Best Master's Programs in Mental Health Counseling

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Updated January 11, 2024

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Explore the best mental health counseling master's programs, which help prepare graduates for careers improving people's lives.

Psychology.org 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.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Whether you've decided to pursue a mental health counselor degree or are still considering your options, this guide helps you discover the right degree program and how to pay for it.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Best Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs 2024

Read our methodology to learn more about how we ranked these schools.

#1 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

Harvard University

  • Cambridge, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Harvard University's clinical psychology doctoral degree is accredited by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) and the American Psychological Association (APA). The first two years of the program end with a project, and the third year begins with a comprehensive examination. Fourth-year students complete a thesis and end the program with an internship. Learners can complete the program in five years, but may take up to seven years. Generally, students receive stipends, tuition, and health fees. 

The program emphasizes research on severe psychopathology. After earning a doctorate, graduates can apply for psychology licensure. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$51,143
Out-of-state
$51,143
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$50,928
Out-of-state
$50,928
Retention Rate
96%
Acceptance Rate
4%
Students Enrolled
31,345
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
38% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#2 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

Northwestern University

  • Evanston, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Northwestern University's clinical psychology program is available as a master's or a Ph.D. option to prepare graduates for licensure. According to the school, it is one of the few programs based in the psychiatry department of an academic medical center (AMC). The master's program requires 17 units, and the doctoral program requires 30. The doctorate requires original research, including a thesis and defense, and ends with an internship.

Please note that the master's program does not prepare students for clinical practice. The school urges students interested in clinical training to apply to one of Northwestern's mental health counseling programs or to earn another mental health therapist degree. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$60,276
Out-of-state
$60,276
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$56,067
Out-of-state
$56,067
Retention Rate
99%
Acceptance Rate
7%
Students Enrolled
23,409
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#3 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

New York University

  • New York, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

NYU's clinical psychology program is an informal track within its mental health counseling master of arts program. This offering is not a traditional mental health counseling program that includes supervised clinical hours. It prepares students for a doctoral program and to become licensed as a clinical or counseling psychologist.

Learners can take courses from other NYU programs and departments with permission from their advisor. The program requires completing 36 credits (including 21 credits of electives) and either a thesis or a comprehensive exam. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$53,770
Out-of-state
$53,770
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$35,982
Out-of-state
$35,982
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
13%
Students Enrolled
58,226
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
45% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#4 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

University of Central Florida

  • Orlando, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Central Florida's master of arts in clinical psychology has two formats: a mental health therapist degree that leads to licensing through a non-thesis track and a thesis-track program emphasizing research. The thesis track does not lead to licensing. The non-thesis track mental health counseling program is accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). After graduation and a two-year supervised internship, graduates of the mental health counselor degree option can apply for a Florida counseling license.

As part of the research/thesis-track program application, students should indicate their research interests and which faculty member they would like to study under. To apply for the non-thesis track, it helps to highlight relevant work experience. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$4,478
Out-of-state
$19,810
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$6,916
Out-of-state
$25,759
Retention Rate
92%
Acceptance Rate
36%
Students Enrolled
70,310
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
9% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#5 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

Boston University

  • Boston, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Boston University's master of arts in psychology is a one-year program that can prepare students for doctoral study or allow them to pursue a particular research interest. It is not intended to prepare students to practice psychology.

Graduates are expected to demonstrate proficiency in at least two of the three programmatic bodies of knowledge (brain, behavior, and cognition; clinical; or development psychology), be able to understand and evaluate research design and statistics, write a research report in APA or Index Medicus style, and give a conference presentation.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$58,560
Out-of-state
$58,560
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$58,560
Out-of-state
$58,560
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
19%
Students Enrolled
36,104
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#6 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

Divine Mercy University

  • Sterling, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

At Divine Mercy University's master of science in psychology program, one of the best counseling master's programs, students learn to integrate the principles and practices of Catholicism and Christianity with the best practices in psychology. The program comprises 33 credits and does not lead to licensing. Instead, graduates can use the program for other work and ministry related to psychological well-being.

Enrollees choose from several concentrations, including marriage and family studies, leadership, pre-doctoral, human services counseling, bioethics, or a self-designed concentration. The self-designed concentration offers the ability for students to shape the mental health counseling program or other focus. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$20,828
Out-of-state
$20,828
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
397
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
84% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#7 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at San Diego

  • San Diego, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at San Diego's mental health counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). It prepares graduates for licensing eligibility in mental health. This mental health counseling program includes 700 fieldwork hours, and additional fieldwork is available for students seeking licensure in states that require more hours.

As a mental health therapist degree, the program emphasizes ethics, social justice, and advanced clinical practice. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree and 3.0 GPA.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$11,328
Out-of-state
$11,328
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$22,554
Out-of-state
$22,554
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
126
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
67% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#8 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

The Wright Institute

  • Berkeley, CA
  • 4 years
  • Campus

This school is part of Vanguard University, a Christian school based in Berkeley, California. The Wright Institute's master's program in clinical psychology is approved by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences as a mental health therapist degree to prepare students to become marriage and family therapists or professional clinical counselors. The program emphasizes faith and diversity.

Students typically complete this mental health counseling program in three years, although there is a part-time, four-year option offered as well. Courses are held weekdays in the late afternoon or evenings to accommodate working students. The program requires 61-66 credits, and tuition costs $820 per credit.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$37,650
Out-of-state
$37,650
Retention Rate
Not provided
Acceptance Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
517
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#9 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

CUNY City College

  • New York, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

CUNY City College's master's program in general psychology is the second New York City school on our list of best counseling master's programs. This program is designed for students who want to prepare for a doctoral program or to extend their knowledge of psychology and psychology research, rather than for those seeking licensure. 

After the first semester, enrollees can take up to 40% of the remaining coursework at other CUNY branches, including doctoral courses at the Graduate Center. The thesis option requires 31 credits and the non-thesis option requires 40 credits. While the program does not lead to licensure as a therapist, the Credential in Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counseling track meets the New York State educational requirements to become a substance abuse counselor. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$6,930
Out-of-state
$14,880
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$11,090
Out-of-state
$20,520
Retention Rate
81%
Acceptance Rate
64%
Students Enrolled
15,031
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
86% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#10 Best Master’s Programs in Mental Health Counseling

DePaul University

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

DePaul University's clinical psychology program offers two tracks: child and community. The program prepares graduates to work in the public sector, in cities with an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse population that includes clients who have traditionally not had access to psychological services. 

In this master's/Ph.D. program, the master's degree comprises 76 quarter-hour credits, and the Ph.D. requires 16 quarter-hour credits. The master's degree requires a thesis, and the doctorate requires a comprehensive examination or publication-quality review paper, dissertation, and internship after the other degree requirements are completed. Both the thesis and dissertation require a defense. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$41,361
Out-of-state
$41,361
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$17,951
Out-of-state
$17,951
Retention Rate
84%
Acceptance Rate
69%
Students Enrolled
21,670
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

What to Look For in a Mental Health Counseling Program

When researching mental health counseling programs, you'll want to pay attention to factors including accreditation, tuition, fees, and financial aid options.

Make sure you know the admission requirements, which typically include a minimum GPA, relevant work experience, a background check, and GRE scores.

Accreditation for Counseling Master's Programs

To be eligible for state licensure or professional certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors, you must graduate from a counseling master's program at an accredited institution.

Many of the best counseling master's programs also hold accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This additional, programmatic accreditation indicates that an individual program meets established requirements for training counselors. All of the programs in our school rankings are accredited.

Practical Experience Requirements

If you want to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC), make sure that the program meets the practical experience requirements of your state board.

Master's level programs typically offer internships and practicums, where students apply what they've learned in the classroom to real-world settings. Generally, internships include supervised hands-on experience, while practicums provide opportunities to observe an LPC.

Programs may help you locate and secure internship and practicum placements. Others require you to arrange your own position. Ensure that the program you choose has an option that works for you and that the experience satisfies your state's requirements.

Mental Health Specializations for Counseling Program Graduates

Though exact licensing qualifications vary by state, becoming a mental health counselor typically requires successful completion of a master's degree in counseling, supervised internship hours, supervised postgraduate experience hours, and passing an approved certification exam.

Examples of possible specializations and certifications for mental health counselors include:

Mental Health Specializations
Specialization Relevant Certifications
Substance Use and Addiction Counseling National Certified Counselor (NCC), Master Addictions Counselor
Clinical Mental Health Counseling NCC, Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
Marriage, Family, and Relationship Counseling NCC
Behavioral Counseling NCC
Rehabilitation Counseling NCC, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor
Trauma Counseling NCC, Clinical Trauma Professional

The median annual pay for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $53,710, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects that these jobs will grow by 18% from 2022-2032, which is much faster than average.

Paying for a Mental Health Counseling Program

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a master's degree in a health professions field, including counseling, was $15,401 in 2020. Additional costs often include books, supplies, transportation and parking for class and/or internships, and technology and background check fees.

Research and apply for financial aid options to help offset the costs of a mental health counselor degree. Available funding usually includes federal loans and grants and departmental, institutional, and private scholarships.

Graduate students may also find teaching or research assistantships within their programs or fellowships through their schools or professional organizations.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Health Counseling

What degree do most mental health counselors have?

Popular mental health therapist degrees include a master's in counseling, psychology, or a closely related field. Most states require a master's degree or higher to become a licensed professional counselor.

What is the difference between a master's in psychology and a master's in mental health counseling?

The main difference between psychology and counseling master's degrees is the scope of training they provide. Counseling degrees emphasize practical skills like talk therapy, while psychology degrees emphasize theoretical skills like research design. Furthermore, mental health counselors can earn a license after their master's degree, but aspiring psychologists must complete a doctoral program to become licensed.

Is counseling a good career path?

Counselors are in high demand, and mental health counselors are projected to see an 18% employment increase from 2022-2032, according to BLS data. Payscale reports a 3.9 out of 5 job satisfaction rate among mental health counselors surveyed.

Where do mental health counselors work?

The BLS lists outpatient centers, individual and family services, and offices of other health practitioners as the top three largest employers of mental health counselors. Counselors also work in hospitals,residential mental health facilities, or their own private practice.

How stressful is it to be a mental health counselor?

Mental health counselors describe their jobs as both rewarding and stressful. The main stressors of this profession include crisis intervention, working with clients who are agitated or violent, heavy caseloads, and a lack of resources, such as pay, training, and staffing.

Page last reviewed December 18, 2023. This page's information — not including school descriptions — was reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by Psychology.org.

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