financial aid to help cover tuition. With online schools, you should also explore out-of-state vs. in-state tuition rates.

Career Opportunities with an Online Master’s in Counseling Degree

Typically, master’s graduates go on to become professional counselors. Just as schools offer various concentrations, counselors can choose from different niches in their careers.

Mental health counselors remain among the most common. With over 380,000 mental health counselors employed in 2022, the BLS still projects the profession could grow by 18% over the next decade.

Mental Health Counselor

Many people pursue master’s degrees in counseling to obtain clinical licensure and become practicing mental health counselors. These professionals work with clients dealing with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and grief. They can also specialize in working with a specific part of the population. Mental health counselors might work with older adults or children, for example.

Job-seekers can find opportunities in both private and public settings, like outpatient mental health clinics, hospitals, or individual and family services.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Some universities offer concentrations in marriage and family therapy. Students who earn a degree with this specialization become counselors who help people manage their relationships. They often work in private practice, and with individuals as well as units, such as couples and families.

Marriage and family therapists might work with married couples encountering problems in their relationships, or families who have experienced traumatic events. They usually offer goal-oriented techniques to help people work through the issues troubling them.

Rehabilitation Counseling

Rehabilitation counselors work with a specific purpose. These professionals help people dealing with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities to live more independent lives. They work closely with these individuals, creating treatment plans and connecting their clients with the right services and resources. Rehabilitation counselors might work in community and vocational rehabilitation centers, senior citizen centers, residential care facilities, or youth guidance organizations.

Some colleges and universities offer rehabilitation counseling as a concentration only.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Counseling

The following list includes resources that may be helpful for online master’s in counseling students and those thinking about pursuing a career as a counselor.

The American Counseling Association (ACA) arrow-circle-right

The ACA is a membership-based, non-profit organization for counseling professionals and students designed to promote, develop and advance the field of professional counseling. The website contains various professional and educational resources, such as job search options, webinars, publications and continuing education opportunities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) arrow-circle-right

The BLS provides information on different career paths. Readers can search specific occupations, including counseling and related occupations. They can also find an overview of what the career entails, such as expected growth and salaries in areas across the United States.

The Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE) arrow-circle-right

The CCE is a non-profit organization that offers business support, licensure, and credentials to counseling professionals and organizations. The CCE is an affiliate of the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and offers the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE), a standard for graduating master’s in counseling students.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) arrow-circle-right

The CACREP is the accrediting body for master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling. Prospective master’s in counseling students can use this website to learn the value of accreditation when selecting a school and find accredited master’s in counseling programs.

How to Pay for an Online Master’s in Counseling Degree

Pursuing an online master’s degree in counseling can become an expensive venture. That said, students can take advantage of funding options to help finance their degrees.

Several online resources offer advice on how to find financial aid. One of the most popular options includes scholarships, which give students money to cover tuition they do not need to repay. Students can find scholarships from universities, professional organizations, local groups, charities, and other sources. Applicants may need to compete for scholarships by showing their academic promise through grades or personal statements.

Students often opt for another popular option too, or federal student loans. They borrow money from the government and later repay this money with interest.

Some universities offer fellowships or assistantships for their graduate students who may carry out research or work at the school. Graduate learners may also find paid internships to help fund their studies.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

What is the average salary for counselors with a master’s degree?

Counselors with a master’s degree earn average salaries of $59,000 per year, according to data by Payscale. Many learners pursue a master’s degree because a higher level of education can sometimes lead to better salary prospects, although other factors like location and experience matter too.

How do you become a licensed counselor after completing an online master’s in counseling program?

The requirements to become a licensed counselor vary in each state. Generally, after graduating with your master’s degree and completing practicum and internship hours, candidates must take and pass a licensing exam to apply for licensure.

How can you determine if an online master’s in counseling program is accredited?

Colleges and universities with accredited programs usually list the accreditation on their websites. If you are finding it difficult to track down accreditation, you can search the accreditation agency’s directory of programs. Alternatively, you can contact the school directly to ask.

Is a master’s degree required to become a counselor?

Aspiring counselors do not necessarily need to earn their master’s degree to get started in the field. They may be able to become a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor with a bachelor’s degree. That said, each state outlines different requirements for counselors. In many states, licensed mental health counselors need a master’s degree.

All rankings and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by the ASO Rankings Team.

Shape your future with an online degree

Connect with a community of peers, and find a program that will allow you to continue your education in a fast and flexible way.