Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees

| Staff

Most Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling Degrees
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Becoming a counselor requires rigorous training and on-the-job experience. Aspiring counselors can qualify for entry-level positions with a bachelor’s degree, but earning an online master’s in counseling opens up additional job opportunities in the field of mental health.

Most Affordable Online Master's in Counseling Degrees Badge

The most affordable online counseling degrees take approximately two years to complete. Universities use different application requirements, which can include prerequisite coursework in psychology or counseling and a minimum undergraduate GPA. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for counselors to grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the national average growth rate for all occupations (4%).

Read on to explore some of the most affordable master’s in counseling programs, including information on accreditation, courses, and potential career paths.

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Accredited Online College Programs

What Are the Top Online Master’s in Counseling Programs? Here Our Top 10

Rank School Location
1 Southeastern Oklahoma State University Durant, OK
2 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA
3 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE
4 New Mexico Highlands University Las Vegas, NM
5 Lamar University Beaumont, TX
6 Prairie View A & M University Prairie View, TX
7 Medaille College Buffalo, NY
8 University of Southern Maine Portland, ME
9 Ottawa University-Online Ottawa, KS
10 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionAnswer
What can you do with a master’s degree in counseling?The answer depends on which concentration degree-seekers select. Graduates can work in hospitals, schools, or social welfare agencies, among other job sites.
Can you get a masters in counseling online?The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards national accreditation only to colleges and universities that offer excellent online programs. Learners should disregard online degrees that lack DEAC accreditation
How long does it take to get a master’s degree in counseling?A typical master’s in counseling online program requires two years to complete. Part-time degree-seekers may need an additional year. Some universities may also offer an accelerated option.
How much does it cost to get your master’s in counseling?Learners should expect to pay the same per-credit tuition rate as on-campus students. However, online learners save money on their education by not commuting to campus, living in a dorm, or paying for a meal plan.
What is the highest-paying counseling job?In 2019, licensed psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370, according to the BLS. Salaries vary throughout the United States.

Should I Get a Masters in Counseling

Some entry-level counseling positions require only a bachelor’s degree, and professionals can explore additional job opportunities with an online master’s in counseling. With this degree, counselors can make a positive impact on people’s mental well-being.

The academic and professional qualifications necessary to attain a counseling career also vary by state. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors need a state-issued license. A license requires a master’s degree and at least 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Additionally, licensed counselors must renew their license, a process that involves completing continuing education courses and meeting renewal deadlines.

What Are the Goals of Counseling?

No matter their specialization, counselors work with patients to understand mental health issues and underlying causes. They use this information to create treatment goals. This process may take multiple meetings and follow-up sessions. Other typical tasks include working with patients’ family members and referring patients to other mental health and medical professionals.

Affordable master’s in counseling programs build upon the knowledge and skills degree-seekers attained in their undergraduate programs. Additionally, master’s programs provide learners with concentration options. Concentrations allow students to train for specific careers. Finally, a master’s in counseling online program can qualify graduates for licensure or certification, depending on their state.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Masters Degree in Counseling?

Work Toward a Doctorate: Some degree-seekers earn a master’s degree to gain the research and analytical skills they need for a doctoral program. They hone these skills by completing independent research.

Improve Others’ Mental Health: Professionals with an online master’s in counseling can help patients identify ways to meet challenges and address issues that affect their mental health.

Specialize in a Counseling Subfield: Most affordable master’s in counseling programs feature one or more concentration options. These concentrations allow learners to prepare for a specific career path.

Personal Satisfaction: A master’s degree presents a tremendous academic and personal challenge. Graduating instills lifelong pride and can inspire alumni to undertake a more challenging profession or doctoral program.

Collaborate With Peers: A master’s program allows students to collaborate with like-minded peers. This collaboration can lead to long-term professional relationships and other benefits after graduation.

Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors With a Master

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
School and Career Counselor $57,040 8%
Rehabilitation Counselor $35,950 10%
Marriage and Family Therapist $49,610 22%
Health Educator and Community Health Worker $46,910 13%

Source: BLS

While earning a master’s degree, counseling majors can work with their academic advisor and university career counselors to explore potential career paths and prepare accordingly. Learners should start this process as soon as possible, as each job may use different licensure or certification requirements.

Read below for four career opportunities for online master’s in counseling alumni. The BLS projects the need for each position to grow significantly between 2019 and 2029. These professionals earn median salaries that allow them to live comfortably in most parts of the county.

School and Career Counselor: These counselors work with high school students to identify strengths, transferable skills, and roadblocks to academic success. They work with learners one-on-one or in small groups and collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents. They need a state-issued license and a master’s degree.

Rehabilitation Counselor: People with mental or physical disabilities turn to rehabilitation counselors to learn new skills and receive career training. These counselors also refer clients to other services and create treatment plans. They may specialize in a specific group, such as young adults, the elderly, or veterans.

Marriage and Family Therapist: These therapists work with couples and their children to identify relationship problems and suggest solutions. Primary job responsibilities include meeting with clients in small groups, maintaining confidential records, and referring clients to other professionals. Many professionals start a private practice to help people in their community.

Health Educator and Community Health Worker: These professionals serve their town or city by providing educational programs and small group counseling sessions that promote mental and physical health. Health educators can work at public health departments or hospitals, while many community health workers find employment at social services agencies.

Common Courses in a Counseling Master’s Program



Courses in an online master’s in counseling program emphasize assessment and counseling techniques, psychological development, and research methods. Graduation requirements can also include one or more practicums or internship experiences. Practicums and internships allow degree-seekers to apply new knowledge and skills in clinical settings and network with future peers.

See below for five common courses in many of the most affordable online counseling programs. Keep in mind that course names and requirements vary by program. Prospective students can contact a university to gain specific information about a master’s in counseling online program.

Human Development

Human development refers to people’s physical and mental growth over a lifetime. This course emphasizes major theories and how people transition between life stages. Learners leave this introductory course with a basic understanding of fundamental psychology principles, concepts they can build upon in more advanced coursework. Additionally, human development exposes degree-seekers to different reasons why people seek counselors. This knowledge helps students select an appropriate concentration and career path.

Theories of Counseling

This course helps students form their own answers regarding how counselors help patients and work with them effectively and appropriately. Learners analyze different theoretical approaches and how each can affect the counselor-patient relationship. Students also evaluate their personal values and determine how those values might affect their future interactions with patients. Like with human development, degree-seekers take theories of counseling in their program’s first year.

Career Counseling

Career counselors help people explore careers, define career goals, and deal with unexpected events that include losing a job unexpectedly. Learning outcomes include understanding the importance of career assessments and how career counselors use the results to help their clients create a career plan. This course appeals to students training for a career as a high school career counselor. Graduates can also pursue jobs at employment agencies.

Crisis Counseling

This advanced, specialized course covers how people react to trauma and how counselors can mitigate the effects. Coursework trains degree-seekers to quickly evaluate patients, apply crisis counseling best practices, and use psychological first aid. Counselors who specialize in crisis counseling work with patients immediately after a traumatic event to ensure that they do not develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, or other long-term psychological disorders.

Psychopathology

No matter their concentration, counselors should know how to identify whether a patient has a psychological condition that can include major depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. Coursework includes using the Diagnostic Statistical Manual to analyze concepts such as differential diagnosis, psychopathological assessments, and cultural factors that can lead to a mental health disorder. This upper-level course can require multiple prerequisites. Learning outcomes may include applying evidence-based counseling best practices to diagnose disease.

Accreditations for Master Programs in Counseling

Prospective degree-seekers should consider only the best affordable master’s in counseling programs. At a minimum, a university should possess regional accreditation. In the United States, six regional accreditation agencies determine whether colleges and universities provide a satisfactory educational experience. Individuals who graduate from a school that lacks this essential accreditation may face difficulty obtaining a job, licensure, or certification.

Online learners should also feel assured that their program provides the same educational experience that on-campus students receive. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards national accreditation only to colleges and universities that offer excellent online programs. Learners should disregard online degrees that lack DEAC accreditation.

Some of the most affordable online counseling degrees feature programmatic accreditation from an outside organization, such as the American Psychological Association. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintains a list of all reputable programmatic accreditation agencies on its website.

Certifications and Licensure for Counseling Majors

Counselors may need a license or certificate to practice. States issue licenses to candidates who meet specific qualifications and mandate renewal requirements. Professional organizations award certifications to professionals who meet similar criteria. Workers with an online master’s in counseling may need one or both to obtain fulfilling and lucrative positions.

National Certified School Counselor 
Licensed school counselors with at least two years of experience and a master’s degree can earn the NCSC. The certification requires an endorsement from an NCSC-certified counselor and supervised work experience. School counselors with this certification may receive an automatic pay raise and other benefits, depending on where they work.

Marriage and Family Therapy License 
Each state uses different licensure requirements that can include a master’s degree, up to 4,000 hours of supervised work experience, and passing both a clinical and a state-specific ethics exam. States also require continuing education hours from authorized vendors, such as universities and professional organizations, for renewal purposes.

Mental Health Counseling License 
Educational requirements can include a master’s or doctorate, depending on the state. States also ask that candidates pass one or more examinations, attain supervised work hours, and submit a criminal background check. After earning one of the most affordable online counseling degrees, candidates may need up to two years to meet these and other requirements.

Scholarships for Master Counseling Students

Master’s degree-seekers can explore multiple scholarship opportunities to help cover education costs. Prospective learners can click the embedded links below to view any updates to application requirements, deadlines, and award amounts.

Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: Undergraduate and graduate degree-seekers who participate in initiatives that advance social and economic justice can apply. The scholarship committee considers applicants’ financial need. Applicants must submit a 1,000-word personal statement, two recommendation letters, and FAFSA results by the April 1 deadline. Awardees receive notification in the summer.
Amount: $15,000

David H. and Beverly A. Barlow Grant
Who Can Apply: The American Psychological Foundation awards this grant to master’s and doctoral degree-seekers who specialize in anxiety research. Application materials include a five-page research proposal, project timeline, expected budget, and resume. The grant committee uses a Sept. 15 application deadline and does not provide feedback on applicants’ research proposal.
Amount: $8,500

Melanie Merola O’Donnell Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Master’s and doctoral degree-seekers majoring in mental health can apply for this annual award. Applicants submit a resume reflecting their involvement in either extracurricular or volunteer activities, unofficial transcripts, and an essay containing 2-3 pages on a prescribed topic. Applications are due by March 5. The Melanie Foundation announces recipients on June 30.
Amount: $2,500

Scott and Paul Pearsall Grant
Who Can Apply: This grant awards funding to one student performing original research concerning the psychological stigma surrounding visible disabilities. Applicants should apply by Oct. 1 and submit a goals statement, project timeline, and one recommendation letter from a faculty advisor. Recipients can spend the award money on any research-related expenses.
Amount: $10,000

Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Graduate learners analyzing the relationship between mental illness and societal stigma can apply. Applicants submit a five-page project proposal, budget outline, resume, and one recommendation letter from a current faculty advisor. The scholarship committee considers each proposal’s quality. Applicants should apply by May 15.
Amount: $5,000

Top Affordable Online Master’s in Counseling

  1. Southeastern Oklahoma State University
    Location

    Durant, OK

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Southeastern's most affordable online counseling degree offers a master's in school counseling that takes degree-seekers just over 12 months to complete. Coursework includes assessment in counseling, human growth and development, and counseling children and adolescents. The program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

    Southeastern's Career Management Center (CMC) offers degree-seekers and alumni numerous virtual resources, including online appointments, career development guides, and links to job exploration websites. The CMC also features teamwork and collaboration skill-building exercises and leadership tips. As students near graduation, they can research the latest open jobs on an exclusive job board.

    Admission requirements include a minimum 2.0 undergraduate GPA, a valid teaching license, and two years of teaching experience. All degree-seekers pay the same per-credit tuition rate regardless of residency. Incoming students must submit FAFSA results to apply for institutional aid programs.

  2. University of Louisiana at Monroe
    Location

    Monroe, LA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    In ULM's online master's in counseling program, degree-seekers select between clinical mental health counseling and school counseling. Aspiring school counselors can specialize in elementary or secondary education. Clinicians-in-training can choose among child, adolescent, and adult specialization options. Both programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

    The ULM Career Center website offers learners to access free resume critiques, virtual career fairs, mock interviews, and how-to videos that cover interviewing skills. Additionally, students can log in to Focus 2 Career to explore potential careers.

    Applicants need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a minimum 290 combined GRE score. ULM does not charge out-of-state tuition. Online degree-seekers may qualify for federal grants, loans, or work-study opportunities, depending on their FAFSA results.

  3. Bellevue University
    Location

    Bellevue, NE

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    BU's master's in counseling online program awards an MS in clinical mental health counseling. The curriculum includes courses in qualitative research methods and program evaluation, introduction to counseling theories, and the diagnosis of mental and behavioral disorders. Students must complete a two-part residency and a four-part internship.

    Career Services (CS) advisors help learners write a resume, hone interviewing skills, and network with potential employers. Specialized CS services for veterans include a transitioning guide and links to federal job websites. Degree-seekers may also register for a virtual career fair on Handshake.

    Prospective degree-seekers submit a resume, two recommendation letters, undergraduate transcripts, and a 1,000-word statement of interest. They must also pass a criminal background check and need a minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA. Online students pay the same per-credit tuition rate as on-campus learners. BU provides links to multiple private scholarships and grants.

  4. New Mexico Highlands University
    Location

    Las Vegas, NM

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Prospective students who want academic flexibility enroll in NMHU's most affordable online counseling degree. The program offers concentrations in clinical mental health, clinical rehabilitation, rehabilitation, and vocational evaluation in rehabilitation. Each concentration requires a practicum and an internship in the second year. Some learners may need to complete coursework on NMHU's Las Vegas, New Mexico, campus.

    The Career Services Center (CSC) provides learners and graduates with many resources, including OptimalResume, resume critiques, and the latest job postings. Students can also access O*NET's self-assessments to narrow down a career path. The CSC website also features guidance on how to create an attractive Handshake profile.

    Application requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, two references, and a resume. NMHU does not offer conditional admission to applicants who do not meet the GPA cutoff. Online graduate degree-seekers may qualify for one of four institutional scholarship programs.

  5. Lamar University
    Location

    Beaumont, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    LU features affordable master's in counseling degrees with options in clinical mental health counseling, counseling and development, and a specialization in professional counseling. Each 60-credit degree includes coursework in counseling skills, group counseling theories and techniques, and individual counseling theories. Most full-time students can earn the degree in just 30 months.

    Career Development (CD) professionals help degree-seekers improve interviewing skills, create a LinkedIn account, and use Handshake. The CD website offers online resources, such as virtual career events and workshop presentations. Alumni can explore professional development guides covering workplace professionalism and time management skills.

    Applicants need a minimum 3.5 undergraduate GPA and must submit GRE scores. Each counseling master's degree charges the same affordable tuition rate. LU's Student Financial Aid Handbook details how learners can qualify and apply for federal financial aid programs.

  6. Prairie View A & M University
    Location

    Prairie View, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    PVAMU offers one of the most affordable online counseling degrees. Core courses include orientation to school counseling and development, career development counseling, and organization and administration of school counseling programs. Degree-seekers also complete one school practicum and two school internships.

    Students can explore many resources on PVAMU's Career Services website, including a resume template for teachers, common resume mistakes, and job postings. PVAMU offers Focus 2 Career to help students find the right career path. Learners can also participate in an online mock interview and search for positions on Handshake.

    Applicants need a valid teaching license and two years of experience. Other application materials include three recommendation letters, a cover letter, and a teaching service record. Texas degree-seekers can apply for a Texas Public Education Grant or TEXAS Grant. Out-of-state students can explore various institutional aid opportunities.

  7. Medaille College
    Location

    Buffalo, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Medaille's online master's in counseling program trains the next generation of clinical mental health counselors. The 60-credit, two-year degree requires a three-semester internship and coursework in cultural and social diversity, psychopathologies, and child abuse mandated reported training. Medaille counseling alumni work at hospitals, managed care organizations, and substance abuse treatment centers.

    Students nearing graduation can explore the MavJobs board to browse career opportunities. Learners can also log in to TypeFocus to take a career self-assessment. Students can sign up on Handshake to attend virtual career fairs that attract major employers.

    Admission requirements include undergraduate transcripts, a letter of intent, and three recommendation letters. Medaille does not charge out-of-state tuition, and veterans receive an automatic 5% tuition discount. Learners can explore several ways to fund their education, including payment plans, institutional aid, federal grants, and loans.

  8. University of Southern Maine
    Location

    Portland, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    USM's master's in counseling online degree features a concentration in rehabilitation and includes courses in psychiatric rehabilitation, vocational counseling and placement, and perspectives in chemical dependency. Learners complete 63 credits and attain 600 internship hours at a local healthcare facility. The program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

    The USM Career and Employment Hub (CEH) allows students and alumni to schedule virtual appointments, attend online events, and gain assistance crafting resumes and cover letters. CEH events introduce learners to major state employers such as Covertrus, Sweetser, and Northern Light Health.

    USM admits new learners only in the fall semesters. Prospective students need a minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA. Other application materials include a resume, essay, three recommendation letters, and either MAT or GRE scores. Students can browse several private scholarship opportunities on the USM scholarships website.

  9. Ottawa University-Online
    Location

    Ottawa, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Prospective learners researching the most affordable online counseling degrees with concentration options may want to consider OU. The degree's four concentrations include Christian counseling, expressive arts therapy, gerocounseling, and treatment of trauma abuse and deprivation. This hybrid program requires some on-campus courses at one of OU's three national campuses.

    Career Development and Placement advisors help students with virtual job fairs and seminars, interviewing guidance, and job listings. Kansas students can use the Kansas Career Pipeline to research jobs. All learners can speak with an advisor concerning internship and job shadowing opportunities.

    Graduate application requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, three recommendation letters, and a two-page essay. OU does not charge out-of-state tuition, and online degree-seekers pay an affordable distance-education fee each term. Students who earned a bachelor's degree from OU may qualify for the $500 Alumni Impact Scholarship.

  10. West Virginia University
    Location

    Morgantown, WV

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    WVU's affordable master's in counseling program emphasizes clinical rehabilitation and mental health. The 18-course, 63-credit curriculum requires courses in the medical aspects of rehabilitation, vocational evaluation and system techniques, and rehabilitation client services. Degree-seekers also complete two pratica and an independent study project.

    The WVU Career Services website features multiple resources for students and alumni, including resume-building software, a professional etiquette guide, and elevator pitch tips. Virtual services include Handshake and Focus 2 Career. Degree-seekers can also learn how to use social media effectively during a job hunt.

    Applicants need a minimum 2.8 undergraduate GPA and must take the GRE or MAT. Other admission requirements include three recommendation letters and a personal statement. WVU waives out-of-state tuition for online degree-seekers. Graduate students can apply for a College of Education and Human Services scholarship.

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