Best Online Counseling Programs

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Updated December 9, 2022

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Counseling offers a rewarding career. Find out how to get into the best online counseling programs and what to expect.

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Did you know that 1 in 5 adults in the United States as of 2020 have a mental illness? According to the National Institute of Mental Health Counseling, that figure also includes young adults, ages 18-25. Counseling provides a fulfilling — albeit emotionally challenging — career to make a life-changing difference, especially in high-need areas. The best online counseling programs prepare tomorrow's counselors to take on today's challenges in psychology.

If you think you have what it takes to start a counseling career, explore this guide on the best online counseling programs. Discover more about online counseling programs, including how to get admitted, online and hybrid options, and clinical practicum requirements.

What to Look For in an Online Counseling Program

Shopping for an online counseling program requires looking at the factors that separate one degree from the next. First, you want to ensure that you qualify and meet the admission requirements by reviewing the undergraduate and graduate application guidelines.

Once you verify your eligibility, figure out the differences like the student-faculty ratio, which lets you know how much academic resources, career assistance, and personal help you can get. Also, review the school's financial aid resources for psychology students and reputation. Reputable colleges and programs receive accreditation as a voluntary process to show that they offer quality education.

Last, research the differences between counseling vs. psychology programs.

Hybrid and Online Options

Online counseling programs meet virtually, but the online requirements vary by program. For instance, online counseling students may complete primarily asynchronous work, except for a practicum experience. They may attend lectures on assessment, research, and interventions.

Another online counseling program may meet at set times online, perhaps weekly in the evenings. Whether online, hybrid, or in person, all accredited counseling programs prepare graduates for counseling careers.

Hybrid counseling programs combine in-person and online coursework. In this case, students may meet on campus for labs or lectures, while completing other lessons online.

Practical Experience Requirements

Counselors need a foundation in psychological theories, but they also must learn practical applications of those theoretical principles. Psychology internships and practicum experience provide students with the know-how to conduct assessments and create plans of care.

Practicums and internships provide students with the clinical experience needed to pass professional counseling licensure board exams and earn a state license. Licensed counselors make an average annual salary of $49,730, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, they have the potential to boost their earnings with added responsibilities and work experience.

While entry-level counselors (those in the bottom 10%) make an average of $29,490 a year, professionals in the 90th percentile earn an annual average wage of $76,780.

Many counseling positions are in high demand. The BLS projects jobs for substance abuse, behavior disorder, and mental health counselors to increase by 22% from 2021-2031 — far outpacing the average for most occupations.

Featured Online Psychology Bachelor's Programs

Best Online Counseling Programs

#1 Best Online Counseling Programs

Liberty University

  • Lynchburg, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Liberty University, a private institution ‌in Lynchburg, Virginia, offers an 60-credit master of arts in clinical mental health counseling. Learners take classes 100% online except for two on-campus intensives. 

Liberty holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The online counseling graduate program holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. 

The online counseling master’s program helps prepare graduates to sit for the licensed professional counselor exam. Military students pay a discounted tuition rate. 

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Applicants need a 2.7 GPA or higher. Students may transfer up to 50% of the program's total credits from an accredited institution. The program takes an average of 2.5 years to complete.

Average Tuition
In-state
$15,417
Out-of-state
$15,417
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
51%
Students Enrolled
85,586
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2 Best Online Counseling Programs

Clarks Summit University

  • South Abington Township, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Clarks Summit University ‌in Pennsylvania offers an online or on-campus master of science in counseling program. The school holds accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Focused on biblical counseling, the program prepares graduates to pursue licensure or doctoral study. 

The curriculum includes a 36-credit professional counseling core. Learners also take electives and required biblical counseling courses. Candidates complete a supervised practicum and internship, plus oral and written exams. Graduates may qualify to sit for the National Counselor Examination. The program takes less than 4 years on average to complete.

Average Tuition
In-state
$26,082
Out-of-state
$26,082
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
41%
Students Enrolled
771
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#3 Best Online Counseling Programs

University of Southern California

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Southern California's online master of education in school counseling caters to aspiring K-12 school counselors. The program follows the American School Counselor Association’s National Model for School Counseling standards.

Program applicants need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and a 3.0 GPA or higher. The curriculum focuses on supporting K-12 students’ emotional, social, and academic needs. The fully online program combines weekly synchronous classes and self-paced coursework. Students complete a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship.

Full-time learners can graduate in two years. Part-time students usually take 2.5-3 years to complete the program. Qualified graduates can receive a recommendation for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s Pupil Personnel Services: School Counseling credential. 

Average Tuition
In-state
$57,256
Out-of-state
$57,256
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
48,321
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#4 Best Online Counseling Programs

New York University

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

New York University (NYU) delivers two online master's counseling programs. Located in New York City, the university holds accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council accredits NYU's counseling programs. 

Admission requirements include an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution. Applicants need a GPA of 3.0 or higher. NYU does not require GRE or GMAT scores. Master's candidates can focus on school counseling or mental health counseling. Both tracks allow part-time or full-time enrollment. 

Students complete synchronous and asynchronous online coursework. In-person requirements include a 100-hour practicum, three 200-hour internships, and an on-campus immersion experience. An NYU placement team works with students to find practicum placement within 75 miles of the student’s home.

Average Tuition
In-state
$50,684
Out-of-state
$50,684
Retention Rate
94%
Admission Rate
16%
Students Enrolled
52,885
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#5 Best Online Counseling Programs

University of Cincinnati-Main Campus

  • Cincinnati, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Cincinnati's research-focused bachelor of science in substance abuse counseling offers full- and part-time enrollment. The institution holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. 

First-year admission requirements include an official high school transcript with a GPA of 2.7 or higher. The program qualifies students to pursue careers working with people with substance abuse disorders. Other positions for graduates include social worker, guidance counselor, and intervention specialist. 

The 100% online program comprises 60-120 credits and takes 2-4 years to complete. Program completion meets academic requirements for licensed chemical dependency counselors in Ohio and some other states. Out-of-state enrollees should check their state board for local licensure criteria.

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,476
Out-of-state
$24,810
Retention Rate
88%
Admission Rate
77%
Students Enrolled
39,263
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#6 Best Online Counseling Programs

Wake Forest University

  • Winston-Salem, NC
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Wake Forest University enrolls over 8,000 learners at its Winston-Salem, North Carolina, campus and online. The school's online master's in counseling program holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Students can choose between tracks in clinical mental health and school counseling.  

Admission requirements include a 2.5 cumulative GPA or above. Applicants need a GRE score of at least 300. Some students may qualify for GRE waivers. The 60-credit program features 100% online coursework with some in-person practicum requirements. 

Program graduates may qualify to sit for the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. Aspiring professional counselors must pass this exam for state licensure in many jurisdictions.

Average Tuition
In-state
$54,430
Out-of-state
$54,430
Retention Rate
94%
Admission Rate
30%
Students Enrolled
8,495
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
7% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#7 Best Online Counseling Programs

Mississippi College

  • Clinton, MS
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Mississippi College (MC) is a private Christian college in Clinton, Mississippi. The school's doctorate in professional counseling emphasizes clinical skills. This fully online program helps prepare professionals for leadership and advanced clinical practice. 

Admission requirements include all transcripts from previous coursework. Students must also submit a professional portfolio showing their experience and achievements. Applicants should hold credentials as a licensed professional counselor or the equivalent. A capstone course involves presenting an advanced clinical case study. 

MC students can complete their degree in 6 semesters (including 4 courses per semester). The program entails 72 hours beyond a master’s-level degree.

Average Tuition
In-state
$17,550
Out-of-state
$17,550
Retention Rate
76%
Admission Rate
42%
Students Enrolled
4,733
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
56% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#8 Best Online Counseling Programs

University of the Cumberlands

  • Williamsburg, KY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of the Cumberlands (UC), in Williamsburg, Kentucky, ranks as one of the state's largest private universities. The Christian university's online master's in clinical mental health counseling holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. UC holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. 

The curriculum features 48 credits of counseling core courses. These classes cover subjects like clinical practice, human growth and development, diagnostic assessments, and grief counseling. In-person requirements include a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships. 

Master's candidates also take 12 credits of specialized courses in clinical mental health counseling. Topics include child and adolescent counseling and marriage and family counseling.

Transfer students can apply up to 18 semester hours from a regionally accredited school. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree and a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0. Program graduates may qualify to sit for licensed professional counselor state licensure board examinations.

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,875
Out-of-state
$9,875
Retention Rate
69%
Admission Rate
80%
Students Enrolled
16,966
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
91% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#9 Best Online Counseling Programs

University of Denver

  • Denver, CO
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Denver (DU) offers an online master of arts in school counseling through its Morgridge College of Education. The program holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Students attend live, scheduled classes. 

DU accepts applications year-round for start dates in January, March, June, and September. The program includes 18 classes comprising 74 quarter credit hours. Courses feature mock counseling sessions. Learners complete a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internship experiences at schools in their local areas. 

Full-time students can graduate in about 24 months. Program applicants do not need GRE or GMAT test scores or prior professional experience.

Average Tuition
In-state
$51,336
Out-of-state
$51,336
Retention Rate
85%
Admission Rate
59%
Students Enrolled
12,931
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
28% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#10 Best Online Counseling Programs

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Keiser University holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The university's many online offerings include a master of science program in clinical mental health counseling.

The 60-credit online school counseling program integrates theories and approaches of mental health counseling with diagnostic principles and evidenced-based treatments. 

Most coursework takes place online. Students also build individual and group counseling skills through three weekend-long on-campus residencies. Learners complete 100 in-person practicum hours and 600 internship hours. The school encourages students to take part in at least 1,000 total hours of clinical experience with 40% comprising face-to-face client contact hours. 

Learners can complete the program in 3-4 years depending on the number of hours taken per term.

Average Tuition
In-state
$19,808
Out-of-state
$19,808
Retention Rate
75%
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
19,567
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
47% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Frequently Asked Questions

Are online counseling programs worth it?

Enrolling in an online counseling program offers an above-average level of job security.

While the BLS projects the average growth from 2021-2031 for all occupations to be 5%, many counseling professionals offer faster-than-average job increases. School and career counseling jobs are expected to increase by 10% and marriage and family therapists by 14% during that decade.

Can I become a counselor without a degree?

Perhaps. Requirements to become a counselor vary by state. Educational requirements depend on the state, but generally you need a master's degree to get licensed as a counselor.

Positions in counseling, such as community health workers and peer support specialists, may not require a secondary degree.

Is counseling a good job?

Counseling offers an emotionally and financially rewarding career for professionals willing to take on added responsibility and earn a higher education.

Depending on the industry, counselors could make a top salary. Counselors at religious organizations make the most with a mean annual salary of $98,780, according to the BLS. Grantmaking and giving services offer counselors the second-highest wages, with a salary of $90,280.

Sources


Page last reviewed November 22, 2022. 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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