Why This Matters


    The demand for substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorder counselors is growing much faster than average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 25% job growth through 2029.


    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.


    Helping people pays well. The average annual salary for counselors with a Master of Arts in Counseling is $51,678. That’s significantly higher than the overall median annual salary of $39,810.

Our Research

We reviewed many Master’s in Counseling degree programs, including those that award Master’s of Science (MS) and Master’s of Arts (MA) degrees. We looked at general and focused programs as well as online, on-campus, and hybrid options. Consider your needs and goals as you evaluate the many options.

All of the programs listed are regionally accredited. Many are also accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

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.

  • 75 hours to write this article
  • 204 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 258 education programs we compared

The Top 42 Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

Best Master's in Counseling Degree Programs
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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 $50,000, 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.