Compare School Options

Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

Ideal for students passionate about guiding individuals toward better mental health and well-being, a career in counseling is rewarding and in high demand, projected to introduce 281,600 new jobs by 2032. The demand for substance abuse counseling is especially high, standing out with an anticipated 18% growth over the next decade. Graduates may also pursue careers as marriage and family therapists, clinical counselors, and school counselors — all equipped with salaries that regularly surpass the national median.For undergraduates, the average program costs $25,910, and while some begin their journey here, aspiring licensed counselors must pursue a master’s degree, typically costing $19,749, to advance professionally.

How to Choose an Online Counseling Program

Choose your area of study

Most counseling students choose an area of study or specialization in line with their career goals and personal strengths. Institutions may vary in specialization offerings, but school counseling, clinical mental health, marriage and family therapy, and substance abuse counseling are standard options.

You’ll also want to consider whether asynchronous or synchronous formats work best for your lifestyle and circumstances. For example, an asynchronous, part-time program may be the best fit for working professionals balancing their education with a full-time job or other commitments, while synchronous, full-time learning can work well for students with more time to devote to their studies.

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve narrowed down your intended area of study and preferred learning format, it’s essential to thoroughly research the schools and programs that can help you meet your career goals.

Start by prioritizing accredited institutions, as accreditation ensures the program meets quality standards and is recognized by licensing bodies. Additionally, delve into faculty credentials, curriculum relevance to your goals, internship or practicum opportunities, and alumni outcomes. With online programs in particular, evaluating program flexibility, technological resources for online learning, and student support services is essential — all excellent indicators of program quality.

Prepare for tests and applications

When preparing for tests and applications to your preferred schools, it’s important to strategically allocate your study time, focusing on both academic content and application materials. Dedicate ample time to review any prerequisite coursework, write your personal statement, and gather recommendation letters. If standardized tests like the SAT or ACT are prerequisites, enroll in a test prep program to boost your proficiency and achieve competitive scores. Lastly, adhere to deadlines by ensuring all components are submitted promptly and reflect your suitability for the program.

Select your program

If you submit more than one application, it’s possible to receive multiple acceptance letters. Now is an excellent time to revisit factors from your initial research, like program accreditation, curriculum alignment, the faculty on staff, and alumni outcomes. Additionally, evaluate the total cost of attendance for each program, factoring in tuition and fees, alongside available financial aid packages, scholarships, and assistantship opportunities. Ultimately, prioritize the program that best aligns with your career objectives, offers financial feasibility, and provides a supportive academic environment for its online students.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

For many students, earning a degree in any subject is a considerable expense. However, you can navigate this by employing a strategic approach and taking advantage of financial aid opportunities.

First, prioritize scholarships and grants, as these don’t require repayment and can significantly offset costs. Next, explore federal loans, but practice responsible borrowing to minimize debt. Additionally, consider work-study programs offering financial support and resume-boosting work experience. If you’re currently employed, inquire about employer tuition reimbursement programs, leveraging this benefit if available.

Best 50 Accredited Online Counseling Programs

Best Online Counseling Degree Programs

Liberty University

University of Mary

Toccoa Falls College

University of Cincinnati

University of the Cumberlands

Bob Jones University

Crown College

Cornerstone University

Indiana Wesleyan University

Lesley University

Southwestern Assemblies of God University

Mid-America Christian University

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles

Columbia College

Alvernia University

Franklin University

Hope International University

Discover More Options

How We Rank Schools

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

Our list includes both types of programs, including bachelor- and master-degree levels — 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 you must attend a CACREP-accredited program in some states to be eligible for licensure. All of the listed programs have regional accreditation.

We calculated each program’s Intelligent Score from 0 to 100 based on its 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.)

What Can You Expect From an Online Counseling Program

Online counseling degree programs offer an education centered on understanding human behavior, mental health, and therapeutic techniques. While a bachelor’s degree generally takes four years to complete, it’s crucial to recognize that counseling is primarily a master’s degree field. Students seeking further job prospects will need to eventually pursue a graduate degree — typically taking an additional two to three years to complete.

In these programs, aspiring mental health professionals delve into psychology, counseling theories, ethics, and practical skills such as therapeutic interventions and client assessment. They’ll engage in supervised clinical experiences, honing their ability to provide guidance and support to diverse populations. Beyond academic rigor, students cultivate empathy, communication skills, and resilience — all necessary skills for a successful career in counseling.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online counseling program

  • Introduction to Counseling Theories: A standard requirement in most curriculums, this course delves into various counseling approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and humanistic therapy. Students gain insights into the historical development of these theories and understand how to apply them in real-world counseling scenarios.
  • Ethics and Professional Standards in Counseling: In this foundational course, students learn the ethical principles and legal considerations essential for practicing counseling responsibly. Standard topics include confidentiality, informed consent, boundaries, and cultural competence, ensuring that learners are prepared to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct in their future practice.
  • Psychopathy and Diagnosis: Here, students delve into the student of mental health disorders outlined in diagnostic manuals like the DSM-5. They’ll learn to identify symptoms, understand etiological factors, and differentiate between various psychological disorders, equipping them with diagnostic skills crucial for effective counseling.
  • Counseling Techniques and Interventions: This course focuses on practical skills, teaching students therapeutic techniques such as active listening, motivational interviewing, and solution-focused brief therapy. Through role-playing and case studies, students hone their ability to apply these interventions to address clients’ specific needs.

What Can I Do With a Counseling Degree?

Career outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies counseling as a community and social service occupation. This field is expected to experience faster-than-average growth over the next decade, with about 281,600 new job openings, on average, annually through 2032. Key factors driving demand include the need to replace workers who retire or leave the field and ongoing issues related to substance misuse, homelessness, and anxiety and depression among children, teens, and young adults.

While specific jobs, like marriage and family therapist and psychologist, require a master’s degree to practice as a clinician, earning a bachelor’s degree in counseling prepares students for entry-level jobs in various settings. Settings include schools, inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, family services agencies, correctional facilities, and more.

Below are some common jobs for counseling graduates:

  • Substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors — Advise people on issues relating to alcoholism, addictions, depression, or other mental health challenges and provide support to help individuals recover or manage these issues.
    • Median annual salary: $49,710
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 18%
    • New jobs projected: 388,200 per year
  • Correctional treatment specialists — Assist in rehabilitating law offenders in custody or on probation or parole by evaluating probationers or parolees to determine rehabilitation plans, connecting them with resources, and developing release plans.
    • Median annual salary: $59,860
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 3%
    • New jobs projected: 7,400 per year
  • Social and human service assistants — Provide client services, including support for families, in various fields, such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work, and help clients find benefits or community services.
    • Median annual salary: $38,520
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 9%
    • New jobs projected: 415,100 per year

Online Counseling Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online counseling degree program?

To apply for an online counseling bachelor’s degree program, start by researching accredited institutions offering the program.

Most bachelor’s programs require a high school diploma or GED equivalent. While some programs may not mandate standardized test scores from the ACT or SAT, having strong scores can improve your application. Enrolling in a test prep program can help you achieve competitive scores, which helps your application stand out.

For master’s programs in counseling, admissions criteria often include a relevant bachelor’s degree, prerequisite coursework, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and GRE scores.

It’s crucial to consult specific program requirements since they can vary significantly. Before applying to either a bachelor’s or master’s program, speaking with an admissions counselor is important. They can provide guidance, clarify requirements, and offer insights to boost your application’s strength.

How much does an online counseling degree cost?

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the average cost of an online undergraduate counseling degree was $25,910, whereas graduate programs averaged $19,749. It’s important to be mindful of these figures since most states require candidates to have a master’s degree for licensure.

Beyond tuition, you’ll want to consider additional costs like books, technology fees, and residency or internship expenses. While online programs often provide savings on commuting or campus housing, they can sometimes entail distance learning fees or technology requirements that in-person programs might not have.

How long does it take to earn an online Counseling degree?

A typical bachelor’s degree in counseling takes four years for full-time students. In contrast, a master’s program generally requires an additional two to three years post-undergrad. Completion times can differ between online and traditional on-campus formats due to the inherent flexibility of most virtual learning environments.

Students who opt to enroll part-time will see longer completion times, but it can help to balance their education with other commitments, like a full-time job or raising a family. Full-time enrollment, on the other hand, accelerates progression but will require a heavier course load. Additionally, the total number of credits needed significantly influences program length. Generally, the more credits required, the longer it will take to graduate.

Is a counseling degree worth it?

For students who are seeking a career in which they can help vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, or those dealing with mental and behavioral health challenges, a bachelor’s degree in counseling offers excellent preparation. Many entry-level positions in this field require a bachelor’s degree, so graduates are qualified for more positions than they would be otherwise. This degree also provides a strong foundation for further study at the graduate level if students want to seek clinical counseling positions.

From a financial perspective, individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn a median weekly salary of $1,432, compared to $935 for students without a college degree. Mental health counselors earn a median annual salary of $49,210, although the top 10 percent of earners in the field make more than $82,000 annually.

Compare School Options

Related Degrees