Why This Matters


    Because of the complex, sensitive nature of counseling vulnerable populations, practitioners must have an advanced degree in order to work in most counseling jobs.


    Counselors specializing in substance abuse, behavior disorders, and mental health counseling have the best job prospects. The U.S. expects to add 68,500 jobs in this sector by 2028.


    Clinical rehabilitation counselors are needed to work with the increasing elderly population as well as military veterans and individuals with disabilities or injuries.

Our Research

This list focuses on master’s degrees in counseling. These degrees are either a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS). Some programs are generalized clinical mental health counseling degrees, while others have a specialized focus in an area like school or rehabilitation counseling.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits counseling master’s programs, while each state grants its own professional counseling license. Some states require students to complete a CACREP-accredited program to be eligible for licensure.

We evaluated both CACREP and non-CACREP-accredited programs. All programs are offered by regionally-accredited institutions. The coursework for all programs can be completed online, but some are also offered in person or as hybrids.

Each program was evaluated on the basis of reputation, flexibility, affordability, faculty, and coursework. We then calculated an Intelligent Score for each degree on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

  • 66 hours to write this article
  • 149 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 331 education programs we compared

The Top 36 Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

Best Online Master's in Counseling Degree Programs

What You Should Know About This Degree

Counselors work with vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and individuals with mental, behavioral and developmental disorders. It’s a job that relies heavily on compassion, empathy, patience, and interpersonal skills, and it can be mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding. As such, those considering a counseling career should evaluate if they have the right qualities for the job.

Despite being a master’s-level entry field, an advanced degree does not necessarily translate to higher pay for counselors. The median annual salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in 2018 was $44,630, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $28,240 a year. While determining financial return on investment is important when choosing a master’s degree, it’s also key to consider whether the career will fulfill your personal interests and goals.

Even in online programs, there is a hands-on learning component for all counseling degrees. The exact settings and number of hours you have to complete may vary, but it’s important to make sure this component of the program fits into your schedule.

Additionally, because practicums and internships take place in clinical settings, you usually have to pass a background check. Find out what the program’s background check requirements are to ensure you are eligible for the program.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching Online Master’s Degree in Counseling programs:

  • Does this program offer the concentration I want? The counseling field includes many specializations, including mental health, substance abuse/addiction, school, rehabilitation, and couple and family counseling. If you want to specialize, select a program that offers your desired concentration.
  • Will I be eligible for licensure? Most counselors must be licensed in order to practice professionally, although requirements vary by state. Where you earn your degree and the program’s accreditation can affect your ability to become licensed, so it’s essential to understand your state’s licensing requirements and confirm whether your program of interest meets their education requirements.

During the research process, you should also review a program’s admission requirements and deadlines. This will help your application process go as smoothly as possible. You can typically find this information on the school’s website or by contacting their admissions department.

You will also want to research options for funding your graduate degree, including loans, scholarships, assistantships, and employer tuition benefits if you are currently employed.