Search Programs

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in School Counseling

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 8/21/2023
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in School Counseling Badge

An online master's in school counseling may be a smart choice for those who are interested in counseling K-12 students. School counselors typically help younger students address social or behavioral problems, issues with their home environments, and other challenges that may hinder their ability to learn and communicate effectively with their teachers and peers.

An online master's program in school counseling is designed to train students in assessment methods and counseling techniques. Some graduate students may also want to choose an area of concentration, such as mental health treatment or college and career readiness.

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

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in School Counseling Badge
Find an Online Degree:

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

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in School Counseling

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Valdosta State University 98 98 $57,170
# 2 #2 Chadron State College 93 $53,336
# 3 #3 Our Lady of the Lake University 90 $52,159
# 4 #4 University of West Alabama 90 $52,130
# 5 #5 Creighton University 85 $50,507
# 6 #6 Seton Hall University 81 $49,575
# 7 #7 University of Missouri 75 $48,350
# 8 #8 University of the Southwest 68 $47,026
# 9 #9 Angelo State University 68 $47,019
# 10 #10 New York University 67 $46,814

#1 Valdosta State University

  • Salary Score: 98
  • Median Starting Salary: $57,170
  • Locations: Valdosta (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Valdosta State University (VSU) is a public institution that offers an online Educational Specialist in School Counseling. The program requires the completion of 30 credit hours, which most full-time students achieve in two years.

VSU students use the school's BlazeVIEW system to access their online courses. Some of the core courses in the school counseling program cover advanced behavioral therapy, child psychopathology, and behavior modification. Students must also complete a semester-long practicum and a capstone project to graduate. The mission of the VSU program is to prepare graduates to work as K-12 counselors, using data, advocacy, consultation, and counseling to help students achieve high levels of success.

#2 Chadron State College

  • Salary Score: 93
  • Median Starting Salary: $53,336
  • Locations: Chadron (NE)
  • Accreditation: HLC

At Chadron State College (CSC), a public institution, future school counselors can opt for an online Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in school counseling. Students who have a valid teaching certificate need to complete 39 credit hours, while those without a teaching certificate must take an additional 15 credit hours of teacher education.

During CSC's eight-week online sessions, graduate students use the Sakai learning platform to access lectures, submit homework, and interact with peers and instructors. Students develop their counseling abilities by taking courses on topics such as the fundamentals of assessment and multicultural counseling and by completing both a practicum and an internship.

#3 Our Lady of the Lake University

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $52,159
  • Locations: San Antonio (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Our Lady of the Lake University is a private, nonprofit, faith-based college affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. It's also a designated Hispanic-serving institution. The school offers both a Master of Arts in Counseling - School Counseling and a Master of Education in School Counseling, each of which requires 48-63 credit hours, depending on the student's prior experience. The programs are structured in seven-week sessions, and most students earn their degrees in two to four years of full-time study.

In either program, students take courses covering professional methods, child counseling, assessment, and appraisal. Required internships and practicums provide real-world experience before graduating.

#4 University of West Alabama

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $52,130
  • Locations: Livingston (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of West Alabama (UWA) offers both an online Master of Education in School Counseling and an online Master of Science in Guidance and Counseling. Either program requires the completion of 60 credit hours, which most full-time students achieve in two to three years.

At UWA, students use the Blackboard learning system to access their online courses. Some of the core courses explore diagnostic techniques, group counseling, and crisis intervention. Graduate students must also complete two semesters of practicum experience and a one-semester internship. UWA students are paired with mentors who can assist them throughout the program.

#5 Creighton University

  • Salary Score: 85
  • Median Starting Salary: $50,507
  • Locations: Omaha (NE)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, Creighton University is a private, nonprofit school. Creighton accepts 71% of applicants and graduates 72% of its students. The school offers an online Master of Science in School Counseling and Preventive Mental Health, which features three possible areas of concentration: elementary school counseling, PK-12 guidance counseling, and secondary school counseling. Applicants with a teaching certificate will need to complete about 36 credit hours, while those who don't will need to complete about 48 credit hours and an additional practicum.

Creighton's program is designed to prepare students for licensure and certification through project-based learning activities and several semesters of required practicum experience. Core courses focus on common issues and counseling techniques for children.

#6 Seton Hall University

  • Salary Score: 81
  • Median Starting Salary: $49,575
  • Locations: South Orange (NJ)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Seton Hall University (SHU), a private Catholic research university, offers an online Master of Arts in School Counseling through the College of Education and Human Services​. The 48-credit program teaches students skills in counseling, prevention, early identification, and crisis intervention to prepare them for counseling careers in K-12 schools. Students take core classes in areas such as Abnormal Psychology, Multicultural Counseling and Psychology, and Counselor Ethics in Practices. Students also need to complete a nine-credit internship in a school in order to graduate, which is often a requirement for counseling licensure. Most students finish the program in two to two and a half years of full-time study.

#7 University of Missouri

  • Salary Score: 75
  • Median Starting Salary: $48,350
  • Locations: Columbia (MO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Missouri (Mizzou) is a public, nonprofit university offering an online Master of Education in Educational, School and Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Mental Health Practices in Schools​ or Student Learning and Well-Being. Both programs require 34 credits to graduate and typically take two years to complete. The curriculum is designed to help current teachers, counselors, and other licensed professionals have a positive impact on student mental health and wellbeing in schools.

The degree covers prevention and intervention strategies that help children and teens build resiliency and overcome anxiety, trauma, bullying, and other common problems young people face in school. Coursework includes assessing, identifying, and managing atypical behaviors, collaborating with families, diversity issues in schools, and evaluating and implementing evidence-based programs. This program does not qualify professionals for school counselor certification or professional counseling licensure.

#8 University of the Southwest

  • Salary Score: 68
  • Median Starting Salary: $47,026
  • Locations: Hobbs (NM)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of the Southwest (USW) is a private Christian university offering an online Master of Science in Education with a focus on School Counseling. This 42-credit program prepares students for licensure as a school counselor in K-12 schools working with children, teens, and families from diverse communities. The program includes coursework in counseling theories and techniques, ethics, career development, and group, family, and adolescent counseling​. Students also need to complete a practicum and internship component in a public or private K-12 school​. While the program is accredited by the New Mexico Public Education Department, students from other states should verify whether the program meets their state's licensing and certification regulations​.

#9 Angelo State University

  • Salary Score: 68
  • Median Starting Salary: $47,019
  • Locations: San Angelo (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Master of Science in Professional School Counseling from Angelo State University (ASU) is an online program designed to prepare students for careers as school counselors and meets licensure requirements in Texas. Students usually finish the 48-credit program in two years with a full-time schedule. The curriculum focuses on imparting knowledge and skills related to school counseling theories, child development, and intervention strategies. Core courses include Legal and Ethical Principles, Social and Cultural Influences, Career and Occupational Counseling, and Role of the School Counselor. There's also an internship or practicum requirement which is usually necessary for licensure.

#10 New York University

  • Salary Score: 67
  • Median Starting Salary: $46,814
  • Locations: New York (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

New York University (NYU) is a private university offering an online Master of Arts in School Counseling. The program requires 48 credit hours or two years of full-time study to complete, and covers topics such as multicultural counseling, child development, and intervention strategies. Core courses include Counseling Theory and Practice, Child and Adolescent Counseling, and Diversity in Counseling. The program also requires a supervised internship to help students prepare for licensure in New York. Graduates of NYU's MA in School Counseling program often pursue careers in K-12 school settings, providing academic, career, and personal counseling.

Find an Online Degree:

Overview of an Online School Counseling Program

About 55 million pre-K-12 students enroll in U.S. schools each year, and many of these students and their families need help navigating the educational system. You might assist these families once you earn a master's degree in school counseling.

Students in these programs learn skills and techniques for assessing learners' aptitudes, conferring with teachers and guardians about behavioral problems, helping students choose classes, and giving guidance about future academic and career options. Some colleges offer optional concentrations to help enrollees tailor their graduate studies for specific demographics.

Before applying to school at the master's level, you'll need an undergraduate degree in a similar subject, such as a bachelor's in social work. Some students earn their bachelor's in counseling before going on to study for a master's in secondary education in order to work at the university level.

To practice as a school counselor, you need at least a master's degree in school counseling that includes a practicum experience, along with a license in the state where you want to work.

Online School Counseling Degree

Earning a master's degree online is a valuable option for your future career prospects as a counselor. It's also considered a well respected degree in line with traditional on-campus learning. By attending an online school counseling program, you'll learn important skills in interventionism and behavioral assessment techniques, and you'll study the detailed history of the U.S. education system. You'll use data to drive your counseling studies and look at modern counseling strategies for an increasingly diverse student body.

What Is School Counseling?

School counselors provide a valuable service outside of the classroom by guiding students through their academic careers. They have a broad remit to support young learners through any academic, behavioral, and personal challenges they face during their time in school. You can find counselors at every level from early childhood through high school, though their distribution can vary based on the resources of a district and whether a school is public or private.

This career is highly professionalized. To practice as a school counselor, you need at least a master's degree in school counseling that includes a practicum experience, along with a license in the state where you want to work. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is the nonprofit group that recommends professional standards for licensure and continuing education requirements.

You can only pursue education in school counseling at the graduate level. In general, faculty design these degrees as professional programs that prepare graduates for specific careers. The aim of a master's degree is to create professional school counselors, and the goal of a doctoral degree is to produce researchers and professors in the discipline. 

Most degree programs have similar curricula to others at the same level, because they typically seek the ASCA's recognition based on its Standards for School Counselor Preparation Programs. These standards describe the association's preferred learning outcomes for graduate students in school counseling.

Are you looking for some budget-friendlyoptions? Check out our list of the most affordable online master's degrees in school counseling.

Common Courses

Coursework in school counseling online programs cover the specific skills and knowledge you'll need to become a licensed counselor. You'll study social and cultural issues, human growth development, career development, and how to apply research and data to your profession. 

Below is a list of five courses that are commonly found among the best masters in school counseling programs:

Ethics and Legal Issues in School Counseling

This course covers the ethical standards of modern-day school counseling while also looking at this field through an historical, philosophical, and cultural lens. You'll discuss the trends of school counseling as well as the profession's ethical standards put forth by prominent organizations in the education industry.

Lifespan Development

Lifespan development looks at the emotional, social, and cognitive processes of human growth. This course provides insight into basic developmental phases in order to provide a better understanding of what young students go through at a biological level. 

Research in School Counseling

Here, students will take a data-driven approach to counseling by investigating and analyzing research in school counseling. They are introduced to the scientific practice of research and the relevant terminology, before being assigned their own research projects, where they'll write their findings in a report.

Child Therapy and Assessment

This class takes the proven methods of adolescent psychology and applies it to an education environment. You'll look at intervention techniques and assessment practices while keeping in mind a student's home environment, cognitive issues, and family structure to provide constructive therapeutic techniques.

School Counseling Techniques

This course covers the hard skills needed to be an effective and ethical school counselor, including interviewing best practices, observation techniques, data collection, and developing comprehensive reports.

School Counseling Concentrations

Some online master's in school counseling degrees offer concentrations that allow you to more closely study a niche within the field or create additional skills that will better your employment opportunities. For example, some programs may offer a bilingual extension, which looks at education practices and theory in a commonly spoken language, such as Spanish. Others offer mental health concentrations that focus on the practice of addressing cognitive and behavioral issues that many young students face during their education.

What Can I Do With a School Counseling Degree?

As discussed, master's degree graduates usually seek positions as school counselors. These counselors earn median annual salaries of $60,510, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 10% job growth in the 2021-2031 period. Between new positions and regular turnover, you can expect around 32,000 newly available jobs on a yearly basis. Below, we break down the responsibilities of counselors by type of school.

Counselor Responsibilities

Elementary School

  • Assessing behavioral issues and offering solutions
  • Administering and interpreting aptitude tests
  • Talking to classes about sensitive topics such as bullying

Middle School

  • Assessing behavioral issues and offering solutions
  • Giving aptitude tests to determine academic track
  • Talking to groups about what to expect in high school

High School

  • Assessing behavioral issues and offering solutions
  • Offering career counseling at the high school level to advise on higher education and career paths
  • Writing letters of recommendation to colleges

Note that the term "guidance counselor" was historically used in K-12 schools but has since fallen out of favor. The ASCA prefers the term "school counselor" because their scope of professional practice has expanded in recent decades. However, you may still find job posts from schools that use the older term.

Do You Need a Master’s To Be a Guidance Counselor?

Typically, you are required to obtain a master's degree in school counseling before applying to become a licensed guidance counselor. Additionally, the skills and knowledge you'll gain from a graduate program are necessary to be an ethical, fair, and effective counselor for young students.

Public school counselors, specifically, are required to have a state-issued credential in order to practice. Unfortunately, this credential's title varies from state to state. Some states call it a certification or a license, others call it an endorsement.

What Licensure and Certification Do You Need?

States generally require a master's degree — along with a license — to work as a school counselor in grades K-12. ASCA is an excellent resource for each state's requirements when it comes to working as a certified counselor.

Every state has their own requirements in education, practical experience, and even background checks.

Some states, such as Alaska, may also require you to take cultural coursework related to their region, including a specific set of credit hours dedicated to multicultural and Alaskan studies. Once you meet said requirements, you'll be eligible to apply for a state license in school counseling. From there, you can begin applying for full-time employment in both state-funded and private schools.

If you're looking for more professional accolades, a certification provides a designation for an individual's achievements in the field. You can choose to earn a National Certified School Counselor certificate or complete the National Counselor Examination from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). These will help boost your credibility and knowledge through additional coursework in trauma, abuse, addiction, and family counseling, as well as program evaluation and human development.

Is School Counseling a Good Career?

The answer to this question depends on your goals. You might consider the field if you're passionate about helping young people succeed but don't relish the thought of teaching five or six classes a day. Most employers ask for excellent communication, collaboration, and organizational planning skills in their job posts. As you consider a school counseling career, you can think about whether you have these competencies or are interested in acquiring them.

Is a School Counseling Degree Worth It?

It's helpful to take stock of your financial, familial, and work circumstances as you consider an online school counseling degree. You can examine the pros and cons listed below to help you determine if the diploma is likely to be worth the time and effort:

Potential Benefits

  • The field is enjoying higher-than-average job growth. The BLS projections show an 10% increase in new jobs through 2031, compared to the nationwide average of 5% for all U.S.-based occupations. This projected growth, combined with regular turnover, will lead to about 32,000 new positions each year during this period. 

  • Most school counselors believe that their work makes a positive difference. A 2020 ASCA survey of 7,000 active counselors indicates that 81% agree or strongly agree that their school counseling program improves student academic outcomes and behavior. Most also report that their work is helping close achievement and opportunity gaps and improving social justice.

  • School counseling can be a very fulfilling and satisfying career. This is primarily because your responsibilities revolve around assisting and guiding children and young students through their most formidable years.

  • Teachers and counselors receive more time off than other occupations. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, teachers work approximately 185 days per year compared to the average occupation which works around 230 days per year.

Potential Drawbacks

  • School counselors earn relatively low pay compared to other master's-prepared occupations. The median annual salary for professionals with master's degrees is $77,844, about $17,000 more than the median school counseling rate. See the Financial Implications section below for more detail.

  • A majority of professors of counseling report difficulty balancing their workload. In ASCA's 2021 survey of PhDs, 63% of respondents say it's a challenge to find time for research and writing. Publishing articles is an important part of earning tenure, which may be why only one-third of these professors are currently tenured, though another quarter are on the tenure track.

  • School counseling can be a stressful undertaking. According to recent research compiled by NBCC's academic journal, The Professional Counselor, school counselors report that stress and burnout contribute to "a negative influence on the services they provide to students."

  • A growing ratio of students-to-school-counselors could mean your job becomes less effective. ASCA reports that the national ratio of students to school counselors in 2021 was 415-1, which is much higher than their recommendation of 250-1.

The Financial Implications of a School Counseling Degree

Money certainly isn't everything, but our research indicates that earning potential is an especially important consideration for young students. Becoming a school counselor requires both bachelor's and master's degrees, so you'll spend at least six years at postsecondary institutions, which can lead to a lot of student debt. Even if you partially offset the expense with financial aid, a school counselor's relatively low salary might make it more difficult to justify the financial investment.

Because of these financial considerations, it's crucial that you feel passionate about school counseling before you make it your livelihood. You typically won't be exposed to the profession until your internship or practicum in the second year of your master's program, which can make it hard to know if you enjoy the work. It may be helpful to talk to current school counselors about their experiences before you decide to pursue a master's degree.

What Else Should You Consider?

Accreditation verifies the legitimacy and efficacy of an institution. Verifying your school's accreditation status should be your first step in choosing the right program.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the main institution that accredits graduate programs in school counseling. Their rigorous standard looks at everything from a program's learning environment to how a program evaluates its students. Furthermore, all of OnlineU's recommendations for master's degrees in school counseling come from accredited institutions.

Aside from accreditation, there are other facts to consider as well. If you have credits from another university, you should ensure they will be properly transferred to the new program. Credits are a valuable asset for master's students, so it's important that you check your school's transfer policy before committing to said program.

Another thing to think about is how the application of online learning differs from on-campus learning and what requirements there might be for your online degree. Most school counseling master's degrees require in-person practicums or internships. So while the majority of your coursework will be online, you will also need to gain on-site work experience from an approved employer. For those studying out-of-state, you'll need to ensure there are local institutions where you can complete your internship.

If you are looking to graduate from your master's fast, see our article about accelerated learning options and how to graduate from college early.

Resources For Graduate Students

Several organizations offer helpful resources to school counseling graduate students.

  • ASCA provides a list of state requirements for certification and membership opportunities for master's graduates, where you can receive professional liability insurance coverage, among other benefits.
  • NBCC offers two professional certificates which are relevant for aspiring school counselors.
  • CACREP offers resources for accredited educational programs in the field of school counseling.
  • ACA has memberships that offer career and continuing education resources, discounts for relevant services, counseling-related content, and advocacy projects on behalf of professionals in the field.

If you're unsure about pursuing a master's in guidance counseling online, you may also look into a graduate program in educational leadership or a master's in elementary education. There are also advanced degrees in special education

Why Trust Us?

27 Data

60,000 Degrees Researched Annually

20,000 Hours Spent on Research Annually

Launching Rankings Since 2009

Meet our team

Related Articles

2023 Best Online Master's in Counseling Degrees

View rankings of the best online master's degrees in counseling based on alumni salaries. Read on to learn about coursework, career options, and more.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 2/6/2023

2023 Most Affordable Online Master's Degrees in Counseling

Explore our 2023 list of the most affordable colleges for online master’s degrees in counseling.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 1/11/2023

2023 Most Affordable Online Master's Degree in Christian Counseling

Discover the most affordable colleges for online master’s degrees in Christian counseling from our list of accredited online schools.

By OnlineU Staff Writers | 12/2/2022


Start Your Online College Search:

Review schools that align with your career aspirations.