A master’s degree in counseling can open up the door to careers that make a major difference in people’s lives. Some counseling programs are offered through universities’ schools or colleges of Education. These programs will typically offer both school counseling and mental health counseling concentrations. Most programs are developed to provide tools for the counselor to deal with the stresses students currently experience. Students frequently face bullying, substance abuse, trauma and crisis, feelings of suicide, and more. Counseling skills are increasingly needed in school systems that go beyond academics. We’ve included some school counseling programs in this ranking which offer mental health counseling coursework as part of the curriculum.
Not all online programs are able to accept students from all states, regardless of accreditation. Schools and states may participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARS) which opens more online degree program options for students. You should always check with your state licensing board to be certain the online CAREP accredited program is recognized by your state.
The programs listed here are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the gold standard in curriculum and program quality. Accredited programs prepare you to sit for licensing exams which are required in most states in order to practice.
NBCC State Licensing Information; National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); American Mental Health Counseling Association AMHCA; American Counseling Association (ACA); American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB)
Our Method: Ranking the 10 Fastest Online Counseling Master’s Programs
To rank the 10 Fastest Online Counseling Master’s Programs, Best 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. Northwestern University
This Master of Arts in Counseling degree is referred to as Counseling@Northwestern and is offered online through the Northwestern Family Institute. The prestigious Northwestern provides traditional, accelerated, part-time, and a Bridge to Counseling options.
This program offers the same curriculum, taught by the same faculty, that on-campus students study. There are required courses for this degree. Among those classes are Individuals & Systems: Psychodynamic Viewpoints, Psychopathology in Counseling, Assessment in Counseling (Adult Focus), Foundations of Family, Marital, and Couples Counseling, Counseling Methods: Skills for Counseling & Psychotherapy, etc. Ethics and Legal Issues in Counseling, and a Supervised Practicum as well as a Supervised Internship are also required.
Admission and Application requires submission of an application (with a $95 fee) and have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school (a degree in human services or psychology is preferred, but not required). Academic transcripts are necessary along with a resume/CV, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose and a supplemental essay, and a group interview. GRE test scores are not required and you’ll be asked to upload a recent photo or yourself (i.e., passport photo, headshot, etc).
Estimated Tuition Cost: $120,120-$140,140/program cost
Fast Fact: Northwestern University consistently places in the top 10 of U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities ranking
2. Kansas State University-Olathe
This is a 24-month, hybrid/online Master’s in School Counseling degree developed to prepare students to utilize a comprehensive approach to counseling.
This curriculum includes studies in Mental Health in Schools, Counseling Theories, Counseling Program Management, Multicultural Counseling, Principles of Assessment, Group Processes, Development Across the Lifespan for School Counselors, Research Methods in School Counseling, and more. The program also requires a Practicum experience along with an Internship in school settings. The curriculum is designed to develop skills and techniques for coping with all manner of student issues.
You’ll need to hold a bachelor’s degree (with a 3.0 GPA in the last 60 hours of study) to apply for this program and provide a $65 application fee. A statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, academic transcripts, and resume are requested as well.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $429/per credit hour
Fast Fact: U.S. News and World Report places Kansas State University at #78 in its Top Public Schools ranking
3. University of North Dakota
You have several track options with this online Master of Arts in Counseling from this Grand Forks, ND university.
Emphasis options for this 60-65 credit hour degree include Addiction Counseling, Community Mental Health Counseling or Rehabilitation Counseling. Regardless of the track chosen, you’ll take core courses in Counseling Methods, Foundations in Counseling, Diagnostic and Prevention Strategies in Counseling, Methods of Research, Child, Family and Couples Counseling, Group Theory and Process, and more. Depending on your speciality, you’ll take classes in counseling ethics, trauma and crisis, rehabilitation assessment, etc. Regardless of your emphasis, you’ll have a Practicum experience and Internship.
You need a conferred bachelor’s degree with a 2.75 GPA or higher to apply and provide a $35 processing fee to be considered for admission. Prerequisite undergraduate study in Abnormal Psychology and Developmental Psychology are needed, but you can be admitted conditionally until you complete the requirement. No GRE or GMAT scores are necessary. Also required are academic transcripts, a personal statement, resume, letters of recommendation, as well as an online interview.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $479/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Forbes rates UND #272 in its Top Colleges 2021 rankings
4. University of Denver
You can earn a Master’s in School Counseling from this Colorado school in as little as 24 months. This is an online program.
The 72-quarter hour curriculum is taught by professional mental health and educational counselors. You’ll study Basic Counseling Techniques, Mental Health & Substance Use, Research Methods and Program Evaluations, Lifespan Development, Diversity: Multicultural Counseling Psychosocial Issues. You’ll also take classes in Introduction to Assessment, Counseling Children, Adolescents and the Family, and complete fieldwork. Fieldwork includes a Practicum Experience as well as an Internship. The faculty will work with you to identify suitable locations in your home community to complete your field experiences under qualified supervision.
To be considered for admission, you must have an undergraduate degree with at least a 2.5 GPA. The process also calls for you to complete an application and pay a $65 processing fee, provide academic transcripts from all postsecondary schools you’ve attended, a current resume, and letters of recommendation. A statement of professional goals is required as well. GRE test scores are not required.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $956/per credit hour
Fast Fact: The University of Denver is #165 in Forbes’ Top Public Colleges 2021
5. Gwynedd Mercy University
This is an online Masters of Science in Counseling with a Clinical Mental Health (CMH) concentration from this Pennsylvania university. This program can lead to professional licensure in Pennsylvania and you’ll want to verify this degree will meet the licensing requirements of your particular state of residence.
With this 60-credit hour curriculum, you’ll begin with counseling foundation courses in areas such as: Counseling Skills, Research Methods, Social Justice, Multicultural & Diversity Issues in Counseling, Assessment Techniques in Counseling, Substance Use and Abuse, etc. Core coursework for the CMH counseling specialty includes 30 credit hours in classes: DSM/Psychopathology, Group Counseling and Facilitation Skills, Counseling Agencies, Marriage and Family Counseling, and more. A Practicum and Internships provide you real-world experiences in counseling practices.
A baccalaureate degree is required for admission consideration with courses in Research Methods or Statistics, General Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Theory. You’ll make application by submitting the online form and application fee. You’ll also submit other documents such as academic transcripts (demonstrating a 3.0 GPA), letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and complete a personal interview with program faculty. If your undergraduate GPA is lower than 3.0, you’ll be required to provide GRE test scores.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $666/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Niche ranks this university as one of its Best Value Colleges in America
6. Regent University
Founded in 1977 as a Christian university, by Dr. Pat Robertson, Regent University awards a MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling which will qualify you to sit for licensure examinations.
Among the 60-credit hours of this program, you’ll take classes in: Research and Statistics, Theories of Counseling, Assessment Techniques in Counseling, Psychopathology and Diagnosis, Ethics, Professional Orientation and Legal Issues in Counseling, Concepts of Family Counseling, Counseling and Christian Thought, and more. The curriculum also will cover Crisis, Trauma, and Clinical Mental Health, a Practicum experience and Internship. While this is an online program, a two, one week residencies during the Fall and Spring on the Virginia Beach campus.
You need to hold a BA or BS degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA to qualify to apply for admission. An application and $50 fee, will begin your admission process. Be prepared to provide academic transcripts, complete an Academic Background Questionnaire Licensure Survey, and a resume. Additional materials are submission of GRE/GMAT test scores and a copy of a government issued ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.). The final step is a pre-admission interview for this licensure program which is done by invitation only.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $710/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Regent University ranks in Niche‘s Best Online Colleges in America ranking
7. Nova Southeastern University-Florida
This program offers several concentrations for its MS in Counseling degree offered through NSU-Florida’s Psychology Department. You can choose from Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Substance Abuse Counseling, Applied Behavior Analysis specialities that are offered online.
The 60-credit hour curriculum for the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, includes, among other topics, studies in Diagnosis and Treatment of Adult Psychopathology, Research and Evaluation for Counselors, Counseling Theories and Practice, Ethical, Legal, and Professional Issues for Counselors, Social and Cultural Foundations of Counseling, and Community Mental Health. A Counseling Practicum is required as well as a Counseling Internship. This concentration also requires a three-day, on-campus residency on either NSU Regional Campus in Orlando, Florida or the NSU Fort Lauderdale/Davie Campus.
You need a baccalaureate degree with a 2.5 or higher GPA and have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology, social work, behavioral science or other related field. An interview is part of the admission process as is the submission of an application (with a $50 fee). You’ll be asked to submit official academic transcripts, a personal statement, and a personal statement.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $840/per credit hour
Fast Fact: U.S. News and World Report includes NSU’s School of Psychology in its Best Graduate Schools in Psychology rankings
8. Adams State University
Adams State University provides an online MA in Counseling with a Clinical Mental Health concentration comprised of 60-credit hours.
As with most programs, you’ll complete core coursework in areas such as Crisis, Disaster, and Trauma, Group Counseling, Introduction to Research, Counseling the Couple, Family, and System, Lifespan Development, Ethics/Professional Issues, Assessment in Counseling, as well as a Practicum experience. Your Clinical Mental Health concentration requires you complete a class in Diagnosis and Psychotherapy, Counseling Modalities in Clinical Mental Health, a counseling course, and two Internships.
Admission for this program requires you have a baccalaureate degree and submit an application (with a $30 fee). You also will need to submit official academic transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. It doesn’t appear that GRE test scores are required.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $435/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Adams State University was founded in 1921 as a college to teachers for rural areas of Colorado
9. Walden University
Long recognized for its online educational programs, Walden University offers a MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling which the school promotes as one of the largest in the nation and can lead to licensure.
Walden University uses the quarter-system and this is a 90-96 credit hour degree program. The university has a generous transfer plan, accepting up to 45 credit hours. (Note: You may also be able to earn academic credit for prior experience). Along with a Practicum and Internship, the curriculum includes classes in Theories of Counseling, Techniques in Counseling, Diagnosis and Assessment, Research Methodology and Program Evaluation, Psychopharmacology, etc. Classes in addictive disorders, crisis and trauma, family and couples counseling, are also part of this robust program. Walden University utilizes Theravue software to allow you to develop your counseling abilities in an authentic, virtual environment.
General admission to Walden University is simple and calls for a bachelor’s degree or higher and an application along with submission of academic transcripts. Other documents may be requested once your application is reviewed.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $474/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Walden University has been offering online education since 1995
10. Antioch University New England
You don’t need a background in any specific field to enter the online, MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program from Antioch University, located in Keene, New Hampshire.
A 60-credit hour program, you’ll study Group Counseling, Assessment and Testing, Addictions Counseling, Couple and Family Counseling, Counseling Theories, Research and Evaluation in Counseling, Social and Cultural Diversity, etc. Elective options include courses which can allow you to claim a concentration in Addiction or a Trauma Certificate, depending on the elective coursework you take. You’ll complete a Practicum experience and three Internship semesters which will be conducted in your home community under qualified supervision.
An online application is your first step toward admission which asks for a resume/CV, and essay questions. As the process continues, you’ll be asked for two letters of recommendation, academic transcripts from all postsecondary schools you’ve attended (you need a 3.0 GPA for your undergraduate degree), and an interview which is conducted or via Zoom.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $757/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Antioch University was founded in 1852 and has four campuses across the nation, of which, Antioch University New England is one
What are the Advantages of an Accelerated Master’s in Counseling?
It’s simple, the sooner you complete your master’s education, the sooner you can begin to advance your career and the more money you may earn. Consider these factors:
Work-Life Balance– More than likely you have a full-time job and may have a family, but you want to take the next step in your career. Accelerated master’s programs are typically designed for prospective students who have more responsibilities and less time. Accelerated programs and generous transfer policies will help you get ahead faster.
Time Spent– Master’s degrees can average 2-3 years for completion. An accelerated, online program can be shorter and/or it will allow you to apply work experience or previous graduate work to the hours required. Online studies are more intensive and classes are shorter in length. Classes are usually offered in relatively short 5-8 weeks blocks allowing you to earn your degree in less time.
Cost- You’ll find the majority of online degrees don’t charge their online students out-of-state tuition. This can make schools in another state other than your state of residence more affordable for you.
How Much Can I Make with a Master’s in Counseling?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates salaries between $40,560-$54,070 annually. U.S. News and World Report averages licensed, mental health counselors between $35,790-$61,930. Online employment survey companies monitor salaries across the county. According to Salary.com, licensed mental health counselors can earn between $59,574 and $73,035 across the U.S. PayScale.com estimates ranges between $44,352-$62,000
These are simply estimates. Salaries may vary depending on if you have a specialization, where you live, and in what environment you’re working.
What are Some Specializations for a Master’s in Counseling?
One of the best sources for identifying Mental Health Counselor specialities is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Counseling programs will offer concentrations in addition to the foundational studies in counseling techniques and skills. In general, some of the most prominent specialities are in:
Clinical Mental Health Counseling – providing diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and referrals
Addiction Counseling – working with various addictions from drugs, alcohol, gambling, sexual, etc.
Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling – providing assistance to patients with cognitive, physical, psychiatric, and other disabilities
Marriage, Family and Group Counseling – assisting individuals, families, or groups spanning a range of mental and/or emotional disorders and issues in communication and relationships
School Counseling (mental health counseling is part of School Counseling) – working with K-12 students, group and individual counseling, and families