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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.

FAQ


  • 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. Salem College
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private women's liberal arts college based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Salem College also admits male students into its online master's in educational counseling program. Emphasizing research, the program highlights topics in student advocacy, assessment and evaluation, counseling ethics, legal issues, and program management. The curriculum prepares candidates to sit for the PRAXIS II specialty area test in professional school counseling, leading to North Carolina school counselor licensure. 

    Candidates complete a total of 48 credits, with a curriculum that includes courses such as student advocacy and the school counselor and culturally relevant counseling. The program uses a cohort model and typically takes 36 months to complete.

    While courses for the counseling program occur primarily online, candidates must visit the Salem College campus for two weekend residency sessions. The residency sessions focus on individual counseling and group counseling.

  2. The University of Tennessee-Martin
    Location

    Martin, TN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public college located in northwestern Tennessee, UT Martin offers one of the state's top online master's in educational counseling programs. The school's master of science in education with a concentration in school counseling prepares graduates for Tennessee state school counselor licensure.

    The 48-credit program includes courses on topics such as growth and development across the lifespan, multicultural issues in education and counseling, and principles of crisis intervention. The curriculum also includes a 100-hour counseling practicum and two internships in elementary and secondary school counseling, both lasting 300 hours.

    All course content occurs online except for a three-day residency held on the UT Martin campus. Taking place in either January or June, the residency brings degree candidates and faculty together for individual and group meetings, lectures, and simulated counseling sessions.

  3. Fort Hays State University
    Location

    Hays, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public college based in Hays, Kansas, FHSU offers an online master's in educational counseling that prepares candidates to facilitate growth and development for grade school students. The master of science in counseling emphasizes the philosophy, ethics, trends, and practices of modern school counseling. The program prepares graduates to apply for Kansas state school counselor licensure and typically takes three years to complete.

    Students complete 48-54 credits, including 39 credits of counseling courses and nine credits of experiential learning. The counseling curriculum includes courses such as lifestyle and career development, management of counseling programs, and educational research. Candidates also complete a six-credit counseling internship and a three-credit practicum at an elementary or secondary school. Students without a teaching background must complete an additional six credits of courses that focus on working with diverse and exceptional learners.

  4. Emporia State University
    Location

    Emporia, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    One of only two online educational counseling master's programs in Kansas accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, ESU's master of science in school counseling prepares graduates to counsel at the elementary, middle, or high school level. The program uses a hybrid format that mixes online courses with in-person sessions held on ESU's main campus in Emporia or its Overland Park campus. Campus sessions occur in the late afternoons, evenings, or on weekends to accommodate working students.

    The program enrolls students of all backgrounds, offering three pathways to state counseling licensure. The traditional admission pathway serves certified teachers with at least two years of teaching experience. The alternative route to restricted licensure path serves applicants with an undergraduate degree in a counseling-related field. The direct-entry path serves candidates who do not already hold a teaching license.

  5. Lincoln Memorial University
    Location

    Harrogate, TN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private college located in Harrogate, Tennessee, LMU hosts one of the state's best educational counseling master's online programs. The school's master of education in counseling and guidance prepares candidates to offer guidance to students in both school and non-school settings. The program offers concentrations in PK-12 school counseling and mental health counseling.

    Regardless of their concentration, all students complete 36 credits, with courses divided between a common core and concentration courses. The common core includes courses such as career counseling, psychology of human development, and crisis intervention and consultation. Concentration courses build advanced skills for specialized counseling work. In the PK-12 track, candidates complete courses such as school law and foundations of American education.

  6. Morehead State University
    Location

    Morehead, KY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Kentucky, MSU hosts one of the state's best educational counseling master's online programs. The master of arts in counseling highlights social consciousness, self-awareness, and professional ethics, preparing candidates to facilitate students' intellectual and social development. The program leads to Kentucky provisional school counseling certification for grades P-12.

    The 36-credit program includes 27 credits of counseling courses and nine credits of professional education courses. The counseling core explores topics such as career counseling, psychosocial and multicultural factors in counseling, and legal and ethical issues in counseling. The professional education section covers topics like education research methods, advanced human growth and development, and measurement principles and techniques.

    Students also complete a professional counseling practicum during which they gain experience counseling individuals and groups. The field experience coincides with classroom instruction in counseling techniques and practices.

  7. North American University
    Location

    Houston, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Preparing candidates for individual and group counseling practice in K-12 schools, NAU's master of education in school counseling emphasizes data-driven research and the ethical and legal dimensions of counseling. This Houston-based private college offers significant flexibility for counseling students, with both certification and non-certification tracks available online.

    The non-certification track comprises 30 credits, while the certification track comprises 48 credits. The non-certification curriculum only includes major courses, covering topics like multicultural counseling, individual counseling theories and techniques, and counseling for special populations. Candidates in the certification track complete an additional set of core courses, covering topics including human growth and development, curriculum and instructional design, and integrating technology into education.

    NAU offers both thesis and non-thesis options for students enrolled in the certification track. These candidates must complete 42 credits of traditional coursework along with six credits of thesis work.

  8. Gallaudet University
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A unique private college based in Washington, D.C., Gallaudet University focuses on education for the deaf and hard of hearing, enrolling students from around the world. The school's specialized online master's in educational counseling trains counselors to work with deaf and hard-of-hearing students in K-12 settings. The program uses a hybrid format that combines online courses during the regular school year with campus sessions in the summer.

    The 63-credit program typically lasts three years. Common courses include lifespan development, foundations in helping skills, introduction to research for counselors, and counseling students with additional special needs. Given the degree's specialized nature, Gallaudet University prefers applicants with experience working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

    During the final year, candidates must complete a one-semester practicum and a one-semester full-time internship in an approved educational counseling setting.

  9. St Bonaventure University
    Location

    Saint Bonaventure, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private Catholic college located in St. Bonaventure, New York (about 70 miles south of Buffalo), SBU hosts one of the state's top-ranked online master's in educational counseling programs. The master of science in education program offers two concentrations: clinical mental health counseling and school counseling. 

    The school counseling track serves candidates interested in counseling in a grade-school environment, while the clinical track prepares candidates to counsel in various settings, including educational environments and social service organizations.

    Coursework occurs mostly online, but counseling candidates must attend two four-day residency sessions on campus. These in-person sessions offer opportunities for classroom learning, meetings with peers and faculty, and networking. Along with online coursework and two residency sessions, all candidates complete a practicum and two counseling internships for a total of 400 experiential hours.

  10. Arkansas State University-Main Campus
    Location

    Jonesboro, AR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    One of Arkansas' major public colleges, A-State serves more than 13,000 students annually. The school's online master's in educational counseling program emphasizes professional orientation, ethical practice, and advanced practical experience. A-State offers the same tuition rate to all online learners regardless of residency status.

    The 48-credit program covers concepts in counseling and psychology. Common courses include career development and services, group counseling, psychosocial aspects of development, and crisis counseling. Coursework occurs entirely online, with no campus visits required. However, all candidates must complete a counseling practicum along with two internships at the elementary and secondary level. Full-time candidates can complete the degree in 20 months.

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.
Practicum/Internship
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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