Why This Matters

  • THE U.S. NEEDS ANOTHER 77,500 COUNSELORS

    The demand for substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorder counselors is growing much faster than the average for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 22% job growth through 2031.

  • A MASTER’S DEGREE IS REQUIRED FOR LICENSURE

    Counselors are licensed by the state, and each state’s requirements vary. However, the majority of states require you to hold a master’s degree to become a licensed counselor and practice on your own.

  • EARN MORE THAN $55,000 PER YEAR

    Helping people pays fairly well. The average annual salary for counselors with a Master of Arts in Counseling is $56,000. That’s higher than the average salary for all occupations.

Our Research

This list features some of the best master’s in counseling programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions. The programs on our list are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a national organization that assesses counseling programs for educational excellence and commitment to quality education.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation as well as the student resources provided for on-campus students. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of master’s in counseling programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report among others to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

The Top 50 Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Best Master's in Counseling Degree Programs 2023 Badge
01
Intelligent Pick
USC Rossier School of Education
01
Most Innovative Curriculum
Northwestern University
01
Best in the Northeast
NYU Steinhardt
01
Best for IBH Counseling
Boston College
01
Most Affordable
Liberty University
01
Best Christian Institution
Clarks Summit University
01
Best Practicum
Adler University
01
Best for Research
Morgridge College of Education
01
Most Locations
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
01
Best Dual-Degree Program
UF College of Education
01

University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
01

Hope International University
01

University of Minnesota College of Continuing and Professional Studies
01

University of Cincinnati
01

UMD College of Education
01

UW Madison Department of Counseling Psychology
01

Lehigh University College of Education
01

San Diego State University College of Education
01

Indiana Wesleyan University
01

University of Texas at Austin College of Education
01

University of Georgia College of Education
01

Keiser University
01

UMass Global
01

University of North Texas
01

Adams State University
01

Vanderbilt Peabody College
01

University at Buffalo
01

Antioch University
01

Bellevue University
01

Bradley University
01

PennWest Edinboro
01

Lamar University
01

Lindsey Wilson College
01

Malone University
01

Messiah University
01

North Carolina Central University
01

Palo Alto University
01

Regent University
01

Union Institute & University
01

University of Louisiana Monroe
01

UMass Boston - College of Education and Human Development

What You Should Know About This Degree

Counseling is considered a master-level entry field because most states require a master’s degree for licensure. Some states will accept any master’s in counseling degree that’s regionally accredited, while others require one from a CACREP-accredited program. Check the requirements in the state where you plan to work, and choose a program that will meet those requirements.

In addition to the degree, licensure commonly requires passing an exam and completing a minimum number of clinical hours under a licensed counselor’s supervision.

To help students reach their hour requirements for licensure, many programs have in-person practicum components. This is true for on-campus and online programs. Make sure your schedule allows you to complete any in-person component required before you apply to the program.

Because counselors work closely with at-risk populations, many jobs require passing a background check. Small infractions are often overlooked, but a felony conviction could preclude you from qualifying for many positions.

Counselors make a median annual salary over $55,000, but many earn less. Financial return on investment should be part of any degree consideration process, but it usually isn’t the driving factor for individuals who enter this field. Instead, counselors usually are motivated by a desire to help others.

What’s Next?

Consider these two questions as you research master’s in counseling degree programs:

  • How long does it take to complete this online degree? These programs vary significantly in length, with some less than 20 credits and others more than 50 credits. Many of the programs are between 30 and 36 credits, which takes about two years to complete if you study full-time.
  • Am I eligible for this program? These programs generally require a bachelor’s degree, but that degree doesn’t necessarily have to be in a counseling-related subject. No prior experience with counseling is required either.

When you identify a program that interests you, you’ll need to know the required application materials and submission deadlines. Find them on a program’s website or by contacting the admissions department.

Also give thought to how you’ll pay for your degree. Speak with program administrators about scholarships and other financial aid. Tuition reimbursed from an employer might also be an option if you’re employed in a relevant field.