Our modern society can create stressors and difficulties that are hard for people to navigate on their own. 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. A graduate degree in the field will open several career options for you.
The need for licensed counselors is great, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with careers in Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors calculated to grow 23 percent through 2024, which is much faster than average.
Frequently, counseling programs are offered through schools or colleges of Psychology, Human Services, and/or, Education. Programs in Schools of Education will often offer both school counseling and mental health counseling concentrations with the graduate degree. Students and their families will 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. Because of that, we’ve included some school counseling programs in this ranking which offer mental health counseling coursework as part of the curriculum.
Our Method: Ranking the 15 Best Online Counseling Master’s Programs
To rank the 15 Best 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.
All programs listed here are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
1. North Carolina State University
The online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from NCSU located in Raleigh, provides not only developmental theory and prevention, but a base for clinical theory and practice. This degree if offered through NCSU’s College of Education and can be completed within three years or less. According to the website, “…students who apply to the online option must reside in North Carolina.”
Core coursework includes studies in Multicultural Counseling, Group Counseling, Substance Abuse Counseling, Crisis Counseling, Gender Issues in Counseling, Counseling Couples and Families, Techniques in Counseling, Multicultural Life Span Human Development, and more. A Practicum experience is part of this program and you’ll work under supervision in an agency, college site, or public school. You’ll also complete an Internship with a qualified preceptor in a community agency, where you’ll use the counseling skills and techniques you’ve learned.
Among the admission requirements for this program are submission of official academic transcripts, GRE/MAT test scores, and three letters of recommendation. Application deadline for Fall and Summer is January 15th for both on-campus and online students.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $4,548/per academic year
Fast Fact: U.S. News and World Report ranks NCSU at #42 in its Best Online Master’s in Education Programs
2. Northwestern University
You can earn an online Master of Arts in Counseling degree from this prestigious Evansville, IL university. The program is referred to as Counseling@Northwestern and is part of Northwestern Family Institute. Northwestern provides traditional, accelerated, part-time, and a Bridge to Counseling options.
You’ll have access to the same curriculum, taught by the same faculty, as on-campus students. The program has certain required courses, regardless of the option chosen. 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 you submit 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). You’ll be asked to provide academic transcripts, 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
3. Wake Forest University
You can earn a MA in Counseling with a Mental Health concentration 100% online from this well known North Carolina university in Winston-Salem. According to the student brochure, this is program is skills and student centered.
The challenging curriculum includes foundational studies in Professional Orientation to Counseling, Theories and Models of Counseling, Research and Statistical Analysis in Counseling, and Life Span Development: Implications for Counseling. Core classes in counseling topics such as family counseling, career development, crisis management, and others lead to the beginning practicum and counseling skills. When you enter the advanced counseling stage, among the classes you’ll take are Addiction Counseling, Classification of Mental & Emotional Disorders, Professional, Ethical, & Legal Issues in Counseling, as well as two Internships. A Capstone Project completes your 60-credit hour curriculum.
For admission, be prepared to provide proof of a bachelor’s degree (with a minimum 2.75 GPA), a personal statement, academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, and have a virtual interview with an enrollment advisor. GRE test scores are requested as well as an application and $80 fee.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $90,600/per academic program
Fast Fact: Forbes ranks Wake Forest #74 in its Top Colleges 2020-21 overall ranking
4. West Virginia University
You’ll want to look at WVU’s online Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitiation and Mental Health Counseling offered through the university’s eCampus system. While the majority of the coursework is online, there are two, intensive, one-week sessions requiring attendance on the Morgantown, WV campus.
Requirements of the curriculum involves studies in Counseling Theory and Techniques, Group Counseling Theory and Techniques, Addictions Counseling, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning, Ethical Issues in Counseling, Research and Evaluation in Counseling, and others. For the Mental Health Counseling emphasis, you’ll take speciality courses in Introduction to Mental Health Counseling, as well as a Practicum experience, and Internship. The degree requires 60-credit hours for completion.
To apply for admission to this program, you’ll need to complete the application for online students and create an account along with a $60 fee, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, provide academic transcripts (showing a minimum 2.8 GPA), and a statement of purpose. GRE or MAT test scores are required.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $10,098/per academic year
Fast Fact: WVU ranks #125 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Graduate Education Schools
5. San Diego State University
Here’s an online- hybrid MA in Education degree designed to acquaint you with the theories, research methods, as well as mental health models, and their applications. Two, on-campus workshops which focus on developing counseling skills.
The curriculum allows you to complete a 12-credit hour Certificate Program: Mental Health Recovery & Trauma Care which transfers to the 30-credit hour Master of Arts Education with a Counseling concentration. In the certificate program, you’ll study Mental Health Recovery, Restorative Practices and Conflict Transformation, Law and Ethics in the Counseling Profession, and others. During your master’s study, you’ll cover topics in Public/Private Policy and Counseling, Cross Cultural Counseling and Communication and Skills Lab, Counseling and MFT Theories, and research methods, and a Capstone Project.
You’ll apply through the California State State University application as well as a program application created through the Interfolio application. Also required for admission are official academic transcripts, a resume/CV, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Additional documents may be required.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $7,720-$19,600/per academic year
Fast Fact: Ranked #15 in U.S. News and World Report’s Online Education Master’s Programs
6. University of Louisiana-Monroe
You can earn this MS in Counseling, with an emphasis in Clinical Mental Health, through ULM’s College of Health Sciences completely online. An added benefit is that there is no out-of-state tuition costs.
The program reviews theories and treatment practices in the field and successful completion will allow you to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Studies include Counseling Theories, Research in Counseling, Advanced Techniques in Counseling, Clinical Assessment and Psychometrics, Diagnostics in Counseling, Multicultural Counseling, among other topics. You’ll also have a Practicum experience and two Internships. There are multiple electives as well as focus areas in Geriatrics, Addiction, Pediatrics, and Marriage and Family Counseling. Overall, the degree requires 60-credit hours of study.
ULM has a simple admission process requiring creation of an application, submission of all academic transcripts for undergraduate or graduate degrees, resume/CV, letters of recommendation, and an interview via Zoom. You may not need to submit GRE test scores if your transcripts show a GPA between 2.75-3.50 on a 4.0 scale. A conditional admission option is available.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $500/per credit hour
Fast Fact: ULM ranks at #53 in Niche’s Best Online Colleges in America
7. Bradley University
Established in 1897, in Peoria, Illinois, this online Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling which will prepare you to sit for the National Licensure Exam.
This 60-credit hour curriculum begins with two core courses for graduate study: Interpersonal Behavior and Organizational Leadership andResearch and Evaluation. You’ll advance to core classes studying, Substance Abuse Counseling, Loss and Grief Counseling, Career and Life Planning Across the Life Span, Counseling: Ethics and the Law, etc. Other coursework includes Crisis Intervention, Assessment in Counseling, Couples and Family Counseling, and a Practicum and Internship (both conducted in your home community with departmental approval). This program also offers study in the new field of Neurocounseling: Bridging Brain and Behavior. Speciality classes in Brain-Based Interventions, Counseling and the Dynamics of Aging, and Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
To be admitted to this program, you’ll need to submit an application (with a $40 fee) and provide academic transcripts demonstrating a 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credit hours of your bachelor’s (a GPA lower than 3.0 will require submission of GRE test scores). Additionally, you’ll submit a 250-500 word personal essay and completion of a virtual interview with faculty members.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $950/ per credit hour
Fast Fact: Bradley University is ranked #109 in Niche’s Best Value Colleges in America
8. Marquette University
This Wisconsin university was founded in 1881 and offers an online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling you can complete within 3 years.
The 60-credit hour curriculum is the same as on-campus and begins with core courses. Some of those classes are: Theories of Counseling, Psychopathology and Diagnosis, Foundations of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, separate classes in Group, Trauma, Addictions, and Family Counseling, Professional Ethics and Legal Issues in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Research Methods in Counseling, Advanced Diagnosis and Treatment in Counseling, and more. Depending on your interests, you’ll be able to choose from three electives: Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Disabilities, and an Internship in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Finally, a Practicum and an Internship in Clinical Mental Health Counseling are required.
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, submit an admission application along with a $50 fee, and academic transcripts. A personal statement on your interest in this particular program, three letters of recommendation, and a faculty interview are part of the admission process. GRE test scores are optional through the summer semester, 2023.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $54,900/program cost
Fast Fact: Marquette University comes in at #54 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Value Schools
9. Nova Southeastern University-Florida
Here’s a program that 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, or 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.
To be considered for admission, 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
10. Winston Salem State University
This Historically Black College and University in North Carolina, has an online MS in Rehabilitation Counseling with five speciality areas: clinical mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, deaf and hard of hearing, vocational evaluation, and transition.The degree is designed lead to the national Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) examination as well as the state Professional Counselor licensure (LPC) and prepare you to work with clients/patients from diverse backgrounds and disabilities.
Regardless of your concentration, among the classes you’ll take are core courses in classes Group Counseling, Foundations of Rehabilitation Counseling, Ethics in Rehabilitation Counseling, Human Growth and Development, Crisis Counseling, etc. Studies in Research and Evaluation Methods, Family Collaboration/Intervention, Project/Rehabilitation Counseling, and Psychopathology and Treatment in Rehabilitation. A Practicum and Internship are also part of the overall 63-credit curriculum. Specific coursework to your particular concentration is also provided.
As part of the admission process, you’ll make application, letters of reference, hold an undergraduate degree with a cumulative 2.7 GPA, GRE scores, and a personal interview with faculty. Preference is given to
Estimated Tuition Cost: $1,378-5,533/per semester
Fast Fact: This program ranks #37 in U.S. News and World Report’s Graduate Schools in Rehabilitation Counseling ratings
11. University of Southern Maine
This Portland, Maine university awards a hybrid, Master of Science in Counseling (MSC) with a Clinical Mental Health concentration you can earn in 63 credit hours. The degree will prepare you to sit for the National Counselor Examination (NCE).
As a Clinical Mental Health specialty student, you’ll be asked to complete 25% of your clinical courses on-campus. You’ll be required to take core courses in such classes as: Fundamentals of Counseling Theories, Human Development, Research Methods and Techniques, Psychological Measurement and Evaluation, Group Process and Procedures, Career Development, as well as Orientation to the Counseling Profession and others. The program also requires taking an Individual Counseling Practicum Seminar and Laboratory. Specialty courses include Professional Issues in Mental Health Counseling, Crisis Intervention, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning, as well as an internship.
A bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.5 GPA to qualify for this graduate program. You’ll begin the admission process by submitting a fee-waived, application. Additional materials include academic transcripts, GRE/MAT test scores, resume/CV, three letters of recommendation, and an essay. You can transfer up to six credit hours
Estimated Tuition Cost: $432-$1,216/per credit hour
Fast Fact: U.S. News and World Report’s ranks MSU as one of its Top Public Schools
12. Northwest University
Established in 1934 in Kirkland, Washington, this Christian university offers an online/blended Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling which can lead to licensure in the state of Washington. You’ll want to check with your state licensing board to determine if this degree will satisfy it’s requirements for licensure.
Academic requirements for the program include, among other studies, classes in Group Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling, Psychopathology and Diagnosis, Theology and Counseling, Assessment and Appraisal, Psychotherapeutics Systems, Substance Abuse Counseling and Interventions, Human Growth and Development, Human Sexuality and Relationships, etc. You’ll also complete two Internships. The program offers a choice of ethics courses, Professional Orientation and Law and Ethics or Professional Orientation and California Law and Ethics. As a Clinical Mental Health Counseling student, you’ll be required to participate in 10-hours of individual psychotherapy sessions in the first year and provide proof of completion.
An awarded bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA or greater is needed to apply (fee waived due to Covid 19). There are no prerequisite courses required nor are GRE test scores. Official academic transcripts, a personal essay, three letters of recommendation, and resume are requested as part of the application.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $663/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Northwest University is considered one of the Top Private Schools in America by Niche
13. Bluefield University
This Virginia school offers a hybrid MA in Counseling degree with a mental health focus. Coursework is offered online but there are on-campus, intensive seminars either in Bluefield or Martinsville, Virginia campuses.
As part of the 60-credit hour curriculum, you’ll take core classes in Counseling Theories, Group Counseling, DSM Applications in Counseling, Addictions Counseling, Crisis Counseling, Lifespan Development, Systems in Counseling, and others. You’ll choose one class from Expressive Arts in Counseling, Counseling Children & Adolescents, or Integration of Christianity & Counseling. For the Clinical Mental Health Counselor concentration, you’ll complete a Practicum experience as well as two Internships.
According the the school catalog (pp. 94-106), you’ll need a baccalaureate degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, provide a current resume/CV, a personal statement of interest, letters of recommendation, and academic transcripts. The application is offered online.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $480/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Formally, Bluefield College, this is a private, Baptist university providing advanced education since 1922
14. Edinboro University
This school offers a range of options for its Master of Arts in Counseling online degree, including Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a dual program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling/Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling.
For the Clinical Mental Health Counseling option, you’ll take core classes in: Crisis and Trauma Counseling, Group Processes, Appraisal Techniques in the Helping Professions, Addictions Counseling, Research and Program Evaluation, Ethical and Legal Issues in Counseling, Consultation Theories, Human Development Across the Lifespan Career Development, Crisis and Trauma Counseling, and more. You’ll also choose specialization classes in Family Counseling, Psychopathology and Intervention, Child and Adolescent Counseling, etc. Fieldwork is necessary as a Practicum and an Internship. The Clinical Rehabilitation and Clinical Mental Health Counseling follows the same core courses with specialized classes in areas such as Psychopathology and Intervention, Psychosocial Aspects of Disabilities, Family Counseling, and others. A Practicum Experience and an Internship are also required. Finally, a Master’s Project or thesis is necessary for graduation.
The online application has a $30 fee, and you’ll also need to supply an academic transcript for your undergraduate degree, reference letters, as well as 500-750 word writing sample answering three questions. You’ll want to review additional program and admission requirements prior to applying.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $568-$625/per credit hour
Fast Fact: This Pennsylvania school is one of U.S. News and World Report’s Top Public Schools
15. University of the Cumberlands
This university was founded in 1888 by Baptist ministers in northern Kentucky and currently has a graduate student enrollment in excess of 14,000 students. You can earn an online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling that can prepare you for licensure.
There are 48 credit hours of core studies for this degree, among which are classes in: Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling, Human Growth and Development, Psychological Assessment in Clinical Practice, Counseling During Grief and Crisis, Group Counseling, Etiology and Diagnosis of Mental Disorders, and a Practicum and Internship. You’ll also take 12 hours in Marriage and Family Counseling, Private Practice and Clinical Supervision, Child and Adolescent Counseling, and Process and Techniques in Counseling. Up to 18 credit hours can be transferred towards this program with approval from the program director.
This program’s admission requires a completed bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA, two letters of recommendation, official academic transcripts, and a writing sample. The graduate application fee is $75.
Estimated Tuition Cost: $400/per credit hour
Fast Fact: Chronicle of Higher Education named UC the Fastest Growing University in Kentucky in 2020
Why Should I Get My Counseling Master’s Online?
If you’re like most people, you have a lot going on in your life. Work. Family. Friends. You don’t think you have time to pursue a graduate degree in counseling. The simple fact is, you probably can’t afford not to earn a masters and studying online improves your work-school-life balance.
In order to be licensed in the majority of states, you need to have an advanced degree in counseling, such as a masters or doctorate. Curricula are designed on the graduate level to prepare you to sit for professional licensure exams, a critical component for your professional career. Some of the licensing agencies for professional counseling include: 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)
During the Covid pandemic, universities transitioned many of their campus degree programs to an online option. Students will study the same curriculum and participate in field experiences online as the on-campus students; and, are taught by the same faculty. Online degree programs allow you to continue working as you earn your degree, as well as have time for family and friends.
How Do I Choose the Best Online Counseling Master’s?
Depending on what your career and professional goals are, you’re going to want to identify programs that match your needs. The are numerous online degree options available and you should look for the program which offer you the opportunity choose a speciality area, such as addiction, marriage and family counseling, clinical mental health, clinical rehabilitation, etc.
The gold standard for counseling program quality and standards is accreditation by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). As stated before, all the programs in this ranking are accredited by CACREP and universities are regionally accredited.
What Can I Do with a Master’s in Counseling?
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) are qualified to assess physical and mental health, addiction, or behavioral issues and develop treatment plans or referrals. The master’s degree will qualify for you to sit for licensure exams. You’ll want to be sure the online program you choose will meet the licensing requirements for your particular state and if the university you choose is part of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARS).
You’ll work with individuals, couples, groups, or families and assist them with issues ranging from addiction, behavioral issues, anxiety, depression, career concerns and more. Through your training, you’ll be able to provide treatment options, assessments, and develop skills and mechanisms to handle situations in healthy ways.
Employment can be found either in private practice, residential facilities, hospitals, outpatient centers, federal, state, or local government agencies.