Most Affordable Online Masters Degree in Counseling College

The field of counseling has grown in many areas around the world. There are various kinds of counselors such as career counselors, military counselors, and school counselors. They deal with students on a daily basis in schools, counseling them about their future plans and giving them some guidance on what to do next. The job market for counseling is growing every year and hopefully is a lasting career field for anyone who has aspirations to make this their career. It’s important to not only understand the basics of counseling but also have the right training that will make you knowledgeable enough to work in the field or even be able to work as a substitute when your main person isn’t available.

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In this article, we profile the top most affordable online master’s in counseling degree programs of 2021.

Counselors work in various industries. From schools to mental health organizations, counselors provide treatment to support individuals’ mental health needs. According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of school and career counselors is projected to grow eight percent through 2029. Employment growth is also anticipated for mental health counselors. In fact, a 25 percent growth is expected for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. With a favorable job outlook, earning a master’s in counseling online degree can set you on the path for a thriving career.

30 Best Master's Degrees in Student Affairs and College Counseling

The counseling profession boasts high projected growth rates of 14%-25% through 2029. The specialty areas of substance abuse and behavioral disorders should see strong job growth, and mental health counselors will also be in demand, especially in rural and underserved communities.

A master’s degree in counseling online prepares graduates to provide clients with independent and individual counseling. Online education can be an affordable alternative to attending classes on campus.

Most master’s in counseling online programs take 2-3 years to complete, as there are many fast track counseling degree options. Students attend classes online, completing practicum and internship hours in person.

A core master’s curriculum typically encompasses coursework in eight areas:

  • Assessment and testing
  • Career development
  • Counseling and helping relationships
  • Group counseling and group work
  • Human growth and development
  • Professional counseling orientation and ethical practice
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Social and cultural diversity

Explore our rankings for more information on the most affordable online master’s in counseling.

RankSchoolDegree Type
1North Carolina State University– M.Ed. in counselingOnline
2LeTourneau University– M.A. in counselingOnline
3Freed-Hardeman University– M.A. in counselingOnline
4Northwestern University– M.A. in counselingOnline
5Messiah College– M.A. in counselingOnline

What can you do with a master’s in counseling online degree?

There are several career pathways for individuals with a master’s degree in counseling. Graduates typically focus on a specific type of counseling such as substance abuse, behavioral disorders, or working with a specific population, such as students. School counselors typically work in K-12 public and private settings engaging in a variety of counseling activities centered on academic achievement, college and career planning, and behavioral intervention.

Elementary school counselors work with students to develop skills such as decision-making, studying, and navigating the social landscape of an institution. They also work closely with parents or guardians as well as classroom teachers to formulate strategies to help the student thrive both academically and socially.

High school counselors work closely with students to develop academic and career plans. They also work closely with students who may have personal issues that are inhibiting their success. In addition, high school counselors help students develop a clear path after graduation, such as college or workforce entry. They assist students with college applications, resumes, and interviewing skills.

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental counselors work in a variety of settings such as counseling centers, correctional institutions, treatment centers, and the like. They work with patients with a variety of issues such as drug addiction, behavioral disorders, and non-crisis interventions such as interpersonal relationships. Work may be done in small groups or individually.

Master's of Education Counseling & Human Services - Degree | Lehigh  University College of Education

What is the job outlook for individuals with a master’s in counseling online degree?

The overall job outlook for individuals with a master’s in counseling is quite strong. According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school and career counselor jobs are expected to increase by 8% from 2019-2029, twice the rate of all other occupations during that same timeframe. Moreover, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor occupations are expected to rapidly increase at a rate of 25% from 2019-2029, more than six times the growth rate of all other occupations that BLS tracks.

Rising demand within K-12 and postsecondary educational institutions is expected to drive demand for more education and career counselors. The increased demand for mental health counselors is being driven by the rising need for mental health services as individuals continue to be under intense societal pressure, as well as criminal justice reform that seeks alternatives to jail time.

Individuals living in high-demand areas should experience increased job opportunities, as should those willing to relocate to those areas. Major metropolitan areas including New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim, and Boston/Cambridge/Nashua rank numbers one through three in the number of counseling positions. States with the highest concentration of mental health and educational counseling jobs per capita are Vermont, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

How much money can you earn with a master’s in counseling online degree?

While a master’s degree in counseling provides the professional with satisfying and fulfilling work, the occupation also pays above average wages. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for a substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor is $46,420 per year. The lowest 10 percent earn $29,520 and the highest ten percent earn $76,020. School and career counselors earn even more. According to BLS data, the median annual wage for these professionals is $57,040, with the lowest and highest ten percent earning $34,380 and $96,090 respectively. For context, the average wage for all occupations tracked by the BLS is $39,810.

The industry also matters in terms of remuneration. Substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorder counselors earn $52,720 when working in government positions – the highest rate among industries. Local, state, and private hospitals pay the second-highest wage with a median amount of $49,100.

For school and career counselors, the story is much the same. Elementary and secondary counselors earn an average salary of $64,060, by far the highest number among all industries. Community colleges and colleges and universities pay the second-highest salary with an average of $51,120. Healthcare and social assistance agencies pay the lowest wage of $40,620.

What professional associations can you join while enrolled in a master’s in counseling online program?

Joining a professional association has several benefits for students who are enrolled in an online master’s in counseling program. Associations provide access to industry journals and trade publications with the latest industry news and research. Additionally, students get access to networking and professional development opportunities through conferences, networking events, internships, and job openings.

  • American School Counselor Association

The ASCA is an international organization that represents school counselors at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels. The organization publishes the ASCA School Counselor Magazine on a bimonthly basis and also offers networking, professional development, and a wide range of free resources.

  • American Counseling Association

The American Counseling Association is a non-profit, educational organization established in 1952 that represents a wide range of counseling professionals in various practice settings. The association has 56 chartered branches across the United States, Europe, and Latin America that serve members through various functions and publications. Students and recent graduates can join the association at a deep discount.

  • International School Counselor Association

The ISCA is a unique counseling organization based in Delaware that is dedicated to the advocacy and professional development of counselors working in international schools. The organization provides networking and professional development through mentoring, conferences, publications, and more.

What are the admission requirements for master’s in counseling online programs?

Admission requirements vary according to program and institution, but there are several commonalities across programs to be aware of. Nearly all stand-alone master’s in counseling programs require an accredited bachelor’s degree. Top-tier programs will require the degree to be conferred from a regionally accredited institution but may allow a bachelor’s degree from a nationally certified college or university.

Most programs have existing prerequisites the candidate must complete in order to apply. This might be accomplished through the requirement of a bachelor’s degree in a specific discipline such as psychology or a related field, or through completion of specific courses that prepare students for graduate study in a counseling program. These courses typically include general psychology, abnormal psychology, statistics, and human development.

In addition to possessing a bachelor’s degree, programs desire applicants that have demonstrated academic success through the successful completion of courses. This metric is captured through a minimum GPA standard applicants should possess, which is typically 2.5 and above. Some programs allow conditional acceptance for lower GPAs and will fully admit a student upon successful completion of courses within the program.

Standardized testing requirements are more common among top-tier institutions. Many programs do not require candidates to take tests such as the GRE or MAT and evaluate applicants on other metrics like those mentioned above, as well as letters of recommendation, personal statements, and professional work experience.

School Counseling | Fresno Pacific University

Best Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs

We’ve ranked the top online master’s in school counseling programs. Compare schools by cost and convenience. Earn your master’s in school counseling online.

In a master’s in school counseling program, learners study challenges many children and students face. They work to develop skills so they can help these youths manage and potentially overcome their challenges.

The school counseling program typically features a blend of specialization and applicability. Graduates can go on to pursue advanced school counselor positions. They also have the option to move into other related fields.

Offered by many of the top online schools, these two-year programs can help prepare learners for many community and social service occupations, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects will add nearly 350,000 new jobs from 2020-30. As more schools invest in student support and mental health services, the demand should grow even more.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost for graduate tuition and required fees was just over $19,300 in 2018-19. According to PayScale, school counselors reported making an average annual salary of around $51,330, as of October 2021. With experience, these professionals may be able to pursue leadership positions with even higher earning potential.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master’s in School Counseling Program?

The typical master’s in school counseling program requires 30-60 credits and takes students about two years to complete. Degree-seekers should have interpersonal and analytical skills. Compassionate and caring demeanors also are beneficial in this field.

Learners can earn different types of master’s degrees in school counseling. These include a master of arts (MA), a master of science (MS), and a master of education (M.Ed.). While all three can lead to similar careers, there are differences. M.Ed. programs tend to focus on educational psychology and helping students in a school setting. MA programs lean more heavily into research and academia. MS programs offer a blend of research and clinical preparation and may feature more statistics and psychological testing courses.

In a master’s in school counseling program, students typically choose concentrations for more focused training in an area of interest. It may lead to improved employment opportunities after graduation. Some schools offer specializations in areas like guidance counseling, career counseling, and youth or college student counseling. Additionally, aspiring school counselors often take the PRAXIS exam like teachers do.

Prospective students can expect a substantial practicum requirement. Most master’s in school counseling programs require hundreds of supervised clinical hours at an approved location. Online learners should find out where and when they can complete those hours — students may not be able to earn these hours over the summer when school isn’t in session. Participants also need to know if there are on-campus requirements.eget felis eget. Tristique nulla aliquet enim tortor at auctor urna nunc id. Vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Tellus elementum sagittis vitae et leo duis ut. Pellentesque adipiscing commodo elit at imperdiet. Amet purus gravida quis blandit. Velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti nullam ac tortor.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master’s in School Counseling Program?

School Counseling Techniques

Students can learn the best strategies for a counseling session. This includes learning the role of the counselor and how to evaluate their own performance. They also focus on how to adapt their strategies and techniques depending on the situation and the client.

Multicultural Counseling

A client’s age, race, cultural background, and other factors can influence a counselor’s approach and communication strategy. Learners also study what affects a client’s self-identity.

Lifespan Development

In this course, students can learn more about how people grow throughout the different stages of their life. Intelligence, identity, and personality development are among the characteristics studied.

Academic and Career Counseling

Learners explore the role of the career and academic counselor in schools. They can learn how to assess a student’s needs, address their concerns, and help them overcome challenges.

Professional Issues and Ethics

This course looks at the leading challenges school counselors face. The training helps students learn to lean on their own personal ethics while also incorporating professional standards and expectations.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master’s in School Counseling Program?

For admission into an online master’s in school counseling program, prospective students need to submit their applications directly to their school of choice.

Applications for online learners do not typically differ from those of on-campus students. Depending on the school and program, an application may include a number of components.

In addition to the following items, prospective students also may be asked to complete an interview.


A graduate school application includes the applicant’s personal and contact information. Most college application systems work specifically for undergraduate applicants. So graduate students typically must submit their applications directly to any school they are considering.

Test Scores

Test scores usually play a big role in the admission process. Due to the pandemic, many schools have offered temporary GRE and GMAT waivers to applicants. However, some schools still may require that applicants submit their test scores. Prospective students may want to explore GRE prep courses to help get their scores in the 75th percentile or higher.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation from former teachers and employers can provide insight about an applicant. Most applications require a minimum of three letters from relevant sources. Prospective students should begin asking for letters of recommendation as early as possible to ensure they give their referrals plenty of time to meet school deadlines.

Resume and Work Experience

Few master’s in school counseling programs require applicants to have professional experience for admission. However, schools can use resumes and any previous work experience to better understand candidates. Work history can provide insight into a potential student’s direction, drive, and professional history. Prospective students should use their resume and cover letter to bolster their applications and admission chances.


Graduate school essays differ from undergraduate essays. Graduate school application essays typically focus more on the applicant’s educational and professional goals rather than their personal journey.

Official Transcripts

Official transcripts help schools identify which prerequisites applicants have. They also show how an applicant did in their undergraduate studies. Transcripts also can help determine which transfer credits a graduate program may accept.

Top Online School Counseling Programs—13 Master's Under $20,000

What Can I Do With an Online Master’s in School Counseling Degree?

Career Outlook

An online master’s in school counseling can offer professional benefits, including a strong career outlook and flexibility. As schools invest more in academic and developmental support for their students, the field should grow.

The BLS projects 11% job growth for school and career counselors and advisors from 2020-30. That’s faster than the 8% projected job growth for all U.S. occupations.

Graduates with a master’s in this field also may go on to pursue other counseling disciplines, careers in community service, or doctoral degrees.

Uncover what a master’s in school counseling can do for you. Learn more about counseling careers.

Career Paths

School and Career Counselors

School counselors support and work with students, helping with social development and addressing behavioral issues. These professionals may meet with family members to address personal challenges a child is facing. They may consult with teachers and administrators to address a child’s academic needs. School counselors may work with families and teachers to set up continuation plans in the classroom and at home.

Career counselors help guide learners through their education and preparation for college and careers after graduation. They support students with academic challenges, identify any reasons for problems, and explore different postgraduate pathways with them.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $58,120

Marriage and Family Therapist

With a master’s in school counseling, graduates may decide to pursue other counseling disciplines, such as marriage and family therapy. These therapists work with individuals, couples, and families to help them overcome issues at home. They may examine common conflicts and use counseling strategies they’ve learned to help minimize the problems. They also can recommend other specialists for a collaborative approach.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $51,340

Community Services Managers

Someone with a counseling degree may decide to work with a group or the community as a whole. Community services managers oversee programs and organizations that serve the community in various ways. They may develop programs and awareness campaigns. They also work in community outreach, advocacy, and campaigns to help organizations and programs get the support they need. They may focus on certain demographics — children, for example — and help with their challenges.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $69,600

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

These counselors help individuals and families with mental health conditions and other issues. They may offer education, treatment, and coping strategies. These counselors also may work with other health professionals to ensure the client receives adequate support. School counseling graduates may require additional training for this career path.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $47,660

School Principals

Principals oversee the operations of a school, such as handling the budgeting, staffing, and security protocols. They also may take charge of developing and implementing curriculums, managing the faculty and staff, and evaluating overall school and student performances. Principals often meet with students and families as well. A master’s in school counseling may help principals in their dealings with students, families, and staff. Those with a school counseling degree may require additional specialized training to pursue a career as a school principal.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $98,490

Continuing Education

Many with a master’s in school counseling enter the workforce after graduation. Others decide to continue their education and training in a doctorate in school counseling program. With a doctoral degree, these professionals may go into research and academia or pursue advanced clinical counseling positions.

Many graduates also pursue related fields, such as psychology. Many psychology doctoral programs accept applicants from psychology-adjacent disciplines, such as counseling. There also are various certifications available to clinical counselors and specialists that may require additional training after graduation.

For some positions, workers may also be required to obtain state licensure. Accruing clinical hours and continuing education credits after graduation may be a requirement for maintaining licensure.

How Do I Choose an Online Master’s in School Counseling Program?


To get the most accurate numbers, prospective students need to look at the true cost of an online program. This includes travel, books, materials, and any loss of income. They also should compare online and on-campus costs, private and public colleges, and in-state and out-of-state schools.

Program Format

Program formats can have a major impact on a student’s educational experience. Prospective learners must decide on part-time vs. full-time schedules and asynchronous vs. synchronous delivery. They also should see if accelerated program options are available.


When choosing online or on-campus programs, prospective learners should look into the differences in tuition. Some distance learners pay the same rate as on-campus students. Travel costs and schedules also must be considered. Online learners need to know what, if any, on-campus or in-person requirements exist. Many online schools require a residency component during a student’s practicum or internship.


College accreditation can tell students, employers, and institutions that a school and program meet appropriate industry or regional standards. Schools should have regional accreditation. For a master’s in school counseling, students can look for program accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Student Support

Available student support can be a strong indicator of school quality. Prospective students should look at the available student services, both on campus and in online programs. These include college mentor programs and college internships. Other services like tutoring, wellness services, and industry events also can benefit learners.

Best Accredited Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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North Carolina State University at Raleigh

LocationRaleigh, NC

A public university located in Raleigh, NC State offers a mostly online master of education in school counseling. The program helps students develop the skills needed to support K-12 students, alongside an opportunity to explore clinical counseling.

The 60-credit online program follows a part-time cohort model where students take courses throughout the year. Course topics include multicultural counseling, gender issues in counseling, and crisis counseling.

All students must complete a 12-credit internship and a three-credit practicum experience. Graduating students qualify to sit for a professional licensure exam in the state of North Carolina. During their final year, students must attend some weekend classes on campus.

NC State holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. This school counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Education in School Counseling
School Status: Public
Tuition: $462 per credit (in-state); $1,311 per credit (out-of-state)
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online with some on-campus class requirements

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: GRE or MAT required (waived through fall 2022)

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.View School Profile2

University of Southern California

LocationLos Angeles, CA

A private university located in Los Angeles, USC offers an online master of education in school counseling. Key focus areas of the curriculum include college and career readiness, restorative justice, and trauma-informed practice. The program helps students achieve the pupil personnel services: school counseling credential in California.

The 49-credit program includes courses that cover topics like learning and individual differences, theories in counseling, and cross-cultural counseling. Students must also complete a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship.

USC is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Education in School Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,995 per credit
Credit Requirements: 49 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum recommended
Standardized Tests: Not required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.View School Profile3

Wake Forest University

LocationWinston-Salem, NC

A private university located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest offers an online master’s in school counseling. The 60-credit program requires students to complete 30 credits of foundational and core courses and 30 credits in the school counseling speciality.

Core course topics include advanced counseling skills and crisis management, group procedures in counseling, and family counseling, while speciality courses cover topics like appraisal procedures for counselors. Students must also complete a practicum, an internship experience, and a capstone course.

Wake Forest is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. This school counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master’s in School Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,510 per credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.5 minimum required
Standardized Tests: Minimum GRE score of 300 required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.View School Profile4

University of Louisiana at Monroe

LocationMonroe, LA

A public university in northern Louisiana, ULM offers an online master of science in counseling with a school counseling track. Graduating students qualify for school counseling certification and licensed professional counselor licensure.

The 60-credit program offers courses in law and ethics in counseling, diagnostics in counseling, lifespan development, and multicultural counseling. To qualify for graduation, students must also complete a 100-hour practicum and 600 hours of internship experience. The program also includes nine credits of electives, which students can use to pursue one of two focus areas: marriage and family or pediatric.

ULM is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. This counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Science in Counseling With a School Counseling Track
School Status: Public
Tuition: $500 per credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.75 minimum required
Standardized Tests: GRE required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.View School Profile5

Concordia University-Nebraska

LocationSeward, NE

Based in Seward, Concordia offers an online master of arts in school counseling program. Students can choose from two tracks: a track for certified teachers (50 credits) and a track for those without a teaching license (62 credits).

Course topics include foundations of school counseling, trauma and crisis intervention, and ethical and legal issues in school counseling. The program also requires students to complete a 100-hour practicum, 450 hours of supervised internship, and a capstone course.

The program culminates with professional PK-12 certification in Nebraska and follows guidelines established by the American School Counselor Association. Concordia is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in School Counseling
School Status: Private
Tuition: $425 per credit
Credit Requirements: 50 or 62 credits
Program Length: 2-3 years
Format: Online

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: Not required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.View School Profile6

Harding University

LocationSearcy, AR7

University of North Dakota

LocationGrand Forks, ND8

University of Missouri-Columbia

LocationColumbia, MO9

University of St Thomas

LocationHouston, TX10

Seton Hall University

LocationSouth Orange, NJ

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