2020 Best Online Master's in Counseling Degrees

By OnlineU Staff | Updated 3/9/2020
2020 Best Online Master's in Counseling Badge

The 11 best value online master's in counseling programs can be found at these colleges and universities. Graduates of the #1 school, West Virginia University, report earning a median salary of $109,600. Tuition for West Virginia University's MS: Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling is $16,960 per year. Rutgers University ranks #2, with a median salary of $72,600 and an annual tuition rate of $11,040.

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

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 West Virginia University $16,960 $109,600
# 2 #2 Rutgers University $11,040 $72,600
# 3 #3 Pepperdine University $49,135 $85,000
# 4 #4 University of North Texas $16,194 $69,500
# 5 #5 California Institute of Integral Studies $24,120 $72,600
# 6 #6 University of Massachusetts-Boston $17,250 $69,100
# 7 #7 Our Lady of the Lake University $18,140 $68,200
# 8 #8 New York University $53,850 $78,300
# 9 #9 Liberty University $5,500 $54,300
# 10 #10 Virginia Commonwealth University $22,176 $60,100
# 11 #11 Nova Southeastern University $18,960 $57,100
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering Counseling Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 West Virginia University

  • Annual Tuition: $16,960
  • Median Salary: $109,600
  • Locations: Morgantown (WV)
  • Accreditation: HLC

West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program focuses on teaching students how to provide guidance and support for those coping with various disabilities, addictions, and mental health disorders. Although the program includes three semesters, including one during the summer, participants are organized into fall and spring cohorts. Students can expect to take study vocational evaluation techniques, rehabilitation services, and disability across the lifespan. Courses are delivered through the WVU eCampus, powered by the Blackboard learning management system. Students work asynchronously and use eCampus to submit assignments, check grades, and watch videos and lectures. In addition to the virtual coursework, students complete a 16-week, 150-hour practicum, in which a minimum of 40 hours must be in direct client contact. Online resources, such as IT support, academic advising, research assistance, tutoring, and WVU library access, are available to distance learners. Students must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.8 GPA and GRE/GMAT scores from the last seven years to apply. Required documentation includes three letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a completed graduate school application. Students may be invited for a department interview as the final step in the admissions process.

#2 Rutgers University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,040
  • Median Salary: $72,600
  • Locations: New Brunswick (NJ)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling – Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Rutgers University teaches students how to apply cognitive-behavioral counseling techniques to help people with developmental, physical, psychiatric, or sensory disabilities. The program is designed for those interested in beginning counseling careers as well as current counselors looking to enhance their credentials. In addition to the coursework, students must complete a 600-hour internship, of which 240 hours must be in direct service. Students must also complete a 100-hour practicum, of which 40 hours must be in direct service. Rutgers’ online graduate degrees require the same level of rigor as the on-campus programs. A variety of learning management systems are used, including Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle, allowing students the flexibility to work on their own schedules. Full-time students can finish the program in two years, while part-time students can finish in three years. There are start dates in the spring and fall semesters. Applications are available online and require a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and transcripts indicating a completed bachelor’s degree. GRE scores are not required. In order to assess applicants’ individual fit for the program, an interview is also required; it can take place by phone for those outside the area. Professional development services, tutoring, and IT support are offered to distance learners.

#3 Pepperdine University

  • Annual Tuition: $49,135
  • Median Salary: $85,000
  • Locations: Malibu (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology – Marriage and Family Therapy program at Pepperdine University is designed for students interested in becoming licensed marriage and family therapists. This online counseling program aims to provide students with the skills necessary to counsel families, individuals, and couples. The curriculum covers multicultural counseling, psychopharmacology, human sexuality, and trauma in diverse populations. In total, 62 credits are required for the degree, which can be completed in as few as 27 months. Graduates of the program may explore careers helping people navigate family conflict, mental and emotional health disorders, addictive behaviors, and trauma. Students attend synchronous classes and lectures through the online course management platform and participate in interactive classroom activities in real-time. Distance learners can log in from anywhere and access their coursework at any time. The hours of fieldwork needed to complete the program depend on the student’s home state licensure requirements. The application for this online program is the same as the on-campus program. Students interested in applying must submit transcripts from their completed undergraduate degree, two letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. Admitted students can enroll for a fall, winter, spring, or summer start. Academic advising and 24/7 tech support are available to help students succeed.

#4 University of North Texas

  • Annual Tuition: $16,194
  • Median Salary: $69,500
  • Locations: Denton (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling program at the University of North Texas offers students a flexible way to enter or advance in careers providing support to individuals with disabilities. Graduates of the 60-credit program have gone on to work as licensed counselors or administrators. Completion of the program allows students to apply for national certification in rehabilitation counseling and state licensure in professional counseling. Coursework covers case management, disability from a multicultural lens, and the rehabilitation process. Students may elect to complete a thesis. Students use the Canvas learning management system to access lesson materials and class updates, submit assignments, and track grades. Students are supported by career services, counseling and testing services, and tutoring. Prospective students must meet the standards for general admission to the University of North Texas graduate school. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, and a graduate school application. The MS program also requires students to have a minimum of one year of professional experience, submit a department application, a personal statement, resume, and two letters of reference. Competitive applicants will receive an invitation for an interview.

#5 California Institute of Integral Studies

  • Annual Tuition: $24,120
  • Median Salary: $72,600
  • Locations: San Francisco (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology –Expressive Arts Therapy program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) is intended for students who want to base their counseling practices on creative and artistic techniques. The curriculum focuses on a variety of artistic genres, such as drama, that can be used therapeutically to help individuals, families, couples, and community groups. The online counseling degree program enables students to prepare for either the marriage and family therapist certification exam (60 units) or the licensed professional clinical counselor exam (67 units). Students can complete the program in three years, which includes clinical fieldwork. The program incorporates synchronous and asynchronous online learning components through the Canvas learning management system. Infrequent in-person intensives for workshops and community-building purposes may be required. Students are eligible for this program if they have previously earned an undergraduate degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 in their coursework. In addition, applicants must have completed at least two psychology classes. The program application asks students to respond to a number of short-answer prompts and submit two letters of recommendation, an academic writing sample, updated resume, and transcripts. Career development resources, accessibility accommodations, and writing support are offered to CIIS students.

#6 University of Massachusetts-Boston

  • Annual Tuition: $17,250
  • Median Salary: $69,100
  • Locations: Boston (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Individuals have two online counseling degree options at UMass Boston: a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling or a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling. The MS in Rehabilitation Counseling has two concentrations available: Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling or Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling. Online courses share the same faculty and support teams as the on-campus versions. The online curriculum can be completed part-time or full-time and integrate real-time virtual classes. The MS in Mental Health Counseling is a 60-credit, two-year cohort program leading to Licensure as a Mental Health Counselor. The program does require students to participate in a two-week orientation and includes supervised fieldwork for licensure requirements. Cohorts start in the summer term. The MS in Rehabilitation Counseling, similarly, is a 60-credit, two-year program that prepares graduates to take the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor exam. Students complete a one-week residential component and can begin the program in either spring or summer term. Candidates for the MS in Mental Health Counseling program should have a bachelor's degree and must submit a resume, GRE scores, official transcripts, a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and a completed application (with fee). For the MS in Rehabilitation Counseling, candidates must have a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA. The application process includes a completed online application, official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, GRE or MAT scores, a statement of interest, a current resume, and an interview with a faculty member.

#7 Our Lady of the Lake University

  • Annual Tuition: $18,140
  • Median Salary: $68,200
  • Locations: San Antonio (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Prospective counselors seeking an online master's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) can consider the Master of Arts in Counseling. Three concentrations are available: Clinical Mental Health Counseling (60 credits), Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling (60 credits), or School Counseling (48 credits). Depending on the chosen specialization, the program takes 2.5 to 3.5 years on average to complete. All three options lead to professional certifications and include a practicum and an internship. The Clinical Mental Health program prepares graduates for the Licensed Professional Counselor certification, the Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling program qualifies graduates for the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor certification, and the School Counseling program prepares graduates for the Texas School Counseling certification. Online courses are taken in 14-week sessions. Students can pursue part-time or full-time study. Classes use asynchronous tools such as discussion forums and e-mail. Students are responsible for meeting assignment deadlines. Online student resources include 24/7 technical support, peer tutoring services, and access to the Mary Francine Danis Writing Center. A background in counseling, while recommended, is not a requirement for admission. Individuals must have a bachelor's degree with a 2.75 GPA minimum. A complete application package includes an online application form (with fee), a current resume, official transcripts, a personal statement, a completed student questionnaire, and one reference. 

#8 New York University

  • Annual Tuition: $53,850
  • Median Salary: $78,300
  • Locations: New York (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Individuals seeking an online counseling degree from New York University (NYU) have two choices: a Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance or a Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness. The MA in Counseling and Guidance has two concentrations: School Counseling or Bilingual School Counseling. NYU's online graduate degrees seek to provide flexibility and customized delivery. Both counseling options are available through the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Online classes share the same faculty as NYU's on-campus versions and rely on a live-classroom format. Students engage in group projects virtually with peers and complete experiential work within their own communities. While most classwork is online, students participate in four days of intensive training on campus. The MA in Mental Health Counseling is a licensure-seeking program that can be completed in less than two years. The program requires 60 credit hours, which includes a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship component. The MA in Counseling and Guidance is a 48-credit program that incorporates a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. This program can be finished in 18 months. NYU's Steinhardt School accepts applications year-round and has three start dates each year (January, June, and September). GRE scores are not required. Students applying for the Mental Health Counseling program should have some professional experience. Applicants should submit a statement of purpose, a current resume, official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a completed form (with fee). 

#9 Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $5,500
  • Median Salary: $54,300
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University has several faith-based graduate degrees available online for those interested in the field of counseling. Individuals can select a 48-credit licensure track Master of Arts in Addictions Counseling, a 60-credit licensure track Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, a 30-credit non-licensure Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling (with concentrations in Addictions and Recovery, Business, Christian Ministry Counseling, Marriage and Family, Military Resilience, or Life Coaching), a 60-credit licensure track Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy, a 36-credit non-licensure Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling (with concentrations in Addictions and Recovery, Community Chaplaincy, Crisis Response and Trauma, Discipleship and Church Ministry, Leadership, Life Coaching, Marriage and Family, Military Resilience, or Theology), a 60-credit Master of Arts in Religion (with concentrations in Community Chaplaincy or Pastoral Counseling), a 42-credit Master of Arts in Worship Studies (with a concentration in Pastoral Counseling), and a 75-credit Master of Divinity in Youth and Family Ministries. Programs range from 1.5 years to 2.5 years to complete. Classes run in eight-week terms and are entirely online. Liberty is recognized as a Military Friendly institution. Online students have access to Liberty's IT Help Desk, an online writing center, free e-tutoring, free Adobe software products, and resources from the Jerry Falwell Library. Online learning is hosted through Blackboard's learning management software and employs asynchronous methods, such as discussion boards and pre-recorded materials. Students complete work at their own pace. Applicants to the master's in counseling programs online must have a completed bachelor's degree and are required to send in official transcripts. 

#10 Virginia Commonwealth University

  • Annual Tuition: $22,176
  • Median Salary: $60,100
  • Locations: Richmond (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) offers a Master of Science in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling online. Program courses are available asynchronously and prepare students for the Licensed Professional Counselor credential in Virginia and the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor credential nationally. Resources available to VCU's distance education students include disability services, career development services, and e-materials from the VCU library. Students with a military background receive additional benefits. Students can complete the online master's degree on a part-time or full-time basis. As such, the program can be completed on two-, three-, or four-year timelines. The full program requires 60 credit hours and is offered through the College of Health Professions. Participants will develop research and assessment skills and apply ethical and legal principles. To successfully graduate, students must complete nine credits of internship experience. The admissions process for the online MS in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling includes three letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. Candidates must have a completed bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA requirement. GRE or MAT scores are required, and students can only apply to start in the fall semester. 

#11 Nova Southeastern University

  • Annual Tuition: $18,960
  • Median Salary: $57,100
  • Locations: Fort Lauderdale (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Students pursuing the Master of Science in Counseling program online at Nova Southeastern University can select from five concentrations: Advanced Applied Behavior Analysis (51 credits), Clinical Mental Health Counseling (60 credits), School Counseling (48 credits), Substance Abuse Counseling (48 credits), or Substance Abuse Counseling Education (60 credits). Nova Southeastern's online programs use Canvas learning management software. Faculty and students employ asynchronous tools, such as discussion boards, and synchronous real-time virtual lectures. Distance learners have access to career services, academic advising, and resources from the Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center. Students with a military background can access veteran's services. The online MS in Counseling degree is designed for working professionals seeking advanced training or certifications. The School Counseling concentration qualifies students for the Florida certification in Guidance and Counseling. Graduates of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration can seek licensure in Florida. Each specialization includes at least one practicum component. Applicants to the online graduate school must submit a completed application form (with fee), a current resume, and official transcripts from a completed bachelor's program with at least a 2.5 GPA.

Online Master's in Counseling Overview

Program Requirements

Before applying to an online graduate counseling degree program, students must first complete a bachelor's degree. Most graduate school admissions boards prefer that students major in sociology or psychology, but people with diverse backgrounds may pursue graduate degrees in counseling. Some master's degree programs in school counseling and psychology require applicants to prove that they have some related experience in education or counseling, while others accept all kinds of students, provided they have a bachelor's degree and can submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement. The personal statement of purpose is essentially an admissions essay that details how a person came to be interested in the field of counseling and declares what a person's postgraduation goals are. Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores are also requested by many schools. Online graduate counseling degrees generally take two to three years to complete.

Curriculum

Common course requirements in the master's curriculum include human development, communication skills, ethical counseling, human sexuality, group therapy, and psychological assessment. Students must also complete a significant amount of field experience hours while practicing client interviews and counseling. Graduates of master's programs may go on to complete the additional requirements to earn a state license or national certification; these usually include completing 2,000-4,000 hours of clinical experience and passing an exam.

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