Online Counseling Degrees

Empowering others, tackling interpersonal problems, and helping people overcome challenges in their life are all part of a day’s work for licensed counselors. Professionals with strong communication skills, empathy, and a knack for solving problems are well-suited to a career in counseling. Counselors are always in demand, particularly now that many insurance companies include counseling services as a covered benefit. This allows counselors to find a steady pool of clients regardless of where they work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in mental health counseling and family therapy are projected to grow 19% through 2024. Increasingly, students interested in the field are pursuing counseling degrees online. The online format is enticing to students from a range of backgrounds, including first time students and working professionals looking to change careers. Distance programs are particularly ideal for the latter demographic, as they allow students to complete assignments and watch lectures at their own convenience.

As online education gains popularity throughout the country, students interested in counseling have access to a wider range of programs than ever before. To learn more about the options available to you, be sure to check out our guide to online education in counseling.

Meet our expert

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Tasha Holland-Kornegay Counseling

“Learning online was a big help! I am very comfortable operating in a technology-based platform.”

Online Counseling Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $14,145 17.67% 2 years $33,000 $44,500 N/A
Bachelor's $16,989 10.43% 4 years $40,700 $57,100 7.2%
Master's $17,053 8.79% 2+ years $44,600 $65,800 3.1%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Online counseling degrees prepare graduates for a rewarding career by providing a foundational overview of the field and the tools and skills needed to help patients. Licensed counselors must obtain a master’s degree or higher. An associate degree in counseling or psychology can prepare students for an advanced program, but does not qualify graduates to work as counselors. A bachelor’s degree in counseling provides students with a more comprehensive overview of the field, training them to use their communication and analytical skills in a non-clinical setting. The degree also prepares graduates for an internship or assistant position in counseling.

Choosing Your Counseling Career

Average Counseling Salaries

$48,040
$41,710
$39,270
$53,370

Family Therapist

Salary: $48,040
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
19% 30,150 Masters State Specific Licensing Requirements

Family therapists specialize in psychotherapy to provide help resolving conflicts. Completing an online counseling degree or a program on campus is the minimum educational requirement for a career in this field. Therapists are required to complete two years of supervised clinical experience before they can provide counseling services, or diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse problems.

Mental Health Counselor

Salary: $41,710
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
19% 106,920 Masters State Specific Licensing Requirements

Clinical counselors diagnose and treat mental illnesses. They may work with a psychiatrist and other mental health professionals to incorporate prescription medication as part of a treatment plan. Mental health counselors must be licensed, and clinical counselors need to complete a residency. Many of these professional complete a counseling degree online and obtain relevant work experience before entering the field.

Addiction Counselor

Salary: $39,270
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
22% 94,900 Masters State Specific Licensing Requirements

Addiction counselors help people overcome addictive behaviors and develop healthy coping skills. They may specialize in substance abuse counseling to help clients lead healthier lives. Licensed counselors must obtain a master’s degree. They should also take specialized courses in substance abuse and behavioral psychology to pass the Examination for Master Addiction Counselors, and to earn the Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) credential.

School Counselor

Salary: $53,370
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
8% 273,400 Masters State Specific Licensing

School counselors work closely with students to help them develop age-appropriate academic and social skills. They help students overcome social problems, develop social skills, and guide them as they make educational and professional career decisions. Completing a master’s degree or certification program in the field can help professionals earn a higher salary and qualify for attractive job opportunities throughout their career. Many counseling programs allow students to specialize as a school counselor and prepare for state-issued credentials.

Online Counseling Degree in Action

Tasha Holland-Kornegay Counseling

Tasha Holland-Kornegay is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She earned her degree from Walden University online, graduating with a PhD in Human Services with a focus on Family Strategies. She is currently working in private practice, and has been for over seven years. She also provides supervision for post-master’s degree counselors and therapists pursuing a license in North Carolina as a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Why did you pursue your degree online?

I pursued my counseling degree online because of a busy, hectic work schedule. At the time my son was younger, requiring lots of attention.

What were the biggest advantages of studying online?

The biggest advantage was taking the commute/travel out of the picture. I was able to achieve my academic goals from the comfort of my home. It gave me the opportunity to multi-task (i.e. put a load of laundry in while working assignments online).

Were there any challenges or obstacles you encountered as an online student?

There were times with the program when we had to attend week long sessions at an onsite location. It really wasn't a challenge, because you are able to plan them out well in advance.

How did the online format help prepare you for your career?

I currently contract for two online therapy chat platforms (Talkspace and Talk Life Connect). Both of these platforms are new. Therapy is finally catching up to technology. Learning online was a big help! I am very comfortable operating in a technology-based platform.

Online Counseling Degrees

Associate

An associate degree in counseling prepares students for assistant positions in the field. Those who have an interest in psychology or psychotherapy may benefit by completing an associate degree before pursuing a higher program. An online counseling degree program introduces students to the basic principles of psychology, human behavior, and social work.

Sample Courses
Children’s Mental Health, Abuse and Trauma, Crisis Counseling, Mental Health and Aging, and Case Management
Potential Jobs
Practice Administrative Assistant, Retirement Home Event Coordinator, and Social Worker's Assistant
Average Income
$38,500 with an Associate of Applied Science in Mental Health Counseling
Employment Prospects
N/A

Bachelor’s

Those interested in pursuing an advanced degree in counseling or a career in social work can first complete a bachelor's degree program in social work, psychology, or a related field. Obtaining a master's degree and state licensure is required to become a counselor, and many aspiring counselors and therapists begin their educational careers with a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field. Completing a counseling degree online introduces students to advanced concepts in cognitive and behavioral psychology, psychotherapy, substance abuse counseling, and the treatment of mental illness.

Sample Courses
Personality Theories, Trauma and Crisis, Family Interventions, and Case Management
Potential Jobs
Case Manager, Office Manager, Nonprofit Program Coordinator, Social Worker, and Mental Health Technician
Average Income
$42,030 with a bachelor's degree in social work
Employment Prospects
12% increase through 2024

Master’s

A master's degree is the minimum education requirement to become a licensed counselor. Aspiring professionals can complete an online counseling degree and fulfill work experience requirements at a clinic or other approved facility. These programs provide an in-depth evaluation of counseling strategies, advanced courses in psychology, psychotherapy, and clinical counseling, and the option to specialize in a disciplinary subfield. Many master's programs have both residency and fieldwork requirements. An online master's degree in counseling also prepares students for the state licensure exam.

Sample Courses
Theories of Personality, Theories of Psychotherapy, Principles of Psychopathology, and Professional Ethics in Counseling
Potential Jobs
Addiction Counselor, School Counselor, Mental Health Counselor, and Marriage and Family Counselor
Average Income
$40,850 for mental health counselors
Employment Prospects
19% increase through 2024

The Top 5 Online Master's Degrees in Counseling

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

Liberty University

Lynchburg
  • annually: $20,768
2

Lamar University

Beaumont
  • in-state tuition: $7,429
  • out-of-state tuition: $15,925
3

Seton Hall University

South Orange
  • annually: $35,820
4

Nova Southeastern University

Fort Lauderdale
  • annually: $25,430
5

Baptist Bible College & Seminary of Pennsylvania

Clarks Summit
  • annually: $19,710

See full rankings

Doctorate

Those who wish to teach and educate counselors or pursue scholarly research in the field can complete a doctorate program. Programs are typically three to five years in length and guided by a department professor. As the need for highly trained counselors increases, educators and supervisors will be needed to guide future counselors and contribute to the industry through their research. Those with advanced degrees can look forward to more attractive career opportunities and above average salaries.

Sample Courses
Group Counseling, Advanced Theory and Practice, Counselor Education, Diversity and Social Justice, and Career Counseling
Potential Jobs
Clinical Supervisor, University Researcher, and Counselor Educator
Average Income
$51,645 with a PhD in counseling
Employment Prospects
19% increase through 2024

Professional Requirements

State Boards

Every state has different requirements for licensed counselors. Some states require counselors to obtain a single license while others mandate multiple credentials. Titles and credentials include Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). Many accredited schools offering online counseling degrees offer license examination preparation courses so students can earn their license shortly after graduating. Duration depends on how long it takes to complete master’s degree and supervised experience requirements.

Is it required?

Varies by state

How long will it take?

Anywhere from 3 to 5+ years

Certifications

National certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) can help graduates obtain a state license in some states, but is not a substitute for a license itself. A National Certified Counselor (NCC) has met all certification requirements set forth by the NBCC and is committed to staying current with best practices while abiding by the NBCC Code of Ethics. Duration depends on how long it takes to complete a master’s degree, pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) for Licensure, and complete 3,000 hours of counseling experience and 100 hours of supervised experience.

Is it required?

Voluntary

How long will it take?

Varies