Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs Online

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 degrees 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.

Sponsored Online Counseling Programs

The Family Institute at Northwestern University info

Master of Arts in Counseling

Earn a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling online from top-10 ranked1 Northwestern University.

1U.S. News & World Report: 2020 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

NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development info

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 

Graduate School of Education and Psychology info

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

USC Rossier School of Education info

Master of Education in School Counseling

The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education offers a Master of Education in School Counseling online for aspiring K-12 school counselors. The program can be completed in less than two years and there is no GRE requirement.

  • No GRE required 
  • Prepares you for school counseling credential 
  • Bachelor’s degree required


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Why get a Master’s Degree in Counseling?

Earning your master’s degree in counseling is an investment that can be both professionally and personally rewarding. 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 those who seek to become licensed professional counselors.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which collects information on various professions, cites the median annual wages for substance abuse, behavior disorder and mental health counselors at $44,630—higher than the median for all occupations in the field ($38,640). Additionally, the BLS estimates that the employment of such counselors will grow 22 percent from 2018 through 2028—again, higher than the average for all occupations in the field (5 percent). 

A master’s degree in counseling also equips the holder to provide treatment to those suffering from mental, emotional and relationship issues, which can be personally fulfilling.

Counseling Degree Options

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

  • Master’s in Addiction Counseling
  • Master’s in Career Counseling
  • Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling/Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling
  • Master’s in Community Counseling
  • Master’s in College Counseling and Student Affairs
  • Master’s in Gerontological Counseling
  • Master’s in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling
  • Master’s in School Counseling

Degree types include Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Education. Furthermore, the degree programs can be at public or private institutions and offered on-campus, online or at multiple locations. Learn more about online counseling degrees.

Accreditation of Counseling Degree Programs

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.

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.

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 may help set you up for an exciting career change. This comprehensive list of online schools was curated to provide the most accurate and helpful information on all types of Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs (CACREP) accredited master’s in counseling degree programs online. In order to help you find the best online counseling programs for you, we’ve listed all programs on five different factors, including support services and class sizes. If you are trying to complete your master’s degree in a shorter period of time, then you may want to consider an accelerated online master’s in counseling degree.

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.

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.

Back to Factors

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.

Back to Factors

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.

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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.

Back to Factors


The curriculum of a master’s in counseling degree program must conform to CACREP’s standards in order 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

Students 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.

Types of Counseling

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.

Ready to become a mental heatlh counselor? Review the full list of Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs.

School Counselor

Role: Supporting child and adolescent development in individual and group meetings with a focus on the academic, personal, social, and career growth.

Ready to become a school counselor? Review the full list of Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs.

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 personal and professional goals.

Learn how to become a career counselor

Child and Adolescent Counselor

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.

Learn how to become a child and adolescent counselor

College Counselor

Role: Guiding college students through their academic, social, and personal goals while addressing mental health, substance abuse, suicide prevention, or relationship challenges.

Learn how to become a college counselor

Grief Counselor

Role: Assisting individuals dealing with loss, illness, or experiencing significant change through individual and group sessions.

Learn how to become a grief counselor

Military Counselor

Role: Working with military personnel and their families by providing psychoeducational services to promote mental health and addressing challenges of the military lifestyle.

Learn how to become a military 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

Rehabilitation Counselor

Role: Addresses conditions of clients with physical, emotional, developmental, or mental disabilities to develop treatment plans for adjustment or healthy development.

Learn how to become a rehabilitation 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.

Learn how to become a substance abuse counselor

Counseling Certification and Licensure

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 differences prevail and aspiring counselors are recommended to contact their state board for their specific requirements. Learn more about counseling licensure and certification.

How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Below are some common steps to become an 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 a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) from your state counseling board.
  6. Secure employment as an LPC.

Earn an MA in Psychology Online from Pepperdine

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


Counselor Salary Information

While the BLS does not keep statistics on counselors in general, it does so for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors in particular. According to BLS statistics, the median annual wages for such counselors in May of 2018 was $44,630, although it did differ by industry:

  • Government: $51,690
  • Hospitals: $48,310
  • Individual and Family Services: $44,120
  • Outpatient Centers: $43,120
  • Residential Centers: $38,190

Learn more about counselor salaries.

Discover other degrees that may help you make a difference in people’s lives.

Online Master’s in Psychology

An online master’s in psychology degree provides a foundation in basic scientific methods and psychological principles as well as the skills and disposition to affect change in people and organizations. Topics may cover lifespan development, behavior management, research and analysis, counseling, intervention and psychopathology and prepare students to make a difference in the world. Learn more about becoming a psychologist.

Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy

Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) help couples and families overcome their interpersonal issues. They work with their clients in one-on-one sessions, family sessions and couples sessions to build a disciplined routine around mindful habits. LMFTs are required to earn certifications and hold a master’s degree from an accredited college or university to legally practice. Explore our extensive list of online MFT programs or learn more about becoming a marriage and family therapist.

Online Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Behavior analysts work with a variety of clients and develop clinically appropriate treatment plans according to individual client needs and abilities. Behavior analysts use applied behavior analysis to assess, counsel, and intervene to decrease unwanted behaviors and improve desirable behaviors. They often work alongside family members, medical professionals, and educators to provide effective, wraparound treatment for their clients.

An online ABA program provides students with a broad set of skills that may be applied in a variety of industries and settings. Learn more about becoming a behavior analyst.

Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW)

For aspiring or practicing social workers with an undergraduate degree, earning an MSW is one way to add to your expertise. An MSW may offer greater career opportunities in clinical, specialty, and supervisory practice than what may be achievable with a bachelor’s degree. In addition to potentially qualifying you for a wider range of roles, an MSW may also help you reach a higher earning potential and position you to become a licensed social worker. Explore our extensive list of online MSW programs.

Online Master’s in Human Resources

At its core, work within the human resources field is about effectively managing an organization’s valuable resources – the people – to help both the individuals and their employers thrive. Human resources management (HRM) blends human psychology and organizational behaviors to recruit and retain talent and to promote ethical cultures. Explore our extensive list of online master’s in Human Resources.

Last updated: October 2020