Best Online PhD in Counseling Degree Programs
Explore the characteristics of online counseling PhD programs, including how long they take, what classes are usually included and what students typically need for admission. In addition, learn what careers and resources are available after graduation.
Top Online Counseling PhD Programs
When deciding which schools have the best online counseling Ph.D. programs, you should consider factors such as cost, program length, admissions requirements and flexibility.
1. University of Louisiana at Monroe
|Location||Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)|
The University of Louisiana at Monroe has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges since 1955 and has more than 400 members of faculty. The school offers an online Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy with a concentration in Systematic Studies program that focuses on the origins, change, and stability of family therapy. The program has a tuition rate of $500 per credit, is offered completely online and takes a total of 3 to 5 years to complete, depending on the length of students' dissertation work. The program curriculum includes 60 credit hours and consists of courses in family therapy, psychopathology, human development and research.
2. Liberty University
|Location||Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)|
Liberty University has a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1 and had more than 30,000 online graduate students in the fall of 2018. The school provides a Christian-centered and academic-excellence emphasis in all programs and has an online graduate tuition rate of $565 to $650 for all students. The school offers three online doctoral counseling programs:
- Ph.D. in Psychology: This 60-credit program can be specialized in general, social, industrial organizational or developmental psychology.
- Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision: Accredited by CACREP, this 60-credit program prepares licensed counselors for advanced positions.
- Ed.D. in Community Care and Counseling: This program includes 57 credits and can be specialized in traumatology, marriage and family or pastoral care and counseling.
3. Mississippi College
|Location||Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)|
Mississippi College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and has a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The school offers an online Doctor of Professional Counseling (DPC) program that consists of 72 credit hours and is open to licensed counselors. With a tuition rate of $660 per credit hour, the program assists counselors with advancing their overall counseling skills as well as increasing their cognition in a specialty area. The program includes courses in leadership, research, psychotherapy, group dynamics and professional identity.
4. Amridge University
|Location||Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)|
Amridge University offers all programs online and has a student body of over 700 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1. The school offers several online doctoral counseling programs, which have a tuition rate of $685 to $780 per credit hour.
- Doctor of Ministry in Family Therapy: This program includes 36 to 66 credit hours, depending on previous degree, and prepares students to counsel individuals, families, and couples.
- Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies: This 51-credit program allows students to combine several focus areas (such as marriage and family therapy and counseling).
- Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy: Students are required to complete 60 credits and develop their scholarship and expertise in marriage and family therapy.
- Ph.D. in Professional Counseling: This program includes 60 credits and emphasizes research in order to provide students with a deeper understanding of counseling issues and theories.
Learn.org'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.
All tuition data is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. Tuition values represent the 2019-2020 school year.
Choosing the Right Online Counseling PhD Program
When deciding which school to attend for an online counseling Ph.D. program, there are several things that you should keep in mind.
Program Flexibility and Length
As you narrow down your program choices, consider the flexibility options offered by each. While some programs allow students to take as few (or as many) courses at a time as they desire, some programs have specific schedules. Technically, though, the more classes you are able to take each semester, the shorter your overall program will be. Consider how long the programs are designed to take and determine whether the time frame meets your educational and career goals.
If you're using financial aid to help pay for your program, you'll need to make sure the school you choose is accredited. Even if you aren't using financial aid, accreditation increases your chance of receiving a quality education. Review the accreditation for each of your candidate schools to ensure they will meet your needs. In addition to standard regional accreditation given to universities as a whole, some counseling Ph.D. programs can earn their own specific accreditation from organizations such as The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Although they can be more difficult to find, seeking a counseling program that boasts program-specific accreditation could ensure you are given the best education possible in the field.
Many online counseling Ph.D. programs can be completed without any face-to-face components, but some programs require on-campus or other on-site experiences. These can include supervised counseling hours, supervision in counseling experiences as well as on-campus learning sessions. Ask your candidate schools what, if any, residency requirements are a part of their programs.
When reviewing your candidate schools, ask each for a comprehensive list of costs associated with your desired program. Compare total costs for each and see if there are any types of financial aid offered directly by the schools. While cost is an important consideration in choosing your school, remember that there are various types of financial aid available for online counseling Ph.D. programs.
Overview of Online Counseling PhD Programs
Online counseling Ph.D. programs are offered either entirely online or primarily online with some on-site requirements, such as internship experiences. These programs can take around 3 to 6 years of full-time study for students who have previously completed a master's degree, although students with qualifying transfer credits can finish sooner. Some of the key characteristics of online counseling Ph.D. programs are discussed below.
Online counseling Ph.D. program admission requirements vary by school, but many require students to have a master's degree with a certain GPA (such as 3.25) and counseling experience. Students may also need to submit letters of recommendation, a resume, a personal statement and a copy of their counseling license (if required). While some programs are available to unlicensed students, most online counseling Ph.D. programs are for licensed counselors who have at least 1 or 2 years of counseling experience.
Courses in online counseling Ph.D. programs vary by specific program and specialty (such as marriage and family, when applicable). However, many programs include some of the courses listed below.
- Planning Consultation - This course explores development of programs in counseling and related settings, including applicable research and modification of programs.
- Advanced Research - Students learn methods and uses for advanced research and develop skills in quantitative and qualitative research relating to counseling topics.
- Group Counseling - This course explores member development within groups, including leaders, and how individual psychological differences affect group dynamics.
- Multicultural Counseling - Students examine theories and practices for working with multicultural people in groups and individually.
- Advanced Theory - Students learn about advanced current theories of therapy and counseling, including systemic, multicultural, and psychotherapy techniques.
- Career Counseling - Students explore theories of career development, education and lifestyle tendencies for general and specific populations.
What Can You Do with a PhD in Counseling?
Graduates of online counseling PhD programs can pursue several different careers, some of which are discussed in the sections below.
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors help people who deal with problems such as addictions, mental health concerns and eating disorders. Their duties often include talking with clients, developing treatment plans and working with clients as they implement treatment. They may also provide referrals to clients for external resources, such as support services and job opportunities. The median annual salary for these professionals was $46,240 as of 2019 and the top earning 10% made more than $76,080.
School and Career Counselors
School and career counselors work with students and job seekers, helping them to develop their skills and chances of success. School counselors are often responsible for evaluating students and identifying areas of concern, developing plans for improvement, and working closely with students and teachers to ensure better chances of social and academic success. Career counselors are usually responsible for evaluating and guiding clients through career decisions, helping clients find job and relevant resources, and helping clients increase their employability skills (such as problem solving).
Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists help families and couples work through issues and improve their relationships. Their duties often include initiating discussion between family members, assisting clients with communicating their feelings and helping clients find ways to work through any identified problems. Many of these therapists work in private practices, around 20% work in government and outpatient facilities. The highest-earning employing industry for marriage and family therapists in 2018 was state government, which reflected a median salary of $72,230 for all marriage and family therapists.
Postsecondary teachers instruct students in college and university settings, usually teaching subjects related to their field of expertise. Teachers in the field of counseling or psychology can expect to develop course learning objectives and applicable lessons, teach and guide students, provide grading feedback and keep up-to-date with counseling topics. Some postsecondary counseling teachers also conduct and publish research. The median annual salary for all postsecondary teachers in the field of psychology was $76,620 as of 2019.
|Job Title||Median Annual Wage (2019)||Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder and Mental Health Counselors||$46,240||22%|
|School and Career Counselors||$57,040||8%|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$49,610||22%|
|Postsecondary Psychology Teachers||$76,620||12%|
All salary data is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Professional Resources for Counseling PhD Graduates
There are a multitude of professional organizations and resources available to graduates of online counseling Ph.D. programs. Counseling organizations allow professionals to collaborate and network as well as access a variety of other resources. Several of the resources that are catered to counseling professionals are discussed below.
- The American Counseling Association (ACA): The ACA was founded in 1952 and is the largest professional counseling association in the world. Members of the ACA have access to career resources, continuing education, advocacy assistance and news, publications and networking. ACA membership is available to students, professionals and retirees.
- American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA): Founded in 1976, the AMHCA offers a collaborative network to mental health counselors that was previously unavailable. The organization emphasizes high standards, continued education, and ethics in clinical mental health counseling, and members have access to benefits such as discounts, publication subscriptions, networking, and collaboration.
- The American College Counseling Association (ACCA): The ACCA is a professional organization for various individuals, including those working in social work, counseling and psychology. Made up of those working in higher education, members include students, professors and other individuals. Benefits of ACCA membership include networking, workshops, advocacy, professional development, grants and publication subscriptions.
- National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC): The NBCC offers a variety of resources to counseling professionals, including counseling certification. NBCC has resources for continuing education, including home study and seminars, as well as an online directory that helps counselors manage and communicate with clientele. In addition, NBCC offers access to publications and other professional resources.
- The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC): CRCC is the largest organization of rehabilitation counseling professionals in the world, offering community and continuing education resources to certified professionals. With 15,000 certified rehabilitation counselors, CRCC emphasizes support and continued improvement of the profession. CRCC professionals have access to online continuing education and networking as well as career resources.
- The American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC): AACC provides counselors, psychiatrics, social workers, and other professionals with a Christ-centered platform for the advancement of improving client care. Members have access to resources such as publications, continuing education, online seminars, discounts and more. The AACC emphasizes biblical truth in the lives and work of members and offers membership to students, professionals and retirees.
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT): With more than 50,000 members, AAMFT provides various resources to members throughout the globe. Membership is available to students, affiliates and licensed professionals and includes benefits such as continuing education resources, directories, networking opportunities, legal resources and insurance.
License Requirements for Counselors
Nearly all counseling positions require state licensure, the requirements of which vary by state and position. Counselors typically need to have a graduate degree and a specific number of hours in the field (through internships or other experiences), as well as passing scores on any required assessments. For example, marriage and family therapists as well as substance abuse counselors usually need between 2,000 and 4,000 clinical hours and certification through their state, while school counselors may need to complete an internship or practicum experience.
Students interested in obtaining certification should consult with their state counseling certification board to find out about specific requirements. Candidates may also obtain national certification for some positions through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Obtaining national certification enables counselors to more easily transfer their credentials across state lines and provides access to national resources and regulatory information.