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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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.
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.
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.
The University of Tennessee-Martin
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.
Fort Hays State University
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.
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.
Lincoln Memorial University
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.
Morehead State University
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.
North American University
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.
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.
St Bonaventure University
Saint Bonaventure, NY
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.
Arkansas State University-Main Campus
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.
Gwynedd Mercy University
Gwynedd Valley, PA
Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, GMercyU offers a liberal arts education infused with Catholic values. The school's online master's in educational counseling ranks among Pennsylvania's top programs and leads to state school counselor certification. GMercyU reports a 100% pass rate for graduates on the certification exam.
The curriculum includes 60 credits divided evenly between the program core and school counseling certification courses. The core includes courses such as human development, foundations of counseling, and college and career readiness. The certification section includes courses in intervention techniques, group counseling and facilitation skills, and disabilities in the school counseling setting. All candidates also complete three semesters of internships, gaining hands-on experience in an approved educational environment.
A private Jesuit college based in Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton hosts an online master's in educational counseling infused with Jesuit values. Centered on reflection, relationship-building, compassion, and humility, the program trains counselors to offer effective leadership and guidance to K-12 students. The curriculum covers contemporary issues facing children and teens, including bullying, self-esteem, drug use, and relationship problems.
Creight offers two enrollment pathways: a 36-credit option for certified teachers and a 48-credit option for all other applicants. All candidates can choose from tracks in elementary school, secondary school, or PK-12 guidance counseling. Regardless of enrollment status and concentration, all students complete core courses including ethical guidelines for school counselors, individual and group assessment, and action research in school counseling.
All counseling candidates must also complete a 600-hour internship to meet Nebraska's counseling certification requirements. Candidates without a teaching certificate must complete additional practicum hours and education courses.
University of Central Arkansas
A major public college noted for its education programs, UCA enrolls more than 10,000 students annually. The school offers one of the state's top online educational counseling master's programs, training candidates to provide counseling services at public and private K-12 institutions. The program is approved by the Arkansas Department of Education and leads to school counselor licensure in Arkansas.
UCA offers two enrollment tracks: add-on licensure for candidates with Arkansas teaching licensure and initial licensure for candidates without teaching licensure. All learners study topics like lifespan development, multicultural counseling in schools, and educational assessment and management. All candidates must also complete a school counseling practicum and an internship, both of which build hands-on experience in a professional educational setting.
Affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Concordia operates a main campus in Seward, Nebraska, along with a significant online program. The school offers a top-rated online master's in educational counseling, which trains counselors to assist K-12 students in social, academic, and career exploration. The curriculum emphasizes the skills and knowledge necessary to manage developmentally appropriate, research-based, and objective-driven school counseling programs.
Candidates complete 50-62 credits depending on their educational background. Concordia offers coursework entirely online, with no campus visits required, and courses use an accelerated eight-week format. The curriculum aligns with American School Counselor Association standards and leads to professional PK-12 certification in Nebraska.
Candidates complete several hands-on learning activities, including a small group field experience, a practicum, and an internship. The practicum lasts 100 hours, while the internship lasts 450 hours.
Southern Arkansas University Main Campus
A small public college based in Magnolia, SAU enrolls around 4,400 students annually. The school's master of education in school counseling trains school counselors to implement and update comprehensive developmental guidance programs for grade-school students. The program uses a hybrid format that combines online learning with campus courses. Most candidates graduate in 2.5-3 years.
SAU offers an add-on counseling licensure pathway for applicants who already hold a valid teaching license. This enrollment track enables candidates to graduate faster, but they must still complete at least 600 internship hours, divided evenly between elementary and secondary school counseling practice.
While most courses occur entirely online, counseling candidates must attend one summer intensive session on campus. Typically occurring in late June, the residency session focuses on the development and administration of school counseling programs and is taught in partnership with the Mulerider Kids College.
North Carolina State University at Raleigh
One of North Carolina's major public colleges, NC State enrolls more than 36,000 students annually, operating a main campus in Raleigh along with a sizable online program. The school offers one of the state's most affordable educational counseling master's online programs. The program uses a scientist-practitioner model, highlighting concepts of diversity, anti-racism, and social justice. All counseling students receive a new iPad mini for the program's duration.
The master of education in school counseling fulfills the requirements for both North Carolina school counseling licensure and the licensed professional counselor associate credential. Candidates complete courses including theories of counseling, gender issues in counseling, research issues, and crisis counseling. All candidates complete a three-credit practicum as well as two six-credit internships.
Southeastern Oklahoma State University
A small state college based in Durant, SOSU enrolls around 4,700 students annually. The school hosts one of Oklahoma's top online master's in educational counseling programs. The flexible, accelerated program primarily serves working teachers. The degree focuses on child development, assessment, diversity, and psychopathology. Online students benefit from an affordable, pay-as-you-go tuition rate.
The 42-credit program includes courses like social and cultural diversity issues in counseling, career counseling and development, assessment in counseling, and counseling children and adolescents. Counseling students also complete a minimum of 100 practicum hours, at least 40 of which must include direct client contact. Full-time enrollees can complete the program in 12 months. However, practicum experiences require additional time beyond the core curriculum.
North Carolina Central University
A public, historically Black college based in Durham, NCCU offers an online master's in educational counseling that builds the skills, knowledge, and practices necessary for effective, impactful school counseling. Endorsed by the International Registry of Counselor Education Programs, the program prepares graduates for K-12 school counselor licensure in North Carolina.
The 51-credit program includes courses such as multicultural and gender issues, vocational theory and career development, group counseling, and educational research. Candidates also complete both a practicum and an internship, building experience through observation and direct work with student populations. Candidates may complete two internships or fulfill the second internship requirement with an additional elective.
Applicants need a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college with a minimum 2.7 GPA. Applicants must also submit GRE scores, an application essay, and two recommendation letters.
A private Lutheran college and member of the Concordia University system, CUW offers an online master's in educational counseling that emphasizes the role of faith in school counseling practice. The counseling curriculum integrates evidence-based theories and intervention techniques. The program admits applicants with and without teaching licensure.
The 45-credit program features courses in 10 foundation categories, including counseling theory, human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, and helping relationships.
The program leads to Wisconsin K4-12 school counseling licensure or licensed professional counselor in training certification. Candidates who complete additional coursework can earn the substance abuse counselor in training credential offered through the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. Students can also complete a Christian counseling certificate as part of the program.
University of Massachusetts-Boston
One of Massachusetts' major public colleges, UMass Boston offers an online master's in educational counseling that prepares candidates for Massachusetts school counselor licensure. The program uses a hybrid format that combines online courses with select on-campus residency sessions.
Counseling candidates can add an optional adjustment counseling concentration to their degree, which requires the completion of two additional courses and extra internship hours. The concentration prepares graduates to pursue initial licensure as a school adjustment counselor at the K-12 level.
All counseling candidates must attend a two-week campus residency in Boston at the beginning of the program. This intensive in-person session enables candidates to meet with peers and faculty while completing the program's first two clinical sections.
University of the Southwest
A private Christian college based in Hobbs, New Mexico, USW offers one of the Southwest's top online educational counseling master's programs. The school's master of science in education in school counseling emphasizes counseling techniques, professional ethics, career development, educational assessment, and crisis counseling. The program prepares candidates for school counselor licensure at the elementary, middle, and high school level.
Candidates complete 42 credits total, divided among core courses, major requirements, and electives. The program core builds foundational knowledge in educational research, counseling theories, professional ethics, and counseling practice. Major courses explore advanced topics including psych-educational assessment, group counseling, and crisis and trauma intervention. Electives enable candidates to specialize their studies in areas like play therapy, addictions counseling, and human sexuality.
Students also complete one practicum experience and two internships. All candidates end the program with a capstone project focused on counseling program development.
Based in Houston, Texas, UST is a private Catholic college that admits students of all faiths and backgrounds. The school offers one of Texas' top-ranked online master's in educational counseling degrees. The master of education in counselor education with a specialization in school counseling offers both fully online and hybrid enrollment options. Graduates can pursue school counseling licensure in Texas.
The 48-credit program includes courses such as educational research and scholarly writing, group dynamics of counseling, lifestyles and career development, and consultation in school settings. The program ends with a 15-week counseling practicum that includes 160 hours of observation and 80 hours of direct client contact.
School counselor certification in Texas requires candidates to hold a valid Texas teaching certificate and at least two years of experience as a classroom teacher. Program applicants can pursue these requirements concurrently with their degree.
West Long Branch, NJ
Home to one of New Jersey's top online master's in educational counseling programs, Monmouth emphasizes flexibility for working students, offering both fully online and hybrid enrollment options. The program trains counselors to serve as advocates for students and cultivate self-awareness, continuous learning, and personal and professional development. Monmouth reports a 100% employment rate for graduates as school counselors.
The 48-credit program includes courses in counseling and ethical practice, group counseling, diversity and social justice, and behavioral issues in counseling. The curriculum prepares candidates for a variety of certifications and licenses, including national certified counselor, licensed professional counselor, and student assistance coordinator.
Counseling students also complete an integrative 700-hour practicum that occurs across three semesters. The practicum occurs at three distinct counseling sites, building experience in both primary and secondary education settings.
University of the Cumberlands
A Christian liberal arts college located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, UC enrolls students of all backgrounds. The school offers one of Kentucky's most affordable educational counseling master's online programs.
The 45-credit program includes 15 courses total, covering key topics such as issues and trends in special education, counseling individuals with diverse needs, research methods in education, and advanced clinical assessment. All candidates complete a counseling practicum and an internship. The practicum builds initial clinical experience, while the internship serves as the program's culminating requirement.
The curriculum leads to school counseling certification in Kentucky, and the state maintains certification reciprocity agreements with several other states. Candidates who reside outside of Kentucky should check with their local licensing board to ensure the program meets their state's certification requirements.
One of North Carolina's major public colleges, ECU enrolls more than 28,000 students annually through on-campus and online programs. The school hosts one of the state's best educational counseling master's online programs, training counselors to promote human development and assist children, adolescents, and young adults with social, professional, and personal decisions. The program offers three concentrations: school counseling, clinical mental health counseling, and student affairs and college counseling.
The 60-credit program includes 45 credits of core courses and 15 elective credits. Core courses cover topics such as analysis of the individual, counseling skills and techniques, and social and cultural issues in counseling. All candidates complete a one-semester practicum and a two-semester counseling internship. At the program's conclusion, students must pass a comprehensive examination. Candidates can also complete an optional thesis.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.