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25 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Educational Counseling Programs 2021

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Most Affordable Online Master's in Educational Counseling badge

Also known as school counselors or guidance counselors, educational counselors advise students at the K-12 and college level. These professionals help children, adolescents, and young adults achieve their personal, academic, and professional goals. School counselors assist students with career and college selections, bullying and self-esteem issues, drug abuse, and family problems.

Counselors often work with students individually or in groups. They may also develop school-wide initiatives and counseling programs that serve the entire student body. In general, school counselors need strong skills in communication, empathy, and analysis to identify student issues and offer effective strategies for intervention and development.

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Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

A graduate degree is the minimum education requirement for a school counselor license. This guide offers an overview of online educational counseling master’s programs. See below for information on top schools and programs, including typical courses, licensure requirements, and career options after graduation.


  • What is educational counseling?

    Educational counseling facilitates the emotional, social, academic, and professional growth of students at the K-12 and college level. Counselors advise students and help them meet the challenges of youth and young adulthood.

  • How long does it take to earn a master's in counseling?

    While completion times vary among programs, most online master’s in educational counseling programs take 2-3 years to complete. Many schools offer both accelerated and part-time enrollment options.

  • Can I earn a master's in educational counseling online?

    Many colleges offer online educational counseling master’s programs. Some programs run fully online, while others use a hybrid format that combines online and on-campus courses.

  • What level of degree do I need to get started in educational counseling?

    Most educational counseling programs are available exclusively at the master’s level. Candidates need a bachelor’s degree to apply. Most programs accept students of all majors.

25 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Educational Counseling Programs 2021

Our ranking highlights 25 of the nation’s most affordable educational counseling master’s online programs. Combining rigorous academics, strong professional preparation, and comprehensive student support, these programs also offer some of the lowest tuition rates among educational counseling graduate programs.

  1. North Carolina State University

    Raleigh, NC

    What does it take to become number one on our ranking of affordable educational psychology degrees online? Cheap tuition certainly doesn't hurt, but North Carolina State University offers much more. Its MEd in School Counseling is CACREP-accredited, features a flexible schedule (utilizing a part-time, cohort model), and - of course - qualifies graduates for K-12 school counselor licensure. But perhaps the most interesting quality of NCSU's program is its strong commitment to diversity. Recognizing the need for school counselors who come from a variety of backgrounds, the program has increased the percentage of "culturally different" degree candidates from 5-20% in recent years.

  2. Angelo State University

    San Angelo, TX

    At Angelo State University, you'll find a well-rounded, practical education in its Master's Degree in Guidance and Counseling. Designed for professionals who want to work in both public K-12 schools and at the collegiate level, this 36-credit program covers a diverse range of topics in a relatively short timeframe. Classes in group and individual counseling, dysfunctional behavior, lifespan development, and career and occupational counseling provide a strong foundation for anyone who wants to work in this field. And because it doesn't include any practicums or internships (only a "Comprehensive Program Review") this is one of the best online educational counseling degrees for applicants who don't need any additional hands-on experience.

  3. Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA

    Liberty University is well-known as a top provider of online degrees. But what you might not know is that Liberty offers one of the best school counseling graduate programs online. With CACREP accreditation and a nearly unbeatable tuition rate, this university would give any college a run for its money in a contest of best values. If there's any downside to choosing Liberty, it's that the curriculum isn't entirely online. To complete the coursework, you'll have to travel to its Virginia campus for occasional "intensive" sessions. But considering the other perks that come with this 48-credit degree, it's almost certainly worth the commute!

  4. University of West Alabama

    Livingston, AL

    The University of West Alabama is part of an elite group of colleges on our top online school psychology programs ranking. Why? Because it has one of the only counseling degrees to earn accreditation from both the NCATE and CACREP. And there is perhaps no clearer sign of a program's quality than approval from these prestigious agencies. This also likely explains UWA's popularity; its immense counselor education program graduated more than 100 students with master's degrees just last year! And to top it all off, the university's low tuition rates make it one of the most affordable choices on this list.

  5. Texas A & M University-College Station

    College Station, TX

    For a program that blends educational psychology with school counseling, check out Texas A&M University. Its MEd in Educational Psychology: Emphasis in School Counseling includes classes like "Career Counseling in Schools" and "Planning and Organizing Comprehensive Guidance Programs" but also "Techniques of Research" and "Assessment in School Settings." This cheap online school psychology program (which costs less than $500/credit) also includes two practicum experiences, but no internships. And unlike some other Ed Psych degrees, TAMU's program won't require you to write a final thesis or design a research project in order to graduate!

  6. Missouri Baptist University

    Saint Louis, MO

    Want to earn an affordable online educational counseling degree? At less than $600 per credit, Missouri Baptist's MA-SC program can offer you just that. It can also offer you a flexible schedule that's designed for busy adults but will still take you from start to finish in just three years. In that three years, you'll take classes like "Advanced Human Development," "Group Counseling," and "Tests and Measurements." As part of the 51-credit curriculum, students are also required to complete a practicum and two internships - one in an elementary school and one in a secondary (middle or high) school.

  7. Ball State University

    Muncie, IN

    BSU marks the second of two universities in our top ten ranking to offer an affordable online school psychology program with a focus on gifted and talented education. But that's not all that makes Ball State stand out. This 100% online program takes just 18 months to complete (or less than a year if you attend full time) and features nationally recognized faculty who are experts in child development, academic anxiety, statistics, and more. The gifted and talented specialization is most appropriate for applicants who want to work in schools and offers a "high ability license" for students who already have their Indiana teaching certificate.

  8. University of the Southwest

    Hobbs, NM

    Education professionals who want to become licensed school counselors in New Mexico should head straight to the University of the Southwest (or rather, to its website). There you'll find a 42-credit, fully-online (aside from internships) MSEd in School Counseling that will prepare you not just for licensure, but for a successful career. The coursework trains future counselors to ask the important questions, like "How do students interact with their environment?" and "How can I ensure a student's access to education?" This is also one of the best online school counseling programs for teachers who want to expand their knowledge through interesting electives such as "Play Therapy" and "Psychopathology."

  9. University of North Texas

    Denton, TX

    At UNT, students interested in educational psychology can become experts in one of the field's most popular areas of study: gifted and talented education. Classes focus on niche topics that rarely make the course list in more generic programs, like the "Nature and Needs of the Gifted and Talented Student" and the "Social and Emotional Components of Giftedness." And if you're already a licensed teacher, completing UNT's program will qualify you for a supplemental certificate in Gifted and Talented Education. All in all, the University of North Texas has one of the best educational psychology degrees online for teachers who want to help bright students reach their full potential.

  10. Oregon State University

    Corvallis, OR

    Oregon State University's 75-credit Master of Counseling degree is not strictly an online program; in fact, a full 50% of classes take place on campus in Salem. And yet, OSU still ranks in the top ten on our ranking of the best online school psychology programs, so you know it has a lot to offer! Indeed, the university's highly respected counseling curriculum comes with accreditations from both CACREP and the NCATE. And of course, graduates of the program are eligible for licensure as school counselors in Oregon - and possibly other states as well.

What Do Educational Counselors Do?

Educational counselors often manage counseling programs for schools and work with students in groups and individually. These professionals need strong interpersonal communication, active listening, analytical, and interpretive skills to effectively assess students’ needs. Above all, counselors need compassion and empathy to relate to students’ varied and often challenging circumstances.

School counselors’ duties vary based on their work environment. At the elementary level, counselors may focus on helping students develop basic skills such as decision-making and socializing. They may also help identify behavioral issues and developmental needs. High school counselors focus on academic and career counseling, helping students develop plans for life after graduation. Educational counselors usually work in K-12 schools, but they may also work at colleges, social services agencies, or state educational agencies.

As they progress in their careers, counselors may focus on managing counseling programming and initiatives for schools or even entire school districts. However, counselors often continue direct contact work with students even as they advance to other responsibilities.

Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors

Counseling graduates often work as school and career counselors, with most working at public and private K-12 schools. Many counselors also work at four-year colleges and community colleges. Some counselors work in social services and other educational services for state, local, and private agencies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for school and career counselors to grow 8% between 2019 and 2029. Increasing school enrollment largely fuels this growth.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
School and Career Counselors $57,040 8%

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Counseling Degrees

When researching online master’s in educational counseling programs, always look for regional and programmatic accreditation. Functioning as an assessment and credentialing process for colleges and their programs, accreditation helps schools regulate themselves, ensuring that students receive an adequate education.

Regional accreditation indicates that an entire college meets designated academic and administrative standards, demonstrating general institutional reputability. When researching a school, always check that it holds accreditation from one of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s six regional accrediting agencies.

Programmatic accreditation assesses a college’s individual academic programs, indicating adherence to industry standards. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits almost all school counseling programs. A program without CACREP accreditation may not prepare students for school counselor licensure or further academic study in the field.

Licensing for Counselors

School counselors in all U.S. states need a state-issued credential to practice counseling, but specific requirements often vary. States may designate their counseling credential as a license, certification, or endorsement, but generally these terms are used interchangeably. Counseling candidates can find information on each state’s licensure requirements through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

States generally hold similar requirements for school counselor licensure. Requirements typically include a master’s in counseling from an accredited college, a set number of practicum or internship hours, and successful completion of a certification exam. Most states also require counselors to undergo a criminal background check. Licensing requirements may also vary depending on specific designations and titles.

Some states may also maintain additional professional experience requirements. In Texas, for example, school counselors need at least two years of classroom teaching experience in an approved public or private school setting. Some states may also require candidates to hold a teaching license in order to pursue counselor licensure.

Courses in an Educational Counseling Program

Most counseling programs offer a broad foundation in counseling theory and practice, integrating concepts from fields including psychology, sociology, and social work. Candidates also explore specialized topics related specifically to school counseling, such as program management, student assessment strategies, career and vocational counseling, and legal issues in education. Counseling programs typically employ research-based approaches, using qualitative and quantitative information to guide counseling practice.

This list highlights five common courses found in online master’s in educational counseling programs. While course titles and descriptions may vary, these courses represent a general selection of topics that inform most counseling curriculum models.

Lifespan Development
School counselors often guide students through significant life changes and developments. Most programs include an introductory course that explores human development across the lifespan, highlighting the major developmental stages and principles of human development. The course commonly examines developmental factors including culture, heredity, gender, and environment.
Multicultural Counseling
Cross-cultural counseling plays a vital role in most educational counseling practices, and programs increasingly focus on the importance of multicultural counseling. This course explores social and cultural awareness, stressing the non-classroom factors that can affect student development. Counselors gain the skills to better understand and interact with diverse student populations and examine their own cultural biases.
Group Counseling
Group socialization plays a major role in the school environment, whether through classrooms or peer groups. This course explores concepts of group dynamics along with strategies for group counseling practice. Candidates broadly examine theories and principles of group relations across family, community, and school settings, analyzing their effect on student development.
Career Counseling
At the high school level, school counselors frequently advise students on potential career paths and their accompanying education requirements. Most programs include at least one course dedicated to career counseling. Students explore career development and career decision theories. Counselors gain the skills necessary to integrate career information into their counseling practice and school programming.
Most school counseling programs include a significant practicum or internship component that enables candidates to gain clinical experience in a school setting. Programs often include up to three distinct experiential sections, beginning with observation and analysis before moving into direct-contact counseling.

Financial Aid

Graduate students can explore several options to finance their studies, though their options differ slightly from undergraduates. In general, graduate students cannot apply for Pell Grants, which provide need-based funding for bachelor’s studies. However, graduate students can still use federal and private loans to finance their studies, along with scholarships.

Regardless of financial background, graduate students should always complete the FAFSA to determine their eligibility for various types of financial aid. The deadline for the FAFSA is usually June 30, before the start of the fall semester each year.

Graduate counseling students can also save on tuition expenses by enrolling in an online program. Many schools offer reduced tuition rates for online learners, and distance education also enables students to maintain their current job while earning a degree.

Scholarships for Counseling

Scholarships are a popular option for graduate students, and many awards specifically serve students pursuing a degree in school counseling. Some awards serve students of a specific background. Others offer funds to any candidate planning to pursue a career in school counseling.

National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Program

Who Can Apply: The NBCC offers scholarships to minority graduate students who commit to work with underserved groups upon graduation, including minority, rural, and LGBTQ populations.
Amount: $10,000

Melanie Merola O’Donnell Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship awards master’s or doctoral candidates in the mental health or counseling field. Applicants must provide evidence of involvement in community or extracurricular activities.
Amount: $2,500

Lullellia W. Harrison Counseling Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Zeta Phi Beta Sorority awards this scholarship to any graduate student enrolled full time in an accredited counseling program. Applicants do not need to be Zeta Phi Beta members.
Amount: $3,000

Learn.org Master’s Degree Scholarship in Psychology and Counseling

Who Can Apply: Learn.org offers this scholarship to graduate counseling students, including those pursuing guidance counseling. The award committee considers academic history, employment history, and extracurricular activities.
Amount: $500

American School Health Association Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The ASHA awards several scholarships to students pursuing any academic field related to school health, including educational counseling. Applicants must plan to pursue a career in a K-12 setting.
Amount: Varies

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