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.
Top 10 Most Affordable Online Master's Programs in Counseling
|Ranking||School||Location||Program||Average Net Price|
|1||Bellevue University||Bellevue, NE||Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MA)||$11,025|
|2||Southeastern Oklahoma State University||Durant, OK||School Counseling (M.Ed)||$7,794|
|3||University of Louisiana at Monroe||Monroe, LA||Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MS)||$12,540|
|4||University of Texas at Tyler||Tyler, TX||School Counseling (MA)||$9,423|
|5||Lamar University||Beaumont, TX||Counseling and Development with specialization in marriage, couple and family counseling online or professional school counseling online (M.Ed)||$9,969|
|6||University of North Texas||Denton, TX||Rehabilitation Counseling (MS)||$9,185|
|7||North Carolina State University||Raleigh, NC||Clinical Mental Health Counseling (M.Ed)||$17,161|
|8||West Texas A&M University||Canyon, TX||School Counseling (M.Ed), Counseling (MS)||$17,161|
|9||University at Buffalo||Buffalo, NY||Rehabilitation Counseling (MS)||$16,870|
|10||Fort Hays State University||Hays, KS||Clinical Mental Health and School Counseling (MS)||$21,574|
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
This 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 Development
This 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 Health
Many 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.
This 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 Treatment
This 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.
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
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
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
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.
Southeastern Oklahoma State University
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.
University of Louisiana at Monroe
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.
University of Texas at Tyler
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.
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.
University of North Texas
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.
North Carolina State University
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.
West Texas A&M University
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.
University at Buffalo
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.
Fort Hays State University
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.
University of West Alabama
The University of West Alabama, which opened as a church-affiliated school for women in 1835, offers more than 50 online degrees and certifications.
Students pursuing an online master's in counseling can choose from five tracks: education school counseling, adult continuing education: counseling and psychology, clinical mental health counseling, family counseling, and guidance and counseling.
Students learn psychology theory, research techniques, and statistics. All programs provide practical experience through internships and practicums. The degrees require 33-60 credits and take 1-3 years to complete.
Programs may offer concentrations or certificates such as the master's in guidance and counseling degree, which provides certificates for students who do not have teaching credentials. The university accepts up to nine transfer credits toward a master's degree.
The University of West Alabama is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
University of the Cumberlands
The University of the Cumberlands, established in 1888 by Baptist ministers, offers nearly 40 graduate programs. Students can choose from two of the most affordable online master's degrees: the master's in addiction counseling degree and master's in clinical mental health counseling degree.
These 60-credit master's counseling programs feature core coursework on psychological assessments, human growth and development, theories in counseling, and group counseling. The coursework runs completely online in eight-week sessions aside from the 600-hour internships and 100-hour practicum.
The master's in addiction counseling degree offers a dual-licensure track to prepare students to become licensed professional counselors and licensed addiction counselors. After graduation, students can earn licensure and work as mental health counselors.
Online learners can transfer up to 30 credits from a regionally accredited school toward this master's degree.
The University of the Cumberlands is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
San Diego State University
San Diego State University, a public institution founded in 1897, offers online degrees in 21 states and territories.
The master's in rehabilitation counseling degree offers completely online courses or a hybrid program with in-person classes on the Southern California campus. Students can complete this 60-credit degree in 2.5-3 years.
A clinical concentration prepares students to become licensed professional clinical counselors or earn the advanced certified psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner credential. Online learners can further customize their education with specializations in cognitive disabilities, rehabilitation technology, supported employment and transition services, and psychiatric rehabilitation.
Online learners gain the skills to work as rehabilitation counselors with classes in assistive technology, assessment approaches, group leadership, counseling theories, and case management.
San Diego State University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Mercy College, a private institution founded in 1950, offers a master's in counseling degree on the Bronx, New York, campus and online.
The 48-credit online master's in counseling degree readies students to become school counselors. After completing internships, students qualify to earn certification and work in New York schools.
Students can also choose from other master's programs in counseling, including the 54-credit bilingual school counselor and 60-credit mental health counseling degrees. The programs take 3-4 years to complete.
Courses teach students about counseling and ethics, human development, research methodology, multicultural perspectives, counseling theories, and career development. Online learners must complete 600 hours of onsite fieldwork. Specializations in counseling and school counseling and bilingual extension let students hone their skills according to their career goals.
Applicants must submit two letters of recommendation, an 800-1,000-word essay, resume, and transcripts showing at least a 3.0 GPA. Mercy College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
University of the Southwest
The University of the Southwest opened in 1962 to offer a private Christ-centered education in Hobbs, New Mexico. All graduate programs at the university feature fully online courses.
The 42-credit online master's in education degree with a concentration in school counseling gives graduates the skillset to gain licensure. Students gain specialized skills through electives in human sexuality, psychopathology, and counseling families.
The core counseling classes build a strong foundation in counseling theory, educational research, counseling techniques, child and adolescent counseling, psycho-educational assessment, career development and life planning, and crisis and trauma interventions.
Online learners pair their classwork learning with practical experience working in public and private schools. They must complete practicum and internship requirements helping children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Candidates for this program need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college and at least a 3.0 GPA. The University of the Southwest is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Regent University, a private Christian institution established in 1978, offers more than 135 programs.
The university features four of the most affordable online master's degrees. Students can choose a master's in clinical mental health counseling, marriage, couples and family counseling, counseling, and school counseling.
Graduate students complete coursework entirely online, except for two one-week residencies in their local area. It takes about three years to complete the 60-credit degree. The program puts students on track to earn licensure.
Online learners study a well-rounded curriculum that includes research and statistics, counseling skills and techniques, theories of counseling, assessment techniques, human growth and development, psychopathology and diagnosis, and counseling and Christian thought. To graduate, online learners may need to pass the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive exam.
Candidates need to submit GRE or GMAT scores, a resume, and transcripts. Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
West Virginia University
West Virginia University, a large public institution that opened in 1867, features 14 colleges and schools with more than 380 majors. Busy adult learners who cannot make it to campus can choose from more than 32 online degrees and 13 certificates.
WVU Online offers a 63-credit master's in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling degree that prepares graduates to work with a variety of individuals.
This low-residency program combines clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling. Students study medical aspects of rehabilitation, disability across the lifespan, career development and job placement, and vocational evaluation systems and techniques.
They also must complete fieldwork which includes internships and practicums. Online learners have the option to complete a thesis. Online learners must also attend two on-campus residencies.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum of a 2.8 GPA, GRE or GMAT scores, and three letters of reference. West Virginia University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Gwynedd Mercy University
Gwynedd Mercy University offers more than 40 programs on its 314-acre campus in Philadelphia as well as online. Students can choose from three online master's programs in counseling, including degrees in school counseling, clinical mental health, and college counseling student affairs.
Programs comprise 60 credits, and the counseling core curriculum teaches students about human development, research skills for reflective practitioners, theories, assessment techniques, intervention skills, and group counseling and facilitation skills.
Online learners must complete their classwork before beginning their 100-hour practicum and two 210-hour internships. The knowledge students gain prepares them to become licensed professional counselors. Students also have the opportunity to pursue an online postgraduate PreK-12 school counseling certification.
Applicants need a bachelor's degree, transcripts with a minimum 3.0 GPA, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Students are permitted to transfer up to six credits.
Gwynedd Mercy University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
New Mexico Highlands University
Founded in 1893, New Mexico Highlands University comprises campuses throughout the Southwest and offers several online master's programs in counseling. The core counseling courses cover topics including theories and practice of counseling, essential interviewing and process, group counseling theory and practice, and social justice and cultural diversity.
Online learners can tailor their studies with concentrations in clinical mental health counseling, clinical rehabilitation counseling, or rehabilitation counseling. Students can also earn a specialization in vocational evaluation in rehabilitation counseling.
To gain hands-on experience, students must complete a 600-hour internship. Graduates can find work as substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counselors or pursue positions at schools and rehabilitation centers.
The university admits students in the fall, spring, and summer. Applicants must submit a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, a resume, and transcripts showing at least a 3.0 GPA.
New Mexico Highlands University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Massachusetts - Boston
The University of Massachusetts-Boston offers more than 150 online programs including three master's programs in counseling. Students must complete 60 credits to earn a master of education in school counseling, master's in mental health counseling, or master's in rehabilitation counseling. The curriculum meets the requirements for certification as a school counselor in Massachusetts.
Programs are fully online and utilize a cohort format. However, online learners need to complete two weeks of onsite clinical classes. Applicants must show completion of five social science courses as well as hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Required documents for admission include a letter of intent, letters of recommendation, and GRE or GMAT scores. The admissions office prefers candidates who have one year of work experience in counseling.
The University of Massachusetts-Boston is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.