Online Degree Programs in School Counseling

Help students flourish in and out of the classroom

School counselors affect the lives of children in many ways, helping them deal with academic struggles, social pressures, family problems, and everything in between. School counselors must blend theoretical and professional knowledge with the ability to relate to children. Acquiring this skill set starts with a good education. With a wide array of online programs in school counseling available, students can select one that best fits their future career goals. Read on for more information.

Top 10 Online Degree Programs in School Counseling

Rank School Location
1 Canisius College Buffalo, NY
2 Angelo State University San Angelo, TX
3 Salem College Winston-Salem, NC
4 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN
5 North Carolina Central University Durham, NC
6 University of Missouri Columbia, MO
7 University of Mississippi University, MS
8 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS
9 Concordia University-Wisconsin Mequon, WI
10 Creighton University Omaha, NE
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    Best Colleges for Online School Counseling Degrees

    To find the best colleges for earning an online degree in school counseling, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offer the most notable balances of academic rigor, student support and affordability for online learning. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows: General criteria:

    • Must be an accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
    • Must offer at least 1 online bachelor’s or master’s degree in school counseling
    • Annual in-state net price below $20,000

    Scoring metrics:

    • Average net price for in-state undergraduate students
    • Count and breadth of online programs available
    • Student-to-faculty ratio
    • 6-year graduation rate
    • Percentage of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college
    • Average amount of scholarship/grant aid students receive from the college
    • Availability of academic/career counseling services
    • Availability of job placement services for students and graduates
    • 3-year loan default rate
    • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*

    *PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or “bang for your buck” – of an online degree.

The Leading Online Programs in School Counseling

An online degree in school counseling is an excellent way for students to pursue their career goals without interrupting their daily routine. Online learning brings the classroom to the student, allowing them to approach their schoolwork when best fits into their schedule, but without compromising the same high quality education afforded in traditional on-campus environments. We’ve sorted through the programs offered around the country and chosen the best schools based on the student services they offer, total cost, and overall graduation rate. Look below to find our list of the best online school counseling programs for the 2017 schoolyear.

  1. Canisius College

    Buffalo, NY

    Those who graduate from the Canisius College school counseling master's degree program will be qualified to work with kids grades K-12 in groups or as individuals. They also will be prepared to work with entire classrooms, parents or other professionals. The program satisfies certification requirements not just for New York State, but for most other states across the country. Lab-based courses provide students with a hands-on learning experience, as does an included internship requirement. The program, which can be finished in as few as two years, prepares candidates to work with students from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

  2. Angelo State University

    San Angelo, TX

    The College of Graduate Studies and Research at Angelo State University offers a course aimed specifically at graduate students who already have earned a master's degree, but are working toward applying for educator certification through the Texas State Board. The certification program was designed for students pursuing careers as school guidance counselors for students in grades K-12. The program can usually be completed in 10 months or less, depending on the availability of courses that particular semester. The graduate coursework is delivered on an eight-week rotation. The entire department is accredited both nationally and statewide.

  3. Salem College

    Winston-Salem, NC

    The Salem College master of education in school counseling degree is delivered through online coursework that covers ethics, assessment and evaluation, legal issues, advocacy, personal development, career counseling and program management. The research-driven program not only includes online learning classes, but also involves internship experiences and two on-campus seminars. The program, which is structured in the cohort format, teaches students how to empower children and youth, as well as how to manage dialogue and interaction with their parents and school personnel. Students start in the fall and can complete the program in 36 months.

  4. Indiana State University

    Terre Haute, IN

    The master of education degree in school counseling offered by Indiana State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The Career Center helps students, including graduate students, develop and achieve professional goals after graduation, while also connecting them with work opportunities in school. The Health Center, which is open to all graduate and undergraduate students who take at least one credit hour at Indiana State University, offers care for ailments, injuries and illnesses. Students also have access to counseling, tutoring, library and research services, disability services and a math and writing center.

  5. North Carolina Central University

    Durham, NC

    Students who complete the master of arts degree in school counseling at North Carolina Central University will be prepared for careers as school counselors working with children in grades K-12. The program satisfies both the supervised experience requirements and the curriculum requirements necessary to receive licensure from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Graduate students will have full access to campus recreation and activities, as well as to student leadership and engagement. Students will stay up to date on school events through Campus Echo, which has served the university since 1927.

  6. University of Missouri

    Columbia, MO

    University of Missouri-Columbia graduate students pursuing a career in school counseling can choose between a master of arts degree and a master of education degree, each comes with a variety of possible specializations. Students will have access to three centers where they can collaborate with peers and faculty for the purposes of service-related projects and research. Upon graduation, students will be qualified to advance or begin careers in environments like colleges, universities, governmental entities, public schools, clinics and hospitals. Many graduates go on to work as licensed professional counselors, school counselors, health educators, psychologists and researchers.

  7. University of Mississippi

    University, MS

    Aspiring school counselors can pursue a master of education degree at the University of Mississippi. The specialized track satisfies the state requirements needed to serve as licensed counselors in a range of academic settings, including elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. The program is flexible, offering some online courses as well as the option to take classes at regional centers in Oxford and Tupelo. Once candidates pass the licensing exam, they will have earned that status of licensed professional counselor (LPC), and will be qualified to enter private practice or to work for a wide range of agencies and organizations that require counseling services.

  8. Kansas State University

    Manhattan, KS

    Graduate students who participate in the school counseling program at Kansas State University will emerge with a master of science degree. The program, which is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, consists of 48 hours of coursework. Upon graduating, students will be prepared to implement and design school counseling programs in a variety of settings. When it comes to licensure, the state offers two tracks. The first designed for specifically for participants who already hold a teaching license. The second is a parallel pathway option that requires extra experience in the field over the course of two semesters.

  9. Concordia University-Wisconsin

    Mequon, WI

    Prospective students striving for careers as school counselors can work toward that goal through the master of science in education degree program at Concordia University-Wisconsin. The program, which provides a concentration in counseling, prepares students to enter the field in the K-12 setting in both public and private parochial schools, as well as in a variety of community-based settings. The program can be offered in the online format, and distance learners can choose the site of their practicum experience based on their unique situation and interests. The program, which boasts small class sizes, satisfies licensure requirements for several states.

  10. Creighton University

    Omaha, NE

    The master of science in school counseling and preventative health at Creighton University prepares participants for careers in the field. Students can choose to follow one of three tracks: elementary, secondary or PK-12 guidance counseling. The program, which is designed to be flexible, is delivered through online courses that follow an eight-week format, and an internship experience that lasts nine months. Graduates will be prepared to work in universities, colleges, school systems, community agencies and employment services. Students will receive help from academic advisors, who will help them choose the right courses and graduate successfully.

Career Outlook and Salaries for School Counselors

School counselors play a vital role in the development of children and adolescents, whether it’s offering career counseling to high school seniors or aiding in the social development of elementary students. With a projected eight percent growth through 2024, the job outlook for school counselors is on par with the average of all professions, but it’s important to keep in mind that many schools are experiencing increased enrollment, which could create more opportunities. In addition, the need for career counselors at universities is expected to grow, keeping pace with the increased demand for on-site career centers. On average, school counselors make $60,500 a year, and work full-time; however, some school counselors do not work during the summer, which may affect earnings.

School Counselor8%$53,370Master’s Degree
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers6%$53,760Bachelor’s Degree
Rehabilitation Counselors9%$34,380Master’s Degree
Social Workers12%$45,500Master’s Degree
Psychologists19%$70,700Doctoral Degree
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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School Counselors: Milestone Map

When researching degree and career options, it can be helpful to visualize what life might look like along different paths. The milestones below represent key moments an individual might experience as they study to become a school counselor.

  1. High School
    Receives support from school counselor during parents’ divorce
  2. College
    Earns bachelor’s degree in psychology, volunteers on suicide hotline
  3. Entry-level Job
    Becomes caseworker for nonprofit agency, placing kids from homeless families into school
  4. Graduate Degree
    Receives online Master of Education with emphasis in school counseling
  5. Promotion
    Takes job as high-school counselor in low-income area
  6. Doctoral Degree
    As part of doctoral degree, implements program to connect high-risk students with community mentors

School Counseling Degrees: The Online Experience

Online school counseling degree programs are an ideal way for students to continue their education while still managing their work and personal lives. Primarily offered at the graduate level, these programs are designed to accommodate students’ busy schedules while still offering the same caliber of education found in a traditional, on-campus program.

Typically, a school counseling degree program will require two to three years of study, blending online classes with in-person requirements. Most require some on-campus attendance, commonly in the form of intensives. These condensed courses allow students to engage face-to-face with professors and other students in order to better understand the interpersonal skills vital to school counseling graduates. Off-campus internships and practicums are also common elements of online school counseling programs.

Various forms of technology facilitate the process of online learning; students should expect to use Skype and online discussion forums, as well as a learning management system for downloading class materials and accessing lectures and presentations.

Online Degree Programs in School Counseling

Due to the specialized nature of school counseling, the majority of online degree programs are at the graduate level. Below is a guide to the most common degree types.

  • Master’s
    (2 to 3 years)

    This program is aimed at those seeking to become counselors in K-12 schools, public or private. An online master’s program offers flexible scheduling, but does require some in-person attendance, including summer sessions, intensives and advising appointments. Typically consisting of 50 to 60 credit hours, a master’s in school counseling can be offered as a Master of Arts, Master of Science, or Master of Education. Distinctions in the degree types are reflected in the program focus; for example, a Master of Arts degree indicates a humanities-driven program. Also, it’s typical of a Master of Science program to require a thesis while a Master of Arts program does not.

  • Doctorate
    (5 to 6 years)

    An online doctoral degree in school counseling is best suited to those looking to become clinical supervisors or counselor educators. Over the course of about 150 credits, students can expect to undergo rigorous training in research while developing analytical approaches to counseling. Two options exist at the doctoral level: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Education (EdD). Students whose career aspirations lean toward academia and research will likely choose the PhD; conversely, an EdD would better suit those seeking active leadership roles in a school setting.

  • Education Specialist
    (2.5 years)

    Some professionals may wish to pursue an online education specialist degree (EdS) in school counseling, which builds on their master’s knowledge, but doesn’t require the same commitment as a doctoral degree. In these programs, usually about 33 credit hours, courses typically focus on various aspects of counseling and how they are integrated into educational settings. Students should check the prerequisites of the program, as many require at least two years of experience.

  • Post-Master’s Certificate
    (3 years)

    Most online programs that offer post-master’s certificates in school counseling are for those who have already received their master’s, but have yet to become licensed in a specific state. However, some are restricted to fully licensed school counselors, and for these professionals, receiving a post-master’s certificate in school counseling provides a way to make the leap to the next step in a career. Students can expect to take high-level courses covering administration and leadership, problems and solutions facing today’s counselors, and methods for integrating the principles of counseling into school curricula. On average, these programs require a minimum of 12 to 20 credit hours, and can be competed entirely online.

Common School Counseling Degree Courses

Specific school counseling courses vary by program but share the goal of teaching the skills necessary to succeed in careers as counselors, advisers and instructors.

Counseling Theories

This course focuses on the history and practice of various theories of counseling.

Foundations of Counseling Children and Adolescents in Schools

Students learn to implement counseling principles and theories in a school setting. Emphasis is on cultural, social, professional and legal issues as they pertain to school-aged children.

Play Therapy

In this course, students explore the underlying theories of different styles of play therapy (play room, art, sand tray, etc.), as well as practical techniques for putting them to use. Students also learn how to use these strategies with children with different cultural backgrounds or physical limitations (such as hearing loss).

Group Dynamics

Group therapy involves many more variables than a one-on-one session. This course teaches students how to observe and use those factors to the benefit of the client.


During the course of any master’s or doctoral program, students will be required to complete a certain number of hours of supervised work experience in a professional setting. Students use these real-world environments to develop their professional skills.

Choosing an Online School Counseling Program

With so many options for online school counseling degree programs, narrowing the choices may seem daunting. Proper planning and thought—and following a detailed checklist—can make the process easier. Below are some key aspects of school searching that will help in making a final decision.

  • Keep your future goals in mind. A career as a researcher in academia will necessitate a different educational path than one as a high school counselor.
  • Ensure the programs fulfill state licensure requirements, especially if the program is in a different state from where you plan to work.
  • Note all deadlines regarding the application process, and make sure you complete any necessary tasks on time.
  • Make sure you meet the prerequisites for master’s and doctoral degree programs, such as a previous bachelor’s degree or a certain number of years of work experience.
  • Verify that both the school and program are accredited.
  • Get a feel for the academic culture by touring the school and speaking to an admissions representative and students in the program.
  • Investigate what career services are afforded to online students.
  • Check into financial aid options offered by the school, as well as your eligibility through the FAFSA®, and make sure you can afford the program.

School Counseling Program Accreditation

Two kinds of accreditation come into play with online school counseling degree programs: programmatic and institutional. Programmatic accreditation is provided by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and focuses strictly on the program content. In contrast, institutional accreditation is granted by one of six regional accreditors and focuses on the institution’s overall attributes and compliance with state regulations.

To find out more, read our comprehensive guide on the importance of accreditation.

Getting Ready for a Doctorate in School Counseling

Preparing to enter a PhD or EdD program in school counseling takes some planning; creating a schedule for meeting certain benchmarks is a good way to streamline the process. Here is an example of a schedule for planning a doctoral education.

Time Before Program Start Date
Step 1 Begin researching online doctoral programs, and make sure you will meet all prerequisites for desired programs.2 years
Step 2 Earn a master’s degree1 year
Step 3 Take any qualifying examinations (may differ by institution)1 year to 4 months
Step 4 Apply to desired doctoral program(s)11 months
Step 5 Apply for applicable financial aid, such as scholarships, grants or loans.9 months

Students wishing to strengthen their applications can take extra steps to improve their chances of being admitted to a program. Below are some options that may give prospective doctoral school counseling students an edge throughout the process.

  • Have a plan as an undergraduate. Pick a major like psychology that will prepare you for a graduate education in school counseling, and take classes in education as well.
  • Join a professional organization like the American School Counselor Association.
  • In high school or during your undergraduate years, look for a job or volunteer opportunity that gives you experience working with children, like tutoring.
  • Gain relevant work experience by taking an entry-level job that will expose you to counseling, such as being a caseworker.

State Licensure and Optional Certifications

After graduating from an online school counseling degree program, an individual’s next steps should be to look into professional licensing and professional certification options.

Getting Licensed as a School Counselor

Students may begin researching school counselor licensure guidelines by contacting their state’s regulatory board to find out specific requirements, as well as by looking into state-specific online resources. If looking at out-of-state programs, it is particularly vital to look into the licensure requirements for your state prior to settling on a degree program, as it typically must fulfill the state licensure requirements to be useful.

School Counseling Certifications

In contrast to a license, which gives a counselor permission to practice in a state, a certification indicates that a school counselor has met a national standard of excellence, often in a certain area. Here is a list of organizations that offer certifications for school counselors.

National Board for Certified Counselors

National Board of Professional Teaching Standards

Additional Online Counseling Degrees

A degree in school counseling can be the perfect fit for those who want to work in education or with children, but some may prefer a slightly different career path. If that’s the case, here are some similar online degree programs that students may consider:

Online Addiction Counseling Degree
Those who are interested in helping people with addiction or addictive behaviors may choose this degree program, which teaches students the theories of addiction and effective techniques for helping people combat it.

Online Mental Health Counseling Degree
If working in a clinical capacity seems more appealing than a classroom, then an online mental health counseling degree may be the right program. Students will conduct fieldwork and study the ways in which social, personal and family issues affect mental health.

Online Christian Counseling Degree
Students interested in bringing a Christian perspective to counseling in non-clinical capacities may choose this degree option, which teaches biblically based counseling theories and practices.

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