It’s estimated nearly 20% of Americans seek counseling help at one time or another. The role of professional counselors is an important lifeline for individuals, groups, or families experiencing problems. If you’re a person with a passion for helping people and have excellent communication skills, good listening abilities, along with strong interpersonal skills, you have the basic qualities needed to be a counselor, either clinically or in general.
You’ll begin your educational path toward becoming a counselor by earning a bachelor’s degree. While the undergraduate won’t qualify you for licensure, it can prepare you to enter the field under the supervision of a licensed counselor before, or while, you pursue a master’s degree. A master’s degree is required to become licensed.
You should keep a couple of things in mind as you decide on an online counseling program.
Not all online programs can accept students from all states. Schools and states may participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARS) which opens up more online degree program options for students. Be sure to check that the program you choose is eligible for you to enroll, based on your state of residence.
It’s important you choose a school that is regionally accredited. Several nonprofit organizations are recognized by the Department of Education to award accreditation. All the schools in this ranking are accredited.
Typically, accredited, online programs are able to award federal financial assistance for eligible students. You’ll want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)® to be considered. Keep in mind, schools use this form in determining scholarships and other financial assistance.
Our Method: Ranking the 10 Fastest Online Counseling Bachelor’s Programs
To rank the 10 Fastest Online Counseling Bachelor’s Programs, Best Health Degrees editors researched accredited, trusted programs of all kinds. From our initial pool, we ranked programs according to price, accreditation, reputation, and salary potential, using data from IPEDS and Niche, U.S. News and World Report, and other higher education rating publications.
1. Eastern Kentucky University
You’ll receive all the benefits of the on-campus program without ever going to the EKU campus with this BS in Psychology with a concentration in Substance Abuse.
The 120-credit hour curriculum for this program is the same as the on campus classes, taught by the same faculty, and are offered in accelerated 8-week periods. General education classes are required (humanities, science, math, etc.) along with core psychology studies. You may take classes in Introduction to Psychology, Statistics and Research Methods, along with classes in specific psychology disciplines, such as Cognition/Learning, Social/Personality, and a Capstone Project. The Substance Abuse concentration includes studies in Introduction in Behavior Therapy as well as Psychological Perspectives on Substance Abuse. A Capstone Project finishes the degree.
You’ll need to complete an application and be prepared to provide academic transcripts (demonstrating at least a 2.0 GPA) and other documents as requested. If you’re a transfer student, EKU has a generous transfer policy and can accept up to 90 credit hours from accredited schools.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $417/per credit hour
Fast Facts: U.S. News and World Report rates EKU in its Best Value Schools ranking as well as one of its Best Online Bachelor’s Programs
2. Liberty University
You can earn your BS in Psychology degree from this Christian university in 3.5 years, completely online in 8-week long classes.
LU offers several counseling specializations in this program, two of which are in addiction and recovery and crisis counseling. Prior to your concentration, you’ll study general education subjects and core, psychology classes. Some of those classes are in Introduction to Research, General Psychology, Psychology of Personality, Abnormal Psychology, a Capstone Project and an optional Internship. You’ll be able to choose counseling concentrations in Addictions and Recovery and Crisis Counseling. The degree requires 120-credit hours and you may be able to transfer up to 75% of the total hours from an accredited college or university. Courses are developed to prepare you for graduate studies in psychology.
You’ll apply online or you can call (800) 424-9595 to apply. (A deferred $50 application fee will be assessed at financial check-in). Also, the admission requirements call for a 2.0 GPA and academic transcripts from all schools attended.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $390-$455/per credit hour
Fast Facts: Liberty University ranks #242 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs and was named one of Forbes’ Top Colleges in 2019
3. William Jessup University
This private, Christian college in California, awards a BS in Psychology which offers a variety of psychology studies, including counseling.
Requiring 128-credit hours, this curriculum covers topics in Developmental Psychology, Interpersonal Processes, Introduction to Psychology, and Principles of Biology. Among the core psychology courses in this program are Psychology and Christian Thought, Human Sexuality, Personality Theory and Therapy, Cognitive Psychology, and Counseling Skills. You’ll also complete an Applied Integration Capstone. You’ll be able to choose an elective from either Professional Skills or Social Psychology. General education classes are part of the baccalaureate and Jessup University and you can transfer up to 90-credit hours from an accredited school you might have attended.
You’ll begin your admission process by talking with an Enrollment Counselor following your submission of an application. Expect to provide academic transcripts (demonstrating a 2.0 GPA) and ACT/SAT scores if your GPA falls below that average.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $500/per credit hour
Fast Facts: U.S. News and World Report ranks Jessup University #6 in Best Value Schools and Niche ranks the school as one of the Best Christian Colleges in America as well as one of the Best Colleges for Psychology in America
4. Grand Canyon University
Founded in 1941, and affiliated with the Baptist church, Grand Canyon University has an online BS in Counseling with a concentration in Addiction. which is designed to prepare you for graduate studies and/or licensure (depending on your state’s licensing requirements).
The 120-credit hour degree plan includes General Education classes and several core coursSes in topics such as Introduction to Counseling Theories, Advanced Counseling Theories Addiction and Substance Abuse Use Disorders Counselors, Multicultural Counseling in a Diverse Society, Trauma, Addiction, and Substance Abuse Disorders, and others. The curriculum also covers Co-Occuring Disorders and HIV/AIDS, Professional, Legal, and Ethical Issues-Addiction and Substance Abuse Use Disorders Counselors, and others.
You’ll begin the admission process by submitting an Online Admission Form and submit academic transcripts. Once your Admission Form is received, you’ll be contacted by a university counselor to guide you through the rest of the process. If you’ve attended another college or university, you may be able to transfer up to 90 credit hours towards this degree.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $477/per credit hour
Fast Facts: GCU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is ranked #299-#391 in National Universities by U.S. News and World Report
5. Colorado Christian University
This is an online BS in Applied Psychology that offers a Clinical Counseling emphasis. You can also enroll in an accelerated program that will allow you to earn your MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The master’s degree is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
General Education classes are required in disciplines such as Arts and Humanities, Biblical Studies, Mathematics, and others. The Applied Psychology degree in Clinical Counseling curriculum begins with major coursework in Introduction to Research and Applied Statistics, Psychology Through the Lifespan, Behavioral Psychology, Psychology Capstone in Clinical Counseling, etc. The concentration classes offered are Spiritual Formation for Counseling, Counseling Services and Methods, Human Growth and Development, Neuroscience and Clinical Counseling, and Empathy Training. If you have college/university credits to transfer, the school accepts up to 90 credit hours from accredited schools.
This degree’s admission process begins with an application and asks for all academic transcripts as well as a copy of your government-issued, photo ID. Other documentation may be requested once your application is reviewed.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $469/per credit hour
Fast Facts: Niche considers this school one of its Best Online Colleges in America and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission
6. Southern New Hampshire University
SNHU is a private school located in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is known for its online degree programs, including the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a concentration in Mental Health as well as Addictions as well as other psychology specialties.
You’ll enroll in General Education courses as part of this curriculum as well as core classes in psychology. Courses in the major includes Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Theories of Personality, Psychology and Social Change, Research Methods, Statistical Literacy in Psychology, and others. Both the Addictions and Mental Health concentrations provide studies in Counseling Process and Techniques as well as requiring an Internship and Experiential Learning. A Senior Capstone Project may also be required. You’ll need to complete 120-credit hours for this degree. SNHU has a generous 90-credit hour transfer policy for qualifying courses from accredited schools.
There’s no admission application fee to apply and you’ll be guided through the process by an admission counselor. You should expect to provide academic transcripts for all schools you’ve attended. Test scores are not required.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $320/per credit hour
Fast Facts: Southern New Hampshire University ranks #1 in Most Innovative Schools by U.S. News and World Report and is rated as one of Money’s Best Colleges of 2020
Southern New Hampshire University
7. Ottawa University
This Kansas school awards an online accelerated BS in Addiction Counseling/Substance Abuse Counseling degree.
Some of the eight-week classes in this degree concentrate on theories in counseling, research, and addiction. You may take classes in Human Development and Addiction, Psychopharmacology and Addiction, Clinical Addiction Counseling Issues, Professional Responsibility: Legal and Ethics Issues of Addiction Counseling, Special Issues in Addiction Counseling, Group Counseling in Addiction, and others. Practicum/Internships are also part of the curriculum under the supervision of an approved faculty member or onsite supervisor. You’ll also complete a Capstone Project to develop an e-portfolio demonstrating the culmination of what you’ve learned in class.
As with all programs, you’ll submit an application (there’s a $50 fee) and provide academic transcripts for all colleges/universities attended. You’ll also need to reach out to an enrollment counselor. Due to the COVID pandemic, ACT/SAT test scores are waived for the 2021-22 enrollment period.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $632/per credit hour
Fast Facts: Ottawa University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and was founded in 1865
8. Prescott College
This small, private school was founded in 1966 that “…encourages critical and forward-thinking around issues of social justice and sustainability.” (The Princeton Review). You can earn a BA in Psychology And Human Development.
The online program offers five concentrations, one of which is in Counseling. A prerequisite class in Introduction to Psychology, Concepts in Critical Psychology, or an equivalent course is needed. Among the courses in the major study in History of Gender and Sexuality, Introduction to Ethnic Studies, Interpersonal Communication, Counseling Skills, Critical Psychology, Transpersonal Psychology, Ethics, the Law, and Professional Issues in Counseling and Psychology, as well as a Senior Project. You’ll also take courses in general topics such as Communication Skills, Research Methods, Social Theory, and others. A complete program description can be found in the Prescott College academic catalog (p. 134).
You’ll complete an application and submit letters of recommendation, an essay, and official transcripts from all schools you’ve attended. The ACT/SAT scores aren’t required for admission.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $498/per credit hour
Fast Facts: Prescott College is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and ranks #94-#122 in U.S. News and World Report’s Regional Universities West
9. East Central University Online
It’s possible to earn this online degree in Human Services Counseling from this Ada, Oklahoma university. ECU has a generous transfer policy, accepting up to 94 credit hours from an accredited college or university.
The degree requires 124-credit hours for completion and includes 44 hours of general education classes along with Human Services courses. Prerequisite classes include Fundamentals in Counseling, Human Behavior and Social Environment, Interviewing Techniques, and a Human Services Counseling Internship. The counseling concentration offers Group Processes and Practices, Counseling Services, Employment and Placement Techniques, as well as Intervention Processes and Techniques.
For admission, you’ll file an application and all programs require academic transcripts. You may be asked to provide letters of recommendation, a resume, ACT/SAT test scores, a personal statement, and/or proof of licensure.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $264/per credit hour
Fast Facts: ECU is rated at #50-#66 by U.S. News and World Report’s Top Public Schools as well as a Top Public School ranking by Niche
East Central University Online
10. Capella University
This is a Psychology with a pre-Counseling baccalaureate degree offered completely online. You may not find a program with as liberal a transfer policy as Capella University with up to 135 maximum of credit accepted. Capella University is on the quarter system.
Among the classes in this program are Introduction to Psychology of Personality, Counseling, and Advocacy with Diverse Populations, Introduction to Counseling and Psychotherapy, Survey of Research in Human Development for Professional Counselors, Human Lifespan Development, Biological Psychology, and more. The curriculum also includes three master’s level classes in Foundations of Couple and Family Therapy, Family Therapy Theory and Methods, and Professional Ethics in Marriage and Family Therapy. You’ll also need General Education coursework in communications, humanities, science and math.
You’ll need to submit all academic transcripts from schools you’ve attended and a valid government-issued photo ID. You begin with filing a $50 application with Capella University. You may be asked for additional documentation.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $357-$411/per credit hour
Fast Facts: Capella University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, as well as the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education
What are the Advantages of an Accelerated Counseling Degree?
If you’re like most people, you’ll want to begin your new career as soon as possible. That’s where accelerated degrees will help. There are many benefits to a shortened degree curriculum, for instance:
Cost– A bachelor’s degree can be expensive and the longer you’re in school, the more tuition and fees you’re going to pay.
Time Spent– Undergraduate degrees usually require four years for completion. An accelerated Psychology/Counseling bachelor’s degree typically will have shorter, but more intensive, class times. If you have some college/university credits, online programs usually have lenient transfer policies, allowing you to shorten the typical 120-credit hour curriculum. This is especially beneficial in a field like the high-demand psychology counseling profession.
Advanced Degree– Because counseling licensure requires a master’s degree, many schools offer a 4+1 degree program. These options allow you to simultaneously earn both an undergraduate and master’s degree. It may require five years, but that’s still less than the usual four years of undergraduate and two-three years of master’s degree. These programs allow you to graduate with a BS/BA as well as a MA/MS.
Work-Life Balance– Accelerated bachelor programs are frequently designed for the working adult who has more responsibilities than, perhaps, a student fresh out of high school. With accelerated online programs, you’re better able to manage your time between family, work, and school.
What if I Already Have a Bachelor’s and Want to Start Counseling?
As previously mentioned, most states require you to have a license to work solo as a psychological counselor and that requires a master’s or doctoral degree. Not being licensed doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t begin working in the field once you graduate with your bachelor’s degree.
Typically, you’ll work with a licensed counselor and can work in a variety of mental health settings. Among those settings are private practices, hospitals, outpatient facilities, residential detox and rehab centers, etc. You may also be able to find employment in business/industrial Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), schools, nonprofit agencies, or churches.
You’ll want to check with your particular state to see what is required for counselors since different states have different regulations.
Will a Certification Help My Career?
In healthcare fields, certification can be very important. In Psychology/Counseling, certification will demonstrate you have special skills in specific areas. Certification will also help you in employment or if you intend to apply for a graduate program or medical school.
Certificates are usually offered through colleges and universities and can include behavioral health and psychology counseling, child psychology, alcohol and substance abuse, pastoral counseling, marriage and family counseling, etc. Programs are frequently offered online and are comprised of 3-4 specific courses related to the discipline. Courses are taught by qualified instructors and faculty. You can expect to pay tuition for these certificates.
The National Certified Counselor (NCC) is a good place to start in determining the type of certificate that will most beneficial for your career goals.
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