Master’s in Counseling Degrees in California – Explore Online and On-Campus Options

A master’s degree in counseling may help to prepare you for a career that focuses on helping others. Professional counselors provide valuable services to clients during challenging times or life transitions, with an impact that may extend from individuals to families and communities. Whether you hope to help couples and families heal, treat mental health disorders or guide students searching for the right career path, a master’s degree in counseling can open the door to a variety of careers in the field.

In California alone, there are over 20 schools that offer master’s in counseling programs, with options to specialize in fields like career counseling, rehabilitation counseling, mental health counseling or marriage and family therapy. Whether you choose to pursue licensure as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or another type of counselor, California’s Master of Counseling programs may help to equip you with the skills and training necessary to assist others through pivotal moments of their lives.

In this Guide:

Sponsored Online Program in California

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


Education and Other Requirements for Counseling Licensure in California

In order to become a counselor in California, there are several common requirements you must meet. Below is a general overview of the education and steps required. It is highly encouraged that you also carefully review the information listed on the Board of Behavioral Sciences’ (BBS) website for LPCC requirements.

  1. Complete a graduate degree that includes the LPCC requirements linked above. Note that California licensure does not require you to attend a school accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Refer to the list put together by the BBS of approved schools with LPCC programs and LMFT programs to confirm eligibility for licensure.
  2. Apply to register as a Professional Clinical Counselor Intern (PCCI) with the BBS to earn your required 3,000 supervised hours. These must be completed over a minimum of two years and a maximum of six years, and under the supervision of an approved professional.
  3. Undergo Live Scan fingerprinting, a criminal background check, and pass the California Law and Ethics Exam.
  4. Take and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE). The exam can only be taken once all supervised hours are completed.
  5. Obtain official licensure as an LPCC.

Aspiring LPCCs who are licensed in other states will need to have their education and supervised experience approved by the BBS before they are eligible to take the California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam and the NCMHCE, if they have not already passed it. This information is included in the BBS Guide to LPCC Out-of-State Applicant Requirement (PDF, 705 KB). For both in-state and out-of-state applicants, all these requirements must be met in order to be eligible to obtain your official LPCC license.

Salary and Career Outlook for Counselors in California

There are multiple roles to pursue in California, once you complete your degree and become licensed. Counselors in California are expected to see a 17.2% increase in demand until 2028, according to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD). According to the BLS, counselors in California make an annual mean salary of $46,940, compared to the national mean counselor salary which was $49,730 as of May 2021.

California is also the highest-paying state for educational, guidance and career counselors, with an average salary of $81,590 in May 2021, which is well above the national mean of $63,090. These licensed professionals have an anticipated 11.6% job growth from 2018 to 2028, according to the EDD.

BLS pay data also reveals that substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors in California earned an average salary of $59,790 in May 2021.

Marriage and family therapists in the state follow close behind in both outlook and income, with an expected 23.5% job growth from 2018 to 2028, and a mean annual salary of $59,320 in May 2021.

Another type of licensed professional in the field—rehabilitation counselors—have the highest rate of employment in California than any other state, according to the BLS. They earned a mean annual wage of $43,070 in May 2021. Rehabilitation counselor jobs in California are poised to grow 9.7% through 2028, according to the EDD.


Find below a few questions and detailed answers covering counselor education and employment in California.

What degree do I need to become a marriage and family therapist in California?

To become an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), you need a qualifying master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy, or a related topic with equivalent coursework. Your degree must include six semester or nine quarter units of practicum, and a minimum of 150 hours of direct client contact and 75 hours of either client-centered advocacy or face-to-face counseling experience.

How much do mental health counselors make in California?

According to the BLS, substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors in California earned an average yearly salary of $59,790 as of May 2021.

What jobs can I get with a master’s degree in counseling in California?

Graduates of a master’s program in counseling often work as a clinical counselor in the following areas: substance abuse, mental health and therapy, marriage and family therapy and long-term rehabilitation and care. Others may open a private practice or even work in fields such as social services, humanitarian work or in professional research for public or private organizations.

Is mental health counseling a good career in California?

California has the highest employment level of mental health counselors in the country, showing that it may be possible to find a rewarding career in this area. But whether or not it is a good fit for you depends on your personal goals. Maybe you prioritize the opportunity to work with individuals and groups to promote mental and emotional health over other factors like earning potential.

What is the job outlook for school counselors?

Rising student enrollment has led to a projected 11% increase in demand nationally for school counselors through 2030, according to the BLS.

How much does a school counselor with a master’s degree make in California?

California requires all school counselors to have a master’s degree. The annual mean wage for school counselors in California was $81,590, according to the BLS.

Last updated: July 2022