Why This Matters

  • EMPLOYMENT IN SOCIAL SERVICE JOBS UP 14%

    Overall employment for individuals in counseling and social service jobs is growing at a faster-than-average rate, with 371,900 new jobs expected by 2026.

  • ABOUT 2 MILLION AMERICANS ABUSE OPIOIDS

    More substance abuse counselors are needed to help treat individuals who are addicted to opioids. Employment in this type of counseling is expected to increase by 23%.

  • U.S. SCHOOLS NEED 36,700 MORE COUNSELORS

    As enrollments rise for elementary, middle and high schools, the demand for counselors specializing in educational guidance is expected to increase by a faster-than-average 13%.

Our Research

Counseling covers a broad scope of mental health, behavioral, and developmental issues. Some programs prepare students to work with a variety of different populations, while others focus on a specific area of counseling, like substance abuse.

Our list includes both types of programs. We also included both bachelor’s and master’s degrees; the programs you’re researching will depend on your current education level.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits counseling master’s programs, while each state grants its own license to professional counselors. We evaluated CACREP- and non-CACREP-accredited programs for this list. Note that in some states, you must attend a CACREP-accredited program to be eligible for licensure. All of the listed programs do have regional accreditation.

We calculated each program’s Intelligent Score on a scale from 0 to 100 based on their course offerings, cost, flexibility, and reputation in the field. Our top picks for the best online degrees in counseling are affordable, respected, and flexible.(For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 84 hours to write this article
  • 167 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 321 education programs we compared

The Top 60 Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

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What You Should Know About This Degree

Although some jobs are available to counselors with a bachelor’s degree, counseling is generally considered a master’s-level entry field, meaning you must have a graduate degree and a license in order to practice. If you are planning to enter an undergraduate program in counseling, please note that you will likely need to continue on to a master’s degree for the best professional opportunities.

The master’s degree is typically a required step for the state-issued counselor license, which you must have to practice as a professional counselor. Each state has its own licensure requirements and procedures, and licenses may not transfer to other states. Different specialties like rehabilitation counseling, addictions counseling, and school counseling have their own licensing regulations. It’s very important to research licensure requirements in your state, and make sure that you attend a master’s program that meets their requirements.

Hands-on field experience is also a typical licensure requirement. Even if the coursework for a program is offered fully online, you will have to participate in some type of clinical internship experience. The program dictates the number of hours and type of setting for this experience, usually based on state licensing standards. Find out what type of commitment this is, and make sure it fits into your schedule and lifestyle.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching Counseling programs:

  • Do I have the right qualities for a counselor? Counseling relies heavily on compassion, empathy, patience, and interpersonal skills. It can be emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding, depending on the patient populations with which you work. It’s important to self-evaluate and make sure you have the stamina and personality for the job.
  • Am I eligible for this program? Counselors can come from various backgrounds, but some programs may require an undergraduate degree or prior coursework in counseling, psychology or a related field to be eligible for admission.
  • Can I pass a background check? Because of the vulnerable populations counselors work with, most employers do background checks as part of the hiring process. If there is anything in your history that may present an issue, talk to your advisor about your options as soon as possible.

Also be sure to learn more about the program’s application requirements and process, as well as scholarship and financial aid options. You can usually find this information on the program’s website, or by contacting an admissions representative. If you are currently employed, check to see if your employer offers any kind of tuition assistance benefits.