How to Choose Your Online Master's in Counseling Program

Completing a master’s degree program in counseling is the first step needed to become 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 must complete a graduate level education then pursue your state's counseling licensure process.

Master's in counseling programs offer a specialized curriculum, with a primary focus on one centralized topic. A master of arts, sciences, or education in counseling focuses on creating a professional identity as a counselor, developing your helping skills, and expanding your understanding of human development and psychology.

Whenever you make a decision about your education, there are specific factors you should consider. When researching online counseling programs, these factors include accreditation, online student support services, clinical placement assistance close to home, small class sizes, and live online classroom discussions.

Factors to Consider in Choosing Your Online Counseling Program

Accreditation

Master's in counseling programs that are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs (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 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 four online counseling programs from New York University and University of Massachusetts - Boston.

For online counseling programs that are career specific, such as online master's in school counseling or an online master's in mental health counseling, CACREP has "entry-level specialty area" content standards for accreditation. These standards include curriculum that supports the specific profession, i.e. 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 addictions counseling program from the University of the Cumberlands is accredited only by CACREP. Generally, accreditation by some governing body is important for online counseling programs in order to ensure quality, credibility, and value.


CACREP Accredited Programs

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs (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 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 Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) accredits programs in the psychology and counseling field that are science-based in education and training. MPCAC also promotes the integration of science and clinical practice while preparing counselors in scientifically-based, cultural responsive counseling services.


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What should you look for in an online master's in counseling program?

Discover the important factors to your online counseling degree with these guides.

All Online Master's in Counseling Programs

Online Master's in Counseling Programs
University Name Counseling Program Type Type of Online Class Program Length Total Credits
Adams State University Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 2.5 Years 60 Credits
Antioch University Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Not Live 3 Years 60 Credits
Assumption College Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling Not Live 2 - 3 Years 60 Credits
Bellevue University Master of Science in Clinical Counseling Not Live 2 - 3 Years 60 Credits
Bradley University Master of Arts in Counseling Live 2 - 3 Years 51 Credits
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Not Live 3 Years 60 Credits
Cornerstone University Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 3 - 4 Years 69 Credits
Edinboro University Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 2 - 3 Years 60-63 Credits
Fort Valley State University Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling and Case Management Live 2 - 3 Years 52 Credits
George Washington University Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling Not Live 2 - 2.5 Years 48-60 Credits
Governors State University Master of Health Science in Addiction Studies N/A N/A 32 Credits
Grace College Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Not Live 2 - 3 Years 60 Credits
Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling N/A 2 Years 60 Credits
Hodges University Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Live 2.5 -3 Years 60 Credits
Indiana Wesleyan University Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 2.5 - 5 Years 36-60 Credits
Lamar University Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Not Live N/A 60 Credits
Lindsey Wilson College Master of Education in Mental Health Counseling Not Live N/A 60 Credits
Lock Haven University Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Live 3 - 4 Years 60 Credits
Malone University Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Not Live 3 Years 60 Credits
Messiah College Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 2 - 4 Years 60 Credits
Montana State University-Billings Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Not Live 3 Years 60-66 Credits
New York University - Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance
- Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
Live 1.5 - 2 Years 48-60 Credits
North Carolina Central University Master of Arts Counseling N/A N/A 60 Credits
North Carolina State University Master of Education in Counseling Live 3 Years 60 Credits
Northwestern University Master of Arts in Counseling Live 1.5 - 3 Years 24 Quarter Units
Ottawa University Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling N/A N/A 39 Credits
Palo Alto University Master of Arts in Counseling Live 3 Years 93 Credits
Regent University Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 2 Years 60 Credits
St. Cloud State University Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling Not Live 2 Years 48 - 52 Credits
State University of New York at Buffalo Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling Live 3 Years 48 Credits
Texas Tech University Master of Rehabilitation Counseling N/A 3 Years 51 Credits
Thomas University Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Not Live 2 - 4 Years 60 Credits
Union Institute and University Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Live 2 Years 60 Credits
University of Alabama Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling Live 2 Years 48 - 60 Credits
University of Arkansas Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 2 - 4 Years 60 Credits
University of Massachusetts - Boston - Master of Education in School Counseling
- Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling
- Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling
Live 2 - 3.5 Years 60 Credits
University of Hawaii - Manoa Master of Science in Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Science Not Live 3 Years 48 Credits
University of Kentucky Master of Rehabilitation Counseling Not Live 1.5 - 3 Years 60 Credits
University of Louisiana - Monroe Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health or School Counseling N/A 2 Years 60 Credits
University of North Texas Master of Science Rehabilitation Counseling Not Live N/A 60 Credits
University of South Dakota Master of Arts in Addiction Studies N/A N/A 45 Credits
University of Southern California Master of Education in School Counseling Live 2 - 3 Years 49 Credit Units
University of the Cumberlands Master of Arts in Professional Counseling N/A 2 - 3 Years 60 Credits
University of Wisconsin - Stout Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling Not Live 3 Years 60 Credits
Utah State University Master of Rehabilitation Counseling Live 2 - 3 Years 52 Credits
Vanderbilt University Master of Education in Human Development Counseling Live 2 - 3 Years 48 Credits
Wake Forest University Master of Arts in Counseling Not Live 2 - 3 Years 60 Credits
Western Kentucky University Certificate in Career Service N/A N/A 15 Credits
Winston-Salem State University Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling N/A 2 Years 60 Credits
Wright State University Master of Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling Not Live 2 - 3 Years 60 - 69 Credits

Student Support Services for Online Students

For on-campus students, support services are often within a walk to another building. For online students, finding faculty and staff support may be through the phone or other virtual communication. When researching online counseling degree programs, you want to make sure that the university offers services that meet their online students’ needs, such as flexible hours, online resources, and/or virtual meeting times.

Clinical Placement Support for Distance Learners

What can be considered a top concern for online counseling program students is the support for finding clinical placements. These experiences are required for counseling licensure in all states. All accredited and valuable online counseling programs require an internship where you will use your learned skills and theories with clients. Because you may be learning online from across the country for a university whose campus is over 1,000 miles away, having clinical placement support that is relevant for your home of address is integral. Some universities have online-specific placement support services, helping you to find clinical sites for practice within driving distance from your home.

Online Small Class Sizes

For some, when they think about college, an immediate thought is large lecture halls where students get little one-on-one attention. For online counseling programs, a small class size increases intimacy and learning opportunities. When doing your research, ask counseling programs what their instructor-to-student ratio is. Classes with 15 or less students may increase your one-on-one learning while also developing professional and academic hearty relationships with your online counseling peers.

Live Discussions - Synchronous Learning

Some online counseling programs offer both synchronous and asynchronous learning where you can work as a part of a team during live discussions and offline at your own pace, respectively. Live discussions for online programs provide you the opportunity to “meet” face-to-face with your peers and instructor, bringing the on-campus experience to you through your computer. In synchronous learning formats, you are able to practice your counseling skills and ask real time discussion questions, sparking further learning and understanding.

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On-Campus vs. Online Counseling Programs

Curriculum and Faculty

Online counseling programs often mirror and replicate their on campus counterparts to ensure continuity between programs. Core curriculum offered in online formats should directly reflect those offered by faculty on campus, if the program is accredited online and on campus. Faculty may instruct both on campus courses and lectures as well as moderate online counseling degrees.

Quality

The quality of an online counseling program is a significant and warranted concern for many students thinking of pursuing their master’s degree through a distance learning program. However, online counseling programs that are CACREP or MPCAC accredited meet the same and additional standards that are set forth for on campus counterparts.

Engagement

Online degree programs are typically stereotyped as boring, unengaging, and unmotivating. Watch a video, take a test, check your grades, rinse, repeat. However, the innovative and immersive online learning environment has become the hallmark of programs offered by universities. These programs allow virtual interaction with classmates and instructors from all over the country and world, easy access to knowledgeable advisors and campus resources, and incomparable networking opportunities.

Flexibility

The greatest asset of online learning is convenience. Many schools allow you to create your own schedule so you can attend classes, complete clinical training or even take exams when and where it is most convenient for you. This allows you to balance your education with your work schedule, any family obligations or even while traveling abroad―allowing you to never miss a beat!

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Counseling Career Pathways

Deciding on your counseling career can occur 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 unsure about which career you would like to pursue, review our guides on 10 different counseling careers! 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.


Role: Focus on helping individuals make decisions about career paths through exploring their interests, strengths, and skills.
Skills: Active Listening, Speaking, Reading Comprehension
Average Salary: $58,620, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Role: Professional or clinical counselors address challenges that children and adolescents experience such as learning disabilities, behavioral concerns, identity crisis, social issues, or eating disorders through skill-based learning individual and group counseling.
Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation
Average Salary: $46,560, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Role: Guiding college students through their academic, social, and personal goals while addressing mental health, substance abuse, suicide prevention, or relationship challenges.
Skills: Active Listening, Speaking, Reading Comprehension
Average Salary: $51,950, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Role: Providing psychoeducational and therapeutic support, through engaging in assessments, treatment planning, crisis management, while taking a client-centered approach.
Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation
Average Salary: $46,560, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Role: Working with military personnel and their families by providing psychoeducational services to promote mental health and addressing challenges of the military lifestyle.
Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation
Average Salary: $45,449, retrieved from GlassDoor

Role: Evolving from religious counseling to pastoral psychotherapy, biblical or pastoral counseling provides support and guidance for individuals with spiritual influences.
Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation
Average Salary: $38,166 - $50,755, retrieved from Indeed

Role: Addresses conditions of clients with physical, emotional, developmental, or mental disabilities to develop treatment plans for adjustment or healthy development.
Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Monitoring
Average Salary: $38,950, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics