Best Online Master's Degree in Counseling

Earning a master's degree in counseling can be accomplished via an online learning environment while providing the same accreditation, scholarly advantages, and career outcomes as traditional on-campus environments. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

How to Choose an Online Master's Degree in Counseling Program

When choosing an online program, there are multiple factors to consider, like cost, location (since online nonresident students would still pay out-of-state tuition), and if there are on-campus requirements. Here are a few considerations when choosing an online master's degree program in counseling.

Specific Degree Specializations Offered

Many schools with online counseling master's degree programs offer one or more specific counseling focuses, such as the follow:

  • Career
  • Clinical/mental health
  • Rehabilitation
  • School
  • Addictions
  • Marriage, couples & family
  • Social justice

These specialization options can be deciding factors depending on your desired program outcome and career goals.

Course Offerings

Reviewing the varying program offerings is another way to help you choose schools and programs. Some counseling programs take a rather liberal studies approach by providing more ethnic, social, and gender studies classes. Other programs instead offer more research and clinical theory classes. Compare programs' curricula to determine which would best fit your ultimate career goals.

Clinical/Practicum Requirements

Counseling degrees require supervised clinical hours that can vary depending on the school and program. Even when attending schools online, it is important to ascertain what those specific requirements are especially if on-campus seminars or practicums are required at any point in the academic year. One hundred practicum clock hours and 600 clinical internship clock hours are typical degree requirements.

Technical Requirements

Technical requirements may not only vary by school but also vary by course. Some class resources may not only include downloading and uploading documents, but also accessing and uploading large files and/or videos that may likely require high internet speeds.

The performance requirements for your computer or laptop, and its operating system, are another factor to be considered and are specific to individual schools and programs. A particular Microsoft Office (like Windows 7 or 10), Adobe, and/or Java platform may be necessary.

State Licensure

Earning a graduate degree in counseling doesn't automatically confer a counseling license. When searching for an online master's program in counseling you should also check the specific licensure requirements for the state in which you wish to practice in order to compare how well the program meets your state's needs. All 50 states, and Washington, D.C., have licensure or regulatory law requirements. Certification is available at state and national levels, but the required certifications and licensing to practice are respective to your state.

Top 25 Online Colleges/Universities with Master's Programs in Counseling

Most online master's degree programs in counseling take about two years to complete, though that can depend on the concentration and school you choose and your schedule. Here are 25 of the best online programs that offer master's degrees in counseling.

1. Prescott College

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) 2018-2019
Prescott, AZ $21,566

Prescott College has a 60-credit Master of Science in Counseling graduate program that offers specialty focus areas in addictions counseling; marriage, couple and family counseling; social justice in counseling; and somatic counseling. The degree prepares students to become licensed mental health counselors or licensed professional counselors. The program is considered a low-residency online program since students are required to complete some activities on campus.

2. North Carolina Central University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) 2018-2019
Durham, NC $7,476

NCCU has three distinct graduate programs in counseling that are all offered 100% online, are endorsed by the International Registry of Counselor Education Programs (IRCEP), and accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

The 48-credit hour Master of Arts in Career Counseling program is for students who wish to work at colleges or universities, public and private K-12 schools, or businesses organizations and the like in the area of career development services. Requiring 60-credit hours before graduation, the Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling is also recognized as a criteria-C school for licensure as a clinical addiction specialist (LCAS).

The Master of Arts in School Counseling program entails 51-credit hours and provides students with the experiences required by the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) for professional school counselors.

3. East Carolina University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) 2018-2019
Greenville, NC $7,485

ECU has two online graduate programs in counseling, a Master of Science in Rehabilitation and Career Counseling, and a Master of Science in Counselor of Education. While both programs are offered online, some on-campus attendance or in-person time may be necessary. The MS in Rehabilitation and Career Counseling is CACREP accredited, requires 62-credit hours, and graduates are eligible for national certification as a rehabilitation counselor (CRC).

The 60-credit hour MS in Counselor of Education is approved by the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction, is accredited by National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), and prepares graduates for the National Counselor's Examination (NCE) and LPC eligibility.

4. Virginia Commonwealth University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) 2018-2019
Richmond, VA $14,496

VCU's Master of Science in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling is a 60-credit asynchronous program offered online and in-class. Students are required to complete a 9-credit internship. Along with CACREP accreditation, the program prepares graduates for the LPC credential in the state of Virginia as well as the CRC national credential.

5. University of Kentucky

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) 2018-2019
Lexington, KY $13,052

The University of Kentucky's 60-credit Master's in Rehabilitation Counseling program provides two tracks at the master's level, rehabilitation counseling or clinical rehabilitation counseling in mental health. The clinical rehabilitation counseling in mental health program leads to LPC licensure in most states while the rehabilitation counseling track is CACREP accredited. Instead of having to attend on-campus practicums, students are able to complete their clinicals and practicums at approved sites that are geographically convenient.

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) 2018-2019
6 Arkansas Tech University Russellville, AR $6,485
7 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS $11,069
8 Lamar University Beaumont, TX $8,174
9 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC $11,495
10 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS $8,624
11 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO $10,017
12 University of Nebraska at Kearney Kearney, NE $7,187
13 University of Mississippi University, MS $8,660
14 Lock Haven University Lock Haven, PA $15,896
15 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR $14,331
16 University of Wisconsin-Stout Menomonie, WI $8,341
17 Utah State University Logan, UT $6,790
18 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND $9,697
19 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS $4,266
20 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA $9,068
21 Montana State University-Northern Havre, MT $7,201
22 Arkansas State University-Main Campus Jonesboro, AR $6,210
23 Wright State University Dayton, OH $9,254
24 Angelo State University San Angelo, TX $7,436
25 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA $18,380

Tuition Source Information: The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2018-2019 school year.'s school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Coursework Common to Graduate Level Counseling Degrees

Graduate studies in counseling typically share some common coursework regardless of specialization, such as introductory counseling and substance abuse courses being found in rehabilitation, mental health, career, and educational counseling programs. Other standard coursework may include evaluation and assessment, research, and counseling theories along with practicums and internships. Below are a few other examples of courses offered by online master's programs in counseling.

Ethics and Professionalism in Counseling

This coursework provides focused studies in understanding and applying appropriate ethical behavior in a diversity of counseling areas including mental health, educational counseling, and rehabilitation and career counseling. It is not uncommon for emphasis to be placed on working with different cultures, genders, and ethnicities, as well as people with disabilities.

Human Growth and Development

These courses may explore human growth and development at specific stages in life, such as infancy, adolescence or late adulthood, while other courses are broader and focus on human development across the lifespan. Developmental topics may include physiology, sexuality, and cognitive development.

Diversity, Gender Studies, and Multiculturalism

Diversity studies approaches a breadth of topics and the implications of various aspects of group and individual diversity. Subjects may include gender and sexual orientation, disabilities, ethnicity, spirituality, and religion, plus how these impact and influence counseling techniques.

Career Choices with an Online Master's Degree in Counseling

Because of the breadth of counseling degrees and specializations/concentrations, there is a myriad of career options to choose from and a variety of settings, including schools, clinics, government agencies, and private practices. When considering career pathways in counseling it is imperative to note state specific licensure and certification requirements as they vary by state, as do the required exams. The amount of supervised work experience post-graduation can also vary, but at least one year of supervised clinical work experience can be expected before the conferring of licensure after additional requirements are met. Licensing and certification will be discussed in more depth later in this article.

School or Career Counselor

While school counselors strive to help students overcome and avoid the stumbling blocks that can stand in the way of their academic success, career counselors help with the development of professional skills while also helping individuals explore career, educational, and skill training options to help them thrive professionally. School counselors must possess state school counseling certification, which sometimes requires state teacher licensing. The median pay in 2018 was a little over $56,000. The projected job growth over the decade from 2018 to 2028 is 8%.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors are trained to work with individuals from a diversity of areas and stages in life. Some may work with those who have mental or developmental disabilities, others may work with those who have physical disabilities that they were born with or acquired later in life due to illness or injury. Rehabilitation counselors may work with students or veterans, the young or the elderly, but the overarching goal is to help those individuals live full and independent lives, have gainful employment when possible, and to aid them in navigating their personal and social lives. The median salary in 2018 was $35,630. Job growth through 2028 is projected at 10% which is faster than average.

Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors work with groups and individuals to promote and maximize mental and emotional health. They may deal with a multitude of issues from substance abuse, aging, relationships, to stress management. Because of the diversity of settings that mental health counselors work in, the pay range can vary greatly. While a counselor in outpatient care services may look to a median pay of $43,120, a counselor working for a government agency may expect to make more. The projected job growth outlook for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors between 2018-2028 is 22%.

Career Source Information: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Professional Counseling Licensure and Certification

Each state has its own licensure and/or certification requirements that are too varied to list here, so it's important to be aware of the standards for the state in which you wish to practice. These requirements also vary accordingly by the type of counseling degree/specialization. Typically, a master's degree in counseling from an accredited college or university and at least 3000 post-master's supervised clinical hours are part of the requirements for a licensed professional counselor. Let's look at some of the licenses, certifications and exams.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Also referred to as licensed clinical professional counselors (LCPC), licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC), or licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). This licensure is state granted after the meeting of certain educational and professional requirements. A graduate or doctorate degree in counseling is required, along with a minimum number of supervised hours, passing appropriate exams, and adhering to strict ethical standards. Counselors have to periodically complete some additional continuing education training in order to maintain licensure.

National Certified Counselor (NCC)

This is a National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) voluntary certification that shows professionalism and training of the highest standards. It is the world's largest national certification. In order to obtain this certification, a master's degree in counseling is required, along with at least 3000 hours of counseling experience and the passing of the NCE or NCMHCE. There is generally a fee associated with this and other relative memberships.

Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors (CCMHC)

This is another NBCC specialty certification that announces to potential employers, clients, and professional peers that you have meet the highest professional and educational standards. Obtaining certification must follow earning an NCC and passing the NCMHCE. You must also have an endorsement from a professional colleague who holds a master's degree or higher in the field of mental health.

National Certified School Counselors (NCSC)

The school counselor certification is also an NBCC board certification. The NCSC represents the meeting of stringent requirements in ethics, education, and professionalism. All states require that school counselors hold state school counselor certification. As prerequisites you must have already passed the NCC and the NCMHCE.

The Master Addictions Counselor (MAC)

This NBCC certification was created in conjunction with the American Counseling Association (ACA), and the International Association of Addiction and Offenders Counselors (IAAOC). In addition to already being an NCC, you must also pass the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC). Please note that in early 2020 the MAC is under review and not currently available, but interested applicants are encouraged to contact the NBCC for further information.

Certified Career Counselor (CCC)

This credential is offered by the NCDA credentialing commission and recognizes achievements in academics and experience. Along with an advanced degree in counseling and relevant coursework, applicants need to have 600 hours of supervised clinical experience. Alternately, 60 credit hours of NBCC or approved scholastic studies of a similar organization will suffice.

National Counselor Exam (NCE)

The NCE is a 200-question multiple choice exam that tests overall knowledge and competency in the field of counseling based on educational and experiential learning. It is a requirement for licensing in most states. It may also be accepted by the military for practicing professionals.

The National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)

Presently the NCMHCE consists of 10 clinical simulations and tests multiple competencies. It is a requirement for licensure in some states. Because the exam is frequently reviewed to keep pace with the professional requirements and competencies of the field, it is being revised and the updated exam is expected to be available in 2020.

Professional Counselor Organizations

There are several organizations dedicated to providing support, training, resources, and certifications for counseling professionals. Here's a list of some of those organizations.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

CACREP provides accreditation for master's and doctorate degree programs in counseling and counseling specialties in the United States and abroad. To date, there are more than 860 CACREP accredited programs with more schools continuing to seek CACREP accreditation.

The American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB)

The AASCB collects and provides information on legal and regulatory issues as they pertain to counseling, counseling licensure and certification, and counseling services. The AASCB also publishes training materials for programs and board members. This Association is a representative force in setting standards for licensure as well as functioning as a representative body at legislative levels for counselors and their profession.

National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)

The National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. and Affiliates provides credentialing for counselors and maintains a registry of certified counselors. The board ensures that NBCC credentialed counselors meet high quality practice standards via education, experience, exams, ethical principles, and supervision.

NBCC provides various resources and support for counselors including affiliate liability insurance to board certified counselors. This Board also provides local, state, and federal level support for counseling professionals including initiatives to include counselors in the Medicare program and increase the employment of counselors by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

American Counseling Association (ACA)

The ACA is a non-profit organization and the world's largest association with the objective to represent counselors in a diversity of practice settings. This Association advocates for counselors at the legislative level, provides ethics consultations and gender studies training, and hosts counselor conferences. The ACA's LBGTQ training program is award winning.

American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

ASCA has a mission to represent school counselors, advance professional development, and promote ethical practices in counseling. Members are welcome from around the world, and professional collegiate level counselors are welcome, too. Included in the many resources the ASCA provides is easy access to information on state/territory level associations of school counselors.

Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE)

CCE is a non-profit organization and affiliate of the NBCC. It provides assessments, professional support services, and credentialing for practitioners and organizations.

National Career Development Association (NCDA)

NCDA is an advocacy association providing professional development, training, publications, and standards to practitioners and educators. This group also provides credentialing for career counselors.

The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC)

The CRCC is the largest rehabilitation counseling organization in the world aimed at improving the lives of those living with disabilities. The commission's certification program is nationally accredited and boasts international recognition for its program and the professional standards it sets forth for rehabilitation counseling. The CRC certification program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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