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An online master’s in school counseling prepares people to work as licensed counselors. These programs also often include specializations, such as college readiness, career guidance, and mental health counseling.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 10% (faster than average) for school and career counselors and advisors from 2021 to 2031, with a median annual salary of about $61,000 in 2021 (the most recent statistics available). Most full-time programs require 30 to 60 course credits, while some require field study. The cost per credit varies by school, but for the 2020-2021 term, statistics show graduate tuition costs around $19,750.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in School Counseling Program

Choose your area of study

The first step in choosing an online master’s in school counseling program is deciding on your specific goals. Some schools offer specializations such as substance abuse or mental health, covering the behavioral and cognitive issues that typically affect young children, adolescents, and adults. Other programs have a bilingual extension, allowing for certification in another language, such as Spanish.

People with this degree can work in both public and private schools but also can find work as social workers, mental health counselors, juvenile justice counselors, or community services managers. Those who would like to work in a school should know they’ll need state-issued credentials or a license, which the school should advise how to obtain.

Research schools and programs

Students should obtain a degree from an accredited school or program. Accreditation ensures a program meets educational quality standards and influences whether the school receives federal financial aid. Students can check whether each school or the master’s program is accredited through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs or the U.S. Department of Education.

Also, even an online master’s in school counseling will require in-person supervised experience or an internship with individual students. Research how the school facilitates this requirement for online students. Ask the following questions:

  • Is there a campus counseling center or another site nearby where students can gain in-person experience?
  • What other support services for online students does the school offer, such as career coaching or mentoring?
  • Are there networking opportunities, such as an alum association?

Check the school’s marketing materials, website, and social media profiles for this information, and also talk with program representatives.

Prepare for tests and applications

Each program varies in its application requirements and process. However, most online master’s degree programs in school counseling require:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher in a related field, such as social work, teaching, or psychology
  • Transcripts from previous colleges
  • Letter(s) of recommendation from academic and professional references
  • A resume or record of employment history
  • A personal essay or statement of purpose describing your achievements and plans

Applicants also likely need to submit standardized test scores like those from the GRE. If you need to take the GRE, prepare and sit for the exam while researching schools.

Select your program

Some students apply to a single program that aligns with their needs and interests, while others target multiple schools to improve their chances of acceptance. Be aware that the application fees that most schools charge can add up. If you need financial assistance with these fees, contact the school to ask about a fee waiver.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Every school with an online master’s in school counseling program should specify the financial support students can receive, including scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships, and work-study. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines eligibility for federal student loans and need-based institutional aid. Moreover, some school counselors can have their master’s degree loan forgiven through the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Also, students already working in a related field can check whether employer tuition assistance benefits can offset their costs. Talk with your school’s Financial Aid office for more detailed information about how to pay for your degree.

The Top 40 Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs

Best Online Master's in School Counseling Degree Programs

Liberty University

NC State University

NYU Steinhardt

Seton Hall University

Campbellsville University

University of West Alabama

University of the Southwest

Wake Forest University

University of North Dakota

University of Missouri

Lehigh University College of Education

University of the Cumberlands

Angelo State University

University of Southern California

Oregon State University

Concordia University Irvine

Southeastern Oklahoma State University

Concordia University Wisconsin

Arkansas State University

Lamar University

Emporia State University

Creighton University

UMass Boston

Southern Arkansas University

Mercy College

Valdosta State University

ECU College of Education

Chadron State College

Fort Hays State University

Regent University

Our Lady of the Lake University

Missouri Baptist University

Monmouth University

Salem College

Arkansas Tech University

Ottawa University

Concordia University, Nebraska

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How We Rank Schools

This list concentrates on master’s degrees in school counseling. Degrees available in this field include Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), and Master of Education (M.Ed). Each type of degree program has a somewhat different theoretical and practical orientation, but all will prepare you for a career as a school counselor.

We included online, on-campus, and hybrid programs to select the best delivery method for your learning style and schedule.

All of the programs reviewed are offered by regionally accredited institutions. Many programs also have programmatic accreditation through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) or the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

We evaluated based on 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.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in School Counseling Program?

Online master’s in school counseling programs vary based on the school. Still, students can expect a core curriculum about human growth development, social and cultural issues, career development, and applying data and research to their work. Students also might encounter additional coursework related to family counseling, trauma, addiction, and abuse.

Some states require that school counselors take coursework related to specific issues or demographics in their region before applying for a state license.

In addition, students will likely need a certain amount of in-person fieldwork or an internship, which can interfere with other obligations such as a full-time job. Talk with a school admissions counselor about in-person requirements and whether a part-time program or other accommodations can help you balance your education with other responsibilities.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in school counseling degree program

  • School Counseling Techniques. A course like this covers the essential skills an ethical and effective school counselor needs. Expect to learn best practices for interviews, observation techniques, how to collect data, and how to write detailed reports.
  • Legal Issues and Ethics in School Counseling. Students will discuss historical, cultural, and philosophical issues surrounding school counseling while also learning current ethical standards for counselors. A course like this also typically covers current trends in education.
  • Assessment and Child Therapy. Students will learn to apply adolescent psychology’s proven methods in an educational environment. A course like this also examines intervention techniques and how counselors can offer constructive therapeutic approaches while considering a student’s family structure, home environment, and cognitive issues.
  • Lifespan Development. School counselors need a thorough understanding of what students experience on a biological level. Expect a detailed look at human growth and developmental phases, primarily social, cognitive, and emotional.

Online Master’s in School Counseling Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in school counseling degree program?

Check the application for each school of choice, and be sure you have electronic versions of all the required information, such as college transcripts, work experience, test scores, and a letter or letters of recommendation. Some schools have an online portal to accept applications through their website, while others still use traditional mail. The Common Application, or Common App, is a streamlined admissions application system that enables students to apply to multiple schools. Before you start your application, talk with a school admissions counselor to verify you have everything the school needs.

How much does an online master’s in school counseling degree cost?

For the 2020-2021 term, graduate tuition costs around $19,750, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). An undergraduate degree costs about $25,900 a year, including tuition, fees, room, and board.

The average tuition for a public institution was about $12,400 a year, less than half the cost of $26,600 for a private institution.

Your school’s costs will vary depending on the credits per course, fees, costs per credit, and other expenses, such as books. Also, consider how hands-on experience, such as an internship, might take away from your earning time at your current job.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in school counseling degree?

The costs depend on the curriculum and the school. Most schools estimate their online master’s programs in school counseling take about one to three years to complete. The total number of credits affects the program’s length, as does attending full-time or part-time. Some schools offer asynchronous learning, where students can meet assignment deadlines while studying at their own pace, and some accelerated learning options.