Online Master’s Programs In Counseling

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Earn an Online Master’s in Counseling

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.

Top 10 ONLINE MASTER’S PROGRAMS IN COUNSELING

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Best Online Master’s in Counseling

METHODOLOGY

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.

  1. Grace College and Theological Seminary
    Location

    Winona Lake, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Grace College offers a 60-credit hour Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that can be completed online. To gain acceptance into this program, prospective students must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Most students complete this degree in 3 years and take classes such as Personality and Counseling Theories, Psychopathology, Ethical and Legal Issues, and Spirituality in Counseling. The Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program was developed in 2010 and is designed to prepare students for careers in clinical health counseling. It is committed to Scripture as the foundation for truth in each course with a complementary understanding of the truths in psychology and social sciences. Although students may complete most of their coursework online, they are required to attend a 7- to 10-day residency on Grace College's campus in Winona Lake, Indiana. The residency involves counselor preparation and training, evaluation in skill development and spiritual growth activities organized by the online and residential faculty members. During each day of the residency, students participate in a spiritual formation activity that encourages them to become closer with the Lord and fosters an understanding of a Christian counselor identity. Each year that students are enrolled in Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling courses, they are required to attend residency. While the Grace College Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is accredited by the CACREP and leads to professional counseling licensure in Indiana, it may not meet the specific licensing requirements in other states. Students who wish to acquire licensure in another state are responsible for fulfilling that particular state's requirements.

  2. Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At Liberty University, prospective students can earn an online Master of Arts in Professional Counseling degree. The Master of Arts in Professional Counseling involves 3 3-credit hour intensives; 1 3-credit hour observation-based practicum and 1 6-credit hour internship. Ethical and Legal Issues in Counseling, Human Growth and Development, Counseling Techniques and the Helping Relationship, and Multicultural Counseling are a few examples of the core classes students will be required to take. A maximum of 50% of the program hours may be transferred if approved. Webinars are available to help online students remain engaged in Liberty University's community, even from a distance. The school also offers scholarships to graduate students and tuition discounts for veterans. For acceptance into this program, students must hold a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.7 and submit a personal statement as well as 2 letters of recommendation. The online Master of Arts in Professional Counseling degree is designed to equip students with the training they need to gain state license and become a licensed professional counselor, or LPC, so they can pursue a career at a mental health agency, counseling center, private practice, hospital program or inpatient mental health treatment facility. Students who complete this program can expect to enhance their understanding of human psychology through field-tested techniques and learn best practices for promoting the mental health and holistic wellness of clients in a wide variety of communities. Upon graduation, students may work as a mental health counselor and help empower others to conquer their personal challenges and make positive changes in their lives.

  3. Clarks Summit University
    Location

    South Abington Township, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At Clarks Summit University, prospective students can earn an online Master of Arts in Counseling. For acceptance into this program, students must hold a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Since this program is completely online, there is an online resource hub that is designed to help students easily navigate all of the resources they may need while completing their degree. The Master of Arts in Counseling is fully accredited by the MSCHE and typically takes 2 years to complete. The goal of this program is to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to provide biblical counseling in a wide range of roles. Students who enroll in this program can expect to better understand people, grow in their awareness of how God's Word applies to healthy living and help resolve human struggles. This foundational exposure to counseling will allow students to develop a repertoire of basic counseling skills; examine their gifts, talents and sense of calling; understand traditional models of helping and a biblical view of the change process; and articulate a biblical worldview as it relates to counseling philosophy and methodology. The Master of Arts in Counseling consists of 30 hours and is divided into 2 parts: required courses and electives. Bible, Theology and Interpretation and Communications are the 2 required courses, while electives include courses such as Human Development, Career Counseling, Abnormal Behavior, Marriage and Family Counseling, and Methods of Biblical Change. This program was not created for students who wish to pursue state licensure as professional counselors.

  4. Southwestern Assemblies of God University
    Location

    Waxahachie, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Southwestern Assemblies of God University offers an online Master of Education in School Counseling. This program teaches students how to identify, evaluate and address emotional, social and cognitive problems within a school setting. To be accepted, applicants must provide copies of teacher service records showing 2 years of teaching experience at an accredited and approved school and hold an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Scholarships and grants are available to eligible students. Students must complete the required 36 credit hours, which involves core courses such as School Guidance and Counseling, Differentiated Learning Strategies, Studies in Classroom Management and Crisis Intervention. Resource courses, such as Introduction to Play Therapy, Principles and Practices of Early Childhood Education, and Personal Lifestyle and Career Development, as well as a 6-hour internship in school counseling are also important components of this program. In order to graduate, students must successfully pass the Graduate Comprehensive Examinations or the Thesis Option. It is important to note that students who complete a Master of Education in School Counseling are not automatically eligible for the School Counseling Certification program or state certification candidacy. They must complete all the certification requirements.

  5. Texas A&M University-College Station
    Location

    College Station, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    As the state's first public higher education institution, Texas A&M University has established itself as a research university that aims to prepare leaders for the future. The university's online Master of Educational Psychology with an emphasis in School Counseling program prepares students for school counselor certification in Texas. The program takes a unique approach with establishing a strong foundation in child development and a focus on cultural competence and culturally relevant practices in counseling. The 48-credit hour program can be completed within 2 years on a full-time basis. Courses are taught both synchronous and asynchronous depending on the course. The course sequence is set with the first year including core courses such as Foundations in School Counseling, Techniques of Research and Issues in Child and Adolescent Development. The second year includes fewer courses to account for the required practicum in school counseling where students will complete a minimum 400 hours with 200 direct hours where the on-site supervisor must be a certified counselor and have at least 3 years of experience in the field. Because of Texas state requirements for school counselors, the program prefers that incoming students have at least 2 years of teaching experience prior to enrollment. At the very least, the student must establish an affiliation with a school where they would complete their field practicum.

  6. Oral Roberts University
    Location

    Tulsa, OK

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Oral Roberts University has offered Christ-centered educational opportunities for more than 50 years with a focus on creating a cadre of alumni who will go out and change the world. The school especially hopes to do this through their Master of Arts in Professional Counseling program designed for students who wish to become professional counselors with a Christian foundation. This program is offered in both in-person or hybrid formats and has 3 concentrations: general professional counseling, marital and family counseling and addictions counseling. Because the program is based within the College of Theology & Ministry, there is a strong foundation in biblical studies and Christian theology. The program describes the hybrid model as a modular format that has several options for delivery methods to maximize flexibility for busy students. The professional counseling degree requires 66 credit hours of coursework to complete over 3 years full time. The marital and family counseling track requires 69 credit hours and the addiction concentration requires 78 credit hours. The concentrations offer the same professional counseling core courses with additional specialized credits. Core course examples include Christian Approaches to Counseling, Crisis, Trauma and Addiction, Group Dynamics and Counseling Diverse Populations. In accordance with licensing requirements, the degree requires a counseling practicum and internship that is related to the concentration. Each of the tracks lead toward professional licensing related to that degree and students may concentrate in more than one of the tracks.

  7. Missouri Baptist University
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At the heart of Missouri Baptist University's mission is a commitment to diversity. The institution aims to stress the importance of study and service while instilling the value of the worth and dignity of all people. This is a strong focus in the online Master of Arts in School Counseling program. The program is specifically designed for students who want to pursue certification as a school guidance counselor in a public K-12 setting. It also also prepares graduates to continue their studies in a doctoral program. All faculty are Christian and the curriculum is centered around Christian principles and perspectives. Students complete 51 semester hours over the course of 36 months to complete the program. All courses are designed to be taken in a prescribed series. Examples of the core courses includes Foundations of School Counseling, Counseling Skills and Techniques, Advanced Human Development, Group Counseling and Child and Adolescent Counseling. Within the second and third years of the program, students will complete a counseling practicum which is an experiential course in a clinical setting where students will put their counseling skills into practice. Students will gain further experience with supervised elementary school and secondary school counseling internships during their final year. All courses are offered in an asynchronous model so students have the flexibility to complete course assignments on their own time. MBU's Distance Learning Center provides online students with the technology and tools for online learning.

  8. Nyack College
    Location

    Nyack , NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Nyack College was founded in the late-1800s by a well-known leader in the American missionary movement, Dr. A.B. Simpson. While the institution has evolved and modernized, Nyack still maintains its affiliation with The Christian and Missionary Alliance and is expanding its educational and religious mission to online students. The Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling online program is designed to prepare mental health practitioners for their professions as well as licensure. The 63-credit program takes 3 years to complete. Online students can build relationships with their peers through the cohort model where all students complete the same course sequence throughout the 3 years. Courses are both synchronous and asynchronous. In addition to online coursework, students are required to complete 7-day on-campus residencies each year to meet with fellow students and faculty. Examples of some of the coursework includes Foundations of Mental Health Counseling, Group Dynamics and Therapy, Ethics and Professional Issues and Career Development. In order to qualify for licensure and graduation, students must complete both a practicum and internship. Prerequisites for the program include Introduction to Psychology and Abnormal Psychology. For prospective students, Nyack offers online tools to get a "taste" of the counseling program through free webinars and handouts that provide a glimpse into the coursework.

  9. Huntington University
    Location

    Huntington, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Built on a historic relationship with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Huntington University is a Christian liberal arts institution dedicated to higher education with a strong religious foundation. Huntington also has a goal to make their graduate programs accesible through 6 online master's programs including the Master of Arts in Counseling program. The program delves into the theoretical foundations of counseling, as well as the emotional and spiritual issues involved within the profession. Graduates of the program will also be prepared to pursue counseling licensure (Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Indiana or equivalent licenses for many other states). An element the program highlights is a self-care component where students are encouraged to pursue their own healing and growth through their studies. Almost all of the courses can be completed online with the exception of 2 3-day intensives to be completed on campus. One of which, Personal Development Skills Process Group, will take place the week before students begin their program. The programming for this course includes an all-day symposium for all new students within the Institute for Leadership and Counseling. The student's normal course load is 10-12 credits per semester (15-week courses), which would put students on track to complete the program within 2 years. In order to qualify for licensure, students must participate in both a practicum and an internship that puts them on track to earn the appropriate number of counseling and direct client interaction hours. Prerequisites for the program include 6 credit hours of Biblical studies and 6 credits hours of psychology courses (including 3 hours in Abnormal Psychology). Students without the needed prerequisites can work with Huntington to complete those prior to beginning the program.

  10. Apex School of Theology
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Apex School of Theology was founded in 1995 to fulfill a gap in theological education for pastors and laypeople who could not afford the expensive tuition of other seminaries. Apex has continued this model of ensuring an affordable Christian education through its distance education program. The Master of Arts in Christian Counseling program is designed for students interested in counseling in a religious setting. The degree can also be applied to counseling within a community-based setting. This comprehensive program requires 69 credit hours to complete - 60 of which are core "paradigm" courses. Examples of those courses includes Old and New Testament Studies, Foundations in Theology, Family Systems Therapy, Cross-Cultural Counseling and Physiological Bases of Behavior. The program requires a clinical practicum to graduate. Students may also select 1 of 4 ministerial studies electives. Students have a choice to take either the Professional Counselor Track or the Marriage and Family Therapy Track where they will take 4 related courses to their concentration. For example, the Professional Counselor Track offers Interpersonal Techniques in Helping Relationships and Crisis Counseling Theories and Applications courses, while the Marriage and Family Therapy Track offers Marriage and Family Counseling and Children in Therapy courses. Both require an internship specific to the concentration. Note that the school cannot guarantee certification or licensure; regulations vary from state to state.

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.

Grief Therapy

Counselors help grieving persons to examine their feelings and work through their grief in a constructive manner.

Addiction Therapy

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.

In-Home Therapist

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.

Group Therapist

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 Counselor

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.

American Counseling Association

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.

International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC)

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.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)

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.

American School Counselor Association

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.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Counseling?

CAREERLOWEST 10% EARNED ANNUALLYMEDIAN ANNUAL SALARYHIGHEST 10% EARNED ANNUALLYJOB GROWTH 2016-2026
Licensed Mental Health CounselorLess than $34,000$43,300More than $63,000+23%
Substance Abuse CounselorsLess than $29,000$38,243More than $51,000+23%
Marriage and Family TherapistsLess than $35,000$48,790More than $67,000+23%
School CounselorLess than $36,000$55,410More than $71,000+13%
Social WorkerLess than $31,000$47,980More than $54,000+16%
Rehabilitation CounselorLess than $30,000$34,860More than $64,000+13%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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 AidStudents 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.
  • Counseling ScholarshipsMany counseling professional organizations also offer scholarships to students in specific degree plans. Graduate departments at individual schools may also offer scholarships to students attending their programs. Female students of American Indian descent can apply for American Indian Graduate Center Fellowships. Students can also find scholarships through the American Counseling Association and the National Association of Junior Auxiliaries.

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