Counselors work in many environments, from schools and community organizations to clinics and private practices, but their goals and motivations remain essentially the same: to assist clients with life problems using the methods of psychology and social sciences. Counselors may serve individuals, families, or communities at large, operating in a variety of public and private organizations. Increasingly, both businesses and public health organizations acknowledge the value of proper mental health counseling, making trained counselors even more in demand. If you plan to pursue a career in this important, challenging field, an online master’s in counseling offers the skills and techniques necessary for advancement. The schools on this list represent some of the top online counseling programs in the country, offering affordable, academically rigorous degrees that prepare you for a variety of counseling positions. Many programs lead to counseling certification or other professional credentials, building high-level skills and increasing your career prospects.
The 15 Best Online Counseling Master’s Degree Programs Ranking Methodology
For this ranking, we focused on public and private (non-profit) colleges and universities that offer master’s degrees in counseling online. Each program must be accredited by CACREP (the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) and provide at least 50% of its coursework online to be eligible for consideration. We acquired a list of eligible schools from CACREP’s online directory.
In addition, colleges must have an average* annual graduate tuition rate of $25,000 or less to qualify for our ranking.
*For public schools, we calculated the average value of their in-state and out-of-state rates.
In this ranking, we considered four aspects of each school’s counseling program.
First, we researched the programs’ original accreditation date. Degree programs that have been accredited for more years (CACREP awarded its first approvals in the late ’70s!) demonstrate a long-standing commitment to high-quality education. For colleges that offer multiple graduate counseling degrees, we used the date of the program that has been accredited the longest. (Weighted 30%).
We also looked at each program’s accreditation status . There are two options: 8-year and 2-year. The CACREP Board of Directors awards the former to programs that “satisfactorily meet all standards.” Programs that earn the latter designation “substantially meet the requirements for accredited status, but […] need to address relatively minor standards-related deficiencies.” (Weighted 10%).
Third, we counted the number of different accredited programs within the college’s counseling/education department. (Weighted 25%).
Lastly, we adjusted for affordability by examining each school’s annual cost (average tuition + fees) for the 2016-17 school year.
We scaled the point totals so that the top-scoring program earned 100 points. Scroll down to find summaries of these top master’s degrees in counseling online.
15. Malone University
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Malone hosts a master of arts in education with a concentration in clinical mental health counseling, which prepares students to become licensed professional counselors after graduation. The program uses either a fully online or hybrid format that mixes in some campus courses. Regardless of delivery mode, students complete a variety of practical and theoretical coursework along with several practicum and internship activities that build professional experience in a supervised clinical setting. Open to applicants from any academic background, the program offers multiple start dates throughout the year and holds courses in concentrated eight-week sessions, making it ideal for working students.
14. Liberty University
Online MEd in School Counseling
A private Christian college, Liberty hosts a master of education in school counseling that prepares candidates for counseling positions in Christian K-12 schools. Training counselors to meet a variety of student needs and foster an emotionally safe environment for learning, this online master’s in counseling focuses on both practical and theoretical knowledge, covering topics such as ethics, family counseling, career guidance, and ethnicity. Requiring 48 credits total, the program uses a primarily online delivery format that includes occasional intensive campus sessions. Held during the week or on the weekends at the Liberty campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, these sessions include hands-on activities and socializing opportunities.
13. Indiana Wesleyan University
Online MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy Counseling
A private Christian liberal arts college in Marion, Indiana, IWU offers a master of arts in counseling with six available specializations, including clinical addictions counseling, community counseling, marriage and family counseling, and clinical mental health counseling. While IWU enables candidates to complete most coursework online, the school’s counseling programs emphasize clinical experience, and students complete a substantial selection of supervised counseling work, including on-site practicums and community-based internships. While most clinical experiences take place in-person, students typically arrange these activities with organizations near home, and some practicum activities may occur online.
12. North Carolina Central University
Online Master’s Degree in Career Counseling
Based in Durham, North Carolina, NCCU offers three online master’s in counseling programs: career counseling, mental health counseling, and school counseling. The 48-credit career counseling program prepares students to aid in career development in a variety of settings, including schools, colleges, and nonprofits. The 60-credit mental health counseling program prepares graduates for licensed professional counselor certification in North Carolina, and for clinical addictions specialist certification with three additional courses. The 51-credit school counseling program prepares candidates for K-12 professional school counselor licensure in North Carolina. All programs use a fully online format that requires no campus visits.
11. Gallaudet University
Summers and Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling
A unique private college in Washington, D.C. Gallaudet serves the deaf and hard of hearing through a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a three-year, 63-credit master of arts in school counseling. This unique hybrid program mixes campus and online learning: students complete four semesters of online courses and three semesters of campus courses held each summer. During the final year, students complete both a one-semester practicum and a one-semester internship in an educational environment. Given its unique attendance requirements, the program typically serves the needs of students who live in or around the D.C. area.
10. Bradley University
Online MA in Professional School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
A private college in Peoria, Illinois, Bradley offers a master of arts in counseling with a concentration in either clinical mental health counseling or professional school counseling. Both tracks require 60 total credits, divided between a 48-credit program core, a six-credit graduate core, and a six-credit specialty core. Students in the mental health counseling track complete three specialization courses: brain-based interventions, clinical mental health counseling, and counseling and the dynamics of aging. In the school counseling track, candidates choose from a range of electives, such as a school for non-teachers, K-8 professional school counseling, special education law, or a graduate thesis.
9. Oregon State University
Online Master of Counseling in School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
One of the largest colleges in Oregon, OSU offers a master of counseling in either clinical mental health counseling or school counseling. The mental health counseling program requires 90 credits and typically takes 3.5-4 years to complete, while the school counseling program requires 75 credits and typically takes three years to complete. Both programs use a primarily online format that includes two required weekend sessions held in Salem each academic term. Lasting Friday through Saturday, these intensive courses offer the chance to meet with faculty and peers, collaborate on group activities, and attend lectures and other workshops.
8. Adams State University
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling
A liberal arts college in Alamosa, Colorado, Adams State offers an online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling or school counseling. Building practical skills, a strong basis of theoretical knowledge, and professional counselor identity and disposition, this CACREP-accredited program prepares candidates for school counselor licensure or professional counselor licensure in the state of Colorado. The 60-credit program curriculum features primarily online courses, though distance students must attend two weeklong summer intensives held each June. These campus sessions offer opportunities for group learning activities, meetings with faculty and other advisers, and a variety of socializing and networking events.
7. Regent University
Online MA in School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling; Marriage, Children, and Family Counseling
Regent’s 60-credit master of arts in clinical mental health counseling explores counseling from theoretical and clinical perspectives, with all coursework framed in a Christian worldview. The primarily online curriculum includes courses such as addiction therapies for individuals and families, psychopathology and diagnosis, and career and lifestyle development. Students also complete an internship in clinical and mental health counseling. All candidates must participate in two weeklong intensive residency sessions held on the Regent campus in Virginia Beach, Virginia. These sessions offer opportunities for classroom activities, peer and faculty networking, and information sessions on relevant counseling issues, such as state and national licensure exams.
6. University of the Cumberlands
Online Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
University of the Cumberlands’s 60-credit master of arts in clinical mental health counseling includes a 48-credit counseling core and a 12-credit clinical mental health specialization core. The specialization section includes four required courses: process and techniques in counseling, private practice and clinical supervision, marriage and family counseling, and child and adolescent counseling. The general counseling core covers major theories and clinical practice techniques, along with three critical experiential components: a 100-hour counseling practicum and two 300-hour counseling internships. These experiences enable students to apply course learning to professional practice, performing supervised work in professional mental health settings such as hospitals, community agencies, clinical mental health centers, and correctional facilities.
5. Grace College
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Founded in 2010, Grace College’s online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling combines counseling theory and practice with a biblical framework, integrating knowledge in psychology, social sciences, and scripture. Accredited through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), this 60-credit online master’s in counseling includes courses such as marriage and family counseling, spirituality in counseling, and psychotherapy with children and adolescents. While the standard program curriculum uses an online format, candidates must also complete three residency sessions that last 7-10 days each, held once each year on the college’s Winona Lake, Indiana campus.
4. Messiah College
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling; Marriage, Children, and Family Counseling; School Counseling
A private Christian college, Messiah offers a master of arts in counseling with three concentration options: clinical mental health counseling; marriage, couple, and family counseling; and school counseling. Each concentration track requires a total of 60 credits, split evenly between a 30-credit core counseling curriculum and a 30-credit specialization curriculum. While Messiah offers most counseling courses fully online, students must attend two weeklong intensive courses held on campus in Grantham, Pennsylvania: professional issues and ethics for counselors and counseling techniques. Lasting Monday through Friday, these sessions include lectures, group work, and applied exercises that build hands-on experience.
3. Lindsey Wilson College
Online Master of Education in Counseling and Human Development
Lindsey Wilson offers a master of education in counseling and human development, building knowledge and skills for professional mental health counseling practice. This 60-credit program features a highly flexible asynchronous delivery format, with accelerated eight-week courses that accommodate the schedules of working students. Along with a core mental health counseling curriculum, the program also includes nine credits of clinical instruction, comprising a 150-hour practicum experience and two 300-hour internships. These clinical experiences build vital professional competencies, enabling students to learn from practicing mental health professionals. Candidates can also pursue a certificate in substance abuse counseling simultaneously while earning their degree.
2. University of Louisiana at Monroe
Online MS in School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
A major public college in northern Louisiana, ULM offers two options for students pursuing an online master’s in counseling, including a master of science in school counseling and a master of science in clinical mental health counseling. The school counseling track trains candidates to serve as counselors in a variety of environments, including education agencies and K-12 school and students choose to focus in either elementary or secondary counseling. The clinical mental health track prepares candidates to provide counseling services in roles such as mental health counselor, career counselor, or addictions counselor. This track offers specialization options in child, adolescent, or adult counseling.
1. North Carolina State University
Online Master of Education in College Counseling and Student Development, School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Based in Raleigh, NCSU offers several online master’s in counseling programs, all of which hold accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Online learners choose from three program options, including clinical mental health counseling, college counseling and school development, and school counseling. All three programs use a cohort format in which students complete most courses together in a set sequence. NCSU requires degree candidates to take courses year-round, and most online learners complete the program with three-years of part-time study. While NCSU offers most coursework online, students must attend some campus meetings for internship supervision.
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 15 best cheap counseling master’s degrees online!