2019 Best Online Counseling Bachelor's Degrees
Students can select from 102 schools offering online counseling programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. Our lists of the best online master's and best online bachelor's programs in counseling highlight schools with low tuition rates and comparatively high alumni salaries, as reported by PayScale.
Before enrolling in a counseling degree program, online students should research state licensure requirements and accreditation to make sure they are choosing the right educational track for their career goals. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the primary accrediting agency for counseling degrees, and CACREP-accredited programs meet rigorous educational standards and prepare students to acquire national certification after they take the National Counselor Exam (NCE).
Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Counseling Degrees (102)
Annual Tuition: $11,581 - $16,246
176 Programs, 2 Certificates in Counseling
|Full List||Accreditation||Annual Tuition||Recommend Rate|
|Full List (97)|
|SACS COC||$33,330||100% (6 reviews)|
61 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|SACS COC||$16,136||Add Review|
45 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|HLC||$6,880||71% (146 reviews)|
462 Programs, 2 Certificates in Counseling
|HLC||$15,691 - $27,372||71% (88 reviews)|
226 Programs, 3 Certificates in Counseling
|SACS COC||$17,140||Add Review|
35 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|HLC||$25,942||100% (4 reviews)|
160 Programs, 3 Certificates in Counseling
|HLC||$36,210||100% (1 review)|
59 Programs, 2 Certificates in Counseling
|NWCCU||$22,642||100% (1 review)|
49 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|MSCHE||$15,326||80% (15 reviews)|
108 Programs, 3 Certificates in Counseling
|SACS COC||$25,400||50% (2 reviews)|
77 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|HLC||$14,250||65% (581 reviews)|
232 Programs, 5 Certificates in Counseling
31 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|NWCCU||$16,920||54% (28 reviews)|
67 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|MSCHE||$15,636||100% (3 reviews)|
68 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
17 Programs, 2 Certificates in Counseling
|HLC||$28,903||100% (5 reviews)|
81 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
87 Programs, 2 Certificates in Counseling
|SACS COC||$16,920||20% (5 reviews)|
55 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|HLC||$28,600||67% (3 reviews)|
100 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|WASC WSCUC||$34,100||0% (1 review)|
32 Programs, 2 Certificates in Counseling
|SACS COC||$27,480||Add Review|
164 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|SACS COC||$23,420||100% (4 reviews)|
120 Programs, 4 Certificates in Counseling
32 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|MSCHE||$14,668||100% (2 reviews)|
30 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
|SACS COC||$17,276||100% (4 reviews)|
51 Programs, 1 Certificate in Counseling
2019 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Counseling Degrees
The best 10 online colleges for a bachelor's degree in counseling are located on the list below. Alumni of the #1 choice, Union College - KY, reported an average salary of $83,100. Tuition is $6,750 per year for a Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling. The most affordable option on the list is Fort Hays State University, ranked at #7 this year, offering a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology-Addictions Counseling for $6,560 per year.
|Rank||School||Annual Tuition||Median Salary|
- Annual Tuition: $6,750
- Median Salary: $83,100
Union College- Kentucky offers an online Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma and a minimum GPA of 2.0. Transfer students also need a 2.0 GPA and may transfer up to 90 credits. The major is 39 of the total 120 credits required for the degree. Academic terms last eight weeks. Among the courses in the program are Foundations of Chemical Dependency, Ethical Issues in Chemical Dependency, Recovery and Relapse, and Drugs and Society. Online tuition is $225 per credit. Advanced students may combine the B.S. program with a master's and finish both in five years. Union strongly emphasizes its location and the region's Appalachian heritage and context, both in admission and curriculum. The school has a Methodist affiliation.
- Annual Tuition: $11,329
- Median Salary: $69,600
Washington State University features an online Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a focus in Clinical Counseling. It is offered by WSU's Global Campus. The psychology major is 35 credits, with six credits required in the focus area. Freshman admission requires a minimum GPA of 2.5 and SAT or ACT scores. Transfer students must also have a 2.5 GPA and may transfer up to 90 credits. The program focus is on enabling students to identify and deal with human problems and sets students up for admission into graduate psychology study. Courses include Health Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Behavioral Disorders of Children and Adolescents. Online Global Campus tuition per credit is $507 for residents and $565 for non-residents.
- Annual Tuition: $14,070
- Median Salary: $59,700
Colorado Christian University, an interdenominational Christian institution, offers an online Bachelor of Science in Psychology with an emphasis in Clinical Counseling. Freshman admission requires a diploma, a minimum GPA of 2.8, and SAT or ACT scores. Transfer students also need a 2.8 GPA and may transfer in up to 90 credits. All applicants also need a strong spiritual recommendation letter. The major is 36 credits of the 120 credits required for the degree. The program’s focus is on integrating the study of psychology and the Christian worldview. Courses include Interpersonal Relationships, Spiritual Formation for Counseling, and Empathy Training. Credits may be awarded for prior learning and life experience. Online courses are usually completed in five-week blocks. Tuition per credit is $569, or $250 for military members.
- Annual Tuition: $22,545
- Median Salary: $59,300
Drexel University features an online Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Counseling, offered through the College of Nursing and Health Professions. Freshman admission requires a minimum GPA of 2.5 and SAT or ACT scores. The GED is also accepted. Transfer students also need a minimum GPA of 2.5 and may transfer in up to 90 semester credits (135 quarter credits). The major is 69 credits of the total 180 credits required for the degree (Drexel is on the quarter system). The program prepares students for careers in mental health and addiction treatment. Students can also earn Certificates of Advanced Study that signify special skills. Some of the courses offered include Psychopharmacology for Counselors, Introduction to Addictive Disorders. and Problem Gambling Addictions. Tuition is $501 per credit unit.
- Annual Tuition: $12,600
- Median Salary: $56,000
Corban University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a concentration in Pre-Counseling/ Clinical. This major is primarily designed to prepare students for graduate study. Freshmen admission requires a diploma and a minimum GPA of 2.7. Transfer students need a minimum GPA of 2.0. Admission also requires a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. The program focuses on providing Christians with professional skills. The Psychology major requires 27 core credits and 15 credits in the specialization. Among the courses offered are Counseling Skills, Abnormal Psychology, Lifespan Development, and Marital/ Premarital Counseling. Tuition is $420 per credit unit. The school is non-denominational and is located in Salem, Oregon.
- Annual Tuition: $11,700
- Median Salary: $50,300
Liberty University offers four Bachelor of Science degrees related to counseling. Three are B.S. in Psychology programs: Addiction and Recovery, Christian Counseling, and Crisis Counseling. The fourth is the B.S. in Religion: Christian Counseling. The programs’ aim is to educate students to become professional counselors with a Christian perspective. Freshman admission requires a diploma and a minimum GPA of 2.0. Transfer students also need a 2.0 GPA and may transfer in up to 90 credits. The degrees require 120 credits; the major accounts for 36 credits. The core courses include Psychology and Christianity, Principles of Crisis Response, and Christian Counseling of Children. Tuition per credit hour is $455. The school is nondenominational Christian and is located in Lynchburg, Virginia.
- Annual Tuition: $6,560
- Median Salary: $47,600
Fort Hays State University features both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with a concentration in Addiction Counseling. These online programs forge a path to becoming a licensed addiction counselor in Kansas; students should check their own states' licensing requirements. Freshman admission requires a diploma and a minimum GPA of 2.0. Transfer students also need a 2.0 GPA and may transfer in up to 90 credits. The degrees require a minimum of 121 credits, including 21 core credits in Sociology and 30 credits in the Addiction track. The program courses include Grant Writing, Psychopathology of Addiction, and Ethics in Addiction Counseling. Online tuition is $218.67 per credit. The school is military friendly and is located in Hays, Kansas.
- Annual Tuition: $12,150
- Median Salary: $47,500
New England College offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with concentrations in Addiction and Substance Abuse, and Marriage Therapy and Family Counseling. The programs focus on understanding the dynamics of problems and ways to solve them. Admission requires a diploma and a minimum GPA of 2.0, or the GED. Transfer students also need a minimum GPA of 2.0 and may transfer in up to 90 credits. Credits are also awarded for life and work experience. The degrees are 120 credits, with 16 credits in Psychology and 16 credits in the concentration. Courses include Understanding Trauma and Addiction, Marriage Psychology, and Counseling and Therapy. Tuition is $405 per credit hour. NEC is located in Henniker, New Hampshire.
- Annual Tuition: $12,000
- Median Salary: $46,600
Bay Path University offers two online Bachelor of Arts degrees in counseling. They are the B.A. in Psychology- Counseling Foundations and the B.A. in Psychology- Foundations in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling. These are administered by Bay Path's The American Women's College (TAWC), whose mission is to "empower women to achieve success." Admission is flexible, usually requiring a 2.0 GPA and a diploma or GED. The degrees are 120 credits, with 42 in the Psychology core and 42 in the major. Completion fulfills the academic portion of the requirements for certification as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. The programs’ focus is on exploring and identifying the causes of problems. Bay Path is located in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
- Annual Tuition: $8,730
- Median Salary: $39,500
The University of Maine at Augusta offers an online Bachelor of Science in Mental Health and Human Services degree with concentrations in Addiction Counseling and Adult Mental Health Rehabilitation. The degree is a minimum of 121 credit hours, with 69 credit hours of program major courses. Freshman admission requires a diploma and a minimum GPA of 2.0 or GED/HiSet test scores. Transfer students must also have a minimum GPA of 2.0. Credit for prior learning and experience is available. The Addiction Counseling program meets academic requirements for the Licensed Social Worker-Conditional credential, and completing the Mental Health program qualifies students for the Mental Health Rehabilitation/Community credential. Online tuition per credit hour is $233 for Maine residents and $291 for out-of-state residents.
Online Counseling Degree Overview & Career Information
Online graduate certificates and master’s degrees are the most commonly available counseling programs and generally prepare students for state licensure. Each state determines its own set of standards for licensed counselors, and the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) contracts with all of the states to administer the licensing exam. Students should review their state's requirements in order to determine which degree program is best suited for their professional goals.
Online bachelor’s degree programs in counseling typically focus on substance abuse, addictions, or human behavior. While a bachelor's degree in counseling will provide an introduction to the field, most states require that counselors have at least a master's degree in order to become licensed.
Master’s degree programs allow prospective counselors to specialize in a particular area, such as marriage and family or mental health counseling. Coursework varies greatly depending on the specialization, but most programs that prepare graduates for direct client assessment require supervised counseling practicums, fieldwork, and internship experience.
Doctoral degrees are designed for current counselors who want to advance in their careers, either as educators, advanced practitioners, researchers, or supervisors in counseling settings. Advanced classes within the doctorate generally cover topics such as counseling assessment, group counseling, supervising, counseling diverse populations, and counseling curriculum development.
While most counselors have a graduate degree such as a master's, PhD, or PsyD, many take the first step in their career with a two-year associate degree in counseling. Associate degree holders in counseling may be able to find general counseling work that doesn't require a specialty certification, such as addition, career or life counseling. However, they will find they are most competitive in the job market if they go on to complete a full bachelor's degree.
Associate degrees in counseling are offered by community colleges, usually consist of 60 credit hours, and take about two years to complete. Credits earned in an associate degree can often be used towards a full four-year bachelor's degree. Applicants to an online associate level counseling program may need to submit transcripts from high school or a GED certificate and transcripts from any college courses they have taken at other institutions. Some colleges also have minimum GPA requirements for applicants.
An associate degree in counseling usually requires general education courses in math, science, and liberal arts with five or more courses in psychology or counseling. At minimum, students need a high school diploma or equivalent to start their associate degree. While work experience is not necessary, counseling students might be interested in volunteering at clinics in their counseling area of interest. Specialty counseling, which would require a master's degree and some form of certification, includes marriage and family counseling, personal growth counseling, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and some formalized areas of addiction counseling.
Online undergraduate programs in counseling follow the standard admissions protocol and require a high school diploma, SAT/ACT scores, a resume, and letters of recommendation. Online graduate counseling degree programs accept undergraduate majors in a wide variety of areas, although experience with psychology and sociology coursework is helpful.
Students who choose to earn bachelor's degrees in counseling will study general psychology and sociology, and they will also take a broader array of classes in math, sciences, communications, and social sciences. The classes students take as undergraduates will often mirror the courses they will take as graduate students, but the undergraduate curriculum revolves around learning existing theories rather than developing one's own ideas and techniques. Students gain a firm foundation in psychology and sociology through classes such as child development, addiction, abnormal psychology, and emotional disorders. Other courses discuss particular counseling issues, such as case management, drugs and behavior, substance abuse recovery, counseling skills, and counselor ethics. Many counseling bachelor's programs also include field experience requirements, where students observe experienced counselors and practice basic counseling skills in a supervised setting.
A four-year bachelor's degree may lead to positions in substance abuse or behavioral disorder counseling or nonclinical positions in human services or helping professions, but it alone will not qualify graduates to become a licensed counselor in most states. In order to become a licensed counselor, students will need to pursue a master's or doctoral degree in counseling.
The online Master of Arts (MA) in counseling is the minimum educational requirement for state licensure in most professional counseling positions, including school, marriage and family, addiction, clinical mental health, and career counseling. It is also the minimum educational requirement for national certification by the National Board for Certified Counselors. To learn more about online master's programs in counseling, see our master's overview which includes a list of the best programs.
Master's-level counselors may choose to pursue pursue an online doctorate, or PhD, in order to become counselor supervisors, researchers, and educators.
Online PhDs and other doctoral counseling programs take three to five years to complete. In order to be eligible to apply, prospective students must already have a master's degree in counseling or a closely related field. Depending upon the school, applicants may be required to submit transcripts, personal statements, standardized test scores, and/or letters of recommendation.
Research techniques, psychological statistics, human learning, behavioral neuroscience, developmental psychology, and social psychology are some common course options. Along with studying psychological systems, students also undertake a large dissertation research project in an area of counseling psychology that interests them, such as vocational psychology, individual and family counseling, or diagnosis and treatment. Graduates can go on to research and teach counseling at the college level, while others oversee counselors in group practices.
Doctoral degrees require the completion of a dissertation and an extensive research paper on the student's topic of choice. Most students who seek these degrees have a topic in mind, and they will dedicate years to finishing their work. Highly advanced coursework is also expected, and most doctoral students are already working as school counselors and psychologists, providing them with experience on which to base their learning.
A wide variety of online counseling certificate programs are available to students and professionals who wish to work toward licensure or a graduate degree, or who just want to advance their current understanding of counseling for professional or personal reasons. The types of certificates that are available vary greatly in subject matter, duration, and requirements, but most require at least a bachelor's degree and last approximately six months to one year. For example, invididuals with a bachelor's degree may pursue a certificate in clinical mediation counseling, college admissions counseling, pastoral counseling, or drug and alcohol counseling as part of a graduate school track or simply to enhance their professional counseling skills.
A family counseling or lay counseling certificate might be a good option for community leaders and care-giving professionals with a variety of academic backgrounds, such as physicians, campus residential advisors, pastors, social workers, or nurses. Advanced or clinical mental health counseling certificates are typically designed for people with a master's degree who must meet specific educational requirements in order to earn or renew a state license.
Online graduate counseling degrees offer courses that help students better understand how to interact with diverse populations. Psychology and sociology courses are offered with a variety of titles and will probably play a role in every class a counseling student takes. Because counselors are bound by legal parameters, graduate students will likely study these parameters, as well as the ethics and legal procedures that govern their work. Some counselors will take classes in general social work and cultural studies as well, so they can prepare for work in settings that serve populations in need. Students may also take courses that explore counseling procedures and theories, including group and individual counseling sessions.
The subjects that online students take are essentially the same as those in traditional schools; both types of students will complete extensive reading and writing assignments, but traditional students have more opportunities for role play, group work, and discussion. Online students must be comfortable working alone, and they may need to take more responsibility for their licensure process by finding an apprenticeship in a local school, clinic, or community agency to get the hours they need.
In order to gain the hands-on experience that an expert counselor needs, all quality online graduate counseling degrees require a practicum and internship experience. Practicums put students in mock counseling settings, which allow them to work on their counseling skills in low-stakes situations. Internships in a counseling office allow students to shadow experienced counselors and practice their counseling skills under the watchful eye of a professional. The amount of fieldwork required will depend on the state in which the training takes place and the type of counseling the student specializes in.
The following list provides examples of some of the general courses covered in an online graduate counseling degree program:
- Clinical Assessment: Students learn about different tools, such as standardized questionnaires, which can be used to determine a patient's diagnosis.
- Counseling Psychology: This class discusses how personality and personal interaction can manifest in the client-counselor relationship. Students learn different methods for working with clients, depending on what the client wants to get out of counseling.
- Ethics: Since counselors have the ability to make a deep impact on their clients, both in a positive and negative way, they must be careful to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards at all times.
- Evidence-Based Counseling: Students learn how to use evidence and counseling research to improve their therapy practice. Students study different interventions and findings and apply research in a clinical setting.
- Group and Family Therapy: Students practice methods for interviewing, assessing, and treating groups of individuals.
- Interviewing: This course covers methods of initial interactions with clients to determine the problems they are facing and the results they hope to achieve with therapy.
- Lifespan Development: This course discusses how people change from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood and old age. All aspects of development are covered, such as cognitive, physical, and emotional development.
Licensure refers to the set of laws and regulations that professional counselors must follow, as determined by each US state. Most states require that all mental health counselors complete an accredited master's degree program and two years of supervised training (or 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised fieldwork) in addition to passing a state licensing exam before they are allowed to work with clients. Licensing standards for counselors vary from state to state, so it is important that prospective counseling students consult their state's regulatory board to learn about their particular requirements. The American Counseling Association provides information about the licensure requirements for each US state.
Professional certification for counselors is optional, but it serves as a way for professional organizations, employers, and clients to recognize whether a counselor is competent, educated, and adheres to a strict code of ethics. Certification may also improve job prospects and increase your salary.
The two primary certification agencies for counselors are the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). NBCC offers a national certification for the broad counseling profession (NCC, or National Certified Counselor) and specialty certifications for mental health counselors (CCMHC), school counselors (NCSC), and addictions counselors (MAC), while CRCC offers certification for rehabilitation counselors (CRC). Certification in any of these categories requires a master's degree, supervised clinical experience, and a certain number of approved continuing education courses every five years in order to remain current.
In most counseling professions, practitioners must have a state-issued license or credential in order to work with clients; to earn this license, students must graduate from an accredited master's or doctoral degree program. Accredited programs are those that are deemed to be properly established and meet the standards approved by the profession. Accredited counseling programs are the most tailored to providing you with the right skills and knowledge needed to pass a state licensing exam. Graduates of CACREP-accredited programs are also immediately qualified to acquire national certification from the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) upon passing the National Counselor Examination (NCE).
While it is not strictly required that students attend an accredited school to obtain a master’s degree in counseling, it is strongly recommended because doing so will open up better employment opportunities, help with state licensure, and make it easier to work in a different state. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) evaluates graduate counseling programs to ensure that they meet the highest educational and professional standards. Currently, CACREP accredits master's degree programs in the following counseling disciplines: addiction, career, clinical mental health, marriage, couple, and family, school, and student affairs and college counseling.
There are also accreditation agencies that only accredit programs of a certain type or within a particular discipline. For example, the Comission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) accredits programs specifically in marriage and family therapy, whereas the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Counsel (MPCAC) accredits only master's programs. Accreditation from both of these agencies can be taken as a sign that the program is of high quality and will provide students with the information they need to become capable counselors.
Counseling is a broad profession that plays a role in many settings and populations, so a wide variety of career specializations are available. Possible settings include community agencies, schools, universities and community colleges, hospitals, and private practice. Counselors may also travel within the community to see clients. Although a master's degree in counseling is necessary to become a licensed counselor, graduates with a high school or bachelor's degree and relevant experience may qualify for the following counseling-related positions:
- Social and Community Service Manager: Community organizations and social services departments require managers who understand complicated cultural and social dynamics and can help their employees better serve their clients.
- Social and Human Service Assistant: Counselors and social workers utilize social and human service assistants to help them find and apply for benefits and community services for their clients. These assistants may also help the patients under the guidance of a licensed counselor or social worker.
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor: Depending on the setting and the state in which they work, graduates with a bachelor's degree may qualify for a position as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor. They work with individuals and groups with addictions or other behavioral disorders by providing therapy, designing treatment and recovery plans, and helping them manage stress in a healthy way.
The following specializations are just a sample of the many careers available to counseling graduates with a master's degree and a state-issued license:
- Career Counselors: Career counselors help recent graduates and mid-career professionals assess and evaluate their interests, strengths, and goals in order to select a new profession. They also advise clients regarding resumes, interviews, networking, decision-making, and general job-search skills.
- Clinical Mental Health Counselors: These counselors provide a wide range of mental health services and help clients better understand their own behavior. Counselors work with people who are experiencing mental illness, as well as people who have experienced trauma or setbacks in life, such as divorce or grief. They also provide diagnoses and treatment, as well as prevention plans.
- Marriage, Couple, and Family Counselors: These counselors evaluate individual and group dynamics within the family system and help define the roles and behaviors that contribute to difficult situations or transitions. They often provide group therapy, help clients set goals and make decisions, and create strategies to change behaviors.
- American Counseling Association. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.counseling.org.
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.cacrep.org.
- Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm.
- National Board for Certified Counselors. Accessed March 6, 2018. www.nbcc.org.
- Coursework: Clinical Mental Health Counseling. University of San Diego. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.sandiego.edu/soles/academics/ma-counseling-clinical-mental-health/coursework.php.
- Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy Specialization. Capella University. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/masters-marriage-family-therapy/courses/.
- Master of Science in Marriage, Family & Child Counseling. San Francisco State University. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://counseling.sfsu.edu/content/master-science-marriage-family-child-counseling-mft.
- School and Career Counselors. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm#tab-1.
- School Counseling - MSEd. Hunter College. Accessed March 6, 2018. http://catalog.hunter.cuny.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=3&poid=345&returnto=121.
- What is Professional Counseling?. American Counseling Association. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://www.counseling.org/aca-community/learn-about-counseling/what-is-counseling/overview.