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 should 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.
Featured Online Counseling Programs
CACREP-Accredited online MA in Counseling for aspiring mental health counselors
Full and part-time options available; Bridge to Counseling program for career changers
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.
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.
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.
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.
Counseling Internship 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.
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.
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.
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.
Mental Health Counselor
Role: Providing psychoeducational and therapeutic support, through engaging in assessments, treatment planning, crisis management, while taking a client-centered approach.
Role: Focus on helping individuals make decisions about career pathways through exploring their interests, strengths, and skills to develop a personalized plan incorporating personal and professional goals.
Role: Professional counselors address challenges that children and adolescents experience such as learning disabilities, behavioral concerns, social issues or other concerns through skill-based learning individual and group counseling.
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.