Why This Matters


    Salaries for counselors have been on the rise over the last several years, with the median salary in 2010 just above $41,000.


    An increasing number of Americans are seeking counseling, and that number is expected to continue to rise faster than the number of available licensed counselors.


    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to rise by 25%. This represents an additional 79,000 jobs through 2029 and is much faster than the average for all other jobs. Growth is being driven by an increased need for counseling for addiction and mental health.

Our Research

We have assembled a list of the best counseling degree programs, including both undergraduate and graduate programs. Though studying psychology and other counseling-related topics as an undergrad provides additional insights, a master’s degree in counseling can be pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree in nearly any area of study, and becoming a licensed counselor requires a master’s degree. The programs included on our list represent a combination of online and on-campus programs, as well as some schools that offer a choice or combination of the two.

Accreditation is an essential indication that an educational program has achieved a level of excellence in the programming that it provides to students. When it comes to counseling degree programs, most schools have pursued accreditation from one of the six regional accreditation agencies, while others have gone a step beyond and pursued accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs, or CACREP. CACREP itself has been recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities that recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

  • 68 hours to write this article
  • 191 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 212 education programs we compared

The Top 50 Counseling Degree Programs

Best Counseling Degree Programs
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What You Should Know About This Degree

Many people use the terms “counselor” and “therapist” interchangeably, but the two professions are not the same, and neither are the degrees that each pursue. Though both work in the field of psychology and require a master’s degree and supervised experience before gaining a professional license, the coursework for each is very different.

Those pursuing a counseling degree will take courses in counseling theory and techniques, human development, cultural and social issues, and assessment methods. Family therapists dedicate their studies to topics including family therapy, marriage counseling, and child psychotherapy. Both degrees address the topic of professional ethics.

Though every program that we have reviewed carries an accreditation by a respected accrediting agency, it is worth noting that graduates of programs that have been accredited by the CACREP have been shown to score very competitively on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) and much higher than those who graduate from non-accredited programs.

In order to become a licensed counselor, those who have successfully earned their counseling degrees at the master’s level must also log a minimum number of hours of counseling patients under supervision. They must also pass a standardized exam. These examinations and credentialing generally occur at the state level, so it is a good idea to research the requirements and appropriate governing body for your state.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching counseling degree programs:

  • Am I eligible for this program? Admission to an undergraduate counseling degree program is open to students who have successfully completed high school and whose qualifications meet or exceed the individual school’s standards. Most programs will require a strong score on the ACT or SAT, a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 throughout high school, transcripts sent directly from your high school and letters of recommendation, as well as a personal statement. Admission to a Master’s degree program in counseling generally requires submission of a recent GRE score, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose that describes your goals and reasons for applying to the program, and transcripts from both your high school and your college. If you are currently working, you may be asked to provide a copy of your resume.
  • Are courses offered synchronously or asynchronously? Though the majority of the counseling degree programs that we’ve reviewed are offered in person, there are some that are offered online or as combinations of in-person and online. Some of the classes offered online can be taken asynchronously, but the majority of them require that students sign on synchronously and participate with other students and the professor in real time.

Pursuit of a counseling degree represents a significant investment of your time, as well as a financial investment. Fortunately, those who attend accredited programs can take advantage of federal, state, and local financial aid programs. To learn what your eligibility is, start by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).