Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs for 2020

Let’s face it, there is never a shortage of trauma in the world, but today we are faced with an even greater need for mental health professionals. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on therapeutic support in a new vein, and has forced people to get creative about accessing resources. Counselors wear lots of hats, and in some cases have specializations, like drug and alcohol recovery, working with children, behavioral disorders, and working with the LGBTQ community. There are many ways to approach a career in counseling. With an associates or a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, or social work one can get their feet wet and seek an entry level position. A master’s degree, however, will enable a prospective counselor to enter the track of psychotherapy and even distinct disciplines like trauma disorder treatment. A graduate degree will also enable prospective counselors to be on track for achievement of a state licensure. As far as salary goes, practitioners have an average of $12,000 higher earning potential with an advanced degree then someone with a bachelor’s education. Some people choose to go even farther in the field. A  Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology will give graduates opportunities in advanced clinical practice or as clinical educators. 

It can be hard to find the perfect program, so we have done some of the work for you. If you are looking for the best online masters in counseling programs, you have come to the right place. Especially in the current moment, studying online might feel like the only option. In any moment, however, it might be the perfect choice. Online learning offers an opportunity to study at some of the best colleges and universities in a flexible format. Oftentimes studying online enables students to continue working full time and not disrupting their lives too much while completing their education. Below we have ranked the top 25 programs according to the following metrics:

  • Affordability
  • Value
  • Student Satisfaction

In this field there are many pathways. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the different options and you will find the perfect fit. 

1. North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University offers one of the best online masters programs for counseling. This program is specifically a Clinical Mental Health Counseling master’s degree option. The course of study was designed specifically for professionals who are already working in the field of mental health. The required coursework has an embedded component of cultural diversity that runs throughout every class. This is also reflected in the students who are engaged as well as the faculty members. The core courses have a focus on preventative interventions, developmental theory, as well as the practice of clinical counseling. The University Counseling Center offers opportunities for students to plug into their work, including with internship opportunities. Each student will participate in a field experience that is relevant to their particular interests. Prospective students must submit scores for either the MAT or GRE. Students are eligible to take their licensure exam in their final semester of the program. 

Degree Title: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MeD 

2. University at Buffalo

The University of Buffalo offers one of the best online masters programs in counseling. Their course of study is delivered through the Department of Counseling, School, and Education Psychology. This Master’s of Science in Mental Health Counseling focuses on skill building in research based counseling knowledge. Upon completion of the program, graduates will be eligible to achieve mental health counselor licensure in the state of New York. Diversity, respect for the concept of human diversity, social justice, ethical responsibility, and client strengths. This series of classes also emphasizes treatment options for various mental health conditions. Students will learn how to differentiate between pathological issues and developmental concerns, along with associated interventions. The entire course of study is 60 credits hours in length. Many graduates choose careers working in settings such as: hospitals, substance abuse treatment facilities, mental health centers, and state government agencies. 

Degree Title: Mental Health Counseling, MS

3. San Diego State University

San Diego State University offers an Online Master’s of Arts in Education Counseling through their Department of Counseling and School Psychology. This program focuses on meeting the relational and mental health needs of many groups of people, including from a variety of cultural backgrounds. All of the classes are offered online, though there are a few on campus requirements including a 3-5 day residency workshop. This program enables students to complete their masters of arts while in parallel completing their advanced graduate certificate. Many students considering a future doctorate choose this course of study, because of it’s easy transferability.  A primary feature includes culturally responsive trauma informed care specifically keeping diverse families in mind. Innovative and restorative practices are also highlighted in the coursework. The online curriculum was created with working professionals in mind. They utilize current technology to offer a top notch accelerated learning experience. 

Degree Title: Education: Counseling, MA

4. West Virginia University

West Virginia University offers an online Masters of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling. This is one of the best online masters in counseling programs, as it offers two distinct tracks. Students can choose to focus on clinical rehabilitation counseling or clinical mental health counseling. Students will learn to work with a myriad of populations including clients with disabilities. They will be versed in supporting people who have physical disabilities, cognitive disorders, intellectual disabilities, mental health diagnosis, and substance use disorders. Multidimensional issues are a key component of the program and the therapeutic interventions for which they are associated. Students will even learn how to support those who just went through a physical or life altering trauma, and those who have chronic health conditions. The program is fully accredited by the Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling-Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). 

Degree Title: Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, MS

5. Northwestern University

The Family Institute at Northwestern University offers a Masters of Arts Program in Counseling that can be completed entirely online. This rigorous offering trains students in best therapeutic practices to work with many populations, including clients with disabilities and within diverse communities. Many topics explored in this program include ethics, outreach, multiculturalism, advocacy, evidence based practice, and lifespan development. Students will dive into psychodynamic theory along with applicable practices. The program is entirely accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Students can participate in either program on a part time or full time basis, depending on their preference. There is also the option to participate in this option with a child emphasis, which trains students to work with young people who struggle with mental health conditions. Choosing this emphasis will not increase the number of classes needed to fulfill graduate requirements. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MA 

6. Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University offers one of the best online masters programs for counseling. This is an online masters of arts expressly in the field of counseling, with many additional resources that make online learning accessible and easy. For example, students will have 24 hour/ 7 days a week digital technical support and also tutoring services. The graduates of this particular program have a 95 percent pass rate on the National Counselor Exam. Wake Forest has many comprehensive partnerships with community organizations and industry partners, making it easy for students to find relevant internships that connect to their interests. The faculty has a reputation of offering stellar course delivery and a supportive virtual environment for their students. Students will learn how to work with clients who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, marriage issues, and also work with children and their families in school settings. Students can choose from two different tracks including: Masters of Arts in Counseling- School Counseling and Masters of Arts in Counseling- Clinical Mental Health Counseling. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MA 

7. Kansas State University

Kansas State University Olathe offers a Masters of Science program in School Counseling. This course of study is comprehensive in reach and aims to support each student on all aspects of their academic journey including emotional, social and of course career development. The entire course of study is made up of 48 credit hours. It is designed to teach students to be dynamic and effective school counselors and develop programs in schools that cater to a diverse group of students. The online classes are actually delivered through video conferencing from both the Olathe campus and the Manhattan campus. Throughout the course of study, students will develop a professional portfolio that will come in handy upon graduation as they begin the process of searching for jobs. Some of the topics addressed in the curriculum include: character education, healthy relationships, college and career readiness, as well as classroom behavioral issues. 

Degree Title: School Counseling, MS

8. University of Mississippi

The School of Education at the University of Mississippi offers a Masters of Education Program in Counselor Education that is delivered online. This course of study offers two specific track options including: School Counseling and Clinical mental health Counseling. School counselors are already educators who need the bare minimum of a master’s degree in counseling to be qualified to work in school settings as counselors. The Clinical Mental health track is designed for students who know how to apply national standards to training, clinical practice and education. Both disciplines engage complex problem solving skills, critical thinking, and tailored approaches to consumer oriented therapeutic practice. The clinical mental health track is 60 credit hours in length and the school counselor track requires 48. Field experience may be required, as is sitting for the National Counselor Exam. Both program tracks require students to complete a series of applicable requirements. 

Degree Title: Counselor Education, MEd.

9. University of Louisiana at Monroe

The University of Louisiana at Monroe offers a Master’s of Science Degree Program in Counseling that can be achieved entirely online. There are two distinct tracks including: School Counseling for Elementary and Secondary Education and Clinical Mental Health Counseling for children, adolescents and adults. The program centers meeting the needs of diverse populations and to build skills that tackle the complex needs of a myriad of populations. There are many career paths that are available once the program is complete including: addiction counselor, life coach, counselor, mental health counselor, group facilitator, vocational counselor, play therapist, art therapist, career counselor, among many others. The program is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). There are many financial aid possibilities in the form of loans or grants that are applicable for most students. ULM will accept many credits from other institutions. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MS

10. University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota offers a Master’s of Arts K-12 School Counseling Emphasis program that is delivered online. This program is known for being culturally responsive and data driven as it trains students to create systemic and personal change in public and private school environments. The entire course of study is 60 credits in length and can be completed in 2.5 years time. Program completion is the first step to achieving licensure through the North Dakota State Department of Education. The licensure is compatible with some other states, but worth looking into before matriculating into the program. Some of the classes featured in this academic path include: educational collaboration, career counseling, child and adolescent counseling, multicultural counseling, school counseling and program management, and school based internship and practicum. Students will learn how to effectively support young people through a myriad of life obstacles. There are many financial aid opportunities for students in the program. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MA 

11. Seton Hall University 

Seton Hall University offers a Masters of Arts in Teaching program in School Counseling that is delivered online. This course of study is delivered through their College of Education and Human Services. It prepares students to work within geographically and culturally diverse settings with populations K-12th grade. The skills delivered include those required to create effective collaborators, consultants, leaders and advocates in a society that is changing at such a rapid rate. The entire course of study is made up of 48 credit hours and includes classes designed to create a foundation of clinical and counseling skills and prepare students for a comprehensive internship. The course of study is approved by the New Jersey Department of Education and is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Included in the coursework are intervention skills for students who are struggling in school, achievement of a multidisciplinary approach to connecting with young people, as well as offering crisis response services to students and their families. 

Degree Title: School Counseling, MA

12. University of Southern Maine

The University of Southern Maine offers a Masters of Science Program in Counseling with a Concentration in Clinical Mental Health. This is considered one of the best masters programs for counseling out there. This course of study offers a well-rounded series of classes that relate to human development, individual counseling theory, behavior, group counseling dynamics, psychological measurement and evaluation, as well as rehabilitation counseling. There is also a certificate of advanced study option which is specifically for those who have already completed a masters degree and are interested in advanced coursework to further their counseling careers. The entire course of study is made up of 63 credit hours. Graduates will be prepared to participate in the next steps for licensure including sitting for the National Counselor Examination. Students can choose to earn an area of expertise if they are interested in working with specific issues such as substance abuse. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MS

13. Tarleton State University

The Tarleton State University offers a Masters of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that is delivered online. This course of study was designed to support those who want to advance their careers in the state of Texas to become school counselors. Students should already have a teaching certificate and at minimum two years of experience teaching in order to qualify for the classes in preparation for the School Counseling Certification Exam for the State of Texas. The entire course of study is made up of 60 credit hours and can be completed in 3 years, or 2.5 at an accelerated rate. The program is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Graduates have gone on to achieve careers in: counseling centers, mental health programs, adult probation offices, and many other facilities. 

Degree Title: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS

14. Regent University

Regent University offers a Master’s of Arts program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling through their School of Psychology and Counseling. They pride themselves on their entire faculty holding terminal degrees. Because it is an online program, there are internship opportunities in the hometowns of the students. Students will have access to small group classes, enabling extensive individual attention and group work opportunities. The program comes with a christian perspective that supports all of the coursework.  Some of the skills offered include: methods to diagnose and treat clients with mental health and emotional disorders, the underpinnings of human development and growth, professional ethics, and research based practices. Students will be prepared to offer clinical expertise in real world settings. Some places where graduates have found employment include: private practice, hospitals, outpatient centers, and family service centers. Some of their classes include Crisis, Trauma, and Clinical Mental Health and Treatment Planning. 

Degree Title: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MA

15. Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University offers a Masters in Education in Counselor Education with tracks in both Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling. The entire course of study consists of 60 credit hours. Once admitted into the program, students can start in the summer semester. The program is designed to offer a cohort style of learning with only 10 to 12 students who will work together throughout the program. This enables lots of opportunities for mutual support and group development. Leadership skills are a critical component to both tracks. Responding to case studies is part of the experience of being in the program. Students who are interested in the Certification in School Counseling as offered by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission must participate in a special education course. In order to successfully complete the program, participants must have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. 

Degree Title: Counselor Education, MEd.

16. Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University offers a Masters of Science in Counseling program that is delivered entirely online. This best online masters programs in counseling was designed for professional students who have other life commitments that they need to fit an academic program into. Students can choose a specialization for the program including: applied behavioral analysis (which is made up of 51 credit hours), substance abuse counseling and education (which is made up of 60 credit hours), and school counseling (which is made up of 48 credit hours). Each course of study has some similar core objectives, including building an ethical foundation for which students can apply to the mental health and counseling professions. Career development strategies will be employed through the entire course of study. The program is still in the application process for accreditation through the Council of Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). 

Degree Title: Counseling, MS

17. Winston Salem State University

Winston Salem State University offers a Masters of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling Program that is delivered entirely online. This course of study offers five different specializations including: clinical mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, deaf and hard of hearing, vocational evaluation, and transition. Graduates of the program have been known to work within a variety of fields including: student disability services, nonprofit leadership, K-12 special education, state vocational rehabilitation, veteran affairs, college counseling centers, private rehabilitation, and mental health counselor. The program is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Winston Salem prides itself on their consideration as one of the best hIstorically black colleges in the country. Ninety-five percent of their graduates have accomplished gainful employment. All prospective students must submit GRE scores as part of their application process. Also included in the application process is an extensive interview and three professional references. 

Degree Title: Rehabilitation counseling, MS

18. Walden University

Walden University offers a Master’s of Science degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. This program is known for being one of the biggest of its kind in the country. This course of study is designed to be incredibly flexible, as it was designed to be a good fit for busy adult professionals. Social justice and social change are paramount to the program’s vision. This particular program has a focus on diversity. Students will have the opportunity to build a large peer network in this comprehensive program. 83 percent of the 2018 graduating class of this program passed their licensure exam on the first try. Some of the specializations offered include: Family, Marriage and Couple Counseling. Students will learn all of the top notch skills to engage families and work through complex issues. Graduates of the program have gone into careers such as: clinical therapists, mental health therapists, licensed professional counselors, and mental health counselors. 

Degree Title: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS

19. University of Montana

The University of Montana has one of the best online masters in counseling programs. The degree path is offered through the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences. This program has a rigorous pace and structure, though it’s online format still allows for the flexibility to continue working simultaneously. Students will be prepared to achieve a licensure in the state of Montana. Students will be required to undergo a minimum of 700 clinical counseling hours in order to qualify for graduation and ultimately licensure. Students who want to power through and take on the program extra full time can complete all of the requirements in two years. Most students, however, finish in 2.5 to 3 years time. This is a fully accredited option from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This is the perfect program for students who are interested in learning how to provide therapy for both adults and children. 

Degree Title: Counselor Education, MA

20. Adams State University

Adams State University in Colorado offers a comprehensive Masters of Arts Program in the field of Counseling that can be completed entirely online. This program offers two distinct tracks including a School Counseling option and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The program is made up of 60 credit hours and the requirements are based on the academic guidelines for state licensure in the state of Colorado. The program is fully accredited by the Colorado Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The program engages the cohort model, meaning students come in with a group that they stay with the entire course of study, enabling a culture of mutual support and group work. New cohorts begin every fall, spring and summer. There are some summer residency requirements, for which students can access on campus housing options. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MA 

21. University of Montevallo

The University of Montevallo offers a Masters of Education in Counseling program that is delivered online. This program was designed to support students to have successful careers in mental health counseling. There are three options that are engaged in this program including: school counseling, couples and family counseling, and clinical mental health counseling. Every option is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Each track has a unique set of skills for which it employs, however, there are similar core objectives in each option. This enables students to have access to a similar comprehensive skill set. Students will be prepared to work in a myriad of settings-some that are track specific including: substance abuse treatments centers, hospitals, agencies, higher education settings, elementary and secondary school settings. The Couple and Family Counseling Track offers a specific framework in family systems theory along with other trending therapeutic practices. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MEd.

22. Montana State University – Billings

Montana State University has three Masters of Science degree programs in the field of Counseling, all of which are delivered online. The three tracks include: mental health counseling, school counseling, and marriage, couples, and family counseling. All three of the programs are fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). They are made up of a range of required credit hours from 48-60 in total. Each program has different requirements, though they have a similar foundation and structure. A unique aspect of this program is a focus on the students health and emotional wellness, as well as their personal and relational development. They suggest that students undergo the program on a full time basis, but if needed, students can choose part time status. Students will have all of the necessary skills to enter the field of counseling successfully upon program completion. The next step is state licensure. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MS

23. University of the Cumberlands

The University of the Cumberlands offers a Masters program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that is delivered entirely online. The entire course of study is made up of 60 credit hours, 12 of which are core courses requirements and 48 are counseling core courses. The core courses include: child and adolescent counseling, process and techniques in counseling, marriage and family counseling, and private practice and clinical supervision. The program is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The classes are delivered in a combination of synchronous and asynchronous formats, meaning some courses have specific meeting times where they are expected to be present, while others are entirely flexible and self paced. The classes are broken down into eight week terms. There are many financial aid options that students can apply for in this particular program. 

Degree Title: Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

24. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania offers a Masters of Arts degree program in Counseling that is delivered entirely online. There are many special aspects about this program, one being the fact that it is known for its affordability. Also, students can take the path of art therapy, which is not an option in many programs. An interesting fact is that this was the first art therapy program to be offered online in the entire country. It is approved by the National Association of Art Therapy and Design (NASAD). Other options include: clinical mental health, rehabilitation and clinical mental health, and college counseling and school counseling. Each program has different requirements and in some cases different faculty members. All courses of study, however, ensure that there will be an emphasis on working with diverse populations and engaging a social justice ideology in the framework. 

Degree Title: Counseling, MA 

25. University of Denver

The University of Denver offers a Masters of Arts in School Counseling program that is delivered entirely online. This program provides an emphasis on working with children and adolescence in the context of K-12 school environments. This includes public and private schools. This can be an accelerated option, enabling students to complete the entire course of study in as little as 24 months. Though all of the classes are delivered online, students have an option to engage in an on-campus immersion experience. One of the unique aspects of the application process for this program is that there are no GRE requirements or related work experience requirements for admittance. The virtual campus is fully equipped with resources including 24/7 access to support, student engagement and access to coursework. Students will have opportunities to participate in mock counseling sessions to prepare them for their fieldwork and ultimately a successful career in counseling. 

Degree Title: School Counseling, MA

Should I Get My Counseling Master’s Online?

Participating in an online masters in counseling program can be the perfect fit for self motivated students who are interested in completing a program in a flexible format. Many online programs give students the option of participating from anywhere in the world, however, it is important to keep in mind state licensure requirements. Many states have their own unique infrastructure specific boxes to check for the field of counseling. This is to stay, be sure when finding a masters in counseling online that you are meeting the requirements for the place you want to practice. Maybe you already have an online bachelors degree in a related field like psychology?

Online learning is not for everyone, so be sure the positives outweigh the negatives for your particular learning style. If it is important for you to learn in community, be sure to find a program that gives students virtual group work options. Also, a program that employs a cohort model might be the best fit. Online learning does not mean there are no in person requirements. While you might never have to step foot on a campus there will, in most cases, be a required fieldwork component. 

How Do I Choose the Best Online Counseling Master’s? 

When seeking out the perfect program for your specific needs, make sure to think through some of your career goals. Are you interested in specializing in a particular niche or field? Maybe you want to work as a school counselor or an art therapist for youth? Are you interested in finding an option that will offer extensive training in the field of addiction and recovery? If a certain field rings a bell for you, consider finding one of the best online counseling masters programs that has an emphasis you are interested in. Many programs are excellent, but finding the best online masters in counseling is a personal choice, and not one size fits all.

Is CACREP Accreditation Important? 

If you are wondering what is CACREP Accreditation- we will work to answer some of these questions. This is the primary accrediting body for counseling programs in the United States. It stands for the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. It is significant, because it sets the standards for high quality counseling programs that set graduates up to be effective in the field. Programs accredited by CACREP are within the following disciplines: 

  • Career counseling
  • College counseling
  • Community counseling
  • Mental health counseling
  • Marriage and family therapy
  • Student affairs and college counseling
  • Student affairs
  • Rehabilitation counseling

The CACREP accreditation standards are fairly strict, ensuring that students who graduate from an accredited program will be prepared to enter the field. If you are wondering How important is CACREP accreditation, the proof is in the pudding. The best programs seem to hold this accreditation. 

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s in Counseling?

A masters in counseling salary is variable, however, the average comes out to be close to be $52,000 per year, according to payscale. A counseling salary with masters degree can take you in many directions, meaning a salary can be reflected in the specialization for which you choose, where you live, and what setting for which you choose to practice.