Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Completing a master’s degree program in counseling is the first step to becoming a professional counselor. Although there are some bachelor’s-level degrees with a focus in counseling, in order to become a licensed professional counselor, you need to complete a graduate-level education, then pursue your state’s counseling licensure process.

Master’s in counseling degrees and master’s in counseling online degrees offer a specialized curriculum, with a primary focus on one centralized topic. A Master of Arts, Science or Education in Counseling focuses on shaping your professional identity as a counselor, developing core competencies and expanding your understanding of human development and psychology.

There are many master’s in counseling online degree programs aspiring professionals can choose from. Considering factors such as accreditation, online student support services, clinical placement assistance, small class sizes and live online classroom discussions can help you select a program that aligns with your lifestyle, interests and professional goals.

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Sponsored Online Counseling Programs

Pepperdine University

Graduate School of Education and Psychology


Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy

Pepperdine prepares you to pursue licensure as an LMFT or LPC, allowing you to make a powerful impact in the lives of others in as few as 27 months. With no GRE required, apply to the master’s in marriage and family therapy online from Pepperdine and begin creating a positive social impact. Part-time track available.

  • No GRE required
  • Bachelor degree required
  • Complete as few as 27 months

Pepperdine University

Graduate School of Education and Psychology


Master of Arts in Psychology

Pepperdine University’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program prepares students to pursue doctoral study or a career in human services.

  • Open to all undergrad majors
  • No GRE required 
  • Can be completed in about 18 months

Northwestern University

The Family Institute at Northwestern University


Master of Arts in Counseling

Earn a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling online from top-9 ranked1 Northwestern University.

1U.S. News & World Report: 2022 Best National University Rankings 

  • CACREP Accredited
  • Earn your MA in Counseling from Northwestern in as few as 18 months
  • Accelerated full-time, traditional, or part-time tracks available

New York University

NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development


Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness

Aspiring mental health counselors are prepared to pursue licensure with NYU Steinhardt’s MPCAC-accredited online counseling master’s. Students can earn their degree in as few as 21 mos. GRE not req. 

  • Prepare to become a mental health counselor
  • Accredited by the MPCAC
  • As few as 21 months to complete
  • GRE not required 


Why Get a Master’s Degree in Counseling?

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which accredits postgraduate counseling degree programs, identifies a master’s in counseling as the “entry degree” for people who want to become licensed professional counselors. A master’s degree equips candidates with the knowledge and tools to guide and support a variety of clients through the challenges of daily living—and for many, that’s what makes this helping profession worthwhile. 

Earning a master’s degree may pay off down the line. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median annual wages for substance abuse, behavior disorder and mental health counselors in 2022 were $49,710. Additionally, job prospects for this industry are strong. BLS estimates that employment of such counselors will grow 18% from 2022 through 2032—much faster than the average for all occupations (3%).

Types of Counseling Degrees

Counseling degrees vary by specialty and degree type. CACREP-accredited programs include:

Degree types include Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Education, offered at public or private institutions. Applicants can also choose between programs offered on-campus, online or a combination of the two. Learn more about online counseling degrees.

Counseling Curriculum

The curriculum of a master’s in counseling degree program must meet CACREP’s standards in order for the program to be accredited. Accordingly, programs must consist of graduate-level study with a minimum of 60 semester credit hours or 90 quarter credit hours. The foundation of the counseling curriculum must cover eight common core areas:

  1. Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice
  2. Social and Cultural Diversity
  3. Human Growth and Development
  4. Career Development
  5. Counseling and Helping Relationships
  6. Group Counseling and Group Work
  7. Assessment and Testing
  8. Research and Program Evaluation

Learners may also elect to concentrate in eight specialty areas in counseling:

  1. Addiction Counseling
  2. Career Counseling
  3. Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  4. Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling
  5. College Counseling and Student Affairs
  6. Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling
  7. School Counseling
  8. Rehabilitation Counseling

Lastly, the curriculum must include both a practicum and an internship. The practicum must be at least 100 supervised clock hours over a full academic term of 10 weeks, with 40 clock hours of direct service with clients. The internship must be a minimum of 600 supervised clock hours, with 240 hours of direct service.

Admissions Requirements

While specific admission requirements will vary from school to school, at minimum you’ll likely need to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in order to apply to a master’s in counseling degree program. Schools may not have specific requirements when it comes to what candidates studied in their undergraduate programs, but a bachelor’s degree in psychology, or a bachelor’s degree in social work and related fields may be useful to prospective students. 

It may also be helpful to have some experience in the mental health field, such as paid or volunteer experience in settings, including psychiatric centers and crisis centers. Outlined below are a few materials that may be required during the application process:

  • Undergraduate coursework in psychology
  • GRE scores 
  • Resume/CV
  • Transcripts
  • Recommendation letters

Types of Counseling Jobs and Counselor Salary Info

You may settle on a counseling specialty before or after completion of your degree program. If you already know which field you would like to pursue, search for online counseling programs that offer the specialty, such as online school counseling programs

If you are uncertain about your desired career path, you may review our guide on 10 different counseling careers. This resource is designed to provide you with valuable insights to help you make an informed decision. Most online counseling programs, when accredited, will offer some of the same basic counseling coursework. Keep in mind, however, that career-specific online counseling programs may better prepare you for post-graduate counseling licensure.

Mental Health Counselor

Role: Provide psychoeducational and therapeutic support, engaging in assessments, treatment planning and crisis management while taking a client-centered approach. Mental health counselors care for the short-term and long-term well-being of individuals, couples, families and groups, and are dedicated to the optimal functioning of all persons under their care. A master’s in clinical mental health counseling is useful for this career path. 

School Counselor

Role: Support child and adolescent development in individual and group meetings, with a focus on the academic, personal, social and career growth. Skilled school counselors are good communicators with the ability to empathize and guide students through challenges they may face both at school and at home. A master’s in school counseling will prepare applicants for this career.

Career Counselor

Role: Focus on helping individuals make decisions about career pathways through exploring their interests, strengths and skills to develop a personalized plan incorporating individual  interests and professional goals. A master’s in career counseling can prepare future counselors to build these necessary skills. 

Learn how to become a career counselor.

College Counselor

Role: Guide college students through their academic, social and personal goals while addressing mental health, substance abuse, suicide prevention or relationship challenges. College counselors have strong interpersonal and organizational skills, and serve as effective advocates for their students. A master’s in college counseling and student affairs may be most aligned with this career path.

Learn how to become a college counselor

Military Counselor

Role: Work with military personnel and their families providing psychoeducational services to promote mental health and address challenges of the military lifestyle. This may include providing therapeutic services, off-site counseling for service members deployed overseas and recognizing if a referral for further help is needed, such as psychiatry, drug treatment or a support group. 

Learn how to become a military counselor.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Role: Address conditions of clients with physical, emotional, developmental or mental disabilities to develop treatment plans for adjustment or healthy development. A master’s in rehabilitation counseling/clinical rehabilitation counseling may be suitable for those who want to pursue this career path. 

Learn how to become a rehabilitation counselor.

Child and Adolescent Counselor

Role: Address challenges that children and adolescents experience, such as learning disabilities, behavioral or social issues, or difficulties at home. Child counselors create open, accepting environments for children to explore any issue, working diligently to develop appropriate strategies for clients to overcome life’s hurdles.

Learn how to become a child and adolescent counselor.

Grief Counselor

Role: Assist individuals dealing with loss, illness or experiencing significant change through individual and group sessions. Grief counselors are able to demonstrate compassion and empathy to support clients through difficult times.

Learn how to become a grief counselor.

Pastoral Counselor

Role: Evolving from religious counseling to pastoral psychotherapy, biblical or pastoral counseling provides support and guidance for individuals with spiritual influences.

Learn how to become a pastoral counselor.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Role: Help clients achieve and maintain abstinence, reestablish their lives and use healthy coping skills through commonly used aversion therapy, solution-focused brief therapy and social skills training. A master’s in addiction counseling can help prepare future counselors for this career path.

Learn how to become a substance abuse counselor

Accreditation, Counseling Certification and Licensure for Master’s in Counseling Programs

Master’s in counseling programs that are accredited by the CACREP typically meet state licensing requirements. CACREP accreditation implies that university counselor training and educational programs have met the minimal professional standards to practice as an independent counselor.

There are over 40 CACREP-accredited online master’s in counseling programs with specializations in clinical mental health, school, marriage, couple and family, career, student affairs and college, community and rehabilitation counseling. The Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) accredits a number of online counseling programs. 

How To Become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

As noted by CACREP, counseling certification and licensure is processed by state counseling boards according to their own requirements. Generally speaking, graduates of a master’s in counseling degree program will need to take their state’s licensure exam and complete a number of supervised postgraduate hours in order to be certified.

The American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB) works to standardize such qualifications among its members, but variations persist. Aspiring counselors are advised to contact their state board for precise information regarding requirements. Learn more about counseling licensure and certification.

Below are some common steps to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC), although everyone’s path is different.

  1. Earn a master’s in counseling or equivalent from a CACREP-accredited degree program.
  2. Complete the state licensure examination mandated by your state counseling board.
  3. Complete the number of supervised postgraduate hours mandated by your state counseling board.
  4. Complete any other requirements mandated by your state counseling board, such as a background check.
  5. Apply for licensure as an LPC from your state counseling board.
  6. Secure employment as an LPC.

CACREP-Accredited Programs

The CACREP recognizes the quality and standards of counselor education programs that are set by the profession. Through a self-assessment, counselor education programs submit information pertaining to the learning environment, the professional counseling, professional practice, evaluation of the program, coursework offerings, counseling career-specific content and doctoral standards for counselor education and supervision programs. CACREP accreditation rests with the counseling degree program and not the university. This is an important distinction to make for universities that offer several counseling degree programs.

MPCAC-Accredited Programs

The MPCAC accredits programs in the psychology and counseling fields that are science-based in education and training. MPCAC also promotes the integration of science and clinical practice—preparing counselors to provide scientifically based, culturally responsive counseling services.

Factors to Consider in Choosing Your Online Counseling Program

Note: Factors comparing online master’s in counseling programs were created by 2U.

A master’s in counseling from an accredited online program can help set you up for a counseling position in the public or private sector, or a career transition. This comprehensive list of online schools was curated to provide the most accurate and helpful information on all types of CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling degree programs online. It encompasses five different factors, including support services and class sizes.

For online counseling programs that are career-specific, such as an online master’s in school counseling or an online master’s in clinical mental health counseling, CACREP has “entry-level specialty area” content standards for accreditation. These standards include a curriculum that supports the specific profession (for instance, models of school counseling programs or addiction and mental health co-occurring disorders).

Substance abuse and addiction counseling online programs are accredited by the National Addictions Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC). One addiction counseling program from the University of the Cumberlands is accredited by CACREP. Generally, accreditation by some governing body is important for online counseling programs in order to ensure quality, credibility, and value.

Last updated July 2023.