If you care deeply for others and have strong academic skills, a career in counseling could be a perfect fit. Careers in counseling focus on individuals and their relationships with others and themselves. You'll study the way the human mind functions, while training to assess and intervene in psychological problems.
Counseling is an expanding career field that needs highly educated and licensed professionals. Counselors focus their careers on one area of counseling psychology and may work independently or as part of a team. Common fields include addiction counseling, clinical therapists, mental health counselors, school counselors, marriage and family counselors, and life coaches.
In many states, obtaining a counselor's license means earning a doctorate of philosophy in psychology or an equivalent degree. Our list of the Top 10 Affordable Online Master's Degrees in Counseling highlights programs developed by leading schools committed to helping students launch their careers.
Featured Online Programs
The programs featured here focus on helping students who already have a bachelor's or master's degree obtain the skills and qualifications for leadership positions as counseling psychologists. The degree programs offer a combination of delivery methods, with some programs being entirely online and others supplementing online coursework with weekend-long intensive sessions.
As a terminal degree, students can expect to build strong research skills as they develop a doctoral dissertation. In many cases, degree candidates can look forward to hands-on training through practicum experiences and internships.
Students considering psychology counseling are picking a great time to do so. The demand for psychologists with advanced degrees is increasing, and that means well-paid job openings will be easy to come by as long as the candidate comes with the right qualifications.
Payscale reports an average annual salary of $71,000 for individuals with a graduate degree in counseling. Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects above-average career growth in the field, with more than 26,000 new counseling careers available in the next ten years.
Ranking Methodology: "It's science!"
The researchers and writers at Best Master's Degrees don't make recommendations based upon preference – we back our rankings with science. Here's a quick breakdown of how we organize ranking data:
- Finances (40%)
- Academic Rigor (35%)
- Student Gratification (25%)
Nearly half of the data used to score each ranking involves finances and are acquired from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, Glassdoor, and PayScale. Financial data encompasses the cost of tuition, fees, and class supplied; the average price of living; access to financial aid and social services; and lastly, the projected annual salary acquired from degree outcomes and income for loan repayment. The second largest category of information involves the quality of education, how competitive degree applicants should be for consideration, and how exclusive a degree program is overall. The final 25% of collected data is dependent on student and alumni reviews from sources such as PayScale, Rate My Professor, and Students Review.
Want to Learn More?
The amount of information available for specific degrees is plentiful, and Best Master's Degrees aims to provide as many resources as we can. Check out our Methodology page for more information and resource links.
#10 – Fordham University
Counseling Psychology, Doctor of Philosophy
Grow your skills as a counseling practitioner with the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program at Fordham University. The program provides students with a strong background in research and clinical counseling. Due in part to its rigorous curriculum, the program holds accreditation from the American Psychological Association and boasts a leading pass rate for the psychology licensing examination. Students entering the program with a bachelor's degree will complete 96 credits and earn a Mental Health Counseling master's degree on the way to the doctorate. Students who hold a master's degree before joining the program will complete 45 credits in total. Applicants will need to have completed their undergraduate degrees with a 3.0 GPA, and graduate degrees with a GPA of 3.5 Graduate Record Examination score are also required. The curriculum consists of core psychology courses, along with a doctoral research core, and a dissertation seminar. Additionally, students take part in a year-long research apprenticeship sponsored by a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $50,986
#9 – Hampton University
Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
The Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision offered by Hampton University delivers the leadership students need to excel in their field. Students will be exposed to foundational counseling concepts as they learn methods for clinical practice and supervision. Concentrations in school counseling and mental health counseling are offered. The program is offered as an accelerated degree, consisting of 64 credit hours. Classes are completed in 16 weeks, and students can typically earn their degrees in three and a half years. Students will take such courses as Analysis of Behavioral Data, Counseling Leadership and Advocacy, Grant Writing, and Qualitative Methods of Research. Students also complete a counseling practicum while also developing an original doctoral dissertation. Students seeking admission to the program will need to submit a recent score from the Graduate Record Examination along with any licensures or credentials the applicant has earned. Financial aid is available for qualified students.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $25,441
#8 – Regent University
Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling & Psychological Studies
Virginia Beach, VA
Regent University offers the Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling & Psychological Studies to students seeking a fulfilling career that benefits their communities. The degree is earned entirely through online courses, lasting 16-weeks for each session. While the degree does not lead to North American professional accreditation, students will complete coursework in research, statistics, psychometrics, and Christian leadership. Many concentrations are offered, giving students a variety of opportunities to achieve their personal career goals. Concentrations, including Addictions Counseling, Pastoral Counseling, Research, Life Coaching, Grief Counseling, and Marriage & Family Ministry are available. All students will complete a series of core courses that explore topics in addiction, grant writing, research methods, statistics, and more. Students will complete both a doctoral dissertation and a capstone in Psychological Sciences & Christian Thought. The program is offered to candidates with a regionally-accredited master's degree in a mental health field and at least one year of relevant work experience.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $17,288
#7 – University of Iowa
Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology
Iowa City, IA
Train as a researcher and practitioner with the Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology offered by the University of Iowa's College of Education. Degree candidates complete 103 semester hours, including 12 hours dedicated to producing a doctoral dissertation. The degree features coursework in several topic areas, including a college-wide research requirement, core psychological competencies, counseling, and electives. Students add to their professional experience with a practicum sequence and a yearlong predoctoral internship. The degree can only be completed on a full-time basis, and most students will complete their studies within six years. In addition to the practicum, internship, and dissertation, students will also take a comprehensive examination. Each fall the university welcomes applicants who hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally-accredited college or university with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Official scores from the Graduate Record Examination must also be submitted to be considered for admission.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,965 / $30,609
#6 – University of the Cumberlands
Doctorate of Educational Leadership in Counselor Education & Supervision
Grow as a leader and practitioner with the fully-accredited Doctorate of Educational Leadership in Counselor Education & Supervision at the University of the Cumberlands. Candidates earning the degree will qualify for advanced positions in higher education teaching, counseling, or administrative roles in behavioral health settings. Students can enhance their studies through five specializations, including Addiction, Advanced Counseling, Leadership, Assessment, and Christian Ministries. The program's curriculum focuses on three areas: a leadership core, professional research, and specialty area content. In total, students will earn 57 credit hours. Leadership courses include topics in online counseling, ethical and legal issues in counselor education, and leadership and advocacy. Students get significant professional training through the research component, which includes an advanced clinical practicum and a two-part clinical internship. To complete the degree, students will also produce and defend a research dissertation. The program holds current accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $23,000
#5 – University of West Georgia
Doctor of Education in Professional Counseling and Supervision
The University of West Georgia offers the Doctor of Education in Professional Counseling and Supervision to counseling professionals who are dedicated to improving the lives of others. Each summer, the program welcomes a cohort of 12 students who embark on one of the two degree tracks available. Students with graduate experience in counseling or a related field will take part in a 39-credit-hour track, including a dissertation. Students lacking in graduate-level training in counseling will embark on a 60-credit-hour track that includes four electives. Coursework covers issues in professional research, program evaluation, and ethical leadership. All coursework is completed online except for a required on-campus orientation held during the student's first semester. The program features a strong focus on building practical clinical skills, which are enhanced through a required doctoral practicum in supervision and a two-semester, 300-clock-hour doctoral internship. Minimum requirements for admission include a graduate degree in counseling or a related field and a current license in counseling. The university holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $6,226 / $17,010
#4 – Oregon State University
Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling
Students seeking advanced training to deliver cutting-edge psychological services should consider the Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling from Oregon State University. The degree program is open to candidates with a master's degree in counseling or a related field who are pursuing careers as advanced practitioners, clinical supervisors, or in higher education. The program is offered in a hybrid format. Students will take classes in person for the first two years while completing online courses during the third year. In-person classes meet for one weekend twice a semester at the university's Portland,OR, campus. Online courses are both synchronous and asynchronous and utilize a learning management program to deliver quizzes and assignments. The program's curriculum focuses on research and publication, supervision, career counseling, assessment, diversity and social justice, and counselor education. Students also take part in a practicum and internship that build on students' core competencies and skills. However, the degree does not lead to professional licensure. The program is offered by OSU's Ecampus and holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,797 / $10,967 / $29,457
#3 – Liberty University
Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision
The Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision from Liberty University is a convenient online degree program that will help you develop your talents as a mental health practitioner. Students train in advanced counseling methods, counselor education, supervision, and leadership and advocacy. As a terminal degree, students will also demonstrate their research and scholarship skills through advanced research seminars and the development of a doctoral dissertation. The program includes a one-week intensive component, which provides opportunities for networking and collaboration among faculty and students. The program consists of 60 to 66 hours. Students begin their studies with core courses in group counseling, supervision and consultation, counseling leadership, and research. The program's professional practice requirement includes both teaching and supervision internships and a practicum. The program accepts applications from students with graduate degrees in areas other than counseling. However, students will need to complete a series of graduate-level prerequisites before proceeding on to the degree's core curriculum. Liberty University's online counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $21,310
#2 – University of Maryland
Counseling Psychology, Doctor of Philosophy
College Park, MD
Prepare for a diverse range of advanced counseling careers with the Counseling Psychology, Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Maryland. Students will gain the qualifications to enter the counseling profession as academics, researchers, or practitioners. The degree program accepts candidates who hold a bachelor's degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. The program also requires students to submit scores from a recent graduate entrance examination. Students will take classes in statistics while completing a sequence of core psychological courses. Topics included in the core cover the biological bases of behavior, theories of personality, social bases of behavior, and the history of mental health and psychological science. In addition to coursework, students train in a series of didactic practicum experiences focusing on counseling psychology, group interventions, counseling supervision, and career interventions. Students will also conduct an internship in counseling psychology, along with writing an original doctoral dissertation. Since 1953, the degree has been accredited by the American Psychological Association.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,399 / $33,606
#1 – Lehigh University
Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology
The Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology from Lehigh University helps students grow into competent professional counselors. Students may collaborate with faculty on cutting-edge mental health research while preparing for a yearlong internship that prepares students to begin their careers as licensed counseling psychologists. The full-time program includes 102 credits, of which 30 are offered at the master's level and 72 at the doctoral level. Candidates joining the program who have already earned a graduate degree may waive the 30 masters-level credits with advisor approval. The university's College of Education accepts applications from students with a minimum 3.0 GPA from their undergraduate studies and a recent score from the Graduate Record Examination. Students will study concepts in research methods, counseling assessment, therapies, and diversity and multicultural issues. Advanced coursework includes such subjects as biological psychology, social psychology, and counseling psychology. Students also take part in a four-part advanced practicum and a two-part research apprenticeship, before completing their degrees with a doctoral research project and original dissertation. Depending on course load, students generally complete their degrees within four to five years. The program is accredited by the American Psychological Association.