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2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Counseling Psychology

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 7/7/2023
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An online master's in counseling psychology teaches students how to provide emotional support to clients by identifying and addressing behavioral issues. Before becoming a professional psychologist, graduates must obtain their license in the state where they wish to become certified counselors. Online coursework is designed to meet state licensure requirements and may include classes that explore evaluation techniques, counseling theories, issues of diversity and ethics, and cognitive development. There are also affordable counseling master's degrees that focus on specific disorders, such as substance abuse counseling or mental health counseling, allowing graduates to gain specialized training.

View our methodology for more details about our list, or learn more about OnlineU.

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Online Counseling Psychology Master's Degrees You May Be Interested In

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Counseling Psychology

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Alliant International University 99 99 $67,278
# 2 #2 National University 84 $55,141
# 3 #3 Arizona State University 84 $54,964
# 4 #4 Chicago School of Professional Psychology Online 72 $51,294
# 5 #5 Ottawa University Online 68 $50,439
# 6 #6 Chaminade University of Honolulu 54 $47,133

#1 Alliant International University

  • Salary Score: 99
  • Median Starting Salary: $67,278
  • Locations: San Diego (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Alliant International University (AIU) is a private institution with an online Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling requiring 60 credit hours. Students studying full time will likely complete the degree in approximately three years. AIU accepts 100% of its applicants, while 62% of students graduate with degrees.

AIU uses Canvas to deliver its online coursework. This software allows students to finish their degrees entirely online and asynchronously. The core curriculum meets all of California's educational and clinical requirements. Students learn to treat and prevent mental health issues by applying psychotherapeutic techniques. Required classes include Counseling Theories, Lifespan Development, and Chemical Dependence and Addiction Issues. Students are required to complete a one-year field practicum. A career development course teaches students how to pursue employment as professional counselors.

#2 National University

  • Salary Score: 84
  • Median Starting Salary: $55,141
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

National University (NU) is a private university with an online Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology (California). This online graduate degree requires 90 quarter units, which full-time students can complete in approximately three years. Two specialization options are Marriage and Family Therapist as well as Combined Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. These programs meet California licensure requirements. Students are accepted into NU at a rate of 55%, with 36% graduating with degrees.

NU students use Blackboard as its learning management system, where they can complete courses 100% online. Classes are delivered individually in four-week sessions using synchronous and asynchronous formats. The curriculum develops therapeutic skills and professional standards, giving students the tools to evaluate disorders and develop treatment plans. Among the required classes are Community Mental Health, Clinical Assessment, and Cultural and Social Justice Issues. Online students are also required to do a practicum. Graduates of this program go on to become marriage and family therapists.

#3 Arizona State University

  • Salary Score: 84
  • Median Starting Salary: $54,964
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University (ASU) is a public university offering an online Master of Science in Psychology - Positive Psychology that requires 36 credit hours. Students can complete this online master's program in approximately two years while studying full time. The acceptance rate at ASU is 70%, with 47% of students reaching their degrees.

At ASU, students use Canvas for its remote courses, completed entirely online and primarily asynchronous. This program is about improving people's lives by focusing on their strengths rather than deficits. Students study traditional psychology foundations alongside positive psychology principles, including coping mechanisms, optimism, and mindfulness. Required classes include Psychology of Mindfulness, Emotions, and Professional Issues in Psychology. A capstone project in general psychology is also required. Graduates may explore roles as human resources directors, research analysts, and mental health professionals.

#4 Chicago School of Professional Psychology Online

  • Salary Score: 72
  • Median Starting Salary: $51,294
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: HLC

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology Online (TCSPP) is a private university offering an online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling requiring 60 credit hours. Students studying on a full-time schedule can complete this program in three years. The acceptance rate at TCSPP is 37%. Federal data on TCSPP's graduation rates are unavailable.

Students at TCSPP use the Canvas learning management system to access their core online courses, which are entirely remote. Some use a synchronous virtual residency with students learning online simultaneously. The curriculum covers psychology fundamentals, such as advocacy, diagnosis, ethics, and prevention; specialized training in community health; and research and theory. There are required courses, such as Diagnosis of Mental Health Issues, Assessment of Individuals, and Group Theories and Processes of Counseling. A practicum and two internship sessions are also required. Graduates may earn career opportunities as clinical counselors, community health educators, and wellness coaches.

#5 Ottawa University Online

  • Salary Score: 68
  • Median Starting Salary: $50,439
  • Locations: Ottawa (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ottawa University Online (OU) is a private institution with an online Master of Arts in Counseling - Treatment of Trauma, Abuse, and Deprivation requiring between 60 and 63 credit hours. Typically, students graduate in approximately three years while studying full time. OU accepts 67% of applicants, with 47% of students graduating.

All online courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system, where students study entirely online. OU uses synchronous and asynchronous learning. This online master's degree in counseling focuses on theory and research to assess addiction, trauma, abuse, and violence stress. Course requirements include Expressive Arts Therapies, Advanced Clinical Application, and Children and Complex Trauma. Additionally, students must complete field experience through a practicum and internship. Students may be hired as addiction counselors, grief counselors, and community health workers.

#6 Chaminade University of Honolulu

  • Salary Score: 54
  • Median Starting Salary: $47,133
  • Locations: Honolulu (HI)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Chaminade University of Honolulu (CUH) is a private university offering an online Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, which requires 60 credit hours. Three concentrations are available in (1) Marriage and Family Therapy, (2) Mental Health Counseling, and (3) School Counseling. Students studying on a full-time schedule can complete this program in 30 months. The acceptance rate at CUH is 90%, and the graduation rate is 49%.

CUH students use the Canvas learning management system to access their core online courses, which are 100% online using synchronous and asynchronous formats. The curriculum explores counseling theories, techniques, and principles while identifying how change and adaptation fit within the counseling framework. Core online courses include Life Span Development, Group Processes, and Cross-Cultural Counseling. Career opportunities vary based on a student's chosen concentration but may include marriage counselors, counseling administrators, and human resources directors.

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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.

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.

Common Courses

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.

Counseling Theories

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.

Group Counseling

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.

Clinical Hours

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
Median Annual Salary: $47,660
Job Growth Rate: 23%

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
Median Annual Salary: $58,120
Job Growth Rate: 11%

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
Median Annual Salary: $37,530
Job Growth Rate: 10%

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
Median Annual Salary: $51,340
Job Growth Rate: 16%

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.

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.

This website offers school details to prospective students as an informational resource. The appearance of a school listing on this website should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the school by this site.

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