An online master’s degree in counseling could be the next step for those who wish to further their career in therapy and counseling. The curriculum for this degree is designed to provide the student with a firm grasp of the basic principles of counseling and enable the student to become a counseling practitioner. Learn more about online master’s degree programs in this field along with career opportunities, each program’s curriculum and the best online master’s programs.
Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors
Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
Each college must have at least one online program 1
Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.
1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.
A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.
We sifted through reams of data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the U.S. Department of Education to create this list of the best online masters degree programs for counseling in 2018. Prospective counseling graduate students should carefully consider the options when deciding on which school to attend. All courses listed are fully accredited.
What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Counseling Program?
Students who enroll in an online master’s degree program in counseling receive the skills and education they need to advance in their careers. Often, this advancement also comes with an increase in earnings potential. Skills that students will learn in a master’s counseling program include:
Understanding family relationships and how to navigate complicated dynamics
Tools for navigating sensitive topics in mental health
A thorough understanding of ethics and best legal practices when counseling
Evaluating and addressing complicated family issues for the betterment of all parties involved
What’s the difference between a master’s in counseling and an MBA in counseling?
Both a master’s in counseling and an MBA in counseling focus on counseling and communication skills. However, a master’s in counseling degree focuses mainly on direct interaction with the individuals under a counselor’s care. An MBA in counseling focuses some on patient care, but also explores the business aspect of the career. Individuals working as counselors in mental health facilities, hospitals or other large organizations may find the added business focus of an MBA in counseling suits their career goals, while individuals with private practices and working in school settings may find a master’s in counseling suits their needs the best.
What common courses are offered in a master’s in counseling program?
Precise curriculum coursework will vary slightly from school to school, but in general, many online master’s in counseling programs focus on similar topics and coursework. Common courses to master’s in counseling degrees include:
Introduction to Mental Health Counseling
Students are introduced to the mental health counseling profession in this course. Students explore the history, philosophy and theoretical foundations of the profession, as well as the scope of practice, credentialing and other professional issues. The focus of this course is on students as future mental health counselors.
Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories
Students in this course summarize the history and explore the primary concepts of the major approaches to counseling and psychotherapy in current use. The empirical foundations of each theory are examined and examples are supplied showing how each method is applied to clients. Limitations of each approach are also explored.
Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling
Students in this course are provided with an introduction to the field of professional counseling and the foundations of counseling. Students explore the history, philosophy, cultural dynamics and trends in professional counseling. They examine consultation as well as client and counselor advocacy, focusing on the counselor’s role as social change agent. Students also examine and apply ethical standards of the counseling profession, including the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics and counselor ethical decision-making processes.
Couples and Family Counseling
Students in this course are introduced to concepts and applications in theoretical perspectives and techniques, classical schools of thought and recent developments in couples and family therapy. Students explore culture, gender and ethnicity factors in family development. They also review and compare theoretical frameworks in couples and family therapy, including psychosocial, psychodynamic, transgenerational, strategic, cognitive-behavioral and social constructionist models.
Prevention, Intervention and Consultation
Students in this course are provided with an inquiry into prevention and intervention programs for individuals, groups and communities. Students consider cultural, social, psychological, family, organizational and political factors bearing on the mental health and development of people in various settings, including schools, communities, and organizations. Theoretical frameworks guiding prevention and intervention are explored, including constructivist and ecological-developmental perspectives. Students gain experience in developing prevention-oriented programs within diverse systems.
Counseling Addictive Disorders
In this course, students examine historical perspectives and current trends in addiction treatment, as well as the biological and environmental influences on the etiology of addiction. Techniques and processes for assessment and diagnosis are examined in the context of individual, group and systemic perspectives, with attention given to developmental and multicultural influences on addiction. Influences of public policy and advocacy on addiction and treatment are also examined.
What exams or projects should I expect?
In addition to the standard coursework, students can generally expect to perform about 100 hours of practicum and 500-600 hours of internship studies. Some counseling courses also administer a comprehensive board exam after all other requirements have been satisfied while others do not. Most counselors will undergo a final licensing exam before they are released to practice in a professional setting, such as the Marriage and Family Therapist Licensure program.
What specializations are available in a master’s in counseling program?
There are many specialties that fall under the umbrella of a master’s degree in counseling. Some possible specialties include:
Couples and Group Therapy
The counselor facilitates a couple or group in a therapeutic setting to help them work out their differences or interact with each other. Counselors do not act as a judge, but rather help patients to understand one another and open new lines of communication.
Counselors help grieving persons to examine their feelings and work through their grief in a constructive manner.
Counselors help patients to deal with their addictions, whether they be drugs, alcohol, pornography or some other vice. In many cases, their patients will have been referred to them by law enforcement or other authorities.
General Mental Health Counseling
Counselor will help patients to work through general mental health issues, such as depression, ADHD, family problems or other issues. This specialty covers a wide range of possible issues and requires the counselor to be proficient in a number of areas.
What Can I do with a Master’s in Counseling Degree?
All counselors work in some degree with individuals who require counseling services. But, not every counseling position has the same role. There are multiple careers within the counseling field. Some careers that counselors can pursue include:
Mental Health Therapist
A mental health therapist works with children and adults to develop and implement treatment plans based on the individual patient’s needs. The therapist also maintains clinical records, works case management and may intervene in some mental health crises.
Substance Abuse Counselor
A substance abuse counselor is an individual who specializes in treating patients with some form of chemical dependency- often alcohol or drugs. The counselor not only works to create individual treatment plans for each patient but may also engage with family members acting in supporting roles.
An individual working as an in-home therapist travels on location to communicate directly with patients. Often, in-home therapists work with families and children. In-home therapists offer the same services as office-based therapists, including support, treatment plans and writing clinical reports.
A group therapist works with a group of individuals to help resolve patient issues. Group-therapists often work in institutions, such as a mental health care facility or a school. A group therapist requires skills in understanding, interpersonal skills and a firm grasp of ethics.
School counselors work with students in a school setting to help resolve any issues that may arise. A school counselor may work with students individually, in a group or even in a family setting. School counselors may also guide students in making choices for the future, regarding issues of employment, safety or other life choices.
It’s important for individuals in counseling careers to keep up with changes and trends in the industry. One way to keep up with the latest research in psychology and counseling is through professional organizations. Professional organizations not only inform counselors of changes to the industry, but also provide networking opportunities. The following are examples of organizations that counselors can join.
The American Counseling Association is the world’s largest association for professional counselors. This program is designed to help members ensure ethical practices, protect those who use counseling services and work as advocates for the profession. Members have access to continuing education, networking and access to ACA publications.
IAMFC is an international professional organization for counselors specializing in marriage and family counseling. The organization provides a forum for members to discuss family-related therapy issues, collaboration among peers and distributes media and publications for members to use in their own practices.
AAMFT is a professional organization in the United States for family and marriage therapists. The organization works to promote awareness on family counseling topics, works with lawmakers and acts as advocates for families in need. The organization also provides member services, such as networking, a job board and program accreditation.
The American School Counselor Association is a professional organization focusing on the issues and needs of school counselors. Members can find resources for professional development, school-specific publications, network with other members and join a community of fellow professionals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall job growth for those who get a master’s degree in counseling looks very promising. Marriage and family therapists have the highest projected rate of growth at a projected 23% between 2016 and 2026, while school and rehabilitation counselors have the lowest at 13%. However, both of those growth rates are much higher than the national job growth rate of 5-8%.Obtaining a master’s degree in counseling will not only increase job opportunities, but it also commands a higher salary. The median salaries for counselors with a bachelor’s degree range from $40,000 to $65,000, while individuals with a master’s degree in counseling have a median salary from $50,000 to $85,000.
Online Master’s in Counseling Program Accreditation
Accreditation by either the Council for Accreditation of Counseling or Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council is strictly voluntary, although some states require this accreditation for online master’s degree programs in counseling. CACREP provides accreditation for both masters and doctoral programs, while MPCAC only accredits master’s degree programs that “educate students in the science-based practice of counseling and psychological services.” CACREP also maintains that counseling is a distinct profession and separate from psychology, while MPCAC accredits programs that have instructors that have been trained in psychology or other fields outside of counseling.
How to Pay for a Master’s in Counseling Degree
Student or personal loans can be used to pay for a master’s degree if no other options are available, but there are many grants and scholarships available. Below is a list of a few options students can examine to help with the cost of earning an online master’s degree in counseling:
Federal Financial Aid
Students who enroll in online master’s degrees in counseling are eligible to apply for government financial aid by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form determines eligibility for federal loans and grants. Additionally, many schools require a FAFSA application before students can apply for a graduate assistantship.