Best Online Bachelor's in Counseling Programs

By Jennifer King Logan | Updated 5/3/2022
Quick Facts
Accreditation: AAMFT, CACREP
Average Tuition: $25,118
Alumni Salary: $32,600

For those who want to assist people in improving their lives through behavioral changes, this may be an excellent time to become a counselor. Through 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 23% increase in demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health disorder counselors and a 16% increase for marriage and family therapists. Following our rankings list of the best schools for online bachelor's degrees in counseling, we've provided information about programs, career options, and answers to common questions.

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2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Counseling Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Counseling Badge

With low tuition rates and high average alumni salaries, the following 17 schools offer the best online bachelor's in counseling degrees. Houghton College is the #1 school, with an average alumni salary of $123,200 and charging only $32,930 for their B.A. in Psychology with a concentration in Clinical Counseling. Second-ranked Union College - KY offers a Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling for $6,750 per year. Graduates of the school's counseling program earn a median salary of $83,100.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 Houghton College $32,930 $123,200
# 2 #2 Union College - KY $6,750 $83,100
# 3 #3 Elizabethtown College $17,760 $79,500
# 4 #4 Houston Baptist University $12,865 $75,400
# 5 #5 University of Cincinnati $10,342 $70,000
# 6 #6 Washington State University $11,550 $69,600
# 7 #7 Colorado Christian University $14,070 $59,700
# 9 #9 Oral Roberts University $12,369 $51,800
# 10 #10 Notre Dame College $14,250 $52,500
# 11 #11 Liberty University $11,700 $50,300
# 12 #12 Fort Hays State University $6,560 $47,600
# 13 #13 Drexel University $38,475 $59,300
# 14 #14 Bay Path University $12,000 $46,600
# 16 #16 University of Maine at Augusta $9,269 $39,500
# 17 #17 Lee University $7,560 $38,800
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering Counseling Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 Houghton College

  • Annual Tuition: $32,930
  • Median Salary: $123,200
  • Locations: Houghton (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Clinical/Counseling degree at Houghton College is for students who wish to pursue careers helping others in need. This program will equip students with the research and analytical skills necessary to better understand human behavior. Graduates of the program may go on to explore careers in health and human services, as well as pursue advanced studies in research, clinical psychology, or counseling. This online counseling degree program explores psychology within the realm of the Christian faith, which is suitable for students seeking careers in ministry. The clinical/counseling track of this program requires the completion of 17 to 21 credit hours.

Online coursework covers developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, the psychology of personality, religion, human sexuality, drugs and behavior, counseling, and psychotherapy. Online discussion forums encourage interaction between students and instructors. Students have the option to complete an internship that can earn them two to six credits.

First-time college students applying to Houghton College must submit an application form, a personal statement, high school transcripts, test scores, and one recommendation letter. Students can have the ACT/SAT requirement waived based on strong academic performance. Transfer students must submit an application and an official college transcript; those with one full semester of completed coursework do not have to submit test scores. Depending on the number of credits already completed, transfer students who study full-time can complete their degrees in as few as 12 to 18 months.

#2 Union College - KY

  • Annual Tuition: $6,750
  • Median Salary: $83,100
  • Locations: Barbourville (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Union College - Kentucky offers an online Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling. This 120-credit program combines a strong foundation in the liberal arts with classes focused on substance abuse counseling. Students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA throughout this program and complete all required college assessments. The 24-credit core requirements of this program cover the psychology of addiction, recovery, and relapse, as well as the foundations and ethical issues of drug dependency. An internship is one of the core requirements of this online counseling degree. Students may also take 15 hours of electives.

Even though classes are completed remotely, students are able to connect with faculty and fellow students within the online classroom environment. The user-friendly virtual learning platform offers 24/7 support. Students also receive access to faculty and academic advisers during their program for support in their scholastic and professional endeavors.

Applicants must submit an application form and official college transcripts. A minimum 2.0 GPA is required for admission. Students can transfer a maximum of 67 credits. Veterans should submit documents that detail their previous training. AP/CLEP exams may be accepted for course credit.

#3 Elizabethtown College

  • Annual Tuition: $17,760
  • Median Salary: $79,500
  • Locations: Elizabethtown (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The Bachelor of Science and Human Services program at Elizabethtown College may be suitable for students pursuing careers as advocates, administrators, and counselors in the field of human services. Students can opt for a general program, or they can specialize in behavior and addictions counseling. Advanced electives can help students tailor their education to meet their career and personal goals. Graduates of this online counseling degree program will understand the challenges individuals face and how they can better cope with them through the support of various counseling services. While this program prepares students for the health services field as well as advanced study in counseling, it also aims to develop other professional skills, such as communication and critical thinking.

Students can opt to take classes entirely remotely or in a combination of online and on-campus courses. Classes are facilitated through Blackboard, and students register for classes through JayWeb. Smarthinking is a 24/7 online service that provides web-based tutorials, manuals, and other resources.

Applicants can waive the standardized test requirement if they have a 3.5 GPA or higher, or if they've graduated within the top 10% of their class. Students must submit an application form, guidance counselor report, high school transcript, and writing sample. Transfer students must submit an application and transcripts from prior colleges; test scores are optional. There is no fee to apply.

#4 Houston Baptist University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,865
  • Median Salary: $75,400
  • Locations: Houston (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Christian Counseling degree at Houston Baptist University is designed for students who want to launch careers as counselors using a Christian faith-based approach. It is also appropriate for students wishing to pursue human service-based roles in a variety of fields. The program features a rigorous liberal arts foundation coupled with a Christian counseling cognate within the psychology major. This six-course sequence covers topics in individual, couple, and family counseling practice through the lens of Christianity. Students will learn how to combine their faith with counseling strategies in order to serve others effectively. Graduates can pursue opportunities in health and human services, as well as advance to graduate study in counseling and psychology.

This online bachelor's degree encourages active learning through asynchronous coursework. Students remain connected at home with regular feedback on their assignments from faculty members. The curriculum focuses on the science and theories that are the foundation of the field of psychology and addresses modern issues and ethics that are part of the Christian Counseling perspective.

Prospective students must submit official high school transcripts (or alternative). Transfer students must submit transcripts from previously attended colleges. The application fee is currently being waived. Admission counselors are available for prospective students to discuss their academic plans.

#5 University of Cincinnati

  • Annual Tuition: $10,342
  • Median Salary: $70,000
  • Locations: Cincinnati (OH) (and 1 other)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Cincinnati offers an online Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling. The curriculum in this program covers various theories and practices in the field, including crisis management, group counseling, ethics, assessment and diagnosis, and maintenance strategies for long-term treatment. Students can apply coursework from this program toward counseling licensure in their home state, but specific requirements will vary. For those who live or work in Ohio, this online counseling degree meets the requirements for the Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor II and III. A capstone experience is required during the senior year.

This program is offered entirely online via the Blackboard learning management platform. Students can enroll part-time or full time in the program, which has three start dates in the summer, fall, and spring. Online students at the University of Cincinnati are assigned an academic advisor and a Student Success Coordinator to provide support and guidance.

Students entering the University of Cincinnati directly from high school must submit their high school transcript and ACT or SAT scores. A minimum GPA of 2.7 is required for high school applicants. To be accepted as a transfer student, applicants must have at least 24 credits completed with a minimum GPA of 2.0.

#6 Washington State University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,550
  • Median Salary: $69,600
  • Locations: Pullman (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

The Bachelor of Science in Psychology offered at Washington State University's Global Campus offers a concentration in Clinical/Counseling. The diplomas earned from online degrees at WSU are the same as those earned from the on-campus programs. The concentration courses cover topics in gender, abnormal psychology, behavioral disorders, and psychological development. Online psychology students have the option to serve as tutors or teaching assistants and join Psi Chi, the national psychology honor society. Students are required to complete a writing portfolio to graduate.

Online courses are delivered via Blackboard’s learning management software. Faculty employ synchronous and asynchronous methods for teaching online coursework. Many classes use open education resources, meaning students are not required to pay for academic materials for those classes. The WSU Global Campus pairs each student with a personal academic advisor and offers 24/7 tech support. All online students may access WSU’s career counseling service for help with degree planning.

Applicants must submit high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and (if over the age of 25) a resume and a brief essay.

#7 Colorado Christian University

  • Annual Tuition: $14,070
  • Median Salary: $59,700
  • Locations: Lakewood (CO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Colorado Christian University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology. The curriculum explores human behavior theories from a Christian perspective. The BS in Applied Psychology requires students to complete 120 credit hours. Within the Clinical Counseling concentration, students complete 12 credits of graduate-level coursework, which they can apply toward a master’s degree in counseling should they decide to enroll in the accelerated option.

Online degrees operate on a platform called CCU Online, and course content is offered through Blackboard’s learning management software. Courses run in five-week sessions with weekly assignments. All classes are asynchronous, so students can complete their studies around their own schedules. Students have access to electronic resources from the Clifton Fowler Library, academic advisors for degree planning, and enrollment counselors.

CCU awards transfer credit for prior college coursework (up to 45 credits from an associate degree and up to 90 credits from a bachelor's degree), military experience, professional training, and life experience. To apply, prospective students should complete the online adult undergraduate application. A copy of a state-issued identification card and proof of high school graduation is required.

#9 Oral Roberts University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,369
  • Median Salary: $51,800
  • Locations: Tulsa (OK)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Oral Roberts University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Christian Caregiving and Counseling through the College of Theology and Ministry. This 124-credit program is designed for adult learners seeking a flexible course schedule. Courses are taught in 7-week sessions, and the curriculum includes instruction in psychology principles, biblical teachings, research methods, theology, and ethics. Seniors are required to complete a project or practicum experience before graduating.

Course content is managed through the Desire2Learn learning management system and uses asynchronous tools. Online learners must complete a three-credit virtual orientation course. Support resources for online students include enrollment counselors and digital materials from the ORU library (including a live chat with a librarian feature). Additional benefits are available for active military and veteran students.

First-year applicants should submit a completed application, official high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores. Those with at least 15 transfer credits from prior college-level work need only to submit the application and college transcripts.

#10 Notre Dame College

  • Annual Tuition: $14,250
  • Median Salary: $52,500
  • Locations: Cleveland (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Notre Dame College offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a concentration in Clinical and Counseling. The college's online degree programs are designed for working adults pursuing a career change or career advancement. The BA in Psychology is a four-year program totaling 120 credit hours; Courses run for eight-week sessions. The curriculum includes general education requirements, major coursework, and concentration classes. A senior seminar is required before graduating.

Online instruction includes discussion forums and assignments with set deadlines. Students are expected to dedicate significant time each week to their studies. Online learners work with an online program advisor to address any questions and concerns.

To apply, students should have a minimum GPA of 2.5 and should submit a completed application, official high school transcripts, and official college transcripts (if applicable). Enrollment counselors and a transcript team are available to help even before a student applies.

#11 Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,700
  • Median Salary: $50,300
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Bachelor of Science in Religion. Students in the psychology program can select a concentration in Addiction and Recovery, Christian Counseling, or Crisis Counseling. The BS in Religion includes a concentration in Christian Counseling. Both of these degree programs require that students complete 120 credit hours over 3.5 years, with classes running in eight-week sessions. The curriculum for the BS in Psychology includes an internship component to provide practice in counseling. The BS in Religion emphasizes theological coursework and trains individuals in how to provide care to patients. Individuals in this program complete a research capstone project.

Liberty University uses Blackboard’s platform to facilitate its online content. Courses are delivered asynchronously, which lets students complete work and watch classes at their own pace. Online learners have access to Adobe products, an IT help desk (with service hours every day), virtual tutoring, and resources from the Jerry Falwell Library.

Transfer students can submit up to 90 credits to go toward their bachelor’s degree. Applicants must submit a completed application and official transcripts.

#12 Fort Hays State University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,560
  • Median Salary: $47,600
  • Locations: Hays (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

There are two online counseling degree options for undergraduate students at Fort Hays State University (FHSU): the Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a concentration in Addictions Counseling and the Bachelor of Science in Sociology with a concentration in Addictions Counseling. The Addictions Counseling track provides students with academic training to become licensed addictions counselors in Kansas. The curriculum includes core sociology degree requirements, general education courses, concentration classes, and electives. Along with the minimum 120 credit hours, students are required to take two practicums before graduating. The BA degree includes a foreign language requirement.

Online content is delivered through the FHSU Virtual College with web-based tools provided by the Blackboard learning management system. Students completing coursework in the sociology program engage in discussion boards, presentations, team projects, and exams. Distance learners have access to tutoring services, career counseling, and technical assistance with a live chat feature.

Prospective students should submit a completed application, official transcripts (which must reflect the minimum GPA requirement of 2.0), and test scores. Applicants coming in as first-year students must score a minimum of 21 on the ACT (or 980 on the SAT) or rank in the top third of their high school graduating class. Students with at least 24 college credits and a minimum college GPA of 2.0 may apply as transfer students.

#13 Drexel University

  • Annual Tuition: $38,475
  • Median Salary: $59,300
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Drexel University’s Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Counseling is available entirely online and shares the same curriculum as its on-campus counterpart. The program provides comprehensive instruction of behavioral disorders, with topics in assessment and treatment planning, substance abuse disorders, group counseling, and psychiatric rehabilitation. Drexel University operates in four 10-week quarters. Seniors complete a final research project before graduating.

Online content is asynchronous and managed on Blackboard’s platform, where students are expected to watch weekly lectures and videos and engage in online chat features. Online learners have access to enrollment counselors and academic advisors. Prospective students can try out an online course to make sure Drexel University is the right fit.

Students with previously earned college credits may transfer up to 135 quarter credits (90 semester credits) toward the liberal arts and general education requirements. To be considered for admission, applicants should send in a completed application, official transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores. Transfer students are exempt from submitting standardized test scores.

#14 Bay Path University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,000
  • Median Salary: $46,600
  • Locations: Longmeadow (MA) (and 1 other)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Bay Path University has an online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with two counseling concentrations in Foundations in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling and Counseling Foundations. Both programs are offered through the American Women’s College. The curriculum for the Foundations in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling track includes topics in drugs and behavior, interventions, and counseling in diverse populations. Graduates must complete a 300-hour internship component and are prepared to take the Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor licensing exam. The Counseling Foundations track instructs in counseling techniques for diverse populations and counseling ethics.

Bay Path University’s American Women’s College uses a data-driven online learning platform called SOUL, which provides students with an online orientation, adaptive learning strategies, and accelerated courses. Distance education resources include virtual tutoring, academic advising, career services, and the Hatch Library.

To be considered, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.0. Individuals should submit a completed application and submit official transcripts. A phone interview will follow.

#16 University of Maine at Augusta

  • Annual Tuition: $9,269
  • Median Salary: $39,500
  • Locations: Augusta (ME)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

The University of Maine at Augusta offers a Bachelor of Science in Mental Health and Human Services through its online platform, UMA Online. Students may select a concentration in Addiction Counseling. Upon successfully completing a total of 121 credits, graduates meet the requirements for the licensed Social Worker Conditional credential. The Addictions Counseling concentration covers topics in crisis intervention, substance abuse disorders, and how substance abuse affects different populations. Students work with UMA to identify an appropriate field placement site, which is part of the capstone requirement.

UMA Online uses Blackboard learning management software to host its online content. Some courses use pre-recorded lectures and asynchronous assignments, and some use real-time video-conferencing services. Online students attend a completely online new student orientation. Additionally, online learners have access to academic success coaching, advising, disability accommodations, and resources through the UMA libraries, including a live chat feature.

The online application is free and only requires official transcripts. Applicants must pass a criminal background check.

#17 Lee University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,560
  • Median Salary: $38,800
  • Locations: Cleveland (TN)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Lee University offers an online Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Ministry Leadership. Both 120-credit degree programs offer a concentration in Counseling and are designed for adult learners seeking a career path in ministry. The curriculum includes general education requirements, religion core classes, major courses, general electives, and concentration courses. Several counseling topics are studied, including personality theory, human sexuality, abnormal psychology, and various methodologies. The BA requires students to take six foreign language credits. To graduate, students need to complete a senior capstone project in the form of a reflection paper.

All online courses are asynchronous and follow a seven-week schedule. Online students must complete a virtual orientation that provides information on distance-based learning tools and resources available. Students have access to digital library materials and a writing lab, and there are additional support resources for veterans.

Application requirements include at least three years of experience beyond high school, a completed application (with fee), official high school transcripts, and official ACT or SAT scores (if under the age of 25). Transfer students with at least 16 credits are also exempt from submitting test scores.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Counseling

Online bachelor’s degree programs in counseling typically focus on substance abuse, addictions, and human behavior. While enrollment in a bachelor's degree in counseling provides an introduction to the field, most states require counselors to earn at least a master's degree in order to become licensed.

Admission Requirements

Undergraduate programs in counseling typically follow the standard admissions protocol for all bachelor's programs. Most schools require a high school diploma or GED, SAT/ACT scores, a resume, and letters of recommendation. Prospective students may be required to have a GPA of 2.8 or higher.


The classes counseling students take as undergraduates often mirror the courses they may take as graduate-level students, but the undergraduate curriculum revolves around learning existing theories rather than developing one's own ideas and techniques.

Learners enrolled in online counseling degree programs study general psychology and sociology through classes such as child development, addiction, abnormal psychology, and emotional disorders. Other courses discuss particular counseling issues, such as case management, drugs and behavior, substance abuse recovery, counseling skills, and counselor ethics. Counseling majors also take a broad array of general education classes in math, sciences, communications, and social sciences. Some schools also require students to complete some type of capstone project.

In order to gain the hands-on work experience that an expert counselor needs, most online bachelor's in counseling programs require students to complete a practicum and internship experience.

In order to gain the hands-on work experience that an expert counselor needs, most online bachelor's in counseling programs require students to complete a practicum and internship experience. Practicums put students in mock counseling settings, which allow them to work on their counseling skills in low-stakes situations. Internships in a counseling office allow students to shadow experienced counselors and practice their counseling skills under the watchful eye of a professional. The amount of fieldwork required will depend on the state in which the training takes place and the type of counseling the student specializes in. Online students may need to take greater responsibility for their practice experience by finding an internship in a local school, clinic, or community agency to acquire the clinical practice hours they need.

Interested in learning about similar degrees? Explore online bachelor's programs in substance abuse counseling, Christian counseling, and psychology.

Common Courses in an Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program

The core courses and electives required for online bachelor's in counseling degrees vary widely, often depending on the area of specialization or focus of the program. In general, they require students to complete extensive reading and writing assignments, and they provide opportunities for students to develop their counseling skills through role play activities, group work, and class discussions. The following is a list of courses often included in counseling programs.

Clinical and Counseling Psychology

This class discusses how personality and personal interaction can manifest in the client-counselor relationship. Students explore different methods of working with clients, depending on what the client wants to get out of counseling. Coursework covers different tools, such as standardized questionnaires, which can be used to determine a patient's diagnosis.

General Psychology

An introductory course in general psychology gives students a broad overview of the science. In addition to covering the history of psychology and various theories, coursework explores fundamentals such as cognition, perception, motivation, and learning.

Lifespan Development

This course discusses how people change from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood and old age. All aspects of human development are covered, such as cognitive, physical, and emotional development. Coursework may include methods of helping people adjust to common life changes.

Multicultural Psychology

At its core, multicultural psychology is the study of the ways in which culture can affect how people think, feel, and act. Some of the common topics discussed include racial identity, prejudice and stereotyping, and adaptation.

Physiological Psychology

This field of psychology explores the biological basis for behavior, specifically the relationship between the brain and a person's actions. Coursework covers the nervous system, sensory perception, sleep, emotions, and memory. Students may also learn how physical injury and trauma can alter behavior.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Counseling Degree?

Counselors are found in many healthcare settings and populations, so a wide variety of career paths are available. Possible work environments include community agencies, schools, colleges, hospitals, and private practice.

Although graduate study in counseling is necessary to become a licensed counselor, graduates with a high school or bachelor's degree and relevant experience may qualify for counseling-related positions, such as social and human service assistant, social and community service manager, and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor. With a master's degree and a state-issued license, graduates can go into clinical mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, career counseling, and marriage and family counseling.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's in Counseling Degrees

What Undergraduate Degree Is Best for Counseling?

The best undergraduate degree for a career in counseling depends on your specific goals. If you are certain you want to become some type of counselor — marriage and family, substance abuse, mental health, school, or career — a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in counseling, applied psychology, or even sociology may work for your needs. You could also consider earning a bachelor's degree in social work. If, however, you are intent on earning a doctorate and becoming a licensed clinical or research psychologist, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology may be the better option.

What Is the Difference Between a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

Although both types of programs are designed to prepare students for graduate school, there are distinct differences between a bachelor's degree in counseling and a bachelor's degree in psychology. In general, counseling programs focus on using therapeutic techniques to help clients of all ages work through issues such as addiction, trauma, or relationship problems. Psychology programs include courses on clinical counseling but also cover more scientific topics and research methods, such as how to conduct diagnostic testing or psychoanalytical research.

How Long Does It Take To Complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling Online?

Most students need four or more years to complete the approximately 120 credit hours needed to earn a bachelor's degree in counseling. However, students who have already accumulated some higher education credits — possibly by earning an associate degree — may be able to transfer credits and graduate sooner.

What Are the Benefits of an Online Bachelor’s in Counseling Degree?

Earning a bachelor's degree in counseling online offers several important benefits. In addition to obtaining the skills and knowledge you'll need to enter this rewarding field, you'll be able to choose the program that best fits your interests and career goals without having to relocate to attend school. Online programs also give you greater flexibility in your schedule, which is a significant advantage if you're working full time or have other time constraints.

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