Counseling as a discipline creates practitioners who are able to empower clients to reach their goals, strengthen their mental health, work through emotions, and achieve balance in their lives. Counselors may be found in a variety of fields, ranging from occupational and marriage counseling to substance abuse and eating disorders therapy. If you’re considering a role in this field, you likely have a genuine interest in the well-being of others, the ability to listen carefully, an interest in creating a safe space, and a well-defined understanding of discretion and confidentiality.
Practitioners who hold an online master’s in counseling have spent years developing nuanced skills to help them best serve their clients. A strong emphasis of all programs is compassion, which creates an empathetic response to clients from all backgrounds. Counselors are also trained to be highly interpersonal and exhibit excellent listening skills that can pick up on explicit and underlying communications. Students are also well-versed in many different style of counseling to help them better provide individualized services. While a bachelor’s degree prepares graduates for assistant or technical roles, they’ll need an online master’s degree in counseling to be licensed and see patients.
Completing a master’s degree in counseling online prepares you for a wealth of job opportunities once licensed, ranging from settings such as private practice and schools to mental health facilities or nonprofit organizations. But before any of these positions are available, future counselors are required to complete thousands of hours of practice before receiving licensure. With the ever-growing emphasis on good mental health, positions for counselors are set to grow by 19% in the coming years. For 2015, the average salary a master’s level therapist could expect to bring home was $43,190.
There are currently close to 170,000 counselors and therapists working in America, and each shares a passion for helping clients better themselves through meaningful approaches. They also share a common understanding that counseling is a labor of love that provides moderate salaries. Because counseling won’t net six figures for the majority of practitioners, our ranking of master’s degrees in counseling online feature programs that won’t break the bank yet still provide a quality education that employers will respect. Furthermore, each of these programs are fully accredited and offer maximum flexibility for individuals who wish to work while undertaking their studies.
Fort Hays State University
|Value Score 8.83|| |
FHSU has prioritized distance education for more than 20 years, with the school’s Virtual College system offering online degrees to more than 6,000 students. FHSU’s online programs are commonly rated amongst the best in the country, and the school’s affordable tuition ranks among the lowest 2% of all U.S. colleges. The college offers an online master’s in counseling degree with two concentrations: clinical mental health counseling and school counseling.
The MS in mental health counseling prepares students to support clients of all ages, and to strengthen communities through social, cultural, and educational efforts. The MS in school counseling focuses on K-12 students, preparing graduates to help young adults develop social and academic skills. Students in the school counseling concentration must visit campus for three, four-day sessions. The mental health counseling students can take half of their required courses online.
Chadron State College
|Value Score 8.82|| |
Based in Chadron, Nebraska, CSC is a small public university with an enrollment of about 3,000 students. Chandron is a top regional provider of online education, offering online tuition with no out-of-state fees. The school’s master’s of arts in education, clinical mental health counseling program prepares students to serve as counselors in various health settings. In addition to core courses in family development, crisis counseling, and counseling ethics, students perform two intensive practicum courses and an internship. These additional requirements allow students to gain crucial counseling experience in a hands-on environment.
Courses in the online master’s degree in counseling are offered primarily online, though some selections are only available on campus. Applicants to the program must complete an in-person interview in Chadron, and those who are accepted must complete an in-person orientation session in either Chadron or North Platte.
University of Massachusetts – Boston
|Value Score 8.68|| |
Recognized as a top U.S. university, UMass maintains a prestigious distance education program known as UMassOnline. Founded in 2001, UMassOnline offers more than 140 online degrees to students around the world, leveraging the resources of all five UMass institutions to provide accessible, affordable online programs.
The master’s of science in mental health counseling program at UMass prepares students for professional counseling positions in a range of community and healthcare settings, from schools and hospitals to clinics and residential treatment facilities. The MS in mental health counseling is organized into a cohort model, allowing students to build deeper connections by moving through the entire program in a close-knit group. Aside from a two-week campus session during the first summer semester, all courses in the program are available entirely online. Graduates are prepared for Massachusetts Mental Health Counselor licensure after fulfilling some additional clinical experience requirements.
University of the Cumberlands
|Value Score 8.51|| |
UC is a private religious college based in Williamsburg, Kentucky, located between Lexington and Knoxville. The school’s online master’s in counseling program accepts students year-round, offering a bi-semester system with six start dates throughout the year. The master’s of arts in professional counseling degree offers specializations in clinical mental health counseling and addiction counseling.
Students in the addiction counseling track specialize in counseling, intervention, and prevention as they relates to substance abuse and dependency issues. The mental health counseling track trains students to become well-rounded general mental health practitioners in community settings. Before graduating, all students are required to pass the UC Counselor Comprehensive Exam, which tests knowledge of eight core areas designated by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. There is no additional cost for taking the UC Counselor Comprehensive Exam.
Adams State University
|Value Score 8.50|| |
ASU is a public liberal arts college in Alamosa, Colorado, and is designated as the regional education provider for southern Colorado. ASU emphasizes a commitment to underserved student populations like first-generation college students, ethnic minorities, and low-income learners. The school offers an affordable online master’s of arts in counseling education with specializations available in either clinical mental health counseling or school counseling. Mental health counseling students learn a range of diagnostic and intervention skills for health and community settings, from hospitals and clinics to private practices and residential treatment facilities. School counseling students prepare to work as K-12 counselors, encouraging academic achievement through counseling, consulting, and student advocacy.
While nearly all courses for the online master’s in counseling are offered online, students are required to attend two week-long campus sessions in Alamosa, one during each summer semester. The intensive sessions allow for more in-depth interactions with faculty members and other students, which helps students develop their interpersonal and communication skills.
University of Houston – Victoria
|Value Score 8.24|| |
Part of the University of Houston system, UHV is located in Victoria, about two hours southwest of Houston. Home to around 4,000 students, the college ranks as one of the most affordable in the region, offering students a cheap and well-respected online master’s degree in counseling. The school’s master’s of arts in counseling psychology program prepares students to assess the needs of patients and provide high-quality psychotherapy and counseling. The program features a prominent clinical component, meeting the academic requirements for Texas Licensed Professional Counselor certification. Students in the program develop key counseling skills including clinical interviewing, behavioral classification, client evaluation, crisis intervention, and crisis consultation. The degree also includes an advanced counseling practicum that lets students work directly under the supervision of a counseling professional. Graduates are prepared for work in a variety of public and private health settings, from psychiatric hospitals to university treatment centers.
Visit School Website
Summit University of Pennsylvania
|Value Score 7.54|| |
Occupying a 141-acre suburban campus in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, SU is a Baptist-affiliated college that offers Christ-centered education to nearly 1,000 students. The college’s master’s of science in counseling program prepares students to pursue counseling positions in the health sector and the ministry. The degree is available in a predominantly online format, though it does require nine on-campus credits, offered in week-long modules available during summer semesters.
Summit offers online courses in eight-week blocks, with five convenient start dates throughout the year. Graduates are prepared to sit for the National Certified Counselor Exam and to apply for Licensed Professional Counselor status. The degree typically takes around three years to complete, though Summit also offers a fully online master’s of arts in counseling that takes about half the time, intended for students who are not pursuing professional licensure.
|Value Score 7.45|| |
Located in Beaumont, Texas, about 90 miles east of Houston, LU is an emerging university that is home to more than 15,000 students. The school’s esteemed academics and cheap tuition have made it one of the fastest growing colleges in the state, and its online programs are particularly well regarded. LU’s master’s of education in clinical mental health counseling teaches students how to provide counseling services to diverse client populations, preparing them for work in clinical health care settings. Primary topics in the program include therapeutic processes, human development principles, mental health strategies, and effective counseling techniques. Students will acquire the necessary skills to help their clients make positive changes in their lives both socially and emotionally. The program also requires students to receive professional preparation and experiential learning components, including an academic residency seminar, internships, and a clinical practicum.
Visit School Website
|Value Score 7.36|| |
Established in 1935, Corban is a Christian college located in Salem, Oregon, about 45 miles south of Portland. Corban University consistently ranks as one of the best Western colleges due in large part to its affordable tuition and respected academic programs. The school is dedicated to community outreach and opportunity, making Corban a popular choice for students interested in pursuing a master’s degree in counseling online.
The college’s master’s of arts in counseling is a hybrid degree that combines online courses with a once weekly on-campus session. The program offers clinical mental health training from a Christ-centered perspective, allowing students to incorporate biblical values and ethics into their mental health practice. Corban operates the Corban Mental Health Clinic, in partnership with the Salem Free Clinics, providing high-quality mental healthcare to the Salem community. Counseling students intern at the clinic under faculty supervision, where they’ll gain hands-on experience as they offer counseling services to individuals, couples, and groups.
Touro University Worldwide
|Value Score 7.19|| |
TUW is an online college that serves students all over the world as a part of the Touro College and University System. Students in the school’s MA in marriage and family therapy gain an understanding of family dynamics, exploring the link between family/marital dysfunction, and mental and emotional disorders. The program offers three different tracks: non-clinical (18 core courses), clinical (20 core courses), and licensed professional clinical counseling (25 core courses). The clinical and licensure tracks both require an additional practicum and face-to-face clinical hours, while the non-clinical track can be completed entirely through online courses. TUW is dedicated to underserved students, and the school offers a range of tuition assistance options for those earning their master’s degree in counseling online. In addition to cheap tuition, all applicants to the counseling program receive a waiver for their application fee.
Visit School Website
University of Louisiana at Monroe
|Value Score 6.73|| |
ULM is a member of the University of Louisiana System, serving more than 8,500 students from its campus in Monroe. ULM is one of the top online colleges in the state, and the school offers a renowned online master’s degree in counseling. The school’s master’s of science in counseling program offers two tracks: clinical mental health counseling and school counseling. The clinical mental health track prepares students to provide counseling, educational, and supportive services to diverse client populations, while the school counseling track applies the same skills but for student populations. Both concentrations emphasize the core competencies and skills required for the counseling field, and graduates leave equipped for a wide range of careers in mental health and counseling. ULM also maintains a Community Counseling Clinic staffed by graduate counseling students, allowing them to gain practical counseling experience and offer human services to members of the Monroe community.
Visit School Website
|Value Score 6.50|| |
CU is a private Christian university that was founded in 1905 in Campbellsville, Kentucky. Today the school enrolls more than 3,000 students of all denominations and is praised as one of the best Christian colleges in the nation. CU’s online master’s in counseling is equally as respected in the region. The master’s of arts in education in school guidance counseling emphasizes the skills necessary to meet the social, educational, and emotional needs of K-12 students. The program is focused on essential theories and practices of school counseling, and covers topics like group counseling, human development, cultural competency, substance abuse, and college readiness. The program stresses real-world preparation, requiring students to complete 300 hours of clinical school fieldwork as part of the curriculum. Courses are available online, and fieldwork can be performed within students’ own communities.
Visit School Website
|Value Score 6.34|| |
Bellevue is an innovator in online education, enrolling students from all 50 U.S. states and several countries in its distance learning programs. The school is highly specialized for adult education, with students over age 25 comprising a significant portion of its enrollment. Bellevue’s master’s of science in clinical counseling curriculum emphasizes the professional skills, knowledge, and industry practices necessary to teach students how to become successful mental health counselors. The program covers foundational topics like counseling theories, research practices, and ethics, along with more advanced courses in disorder diagnosis, cultural diversity, group processes, and both couples and family counseling. The curriculum stresses real-world preparation and includes 100 practicum hours plus 600 clinical internship hours, giving students the hands-on experience necessary to prepare them for professional practice. Students may complete their internship and practicum hours in their own communities as long as they gain approval from Bellevue’s Clinical Coordinator.
Visit School Website
|Value Score 6.33|| |
Huntington is an Indiana-based Christian college that offers an online master’s of arts in counseling available to all U.S. residents. Online students begin the program with a three-day campus intensive known as the Personal Development Skills Process Group, a counseling and leadership symposium that involves new students, faculty, and members of the public. The core of the online master’s degree in counseling is a hybrid of faith and science, simultaneously encompassing neuroscience, biblical scripture, and research-driven methods. Students take courses covering fundamental topics of counseling, including human development, social and cultural foundations, psychopathology, and ethics, along with an extensive clinical practicum and internship.
Indiana students are required to take 60 credits to earn their degree, while out-of-state students may only need to take as few as 48 credits, depending on their state’s licensure requirements. Consequently, online students at Huntington are responsible for understanding their own state licensure requirements and choosing courses accordingly.
Southern California Seminary
|Value Score 6.00|| |
El Cajon-based SCS was founded in 1946 and offers an affordable Christian education that is rooted in biblical study. The school is recognized as one of the top Christian colleges in the state and has also earned praise for its online programs, particularly its online master’s in counseling. The online MA in Christian counseling places the practice of counseling in a biblical framework, preparing students for counseling and advising positions in the church or similar settings. The curriculum offers a strong biblical and theological foundation and includes fundamental counseling topics like psychology, human development, and ethics. Students also learn how to interpret the Bible, allowing them to apply biblical knowledge directly to counseling practices. The program is typically completed in 16-24 months, and includes five courses in biblical study and theology, eight courses in counseling, two electives, and one graduate research course.
Visit School Website
Grace College and Theological Seminary
|Value Score 5.95|| |
Grace serves Christian students of all denominations from its rural campus in Winona Lake, Indiana. With generous scholarship and financial aid packages, Grace is one of the most affordable Christian colleges in the region, and is regarded as one of the best in the Midwest. Grace’s master’s of arts in clinical mental health counseling offers a foundation in scripture, which teaches the principles of psychology and social sciences through this biblical lens. In addition to essential clinical skills and knowledge, the program stresses the professional and interpersonal competencies needed to start an effective counseling practice. While the online master’s degree in counseling is primarily offered through distance courses, the program does require an annual week-long campus residency. Graduates are prepared to earn their license in mental health counseling, an industry standard for work in both secular and religious settings.
Visit School Website
Concordia University – Wisconsin
|Value Score 5.53|| |
A private Lutheran liberal arts college in Mequon, CUW serves more than 2,400 online students annually and offers cheap, faith-based education that includes a 25% tuition discount for Christian educators. Students earning their master’s degree in counseling online from CUW can choose from two distinct degrees: a master’s of science in education – family life or a master’s of science in education – counseling.
The family life degree trains students to help families navigate transitions and life events, addressing critical needs through a combination of counseling theories and Christian perspectives. The counseling degree offers specializations in either school counseling or professional counseling, with either preparing students to plan, establish, operate, and evaluate counseling programs in schools and communities. The family life program includes a cumulative capstone project drawing together key program principles, while the counseling program requires both a professional practicum and an internship.
|Value Score 5.53|| |
Liberty University is the largest Christian university in the world, boasting an extensive distance education programs that serves most of the school’s 110,000 students. Liberty is a top online university, and its online master’s in counseling program has ranked among the best and most affordable in the nation. Liberty allows students to earn a master’s of arts in human services counseling in one of several concentrations, including addictions and recovery, Christian ministry, marriage and family counseling, and military resilience. Liberty’s degree concentrations emphasize the skills necessary for assisting different client populations through a combination of Christian faith and traditional counseling practices. Students in each concentration take core courses including human growth and development, introduction to human services, and multicultural issues in human services, along with specialized electives relating their focus. All online counseling courses at Liberty are offered online.
Visit School Website
Southwestern Assemblies of God University
|Value Score 5.26|| |
SAGU is a private Christian university based in Waxahachie, Texas, about 30 minutes south of Dallas. Founded in 1943, the college emphasizes a biblical liberal arts education with a theological and professional focus. SAGU is a small college, with an enrollment of around 2,000 students. The school has offered distance education programs for more than 25 years, and its counseling programs earn high praise among institutions of its size. SAGU offers several online master’s in counseling degrees, including a master’s of education in school counseling, a master’s of divinity in counseling, and a master’s of science in counseling psychology (clinical) or counseling psychology – human services (non-clinical). Most courses for each degree are available entirely online, through the counseling psychology program requires students to take seven on-campus courses, available for either evening or weekend study.
Visit School Website
Mid-America Christian University
|Value Score 4.42|| |
Originally established in Texas, MACU now resides in Oklahoma City thanks to the school’s 1984 expansion project. Today, the college serves more than 2,400 students, offering a liberal arts education rooted in Christian values. The school is dedicated to cheap, accessible education, and offers a range of grants and scholarship programs that are easily viewable online. MACU offers an online master’s of science in counseling with five available concentrations: clinical mental health counseling; marital, couples and family counseling/therapy; pastoral and spiritual direction; clinical mental health and addictions counseling; and applied behavioral science. Each concentration emphasizes a Christian perspective toward human services, includes core classes in human development, ethics and professional studies, psychopathology and research methods, along with specialized elective courses. All counseling courses at MACU are available completely online and range from 5–10 weeks in length.
Visit School Website
California Baptist University
|Value Score 4.33|| |
CBU is a private Christian college in Riverside and one of the top religious schools in the state. CBU’s master’s of science in counseling psychology prepares students for careers in either marriage and family therapy or professional clinical counseling, meeting licensure requirements for both fields in the state. Students learn how to counsel individuals, couples, and families from both a psychological and spiritual perspective, helping clients navigate relational difficulties.
CBU offers online programs in two formats: an asynchronous mode that lets students examine course material and complete assignments at their own pace, and a virtual hybrid mode that incorporates video conferencing for live interactions with faculty and other students. Before graduating, students must complete a comprehensive written exam that tests their general counseling knowledge with in-depth scenarios in topics such as ethics, treatment planning, and diagnosis.
Union Institute and University
|Value Score 4.04|| |
Established in 1964 by a consortium of 10 colleges interested in progressive education, UI&U is a nonprofit university that primarily offers low residency and distance education programs to adult learners. The school’s MA in clinical mental health counseling is a hybrid program that combines online learning with one campus residency experience each term, available at locations in either Brattleboro, Vermont or Cincinnati, Ohio. The curriculum includes both self-paced and asynchronous work alongside live sessions that allow students to meet with other students and faculty in-person.
Students complete core courses in counseling theory and practice, appraisal and diagnostic techniques, and helping relationships, along with specialized advanced courses in tests and measurement, clinical consultation, and more. The curriculum also includes a practicum course, multiple internships, and a final capstone course. The program is typically completed in about two years, with graduates prepared for licensure as either professional counselors or clinical mental health counselors.
Ottawa University – Phoenix
|Value Score 4.00|| |
OU’s Phoenix, Arizona campus is just one of six across the country, and the university serves a total of 7,000 students through both residential and online programs. Students at OU can choose from two online master’s in counseling programs: a master’s of arts in counseling and a master’s of arts in counseling: addiction counseling. Counseling is a generalized degree that allows students to specialize in one of six areas: Christian counseling, expressive arts therapy, gerocounseling, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling or treatment of trauma, and abuse and deprivation. The addiction counseling program trains students to treat clients with substance abuse and dependency disorders, preparing them for work in hospitals, substance abuse clinics, and private practices.
Students in both programs complete significant practicum courses in clinical or other human services settings. While the addiction counseling degree is available fully online, the counseling degree requires students to participate in two week-long campus residency sessions in Phoenix.
Colorado Christian University
|Value Score 3.82|| |
One of the top Christian colleges in both Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region, CCU serves over 7,000 students through its online programs and a main campus in Lakewood, about 10 miles from Denver. The school’s master’s of arts in counseling incorporates online coursework, clinical experience, and expert mentorship to offer students a comprehensive degree that combines both Christian faith and advanced counseling principles. While most courses are offered fully online, CCU does require students to participate in three, five-day residential training sessions throughout the program. These residency sessions allow students to further develop skills in key program areas like group interaction, community engagement, and field experience. CCU’s program is one of the top ranked in Colorado, with graduates scoring 15% higher than the national average on the industry standard National Counselor Exam. Most practicum supervisors also report that CCU students are more clinically prepared than counseling students from other colleges.
Visit School Website
|Value Score 3.31|| |
Prescott is a private liberal arts college in Prescott, Arizona dedicated to progressive, experience-based education. The college offers a limited residency master’s of science in counseling program with five specializations: clinical mental health counseling, marriage, couple and family counseling, rehabilitation counseling, addictions counseling, and school counseling. Students in all tracks receive an interdisciplinary education that covers mental health issues in a local, global and professional context, emphasizing both academic and cultural competence. The program’s curriculum emphasizes best practices for client empowerment.
Prescott is one of just a few colleges in the country to offer several unique, innovative counseling concentrations, including adventure-based psychotherapy, ecotherapy, equine therapy, and expressive art therapy. Students earning their online master’s degree in counseling must attend an orientation session to begin their first semester, along with one weekend-long colloquia session on campus each fall and spring semester. Colloquia sessions typically include student presentations, workshops, seminars and lectures from keynote speakers.
Nova Southeastern University
|Value Score 3.23|| |
Fort Lauderdale-based NSU is the largest independent university in the Southeastern U.S., with an annual enrollment of more than 24,000 students. The school’s online master’s in counseling is offered through the Southern Regional Education Board’s Electronic Campus, an online platform that brings together the academic resources of several southern colleges and certifies that all programs comply with rigorous academic standards.
The online master’s of science in counseling features four specialization areas: mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and education, applied behavior analysis, and advanced applied behavior analysis. The MS in counseling degree is intended for professionals in the field seeking advanced training. The program trains students to create, provide, and maintain quality human and mental health services, as students develop both clinical skills and hone their leadership styles. The curriculum includes foundational courses such as group theory and practice, individual testing and research, and evaluation for counselors.
|Value Score 3.16|| |
A private liberal arts college in Dobbs Ferry, New York, Mercy’s affordable tuition and rate of graduate success make it one of the top online colleges in the state. Mercy is a leader in online graduate education, and the school is a popular choice for students pursuing an online master’s degree in counseling. Mercy offers both a master’s of science in mental health counseling and a master’s of science in counseling with several options for certification, including school counseling, school counseling with a bilingual extension, alcohol/substance abuse counseling, and retirement counseling.
The mental health counseling degree prepares students for clinical licensure, putting them on track for the 3,000-hour externship necessary to become a mental health counselor in New York State. The counseling degree is applicable to careers at schools and other public and private agencies, preparing students to apply counseling techniques of advocacy, assessment, prevention, and intervention to help students and other client populations.
|Value Score 3.03|| |
Based in Buffalo, New York, Medaille is a private liberal arts and sciences college that emphasizes collaborative, experienced-based learning. The school’s enrollment of under 3,000 allows for smaller class sizes and a more student-centered focus than at larger institutions. Medaille’s online master’s of arts in clinical mental health counseling features a fixed sequence of 17 courses, 14 of which are weekend courses with the rest available online. The program also requires three semesters of clinical practicum and internship.
The asynchronous online format allows students to complete coursework on their own schedule. However, the program does require five days of campus visits each school year for face-to-face activities. Students gain clinical experience at the Medaille Family Counseling Center, a fully-licensed outpatient treatment facility that offers mental health counseling to families and individuals. Graduates are prepared for mental health counselor licensure in New York State.
Seton Hall University
|Value Score 2.53|| |
Home to more than 10,000 students, Seton Hall is one of the country’s top Catholic universities, earning praise for its prestigious online programs. Students pursuing an online master’s in counseling from Seton Hall have two options: the master’s of arts/educational specialist in professional counseling and the master’s of arts in school counseling. The professional counseling program prepares students to become mental health counselors and features primarily online coursework, though students must complete two campus residencies. The school counseling degree prepares graduates to become effective advocates for K-12 students, developing skills as counselors, consultants, collaborators, and leaders. The program includes both a counseling practicum and an internship at a school. Both degrees offer a cohort learning model, in which students move through the course sequence together in a group, completing the program together.
Visit School Website
|Value Score 2.28|| |
One of the top universities in the country, Northwestern operates a main campus in Evanston, Illinois, along with satellite locations in both Chicago and Doha, Qatar. The school’s master’s of arts in counseling combines a traditional theoretical education with in-depth clinical training experiences, helping students become skilled, self-reflective mental health counselors. The program offers both a standard track for students with an academic background in counseling, and a bridge track for students with no experience in the area. The degree also offers an optional child and adolescent specialization, which includes extra courses in child and adolescent counseling, psychotherapy, and human growth and development.
Regardless of program track, students gain experience through immersive clinical training, including hundreds of hours of practicum and internship work. All classes are available entirely online, but the program does require two weekend-long campus immersion experiences in Chicago. Students can also complete practicum hours at approved local clinical sites.