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2020 Most Affordable Online Master’s Programs In Counseling

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Online Master’s in Counseling

Most Affordable Online Master's in Counseling badge

By Staff WritersPublished on May 20, 2020

Master’s programs in counseling prepare students to help others as licensed counselors, therapists, and mental health providers. Graduate programs in counseling require advanced coursework in the psychological theories, methods, and practices counselors use each day in educational, social service, and healthcare settings.

In graduate school, counselors learn to diagnose mental health disorders, identify appropriate treatments and interventions, and run individual and group therapy sessions. Counseling programs also require students to complete supervised practice working with clients.

As you search for a program that fits your budget, schedule, and career goals, use the rankings below to explore the 10 most affordable online master’s programs in counseling. This guide can help you learn more about what to expect in a counseling program.

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Top 10 Most Affordable Online Master’s Programs in Counseling

Online Master’s in Counseling Overview

Counselors help individuals, couples, and families cope with challenges and plan for the future. They may counsel people in schools, prisons, private practices, hospitals, or rehabilitation centers. Counselors specialize in areas such as substance abuse, marriage and family therapy, and clinical counseling.

Mental health professionals such as counselors remain in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to grow by 22% from 2018 to 2028. The BLS projects jobs for school and career counselors to grow 8% between 2018 and 2028.

The BLS notes that job prospects are especially strong for mental health providers with a bachelor’s or master’s degree and those working in rural or underserved communities.

Salaries for counselors vary greatly by experience level, location, and employer. According to the BLS, marriage and family therapists earned median annual salaries of $49,610 in 2019 while school counselors working in elementary and secondary schools earned $64,060. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned median annual salaries of $46,240 in 2019, although those working for government agencies and hospitals typically earn more.

Many counseling positions require a master’s degree and state licensure. Even in positions that do not require a master’s degree, a graduate degree can lead to greater responsibilities and higher pay. Online master’s programs in counseling offer the specialized training needed to help others as a skilled, licensed counselor.

Common Master’s in Counseling Courses

  • PROFESSIONAL COUNSELINGThis course introduces future counselors to the historical and psychological foundations of the profession and the ethical and professional standards in the field. Students explore current counseling theories, practices, models, research, and trends. Topics may include licensure, credentials, and professional organizations.
  • COUNSELING AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENTThis advanced course trains counselors to approach their clients from a developmental perspective. The course explores developmental milestones and relevant psychological theories of learning and personality development. Students learn to assess the impact of trauma, mental illness, poverty, substance abuse, culture, and family on human development.
  • CHILD AND ADOLESCENT BEHAVIORAL HEALTHMany counselors specialize in supporting children and teens and their families or other caregivers. This course prepares counselors to assess, diagnose, and treat the mental health needs of their young clients. Course topics include the impact of abuse, trauma, family dynamics, substance abuse, physical health, and poverty on the mental health of children.Participants learn appropriate counseling strategies and interventions to help young people experiencing behavioral health conditions such as depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
  • COUNSELING STRATEGIESThis course may include a focus on group counseling strategies or marriage and family counseling techniques. This course prepares counselors to facilitate individual and group therapy sessions and manage interpersonal conflict. Requirements may include supervised practice sessions with clients or other field experiences.
  • DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENTThis course prepares counselors to assess psychiatric disorders and create appropriate treatment plans. Participants learn to recognize symptoms of mental illness and use DSM-5 criteria to diagnose behavioral health disorders. Topics include factors that contribute to mental illness, forms of psychological and behavioral dysfunction, and prevailing approaches to treatment.

Master’s in Counseling Concentrations

Concentrations prepare counselors for specialized jobs in specific settings, including schools, rehabilitation centers, and behavioral health practices. The best programs prepare graduates to earn state licensure and employment in their desired field. Counselors typically train to work with a specific demographic group, client type, or disorder.

Popular specializations include marriage and family therapy, substance abuse, clinical behavioral health, school or guidance counseling, and career counseling.

Concentration requirements typically include specialized training and field experiences. For example, school counseling concentrations include advanced coursework in working with families, counseling children, and supporting students with behavioral health issues and culminates in an internship or practicum in a school.

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Future clinical mental health providers must take advanced courses in the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health disorders. Students learn to recognize the symptoms of mental illness, diagnose mental disorders, create treatment plans, and run individual and group therapy sessions.

Mental health providers must obtain state licensure. As such, graduate programs typically prepare students to meet their state’s course, testing, and fieldwork requirements.

Additional concentrations include art therapy, music therapy, grief counseling, and higher education counseling. Counselors may also specialize in working with clients struggling with a particular challenge or disorder, such as an eating disorder, addiction, gender identity, or sexual dysfunction.

Master’s in Counseling Requirements

To enroll in a master’s in counseling program, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some schools require an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as psychology, biology, or education. Others may not require a specific major but may still require applicants to meet certain coursework prerequisites in areas such as statistics or psychology.

Counseling applicants must typically submit all previous transcripts. Some programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Many graduate programs in counseling require applicants to submit competitive GRE or MAT scores and essays demonstrating a commitment to counseling as a career. Some programs also require letters of recommendation from previous instructors. The application process may also include an interview or background check.

Some graduate schools require a resume and prefer applicants with work experience related to counseling. Employment or volunteer history can demonstrate dedication, empathy, and the ability to offer support to others.

Most programs require supervised fieldwork hours before graduation. These hours help future counselors meet state licensure requirements in their specialization.

Master’s in Counseling Scholarships

COLLAPSE ALLEXPAND ALL

Melanie Foundation Scholarship

The Melanie Foundation offers a $2,500 scholarship for graduate study in a mental health field. Applicants must submit a curriculum vitae and evidence of past relevant career, research, or volunteer activities. Applicants must also submit unofficial transcripts, two letters of reference, and an essay no longer than two pages on how they plan to use their education. Applications are due March 5 each year.Apply for Scholarship

NAJA Scholarship

The National Association of Junior Auxiliaries offers scholarships for graduate study in disciplines that serve the needs of children. Graduate students who plan to work directly with children may apply.

Applicants must hold U.S. citizenship and reside in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, or Tennessee. Applicants must submit undergraduate transcripts, three recommendations, and a resume. NAJA determines scholarship amounts based on applicant qualifications and available funds.Apply for Scholarship

NBCC Minority Fellowship for Mental Health Counselors

The National Board for Certified Counselors administers a minority fellowship program for mental health counselors. NBCC awards up to 30 master’s-level counseling fellowships of $10,000 plus travel expenses.

Applicants must enroll in an accredited master’s program and commit to becoming a licensed counselor. Applicants must also demonstrate experience with underserved populations and commit to securing an internship in an underserved community.Apply for Scholarship

Hispanic Scholarship Fund

Graduate students of Hispanic heritage may apply for an HSF scholarship. Awards range from $500-$5,000 based on financial need.

Applicants must have a 2.5 undergraduate GPA and plan to enroll full time in graduate school in the United States. Applicants must complete the FAFSA or a state-based financial aid application. Students in any field may apply, although the fund prefers learners pursuing a degree in a STEM field.Apply for Scholarship

Most Affordable Online Master’s Programs in Counseling 2020

  1. Bellevue University
    Location

    Bellevue, NE

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Bellevue University, which began offering online degrees in 1996, features accelerated cohort-based programs that appeal to working students.

    Learners can take the first step to become a licensed mental health counselor by earning an online master's in clinical mental health counseling. Online learners build a strong foundation in counseling assessments, theories of psychopathology, statistics and quantitative research methods, human development, and ethical and legal issues.

    Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, this 60-credit program comprises a 100-hour practicum and 600-hour internship. Students must complete 40% of their field work in direct contact with clients.

    Candidates must submit a resume, two letters of reference, transcripts, and a 1,000-word essay. Online learners can transfer college credit and also get prior learning credits for military training or career experience. Additionally, applicants must complete six behavioral science prerequisites.

    Bellevue University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  2. Southeastern Oklahoma State University
    Location

    Durant, OK

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Southeastern Oklahoma State University, a public institution that educates nearly 5,000 students every year, offers a wide selection of online classes for working professionals.

    Many of the school's graduate programs, including the online master's in counseling degree, allow online learners to graduate in 12 months or less. This 42-credit online master's counseling degree prepares students to become school counselors, guidance counselors, and career advisors.

    Required courses include school counseling, human growth and development, assessments, career counseling, theory, and group counseling. After completing the required classwork, graduate students take a 100-hour practicum to gain in-person experience. The practicum must include 40 hours of direct work experience with individuals and an elective course.

    Candidates need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college, a teaching certificate, and a minimum 2.0 GPA. The university offers an affordable pay-by-the-course option.

    Southeastern Oklahoma State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  3. University of Louisiana at Monroe
    Location

    Monroe, LA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1931, the University of Louisiana at Monroe serves working students and offers more than 35 fully online degrees. Many programs offer accelerated four-week and eight-week sessions that allow students to graduate quicker.

    The online master's in counseling degree offers tracks in clinical mental health counseling and school counseling. Graduating students have the skills and knowledge necessary to become mental health counselors, career counselors, and school counselors. The coursework also prepares graduates to take the state licensure.

    Students can receive college credit for career or military service experience after undergoing a prior learning assessment. Out-of-state students pay in-state tuition.Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates also need to submit GRE scores unless they hold a master's degree or Ph.D.

    The University of Louisiana at Monroe is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  4. University of Texas at Tyler
    Location

    Tyler, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Texas at Tyler features more than 80 undergraduate and graduate programs. The public university offers a main 200-acre campus in Tyler, three regional campuses, and fully online degrees.

    The school features an affordable online master's degree that emphasizes creative learning and multicultural understanding to prepare graduates to become school counselors in Texas. The 48-credit degree takes approximately 24 months to complete.

    Classes include counseling theory, family therapy, cultural diversity and advocacy, counseling children, and assessment techniques. Online learners also complete 500 in-person hours of counseling at a local school. The classwork and fieldwork prepare students to pass the TExES School Counselor exam.

    The online program only admits students in the summer. Candidates must submit a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.

    The University of Texas at Tyler is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  5. Lamar University
    Location

    Beaumont, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1923, Lamar University serves more than 15,000 students with some 100 undergraduate and graduate programs. Many of the school's graduate programs offer flexibility and affordability with multiple start dates that let students graduate in 30 months or less. Students can also pay for each course as they go.

    Lamar University offers multiple master's programs in counseling. The 60-credit master's in counseling and development degree offers a specialization in professional school counseling. Online learners study human growth and development, child and adolescent counseling, theories and techniques, group counseling, and measurement and assessment.

    The curriculum includes a 15-week practicum and a 15-week internship and prepares students to take the school counseling certification or professional counselor licensure exam. Graduates can become counselors in elementary, middle, and secondary school. Applicants need a state teaching certificate and undergraduate transcripts showing at least a 2.5 GPA.

    Lamar University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  6. University of North Texas
    Location

    Denton, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of North Texas tailors its graduate programs for working students with accelerated degrees that take 12-18 months to complete. Online learners can choose from 80 programs with completely online or some in-person classes at the Denton or Frisco campuses.

    The online master's in rehabilitation degree prepares graduates to work as medical and health services managers, social and community service managers, and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors.

    The program comprises 60 credits, or 19 eight-week classes, that students can complete on a part-time basis. Online learners who want to earn a Ph.D. can complete an optional thesis. The program offers five start dates.

    The 36 core courses cover relational counseling principles and ethics, medical and psychosocial aspects of disability, and counseling theories and techniques. The program culminates with a practicum and two internships.

    The University of North Texas is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  7. North Carolina State University
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    North Carolina State University enrolls upwards of 19,000 students yearly and offers more than 100 distance and online education programs geared toward working professionals.

    The university features three online master's programs in counseling, including degrees in clinical mental health counseling, college counseling and student development, and school counseling. The online master's in clinical mental health emphasizes cross-cultural perspectives in counseling and maintains a commitment to admitting a diverse student body.

    Online learners study clinical counseling theory and practice and put their knowledge to the test during the required field experience. Graduates have the skills to sit for the professional licensure exam. The online program takes about three years for part-time students to complete.

    Candidates need to submit GRE or GMAT scores, three letters of recommendation, and transcripts. Online students must live in North Carolina.

    North Carolina State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  8. West Texas A&M University
    Location

    Canyon, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1910, WTAMU offers 40 graduate programs from its 341-acre flagship campus. WTAMU's more than 10,000 students can also pick from 100% online, partially online, and hybrid degrees.

    The online master's programs in counseling include a master's in education degree with a concentration in school counseling and a master's in counseling degree. Both programs prepare students to gain licensure in Texas.

    The master's in counseling degree comprises 54-57 credits in education research, theories of counseling, interventions with children and adolescents, career counseling, and cross-cultural counseling. Students take all classes online except for the required practicum and internships.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college and submit a resume, three letters of recommendation, and transcripts showing a minimum 2.75 GPA.

    West Texas A&M University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  9. University at Buffalo
    Location

    Buffalo, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    University at Buffalo, a public institution founded in 1846, remains the largest campus among the State University of New York system with more than 31,000 students.

    The online master's programs in counseling prepare students to become licensed counselors. The master's in rehabilitation counseling degree gives students the skills to become rehabilitation counselors. After graduation, students can take the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification exam.

    Online learners gain clinical experience after completing 250 hours of field placement over three semesters and can go on to work with people with disabilities in alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs, medical clinics, and hospitals.

    Full-time online learners can complete the 48 required core credits and graduate within four semesters. Part-time students take about three years to graduate.

    The program only offers fall admission. Application requirements include a bachelor's degree in a related field, two recommendation letters, transcripts, a statement of intent, and an interview.

    University at Buffalo is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  10. Fort Hays State University
    Location

    Hays, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1902, FHSU boasts a student body of more than 15,000. Students take classes on the 200-acre campus in Hays, Kansas, or online. The virtual online college features more than 60 online graduate degrees.

    The university offers two online master's in counseling degrees: a master's in counseling-clinical mental health and master's in school counseling. Both programs require the same online core coursework that qualifies students to earn licensure in Kansas.

    The 60-credit master's in counseling degrees feature 50% online classes with the remainder of courses offered in-person on Fridays and Saturdays. Students also take advanced clinical courses and concentration courses in couples and family counseling. All online learners complete an internship and practicum to gain in-person counseling skills.

    Fort Hays State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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