Looking for an affordable online master’s degree in counseling? Look no further. Our ranking of the top 20 graduate programs in counseling emphasizes both cost and quality, offering you a glimpse at the best values the Internet has to offer.
Professionals who want to earn a graduate degree in counseling have a broad range of interests. Some might aspire to work as guidance counselors in schools, while others might want to work in addiction treatment centers or go into private practice. The good news is that these 20 schools cover a diverse range of specialties, so future students are nearly guaranteed to find something here that piques their interest.
The 20 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.
20. Lamar University
Online Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Lamar University offers a single accredited online master’s degree in counseling with a focus on Clinical Mental Health. CACREP has awarded this degree a 2-year accreditation, so the university will be up for evaluation again in 2018. However, there’s plenty of reason to think that evaluation will go well. The comprehensive curriculum combines online coursework with face-to-face seminars (two five-day residencies in all) and hands-on internship and practicum requirements. And with eight entry dates per year, applicants can get started on their degree almost immediately. After that, it takes many students as few as 30 months to complete the entire program!
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $11,678/yr
19. Antioch University-New England
Online MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
At Antioch University, aspiring counselors can take advantage of a program that combines the flexibility of online courses with the practicality of hands-on learning. In their first two years, students in the Clinical Mental Health accredited online counseling degree program meet for classes just one day a week. During the second year, program members also participate in a practicum or internship for about 20 hours per week. By the third year, degree candidates will spend almost all of their time at internship sites. Those in the home stretch of this three-year program also won’t have to worry about traveling to campus, as the only required coursework is web-based.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $22,650/yr
18. Lock Haven University
Online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
The majority of courses for this 51-credit program are web-based, making Lock Haven University one of the more convenient choices for an online counseling degree. Of course, that doesn’t include the required practicum and internship, which mandate that program members spend a total of 700 hours training at a local supervision site. LHU also stands apart for offering specialized concentration options within its Clinical Mental Health curriculum. In addition to general mental health, students can also focus their studies on a particular demographic, such as in children/adolescents or military veterans and their families.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $17,804/yr
17. Hodges University
Online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Individuals who want to become licensed as a clinical mental health counselor in the state of Florida can get the training they need at Hodges University. Hodges’ online counseling degree program consists of three parts. The largest is the licensing content component, which imparts all the essential skills and knowledge that a professional therapist should have. Degree candidates will then complement this theoretical understanding through practical applications in the internship component. Finally, the elective component provides an opportunity for students to develop a particular specialty as they build a “professional identity.” Hodges is also home to “UPOWER,” a competency-based, self-paced program that can save online learners a significant amount of time and money.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $12,380/yr
16. Colorado Christian University
Online Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Are you looking for hard evidence of the top counseling master’s degrees online? Well, Colorado Christian University offers it in spades. Not only did its program win the most awards at the 2015 Colorado Counselors Association Conference, but in that same year, program graduates earned a 100% pass rate on the National Counselor Exam. In addition, more than three-fourths of site supervisors report that CCU Counseling degree candidates are more prepared for clinical practice than the average student. While these accolades will likely entice a wide variety of applicants, CCU is perhaps best suited to aspiring Christian counselors, as “a Christian framework […] encompasses every aspect of the curriculum.”
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $13,407/yr
15. Malone University
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Self-paced classes, eight-week terms, and multiple start dates ensure that even the busiest professionals can make time to earn their degree at Malone University. All in all, clinical mental health counseling majors complete 51 credits of foundational, core, and elective classes, plus nine credits of clinical experiences. This latter category includes three separate requirements. First, members of this top online counseling degree program get their feet wet with a hands-on practicum, during which they’ll clock at least 40 hours of direct counseling experience. Following this are two internships, and by the end of their third year, students will have completed a total of 600 hours of professional counseling work.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $10,260/yr
14. Liberty University
Online MEd in School Counseling
For a counseling program with an educational focus, check out Liberty University. Liberty’s cheap online school counseling program is geared toward professional educators who have at least two years of experience in an academic setting – either as a teacher or guidance counselor. Once accepted, students will build on that experience in a 16-week practicum, which they can arrange in their local community. However, the program does require online learners to visit campus occasionally for face-to-face “intensives.” Along with its challenging curriculum, this makes Liberty’s program one of the best online counseling degrees specifically for Virginia residents.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $8,430/yr
13. Indiana Wesleyan University
Online MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy Counseling
Indiana Wesleyan University is part of an elite group of schools on this ranking of cheap online counseling degree programs. That is, it is one of a few to offer not one, but three CACREP-accredited tracks online. Applicants to IWU can choose from three focus areas: Clinical Mental Health, School, and Marriage/Family Counseling. The university offers additional programs in Student Development, Clinical Addictions, and Community counseling, although they are not CACREP-accredited. But IWU stands out as one of the best programs for clinical training. Faculty uses both live sessions and digital recordings to supervise students and tailor counseling exercises to their specific strengths (and weaknesses!).
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $13,000/yr
12. North Carolina Central University
Online Master’s Degree in Career Counseling
Right away, NCCU distinguishes itself from all the other schools that offer top online master’s degrees in counseling. How? By offering the only web-based, CACREP-accredited career counseling program in the entire country! But even if it faced dozens of competitors, this degree would stand out from the crowd. The 48-credit curriculum – which is available 100% online – even won an award as the most outstanding graduate counseling program in the southeast. As if that’s not enough, students who live locally will enjoy access to top-notch placement sites throughout the “vibrant Research Triangle.” Degree candidates might also consider bolstering their credentials with a certificate in school, substance abuse, or mental health counseling.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $13,474/yr
11. Gallaudet University
Summers and Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling
Gallaudet is easily the most unique school of any on our list. That is, it’s is the only college in the country that caters specifically to the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. The graduate school also admits hearing students, although most degrees still emphasize content that is relevant to the deaf community. For example, the university’s affordable online school counseling program encourages graduates “to promote social justice, equity and academic excellence for all deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students in a variety of K-12 educational settings.” Note that the three-year program utilizes a hybrid format that combines six semesters of online classes with summer courses on campus.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $17,626/yr
10. Bradley University
Online MA in Professional School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Although Bradley University has the same CACREP accreditation as all the other schools on our list, this isn’t your average online master’s degree in counseling program. They key to Bradley’s unique approach is in its organizational structure. Instead of education or human services, aspiring counselors will find their degree housed within the Leadership in Education, Nonprofits, and Counseling Department. All “LENC” programs, as they are known, aim to develop “wise, empathetic leaders” who can handle “unique challenges.” For example, both the school and mental health counseling curricula include courses in cutting-edge topics like neuro-counseling. Armed with this fringe knowledge, a graduate could quickly earn a reputation as a leader and educator in their workplace.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $15,560/yr
9. Oregon State University
Online Master of Counseling in School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Oregon State University ranks among several colleges on this list to offer accredited online counseling degree programs in both clinical mental health and school focuses. However, it would be more accurate to describe them as hybrid degrees; approximately 50% of the coursework is web-based. Students complete the other 50% of required courses through on-campus meetings at OSU’s campus in Salem. But because these sessions are limited to just two weekends per term, it may still be feasible for non-locals to make the occasional commute. The program also offers internship and practicum courses in a synchronous (live) online format.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $18,625/yr
8. Adams State University
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, School Counseling
Like the two colleges that precede it, Adams State University offers online clinical mental health and online school counseling programs. But there are also plenty of unique elements to ASU’s grad degrees. First, the university employs an “Online Plus” delivery system that pairs web-based classes with required weeklong intensives at its campus in Alamosa, Colorado. But these sessions – which take place only once per summer – are definitely worth the trip. While on campus, degree candidates get to interact with faculty and classmates, receive tutoring and academic advising, and participate in clinical exercises to grow their interpersonal skills.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $9,859/yr
7. Regent University
Online MA in School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling; Marriage, Children, and Family Counseling
Students who want to integrate their career with their Christian faith will find that Regent University offers one of the top master’s degrees in counseling online. Blending “contemporary counseling techniques with a biblical foundation,” students enjoy a “strong and balanced approach” to faith-based practice. Classes with a religious component include “Counseling and Christian Thought,” “Concepts of Family Systems,” and “Multicultural Counseling,” among others. Like many online programs, Regent’s MA in Counseling degrees require students to attend on-campus residencies. These interactive on-campus sessions are a week long and are typically scheduled in the winter and summer to accommodate working adults.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $13,226/yr
6. University of the Cumberlands
Online Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Busy professionals who simply have no time to travel to campus – even if just for a weekend or two each year – will find a welcome alternative at the University of the Cumberlands. This 100% online counseling degree program offers the ultimate in flexibility; the only face-time required is for the practicum and internship experiences. Accepted applicants can even transfer up to 30 credits toward their degree, making this a great choice for anyone who has attended another program in the past. It’s also worth noting that UC has the only top cheap counseling degree online with a focus in addictions.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $5,970/yr
5. Grace College
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Grace College represents another popular option for aspiring Christian counselors. While those who enroll in this cheap counseling master’s degree online will technically focus on clinical mental health, the curriculum “is committed to Scripture as the foundation for truth in each course.” Students will use a biblical lens to examine topics like personality and counseling theories, psychopathology, and trauma, as well as social, cultural, legal, and ethical issues. As for residencies, Grace’s requirement is fairly typical: program members must attend a 7-10 day workshop and skills-training session once each year (three times in total). However, degree candidates also have some flexibility to control their own pace and can choose from six-, seven-, and eight-semester course plans.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $7,872/yr
4. Messiah College
Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling; Marriage, Children, and Family Counseling; School Counseling
Given its name, it would be easy to assume that Messiah College’s accredited online master’s degree in counseling puts an especially strong emphasis on Christian principles. But while the college’s broader mission statement does express the importance of shared faith, its attitude toward academics is largely secular. With the exception of a required course in “Spiritual Formation and Faith-based Counseling” and the occasional reference to a client’s religious preferences, Messiah’s curriculum is surprisingly empirical in approach. This school also stands out for its varied concentration options: students can focus in school, mental health, or marriage and couples counseling.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $11,280/yr
3. Lindsey Wilson College
Online Master of Education in Counseling and Human Development
Although the standards that colleges must meet to earn CACREP accreditation are fairly rigid, Lindsey Wilson has mustered all the flexibility it can find to craft a relatively unique curriculum. The title of this affordable online counseling degree program is “Counseling and Human Development,” which reflects the school’s broad perspective on the field. Core courses address a wide range of subjects, from personal growth and lifecycle development to career education and research methods. At the same time, a separate set of required courses put a more focused emphasis on clinical mental health, with classes like “Theories of Addiction and Pharmacology” and “Diagnosis of Mental and Emotional Disorders.”
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $9,647/yr
2. University of Louisiana at Monroe
Online MS in School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers graduate programs in school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. And though many aspects of their curricula are similar, there is at least one major difference between the two degrees. That is, ULM’s top online school counseling program has been CACREP-accredited since 1989 (a major reason for its high placement on our ranking), while its mental health track only earned accreditation in 2014. Of course, that doesn’t mean the latter program is of lower quality. Indeed, the university undoubtedly leverages its nearly 30 years in counselor education to ensure that both of its degrees deliver top-tier experiences.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $14,712/yr
1. North Carolina State University
Online Master of Education in College Counseling and Student Development, School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
It’s hard to fit all the reasons that NCSU deserves the #1 best online counseling degree program ranking in such a short space. First, it offers three different degree options – including a rare concentration in College Counseling and Student Development. What’s more, the CCSD track has been accredited since 1990, and the School Counseling program followed suit shortly thereafter (1998). And while North Carolina State may offer one of the best learning options for aspiring counselors of all types, it is particularly committed to “attracting students from culturally-diverse backgrounds.” In recent years, the program has even increased the proportion of its members who identify as “culturally different” from 5% to 20%.
Average Graduate Tuition & Fees: $17,833/yr
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 20 best cheap counseling master’s degrees online!