Online Master’s Degrees in Counseling and Psychology

Counselors provide expert advice and compassionate care to those who are struggling. From schools and hospitals to homes, they offer advice to clients at their most vulnerable. And due to their position of authority, many counselors are required to meet certain standards around education, fieldwork, and licensing before they are allowed to practice. While each individual domain of counseling has its own stipulations, practically all counselors are required to earn an advanced degree in their field of expertise.

While undergraduate degrees lay the foundation for work as a counselor, master’s degrees dive deeply into the specifics and nuances of a particular domain of study. Often these programs are a blend of both didactic learning and hands-on, supervised fieldwork. Through accreditation with authoritative agencies and alignment with state licensing requirements, many master’s programs in counseling and psychology model their curricula to a broad, peer-reviewed standards.

Thanks to the maturation of online degree programs, it’s never been easier to earn your master’s degree from home. Even when master’s programs in counseling or psychology include supervised fieldwork requirements, they can still be accessed from anywhere and faculty work with students to find local internship opportunities. However, due to state licensure requirements, it’s still important for prospective master’s students to compare a school’s curriculum with the licensing requirements of the state they eventually wish to practice in.

A master’s degree in counseling or psychology is a critical step on the path to making a career out of helping others. But choosing the right master’s program requires careful attention to detail.

Read on to get a comprehensive guide to online master’s degrees in counseling and psychology.

Types of Master’s Programs in Counseling & Psychology

Master’s programs in counseling and psychology are as varied as the clients counselors serve. Check our list below to get acquainted with the different types of programs.

  • Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling – These programs prepare graduates to work with persons and families affected by alcohol, drugs, gambling, and other addictive disorders.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis – These programs prepare graduates to counsel and empower children and adults with autism and other developmental disorders.
  • Career Counseling – These programs prepare graduates to help people make career decisions, taking into account personality, education, skills, and interests.
  • Clinical Mental Health Counseling – These programs prepare graduates to treat and diagnose a wide range of mental and emotional disorders, and to promote mental health and wellness.
  • Forensic Psychology – These programs prepare graduates to help people navigate mental health issues in prisons, juvenile detention centers, probation and parole agencies, and social service agencies.
  • Genetic Counseling – These programs prepare graduates to help individuals and families understand their genetic tests, as well as their implied diagnoses, prognoses, treatment options, and possible preventative strategies.
  • Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling – These programs prepare graduates to work with a family-system perspective across a variety of mental and emotional disorders.
  • Psychology – Master’s programs in psychology can prepare graduates for work and education in a variety of different fields. These programs can be offered as a master of science (MS), which often has a stronger research focus, or a master of arts (MA), which may have a stronger liberal arts focus. There is a wealth of subfields of master’s degrees in psychology, including social, clinical, developmental, cognitive, industrial, personality, and more.
  • Rehabilitation Counseling – These programs prepare graduates to help people with disabilities (cognitive, physical, sensory, psychiatric), and work through a variety of co-occurring mental health issues.
  • School Counseling – These programs prepare graduates to work with K-12 students in promoting a healthy academic, career, personal, and social development.
  • Sports Psychology – These programs prepare graduates to provide athletic and fitness coaching, counseling, and training at all levels of sports participation.

Online Counseling Master’s Program Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that the quality and content of a master’s program is up to professional standards. The two main accreditation authorities for master’s programs in counseling are the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits psychology programs, but only at the undergraduate and doctoral level. In lieu of industry accreditation, regional accrediting authorities are acceptable.

Please note that all accreditation bodies should be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Other reputable accreditation authorities include:

  • Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)
  • Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
  • National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC)

Typical Admissions Requirements for Master’s Programs in Counseling & Psychology

Admissions requirements for master’s programs in counseling and psychology will vary from program to program, but there are some commonalities. Typical admissions requirements include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); GMAT and/or GRE scores; letter(s) of recommendation; a phone or in-person interview; and a personal statement. Additionally, some programs will require that applicants have passed domain-specific undergraduate courses.

Supervised Clinical Hour Requirements – Master’s Degree Programs in Counseling and Psychology

In addition to didactic coursework, many counseling programs require their students to complete supervised and hands-on fieldwork. While this varies according to specialty and program, these experiences often take the form of a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. These in-person experiences are designed to conform with licensure requirements, and for online students, the program will usually work with them to find field placements that are local and convenient.

Do note that if you choose to pursue a specialized psychology degree but still wish to become a licensed counselor, you may need to fulfill your supervisory requirements outside of the psychology program. Be sure to check each program’s curriculum carefully.

Featured Online Master’s Degree Programs in Counseling

Arizona State University – New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (Forensic Psychology)

ASU’s online master of science in forensic psychology program provides working professionals with an understanding of mental health issues and human behavior with respect to the criminal justice system. Students receive specialized coursework in criminal law, criminal behavior, the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, and legal decision making. The program consists of 11 classes, totaling 33 credits.

While the program does not make its graduates eligible for licensure in clinical practice, it will open up opportunities for career advancement for those in the fields of law enforcement, corrections, and mental health.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $532 per credit (non-residents)

George Washington University – School of Education and Human Development (Rehabilitation Counseling)

A master of arts (MA) in rehabilitation counseling from George Washington University meets many states’ requirements for Certification as a Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) or Licensure as a Professional Counselor (LPC). Its graduates enjoy a 100 percent pass rate on the CRC exam, and a 100 percent employment rate within six months of program completion. The 48-credit curriculum is led by scholar-practitioner faculty, and prepares students for work as rehabilitation counselors across diverse populations and settings.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $850 per credit

University of South Dakota – Department of Addiction Counseling and Prevention (Addiction Counseling)

USD’s online master of arts in addiction counseling and prevention offers professional courses that lead to advanced competency as an addiction counselor. Graduates are eligible for the highest levels of licensure within South Dakota; non-residents should refer to the licensing board of the state in which they wish to practice. The USD program consists of 33 credits for the advanced track, and 45 credits for the standard track.

  • Location: Vermillion, SD
  • Duration: 18 to 36 months
  • Accreditation: National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC)
  • Tuition: $466 per credit

Drexel University – School of Education (Applied Behavior Analysis)

Drexel University’s online master of science (MS) in applied behavior analysis program teaches students to analyze, understand, and guide change in human behavior from a systematic, data-driven approach. The course sequence has been approved by the Association for Behavioral Analysis International (ABAI) for fulfilling the educational requirements of the Board Certified Behavior Analyst examination.

The program consists of 45 credits: 27 in core classes, 12 in autism spectrum disorder specialization classes, and six in action research. Drexel’s Field Placement Office assists students in finding in-person field experiences at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute and other regional mental and behavioral healthcare centers.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,006 per credit

North Carolina Central University (Career Counseling)

The master of arts (MA) in career counseling program at NCCU is the only CACREP-accredited, online, career-focused program in the nation. The curriculum prepares students to work as career development professionals across a variety of settings: from K-12 schools, to universities and colleges, to nonprofit organizations, to private companies. The 48-credit program is also an endorsed member of the International Registry of Counselor Education Programs (IRCEP).

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Duration: 24 to 36 months
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $921 per credit

New York University – Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (Clinical Mental Health)

The online master of arts in counseling for mental health and wellness at NYU equips graduates to help people from all backgrounds in living lives of health, wellness, and meaning. The curriculum consists of 60 graduate credits, an in-person immersion, a counseling lab, a 100-hour practicum, and a 600-hour internship.

Students complete the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE) during the last term of the program. The university also maintains a list of how its curriculum aligns with other states’ licensing requirements as well.

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Duration: 21 to 30 months
  • Accreditation: MPCAC
  • Tuition: $107,700 in total

Boise State University – College of Health Sciences (Genetic Counseling)

The online master of science in genetic counseling (MSGC) program at Boise State University blends in-person fieldwork with online course delivery. Students gain core knowledge of established and evolving medical and clinical genetics, while applying counseling skills in human genetics to patient care.

The program consists of 56 credits, and includes 675 hours of fieldwork. The curriculum also supports the development of practice-based competencies which will prepare students to pass the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) certification exam.

  • Location: Boise, ID
  • Duration: 21 months
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)
  • Tuition: $60,000 in total

Syracuse University – Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics (Marriage and Family Therapy)

The online master of arts in marriage and family therapy from Syracuse University meets all academic requirements for clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The program consists of 60 credits, a short on-campus residency, and a 500-hour clinical practicum in a student’s local community.

While this degree will facilitate licensure in marriage and family therapy, all applicants should review the precise requirements of the state in which they are interested in becoming licensed.

  • Location: Syracuse, NY
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $1,620 per credit

Pepperdine University – Graduate School of Education & Psychology (MA Psychology)

The master of arts in psychology program at Pepperdine University is structured by a clinical framework that will expose students to the essential theory and practice of psychology. Graduates of the program go on to careers in human services as well as doctoral study of psychology. The 36- to 48-credit program covers a wide range of different psychotherapy techniques, including industrial organizational psychology; career development theory; clinical interventions with children, adults, and adolescents; trauma in diverse populations; and theories of counseling and psychotherapy.

Online students attend seminar-style sessions in a virtual classroom with approximately 12 other students, and each class is taught by faculty members who bring in real-world experience and offer individual mentorship.

  • Location: Malibu, CA
  • Duration: 18 to 24 months
  • Accreditation: WSCUC
  • Tuition: $1,585 per credit

Arizona State University – New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (MS Psychology)

ASU’s master of science in psychology program is designed to give students an understanding of psychological theory and empirical research findings within the field, helping them pursue careers and additional graduate training. This is a rigorous, course-intensive program that requires writing and statistics, and is best suited for highly motivated individuals.

The 36-credit program includes courses such as professional issues in psychology; quantitative analysis; research methods; and a capstone in general psychology. Do note that the MS program is not a pre-clinical or counseling program, and graduates will need additional hands-on research experience before applying to doctoral programs.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Duration: 18 months
  • Accreditation: HLC
  • Tuition: $709 per credit

University of Southern California – Rossier School of Education (School Counseling)

USC’s online master of education in school counseling is designed for those who aspire to become school counselors in K-12 settings. It’s recognized as one that fulfills the recommendations for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s Pupil Personnel Services: School Counseling (PPS-SC) Credential.

Even for those outside California, earning this credential can be a competitive factor when applying for reciprocity in other states. The 49-unit program is structured around three key focus areas: college and career readiness, restorative justice, and trauma-informed practice. In addition to coursework, students will complete fieldwork in K-12 schools within their local community: a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: 24 to 36 months
  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
  • Tuition: $1,928 per unit

Adams State University – Department of Kinesiology (Sports Psychology)

Adams State University offers the first fully online master of science (MS) degree in applied sport psychology. The curriculum puts a strong focus on using a scientist-practitioner model that involves the identification of reciprocal relationships in theory, research, intervention, and practice. The 36-credit program prepares students to work towards certification as a certified mental performance consultant (CMPC) with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).

  • Location: Alamosa, CO
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Accreditation: HLC
  • Tuition: $423 per credit

Jobs With a Master’s Degree in Counseling

School Counselor

School counselors are members of a wider education team. They can work at any educational level from kindergarten to high school. Typical job duties include providing personalized academic, social, and developmental support to students. This can come in the form of choosing class schedules, selecting career goals, or connecting with ancillary resources. They may also organize school- or class-wide awareness programs around issues like bullying, eating disorders, or abuse.

Due to their position of authority and influence over a vulnerable segment of society, school counselors will need to be certified and licensed by the state in which they practice. While precise requirements for licensure vary from state to state, they generally include a master’s degree in school counseling, a background check, and a state-administered exam.

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs), also known as marriage and family counselors, use psychotherapy to help couples and families resolve their conflicts. As mental health professionals, they’re experts at diagnosing and treating mental illness within the context of couple and family structures. Typical duties include guiding clients through transitional crises, or aiding in the flow of communication.

Marriage and family therapists will need to be licensed by the state in which they practice. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but typically include a master’s degree, clinical work experience, and the passing of an exam—some states have their own licensing exam, while others use a standardized exam from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. Additional, optional certification is available from the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).

Behavior Analysis Therapist

Behavior analysis therapists use an evidence-based background in applied behavior analysis to help develop appropriate behaviors in patients, and minimize negative behaviors. Behavior analysis therapists will often be called upon to provide therapeutic interventions for individuals on the autism spectrum. Other clients may include those with ADHD, brain injuries, or other developmental issues. While this was once a very structured profession, it’s become more flexible—and a key responsibility of today’s behavior analysis therapists is to consider the specific needs and capabilities of each individual client.

While licensure is not required for behavior analysts in all states, it’s rapidly becoming the norm: 31 states have passed legislation to regulate the profession through licensure. Licensure requirements still vary from state to state, but the dominant certifying agency is the Behavior Analytics Certification Board (BACB). Candidates for board certification through the BACB will need a master’s degree, as well as 1,500 hours of supervised fieldwork.

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog

Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California, and he believes a strong society demands a stronger mental health system. Since early 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging topics in counseling, research, and healthcare education. Drawing upon interviews with hospital CEOs, healthcare professionals, professors, and advocacy groups, his writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best.