Best Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of counselors and social workers is projected to increase 19% between 2012 and 2022, which far exceeds the 11% average growth rate for all occupations combined. If you’ve always had a drive to help others, there’s no more exciting time to get a master’s in counseling online.

Counselors help people cope with problems in everyday situations, ranging from problems at school to physical or mental health issues. Professionals who hold a counseling master’s tend to receive a highly specialized education so they can properly counsel or treat a specific subset of people, such as people with specific behavioral issues or environmental stressors in their lives. With a more advanced education and more specific qualifications, professional counselors hold a master’s also command a higher salary than people who only hold a bachelor’s in counseling or a comparable social work degree.

Broadly speaking, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook categorizes licensed counselors into the following occupations: mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, school and career counselors, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors and rehabilitation counselors. It should be noted that in order to practice as a counselor in the U.S. in any of these areas, it is necessary to be licensed; most, if not all, such licenses consider a graduate level education counseling to be a prerequisite. Common licensure bodies include the National Board for Certified Counselors and the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Our 2016 rankings for best online master’s in counseling can help you make the best decision for your future while maintaining your ethical standards.

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost Address & Contact Info School Links Acclaim for Online Programs School Description

Liberty University

  • annually: $20,768
1971 University Blvd
Lynchburg, VA 24515
(434) 582-2000

Liberty University has one of the best Master of Arts in Professional Counseling programs available online. The college also offers intensive degree programs, so that you can prepare to be licensed and certified at the national level. Courses covered in the program deal with counseling topics like psychopathology, sexuality, counseling adolescents, families and married couples, spirituality and religion's role in counseling and how to approach diagnosis, just to name a few.

In addition to course requirements, amounting 60 total credit hours, students are required to pursue both an internship and practicum in the program, counting for 6 credits total, and, at the end of the program must also pass an exam in order to receive their degree; the exam is made in support with the National Board for Certified Counselors. However, this exam is not for professional licensure. Such exams, like the National Counselor Examination, are run separately, but as part of the program, Liberty has dedicated support services and test prep, which students are expected to take advantage of as they finish their degree and pursue their license.

Most states will accept Liberty’s MA in Professional Counseling toward licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), although it is important to understand a state’s specific requirements. The application requires:

  • GRE: Verbal 150, Quantitative 150, Analytical Writing 3.5 (Former GRE: 1000 Total)
  • MAT: Total score 350, GRE Analytical Writing 3.5
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement; a letter of intent
  • 6 undergraduate credit hours in psychology and 3 undergraduate credit hours in statistics
  • A TOEFL certification for students who speak English as a second language.

Lamar University

  • in-state tuition: $7,429
  • out-of-state tuition: $15,925
4400 MLK Blvd
Beaumont, TX 77705
(409) 880-7011

With a Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health online from Lamar University you will be prepared for any clinical social work setting, including counseling people with marriage, family, emotional or substance abuse issues. Students enrolled in the program may also be eligible for a $10,000 grant toward tuition from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). Intensive master's in counseling online programs allow students to complete coursework in as few as 30 months, so you can focus on finding work. The program even offers two residencies to help you launch your career.

Lamar's degree program application requirements include:

  • US Citizenship or Permanent Resident status
  • Official transcripts from all universities attended
  • Undergraduate GPA of 2.75 or more

Seton Hall University

South Orange
  • annually: $35,820
400 S Orange Ave
South Orange, NJ 07079-2697
(973) 761-9000

Anyone who has a passion for the "helping professions" like social work or counseling should consider Seton Hall University's online combined M.A. in Counseling/Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in Professional Counseling. The accredited master's in counseling online 60-hour degree program offers students the convenience of studying online, with credits divided into 20 3-credit courses spread out over 10 semesters.

Although Seton Hall University has educated many professionals for a century and a half, the college is one of the few to offer a completely online graduate student application process. Application requirements include:

  • A personal statement, resume, writing samples, and letters of recommendation – all submitted through the online portal.
  • Official transcripts from all universities attended
  • Standardized test scores from the GRE, GMAT, MAT or LSAT
  • Residency information and TOEFL certification for non-English speakers

Nova Southeastern University

Fort Lauderdale
  • annually: $25,430
3301 College Ave
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314-7796
(954) 262-7300

Nova Southeastern University is proud to offer its MS in Counseling online for both busy working professionals and those looking to change their careers in their own time. The program is specifically designed to offer high-quality training and education that does not interrupt an otherwise busy schedule. Most coursework can be completed online, although an on-site internship is required to complete the degree.

NSU states that their counseling master's offers three specializations students may choose from: mental health, substance abuse and applied behavior analysis. While students have an extensive selection of courses that must be completed in their given specialization, all students share a core of counseling courses, covering theory, ethics, the basics of assessment, diagnosis and treatment and some work on specific audiences, such as adolescents or couples.

Both an internship and a practicum are required. Non-degree seeking students can consider pursuing either an introductory or advanced program in applied behavioral analysis. All online-based programs are powered by the Southern Regional Education Board's (SREB) Electronic Campus.

Nova Southeastern’s application requirements include:

  • A GPA of 2.5 or greater for an undergraduate degree
  • A 500-word explanation of interest in a specific social work field: mental health counseling, applied behavior analysis, or substance abuse counseling.
  • Two letters of recommendation from professors, employers, supervisors, or others who have a thorough understanding of your work ethic.
  • Official college transcript(s)
  • It is preferred that applicants have an undergraduate degree in psychology, education, behavioral science, or social work, but a combination of job experience and volunteering may substitute.

Baptist Bible College & Seminary of Pennsylvania

Clarks Summit
  • annually: $19,710
538 Venard Rd
Clarks Summit, PA 18411-1250
(570) 586-2400

Once the Baptist Bible College & Seminary of Pennsylvania, Summit University’s Christian focus could be a draw for many students seeking to enter counseling, especially if the work they aspire to is religious in nature. The Master of Science in Counseling has a drive toward self-pacing; the program can be completed within two or three years. The program's overall mission is to prepare graduates to pass the National Certified Counselor exam, apply for a license through the Licensed Professional Counselor regulations and develop leadership skills to become a better social worker and counselor.

Summit University does not currently offer details about their graduate admissions requirements online, but prospective students can click here to request more information about the college and its higher education.


California Baptist University

  • annually: $28,122
8432 Magnolia Ave
Riverside, CA 92504-3297
(951) 689-5771

California Baptist University’s Master of Science in Counseling Psychology offers a Christian-driven focus on either marriage and family counseling or professional clinical counseling. Both programs better prepare graduates for private practice social work or counseling through ministry more than virtually any other master's found on this list. CBU's master's in counseling online programs can either go at the pace of the class or move at an entirely self-driven pace. The online master's degree in counseling program respects California’s high standards for counseling professionals as well, so students will be prepared for a variety of legal licensing once they’ve graduated.

To apply for the MS in Counseling Psychology, prospective students must:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree
  • Submit official sealed transcripts
  • Submit at least 2 recommendations using California Baptist’s specific recommendation form
  • Write a 500 word essay that covers the reason for applying to that program, long-term professional goals, and influences that have shaped the student’s approach to life.
  • Undergo an interview with the program director

University of the Cumberlands

  • annually: $20,000
6191 College Station Drive
Williamsburg, KY 40769
(606) 549-2200

University of the Cumberlands offers a fully online Master of Counseling degree specifically geared toward mental health and addiction counseling. However, the degree also opens opportunities in school and academic counseling, rehabilitation and marriage and family counseling. Courses students take throughout the program cover topics like ethics, growth and development, crisis management and assessment and treatment theory and practice. The program totals out to "60 hours of graduate-level work"; up to 30 credit hours can be transferred in when beginning the program.

Cumberland accepts rolling applications, so you can apply and begin the program throughout the year.

To apply:

  • Complete graduate application and submit payment
  • Have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 on the 4.0 scale
  • Provide official transcripts for undergraduate and any applicable graduate coursework
  • Submit 500-word Statement of Purpose
  • Two letters of recommendation

Southwestern Assemblies of God University

  • annually: $17,830
1200 Sycamore
Waxahachie, TX 75165
(888) 937-7248

The online master's in counseling psychology through the Southwestern Assemblies of God University still allows students access to on-campus support and facilities. Accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), SAGU prepares graduate students for many types of counseling occupations, including courses on legal and ethical issues, crisis intervention and human growth and development. Most of their master's degrees, including the counseling psychology degree, are available online to accommodate every schedule.

Unlike many of the listed universities, SAGU evaluates graduate students after they have completed 12 hours of their coursework, to ensure they are integrating all of the information to successfully pursue a counseling career. SAGU also offers counseling students the option to add "Play Therapy" as an additional certification.

There is no information online about the acceptance requirements for the Counseling Psychology program, but prospective students may request more information here.


Mid-America Christian University

Oklahoma City
  • annually: $15,688
3500 SW 119th St
Oklahoma City, OK 73170-9797
(405) 691-3800

The Mid-America Christian University’s Master of Science in Counseling program offers an online Professional Counselor emphasis to prepare students to enter the social work world faster than many other degree programs. The accredited online master's degree in counseling degree helps students prepare to become licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor, which includes both secular and ministerial applications. If you prefer, you can also focus on Marital and Family Counseling, Pastoral and Spiritual Direction or Addiction and Substance Abuse. This private, liberal arts-focused Christian college prepares busy students through online academics for problems in the real career world.

Prospective students may go here to contact MACU for more information on their requirements for acceptance to the online graduate school. The process includes submitting transcripts and a completed graduate student application packet.

As the counseling sector continues to grow, people holding relevant graduate degrees, like an online master’s degree in counseling, will fill more challenging and thereby more senior roles in sensitive fields. This is especially true in the healthcare sector, as there is much discreet work in the field that only a properly educated and compassionate counselor can handle. Ministry and pastoral counseling has equally high expectations for its counselors, requiring them to have a deep understanding of how to support individuals, families and couples within a specific faith-based framework.

In May 2012, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists was $41,500. By 2022, both fields are positioned to see an overall growth of 29% in the number of total jobs, which the BLS largely attributes to the federal government’s health insurance mandate. It also turns out that government positions in the mental health and family and marriage therapy have the highest wages, compared against reported wages in medical facilities and private practices.

School and career counselors median wage for 2012 came in at $53,610, with counselors in any sort of elementary or secondary schools receiving the highest pay. Job numbers are predicted to steadily grow in this subfield, due to ongoing increases in student enrollment at all levels of education.

Coming in on the lower end of wages are substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors ($38,520 median wage) and rehabilitation counselors ($33,880 median wage). The upside is that both position are expected to see a major uptick in jobs to 2022, rehab counseling growing by 20% and substance abuse and behavioral counseling growing by a hefty 31%. Again, the growth of both is largely due to the federal health insurance mandate; it’s also likely pay increases will occur in step with job growth.

An online master’s in counseling degree can help busy professionals change career fields or get needed continuing education so they can earn more and have greater job satisfaction.

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