Online Master's in Counseling Psychology Programs
Individuals who want to help others by providing professional guidance on emotional and behavioral challenges may be interested in earning an online master's in counseling psychology. This degree — along with state licensure — qualifies graduates to work as clinical counselors with various clients, including individuals, couples, families, and children. It also helps prepare graduates to go on to earn a doctorate in psychology.
Our list of the most popular schools offering online counseling psychology degrees includes annual tuition and students’ recommendation rates to help prospective students make informed decisions. Following the list, we've provided information on the degree, including accreditation, common courses, career options, and licensure requirements.
Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Counseling Psychology Master's Degrees
|Rank||School||Annual Tuition||Recommend Rate|
|# 1||Arizona State University||$16,820||64% (112 reviews)|
|# 2||Southern New Hampshire University Online||$11,286||62% (451 reviews)|
|# 3||Grand Canyon University||$11,074||49% (550 reviews)|
|# 4||Colorado State University Global||$9,000||55% (112 reviews)|
|# 5||University of the Southwest||$22,500||50% (6 reviews)|
|# 6||Regent University Online||$16,952||36% (25 reviews)|
|# 7||Indiana Wesleyan University Online||$13,156||38% (34 reviews)|
|# 8||Capella University||$15,233||62% (683 reviews)|
|# 9||Walden University||Not Provided||51% (688 reviews)|
|# 10||Wake Forest University||$39,200||Add Review|
|# 11||Northcentral University||$18,095||48% (267 reviews)|
|# 12||Chicago School of Professional Psychology Online||$22,411||25% (16 reviews)|
|# 13||Columbia University in the City of New York||$49,968||Add Review|
|# 14||Regis College||$38,850||25% (4 reviews)|
|# 15||California Baptist University||$13,560||80% (5 reviews)|
|# 16||Aspen University||$4,140||80% (206 reviews)|
|# 17||University of North Dakota||$19,958||67% (3 reviews)|
|# 18||National University||$15,480||46% (112 reviews)|
|# 19||Golden Gate University||$19,705||100% (1 review)|
|# 20||Nova Southeastern University||$21,206||63% (8 reviews)|
|# 21||St. Bonaventure University Online||$13,860||Add Review|
|# 22||University of Louisiana - Monroe||$21,339||67% (3 reviews)|
|# 23||University of West Alabama||$13,546||60% (5 reviews)|
|# 24||Adams State University||$10,551||100% (3 reviews)|
|# 25||Adler Graduate School||Not Provided||Add Review|
Overview of Online Master's in Counseling Psychology Degrees
Counseling psychology master's programs are designed to train graduates to be licensed clinical mental health counselors. Learners study the theories, concepts, and strategies of psychology in depth while developing the skills and techniques to provide professional counseling services. According to Burning Glass, a data analytics company, the 258 institutions offering this program conferred just over 8,000 traditional and online counseling psychology degrees in 2020. Programs typically require 60 credit hours, and they are generally structured to be completed in two years with a full-time schedule, though some require an additional six months on top of that.
Learners study the theories, concepts, and strategies of psychology in depth while developing the skills and techniques to provide professional counseling services.
It's possible to earn a counseling psychology degree entirely through distance education, where students take fully online classes and complete their fieldwork requirements at mental health facilities near their homes. The median annual tuition of an online program in counseling psychology is $18,400, according to our analysis of 35 schools. Online students may reduce higher education expenses by applying for financial aid and avoiding campus-related expenses, such as housing and transportation costs. Non-resident students may also save by opting for online programs, as many schools' online tuition rates are lower than their out-of-state tuition rates.
Students may also be interested in pursuing an online master's in school counseling or exploring additional master's programs offered through distance learning.
Applying to an Online Master's in Counseling Psychology Program
The admission requirements for acceptance into an online master's program in counseling psychology are fairly consistent across schools. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university. Some schools require a bachelor's degree in psychology or counseling, while others are more flexible and may accept related degrees. Students are also required to have earned a minimum GPA — often 3.0 — for their undergraduate coursework. Applicants with degrees in other fields may be required to take prerequisite courses before starting the program. Those who meet most, but not all, of the admissions criteria may be placed on conditional acceptance until they complete the requirements.
When submitting their applications, students are usually required to include official transcripts and any other coursework they have completed. Schools may also ask that students submit a personal statement, writing sample, letters of recommendation, and either a resume or curriculum vitae. Some schools also require prospective students to submit GRE scores, and a few even request formal background checks.
We've compiled a guide to applying to an online program for more tips!
Accreditation is a designation indicating that schools and their individual programs meet academic standards and produce professional-level learning outcomes. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accredits in-person and online master's degree programs that are oriented toward clinical counseling. Since programmatic accreditation may be required for state licensure, students should check their state's licensing board before enrolling to ensure their program meets their state's criteria. Depending on the state, licensing boards for counseling may stipulate unique requirements for online learners.
While some courses in an online counseling psychology program focus on theory, others emphasize practice through hands-on exercises, simulations, and supervised work.
Because most counseling occupations require state licensure, program coursework is also intended to help students pass the appropriate exams. In addition to core courses, students may choose several electives in subjects that are often specializations in the counseling field, such as career counseling, substance use and addiction treatment, marriage and family therapy, human sexuality, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology. The following are some of the courses commonly found in an online counseling psychology program.
Assessment and Evaluation in Counseling
In this applications-oriented course, students learn various clinical interviewing and assessment techniques they can use with individuals, couples, and families. Students can practice establishing rapport with clients, conducting mental status examinations, and providing counseling and feedback. Coursework may also introduce crisis intervention models.
This course provides an overview of the major theories behind psychotherapy and counseling. In addition to understanding the historical background and cultural context of these counseling theories, students learn how they support the therapeutic techniques used for different types of clients.
Cultural Diversity, Ethics, and Legal Issues in Counseling
This course is designed to give students a strong foundation in professional conduct. Coursework covers social and multicultural influences on behavior exhibited by both counselors and their clients. Students also learn to engage in ethical reasoning and comply with regulations governing the counseling profession.
At some point in their careers, students may find themselves providing counseling to groups of people, so this course offers hands-on opportunities to practice group facilitation. Students also learn about group dynamics, the stages of group formation, and therapeutic movement within groups.
Human Growth and Development
This course explains the typical cognitive, personality, and moral development of individuals across their lifespan, from infancy into adulthood and old age. Coursework also explores individual and cultural differences, developmental processes, and theories of human development.
Many online programs require learners to attend one or two weeklong residencies on campus, which allow students to start gaining practical experience midway through the program.
Online students usually complete fieldwork — another important component — at a mental health facility during a program’s last year. Working under the supervision of licensed counselors in real-life settings enables students to develop counseling skills in testing, evaluation, and consultation. Most programs require students to complete two term-long internships and possibly one additional practicum, which usually entail 500-700 hours of work experience. These clinical hours also help fulfill state requirements for licensure.
Careers in the Field of Counseling Psychology
Online counseling psychology programs are meant to instruct students on offering support and guidance to individuals and families struggling with behavioral and emotional difficulties. Master's graduates may work in private practices or government agencies that provide counseling assistance, or they may decide to pursue a doctoral degree. While becoming a fully licensed psychologist requires a doctoral degree, graduates with online master's degrees are qualified for a number of career paths in counseling, including the following:
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are typically employed in community health centers, prisons, and private practice. They specialize in counseling people suffering from alcohol and drug dependence as well as other mental health disorders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for professionals is projected to increase by 23% over the next eight years, which translates into approximately 41,000 new job openings each year.
School and career counselors and advisors
School and career counselors and advisors help K-12 students address emotional or behavioral issues that may affect their education. Those who work in high schools, colleges, and universities may also assist students in educational and career planning. Using various types of assessment tools and evaluation techniques, they help students determine their skills and abilities to develop their career goals. Individuals need a master's degree and a state-issued credential to practice.
Rehabilitation counselors evaluate the needs of clients to make a treatment plan for their medical, psychological, developmental, and/or emotional disabilities. A rehabilitation counselor's goal is to help people manage independent living, which often involves training for and finding employment that accommodates limitations.
Marriage and family therapists
Marriage and family therapists specialize in helping couples and families with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues. Most work in private practices or mental health centers. Individuals must have a master's degree and a state-issued license to practice that is distinct from that of a licensed psychologist. The BLS projects about 8,500 new job openings — a growth rate of 16% — to emerge each year over the decade.
Learn more about what you can do with a psychology degree.
Licensure and Certification Requirements
Depending on the career path graduates choose and the state where they work, they may or may not need a license to practice. For example, marriage and family therapists, certified counselors, school counselors, and other licensed professional counselors typically need state-issued licensure, but career counselors may not. These credentials need to be renewed periodically, and renewal often requires proof that the counselor has completed a state-specified number of continuing education hours.
The eligibility criteria for licensure also varies by state: There are variations in the counseling degree level, program accreditation, number of supervised clinical hours, and other required qualifications for every specialization in each state. While several counseling specializations require only a master's degree, becoming a licensed psychologist requires a doctoral degree. Students should check with their state's licensing board to determine the licensing requirements for their chosen occupation.
Licensed counselors may also want to earn certification from a professional organization, such as the National Board for Certified Counselors. Although certification is usually optional, it demonstrates a counselor's commitment to professional development and practice. Certifications are available for both general practitioners and specialists.
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