Best Online Master’s in Counseling

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Master’s in Counseling Programs, Timelines and Career Possibilities

Online master’s programs typically allow students the freedom to balance school with other aspects of life such as work and family, and can also be more cost effective, allowing students to earn a master’s degree in counseling from distance schools without having to relocate. An online master’s in counseling typically helps to prepare students to become licensed professional counselors and allows them to specialize in areas like school, career, marriage and family counseling, substance abuse and addictive behaviors, and clinical mental health. Find out more below about earning an online master’s degree in counseling, the application process and possible career paths for graduates.

Top 10 Best Online Master’s in Counseling

Rank School Location
1 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA
2 Canisius College Buffalo, NY
3 Indiana Wesleyan University Marion, IN
4 Arkansas State University Jonesboro, AR
5 University of Central Arkansas Conway, AR
6 Texas Woman's University Denton, TX
7 North Carolina Central University Durham, NC
8 Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ
9 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD
10 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS

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Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees: 2017


  • OUR METHODOLOGY +


    To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:
    Accredited at the institutional level
    Private nonprofit or public school
    Minimum of 1 online master’s degree in subject area
    Schools were then scored on factors such as:
    Cost & Financial Aid
    Number and variety of online program offerings
    Student-teacher ratios
    Graduation rates
    Placement and support services offered
    Academic/Career counseling services
    Employment services
    Loan default rates
    These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or “bang for your buck” of a college or degree program.

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.

  1. Virginia Commonwealth University
    Location

    Richmond, VA

    Virginia Commonwealth University s counseling program prepares students to make an immediate impact in their profession after graduation. A master s in counseling will set students up to enter their field after graduation instead of preparing them to go on to continue their studies. There are multiple master s degree options for students to choose from. Research projects and in-field training are important parts of VCU s counseling program as it provides students with the real-world experience they need to begin a career as a counselor, no matter what direction they decide to go in.

  2. Canisius College
    Location

    Buffalo, NY

    The graduate counseling department at Canisius College offers a few programs for those looking to study counseling. The master in clinical mental health counseling is accredited by the CACREP, and is designed to prepare students for employment. A Canisius degree offers certification to graduates for counseling jobs in state, and an advanced certificate program offers students with a prior master in counseling the opportunity to become accredited for practicing mental health counseling also in state. Field based practica and internships are offered to students as a part of the counseling curriculum

  3. Indiana Wesleyan University
    Location

    Marion, IN

    The clinical mental health counseling program at Indiana Wesleyan offers students a degree with an opportunity for licensure, with a variety of specializations. An M.A. program in student development administration offers students the option to study online as well as at the schools two locations. A handful of other counseling programs are offered, and they all require and focus on in field experience. IWU s Department of Counseling offers a number of options for financial aid, including a research-based grant and a number of scholarships.

  4. Arkansas State University
    Location

    Jonesboro, AR

    A degree in rehabilitation counseling gives graduates the knowledge and experience they need to provide quality services to those with a variety of disabilities so they can achieve their own goals. Students learn the medical, vocational and psychosocial aspects of disabilities and how to care for and counsel those with disabilities. Students complete practicum and internship hours as part of their degree program, gaining hands-on experience in a private or public facility. Students must also pass a comprehensive written exam in the last semester of coursework. Founded as an agricultural school in 1909, Arkansas State University provides the theory and experience its students need to be successful after graduation.

  5. University of Central Arkansas
    Location

    Conway, AR

    The University of Central Arkansas offers an accredited M.S. degree in mental health counseling with licensure for employment opportunities in mental health professions in Arkansas. The program offers several research related courses, and practica and internships are included in the counseling curriculum. UCA may offer some financial aid to graduate students. UCA does support a number of student organizations including multicultural support organizations and other multicultural resources, to its students. UCA is deliberately trying to increase and sustain diversity on campus. An academic advising center is available to students.

  6. Texas Woman's University
    Location

    Denton, TX

    Those pursuing a master s degree in counseling and development at Texas Woman s University can also choose to focus on professional school counseling, a music therapy dual degree or a clinical mental health program. Graduates of this program are eligible to apply for licensure as a professional counselor and certification as a school counselor. Faculty members act as mentors and advisors for students, using innovative teaching strategies and conference-based classes. Admission to the program includes an individual interview with faculty members and participation in a mock group counseling session.

  7. North Carolina Central University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    North Carolina Central University offers three MA counseling programs to students. The mental health counseling program is for students that are aspiring to work in mental health settings and provides students with professional licensure and preparation for fields of specialty. The School Counseling program prepares students to work as counselors in the K-12 environment and meets all of requirements for North Carolina licensure. The flexible career counseling program readies students to provide career services in a variety of settings, including colleges, non-profit organizations, and companies. The school received the Most Outstanding Master s level Counseling Program from the Southern Association of Counselor Education and Supervision.

  8. Seton Hall University
    Location

    South Orange, NJ

    An online master s in professional counseling from Seton Hall University is a 60-credit, 10-semester program that requires two on-site residencies. These residencies are four days long and allow students to meet with instructors and peers for intensive learning experiences. As a Catholic university, Seton infuses faith and service into all its courses. The school, which was founded in 1856, currently serves about 4,300 graduate students and its student body completes about 40,000 hours of community service each year.

  9. South Dakota State University
    Location

    Brookings, SD

    Part of the College of Education and Human Sciences at South Dakota State University, the Department of Counseling and Human Development offers several areas of specialization to students pursuing a master s degree in counseling. The Master of Education in Counseling & Human Resource Development option offers a focus in administration of student affairs. The master of science in counseling and human resource development offers focuses in clinical mental health counseling, college counseling, marriage and family counseling, rehabilitation and mental health counseling and school counseling. Finally, the master of science in human sciences offers focuses adult development in the workplace and family and community services. The university is the largest in the state and 95 percent of the students go on to jobs, further education or other related opportunities.

  10. University of Southern Mississippi
    Location

    Hattiesburg, MS

    The University of Southern Mississippi s counseling psychology program has an in-house clinic where students can work with student and community clients under close supervision of working professionals. Students can access specialty training in motivational interviewing, parenting skills, career counseling and anger management and obtain internships through high-caliber organizations. All coursework is delivered via the Hattiesburg campus and the school boasts a 100 percent pass rate on the National Counselor Examination. Students have opportunities to participate and network in a variety of industry-specific professional organizations.

Find an Online Master’s in Counseling Program

Sometimes prospective students need to consider additional factors when searching for an online master’s in counseling program. The search tool below allows students to filter programs based on student population, acceptance rates, number of online programs offered, school type and location of schools across the U.S. 

Timeline to a Master’s in Counseling

Whether a student is still working on their bachelor’s degree or they have been out of school for a while, it’s never too early to start planning a graduate education. Once research has been conducted and an online master’s in counseling degree program has been selected, it’s time to start gathering all the required pieces necessary for a successful application. Below is a helpful list of common requirements for the application process and a few ideas of what a student can typically expect in an online master’s in counseling degree program once they have been accepted.

APPLICATION PROCESS

The application process for an online master’s in counseling degree is often similar among most schools, but each school may vary slightly in what they require. Below are examples requirements typically needed to apply to an online master’s in counseling graduate program.

  • Undergraduate Credits

    In addition to a bachelor’s degree, certain pre-requisite classes are often an entrance requirement for a master’s in counseling degree. This requirement may vary depending on the school, but usually a certain amount of undergraduate credits in behavioral sciences, such as psychology and statistics, will be required. It’s ultimately up to the department to decide what classes will satisfy this requirement.

  • Graduate Application and Fee

    oProspective students will typically need to submit a completed graduate school application and an application fee, which will vary from school to school. The fee generally ranges from $30-$50 and can be deferred until after financial aid is determined if need be. Some master’s in counseling degree programs will have strict application deadlines, and others will accept them at any time during the year.

  • Transcripts

    For an online master’s degree, most schools will require transcripts of all undergraduate work, including any degrees earned. Depending on the school, unofficial transcripts may be acceptable for admittance purposes, and official transcripts may need to be sent later from the registrar’s office upon acceptance. The transcripts usually must include the school’s logo, the student’s cumulative GPA, a list of completed courses and the degree earned.

  • Standardized Tests

    Some graduate schools may require that test scores be submitted, such as the GRE, SAT/ACT or MAT. Depending on the school, test results may be acceptable in place of the required GPA if the student has not met the required GPA minimum, but has a high enough score on one of these tests.

  • Letter of Recommendation

    Students pursuing an online master’s in counseling degree will most likely need to submit two to three letters of recommendation. These are generally letters from professional references like former professors or employers. The letters should typically vouch for the student’s motivation and ability to complete the coursework required to become a counselor and should highlight the applicant’s character, ethics, maturity level, dedication and ability to help others.

  • Resume

    A professional résumé may be required for an online master’s in counseling degree applicant. This should typically include related job experience, extracurricular activities and any clinical experience as an undergraduate.

  • Personal Statement and Letter of Intent

    Applicants may be required to submit a personal statement and/or a letter of intent. Students generally write about their interest in earning the master’s in counseling degree, how their background has prepared them for the program, how they plan to succeed in completing the program and their future goals as a counselor. In addition, students may also be required to write an essay. The topics will vary and are usually set by the school department. Examples of things to write about include why the student thinks he or she is a good fit in the field of counseling, professional interests and goals, autobiographical information and related experience.

YEAR 1 MILESTONES

The first year of an online master’s in counseling program typically introduces students to basic concepts, ideas and techniques of counseling that they will often later apply in their third year of study. Below are some learning objectives and milestones students will usually reach in the first year of the program.

  • Introductory Classes and Specializations

    Students will typically become oriented to the counseling profession and learn about specialized areas of counseling with introduction classes. Students may also start thinking about elective classes as well as areas of specialization to move into in their second year.

  • Assessment Techniques and Theory

    Students will often become familiar with assessment techniques in counseling. Assessing, diagnosing and treating are fundamental skills that students generally become familiar with in the first year and may later get hands-on practice with in the third year. Students will typically learn about the history and theory behind the counseling profession and how these apply to current methods.

  • Ethics

    Students will often learn about professional ethics and issues that arise in the counseling profession and how to deal with these issues when faced with these types of challenges further into the program during their practicum, internship and later in their professional career.

YEAR 2 MILESTONES

Students will usually begin to sharpen basic skills learned from the first year in the second year of an online master’s in counseling program. They may also complete core requirements and begin to focus on specializations along and a deeper analysis of mental health. Research skills often come into play as students begin planning their independent study projects.

  • Research Skills

    Students will typically learn techniques to gather information. Psychological testing and methods of research and statistics are often covered in the second year that may be used in real world counseling during their third year and in their professional careers as counselors.

  • Thesis or Independent Study Project

    In the second year, students usually begin planning out their thesis or independent study project. Typically, with an online master’s in counseling program, students are given a non-thesis option since they may be earning their degree in a different location than the school. Along with beginning work on this project, students usually deepen areas of interest and specialization that they will focus on for their project as well as for their careers down the road.

  • Areas of Specialization

    Some online master’s in counseling programs are designed so students will choose an area of specialization in their second year. Depending on the program, students will either continue into the third year studying in a more general capacity or they will choose and begin their focus on an area of specialization like marriage and family counseling, substance abuse or career counseling. At this point, students may also research potential internships that coincide with their area of interest.

YEAR 3 MILESTONES

During the final year of a master’s in counseling degree program, students will typically wrap-up research and work on their thesis or independent projects and practicum hours and may begin preparing for comprehensive exams. Students will also need to begin preparing for future graduation requirements and may want to begin applying and interviewing for potential jobs.

  • Independent Study Projects or Thesis

    Students usually have been working on their independent study projects or thesis, which usually involve extensive research and time commitments, and will begin finalizing the remaining components. Students will typically work on this project along with fulfilling their practicum and internship hours.

  • Practicum and Internship

    Students will typically need to complete a number of practicum hours and secure an internship to meet their program’s Internship requirements. A certain amount of hours is generally required for both of these courses, and students will usually satisfy these hours working full-time in real world situations. Students will often work with clients under direct supervision of professional clinical counselors and faculty.

  • Comprehensive Exam

    A passing grade on a comprehensive exam is often required for all online master’s in counseling students in order to graduate. This test is usually taken during the last semester after completion of all required coursework. Most programs use the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE), which is primarily multiple choice.

  • Graduation Requirements and Licensure

    During the third year, students will typically prepare for graduation, credentials and licensure requirements. Once students have met the graduation requirements, they will usually be ready to obtain the proper credentials and licensing to become professional counselors. Students will need to research any national and state certification requirements applicable to them as licensure requirements may vary.

GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS

The requirements needed in order to graduate with an online master’s in counseling degree are often built into a program’s curriculum, but may vary on exactly when they will take place. In addition to faculty approval for advancement to candidacy and request to graduate, the following standard requirements typically must be met:

  • Complete Required Amount of Credits

    Students must have completed the required coursework and required credits in an allotted amount of time. Depending on the school, online master’s in counseling students typically are given five to seven years to complete the program. In addition, maintaining above a certain GPA throughout the program may also be a graduation requirement.

  • Complete Independent Study Project or Thesis

    Completion and approval of an independent study or thesis project is often required. Online master’s in counseling students are usually given an option of a non-thesis program, which can take the form of an independent study project or research project under supervision of a student advisor.

  • Complete Fieldwork, Practicum and Internship Hours

    Students typically must have completed all required fieldwork, practicum and internship hours, usually totaling 1,200 hours, at an approved facility with proper supervision and must have all necessary related documents turned in. Some states may mandate more hours for licensure.

  • Pass Comprehensive Exam

    Students often must take a comprehensive exam with a passing score to graduate. Most schools use the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE). Online students may need to travel to the school to take the comprehensive exam or may need to find an accredited school in their state that offers it.

After Your Degree: What to do with a Master’s in Counseling

Online master’s in counseling degrees typically prepare students to become licensed professional counselors and can open doors to a variety of career paths. Master’s in counseling graduates may decide to continue their education and pursue a doctoral degree or may go on to work in areas like academia, medicine or mental health or may choose to work in private practice settings as marriage and family, career, academic, school, substance abuse, rehabilitation or mental health counselors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, growth in this field is expected to be faster than average in the years 2014-2014, which can be encouraging data for those looking to pursue a career in counseling. Below are some examples of what working as a counselor may look like along with expected salary and growth in the field:

BROWSE MASTER’S IN COUNSELING CAREERS

Marriage and Family Counselor

Marriage and family counselors generally provide therapy to individuals and families by assessing, diagnosing and treating mental health and emotional issues. They often help clients with treatment plans to manage, overcome and resolve problems and issues typically relating to relationships and the family dynamic. They usually work in private practices, mental health centers, schools and healthcare settings such as clinics and hospitals.

Mean Annual Wage $43,190

Growth Potential 19%

Substance Abuse/Behavioral Disorders Counselor

Substance Abuse/Behavioral Disorders Counselors generally work with individuals and groups to manage and recover from addiction and behavior disorders such as alcoholism, drug abuse and eating disorders. They also may work with family members affected by these issues and, at times, may provide prevention and crisis care. They often work in treatment environments such as prisons, outpatient and inpatient facilities, community and mental health centers, and private practices.

Mean Annual Wage$39,980

Growth Potential 22%

Career Counselor

Career counselors typically work in a high schools, colleges, career centers, government agencies and private practices. They often help students with social skills, academic and future career goals, financial aid, and college and degree selection based on desired outcome. They may help people looking for career changes, job search skills and those working with disabilities enter the work force.

Mean Annual Wage $53,660

Growth Potential 8%

Source: BLS

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

    Master’s in Counseling

  • Ability to Assess, Diagnose and Treat Clients

    This is essentially the basis of what counselors do, and many of the core classes in an online master’s in counseling program will 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.

  • Apply Research, Statistics and Counseling Theories to Practice

    These are all tools counselors often use to be effective in providing 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 that they can apply to their counseling practice.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Additional Resources

The following is a list of 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)

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 like job search options, webinars, publications and continuing education opportunities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The BLS provides a wealth of information on different career paths. Readers can search on specific occupations, including counseling and related occupations, and get an overview or detailed description of what the career entails, expected growth and salaries in areas across the U.S.

The Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE)

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), which is a standard for graduating master’s in counseling students.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

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.

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