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Online Master’s in Counseling Programs

Increasing demand makes the present an ideal time to earn a master's in counseling degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for community and social service professionals to increase 12% from 2020-2030. According to the BLS, these professionals earn a median annual salary of $48,410.

Although some entry-level counseling jobs require only a bachelor's degree, a master's degree can lead to higher-paying positions with more autonomy. Additionally, all United States licensing boards require counselors to hold a master's degree to practice independently.

This guide highlights the benefits of online master's in counseling programs. The following sections also explore program costs, curricula, and specializations.

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Questions About Counseling Degrees

What Is the Difference Between an MA and MS in Counseling?

A master of arts in counseling encompasses multiple disciplines. In addition to studying counseling, learners explore related subjects, such as philosophy and psychology. Master of science programs typically focus on research methods and counseling techniques.

What Kinds of Counselors Are in Demand?

The BLS projects employment for marriage and family therapists to increase 16% from 2020-2030. For the same time period, the BLS projects a 23% employment growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.

What Jobs Can I Get With a Master's in Counseling?

Master's in counseling programs prepare learners to practice independently in a variety of settings. Some counselors and therapists specialize in helping individuals with certain demographic backgrounds or conditions.

Featured Online Master's in Counseling

Why Get a Master's Degree in Counseling?

Earning a master's degree in counseling may lead to higher earning potential. According to Payscale data accessed in April 2022, individuals with a master's degree in counseling earn an average of $54,000 per year. Graduates with only a bachelor's in counseling earn an average of $52,000 annually.

Additionally, all states require licensed counselors to hold a master's degree and have completed 2,000-4,000 supervised clinical hours. Flexible online programs may give learners more time to pursue clinical experience during their studies. Online learners may also save money on commuting costs.

How Much Does a Counseling Degree Cost?

Prices for graduate-level counseling degrees vary depending on factors including school type. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of graduate tuition and fees at public schools was $12,410 for the 2019-20 academic year. Graduate students at private schools spent an average of $26,597 on tuition and fees for the same year.

Students can save money by choosing an in-state public institution. Additionally, some schools charge less for online tuition. The following section covers fees associated with online master's in counseling programs.

Additional Online Student Fees

Online students often save money on campus and student activity fees. However, distance learners may pay fees covering virtual classrooms and tech support.

When creating a college budget, online learners should factor in miscellaneous costs such as graduation fees. The cost of textbooks may vary each semester. Learners can save money by purchasing used or digital books. Counseling students may need to pay for access to client record management software.

Students should also budget for relevant licensure exams. For example, the National Counselor Examination costs $275 as of 2022.

Courses in a Master's in Counseling Program

Most online master's in counseling programs require about 30 credits, earned through about 10 classes. Most full-time learners graduate in about two years.

Online courses may feature synchronous or asynchronous formats. Synchronous classes involve set virtual meeting times. This format can help learners remain accountable. Asynchronous programs feature recorded lectures that students can access any time. Learners who want scheduling flexibility may prefer asynchronous courses.

The list below highlights three common counseling courses. Not every program offers these classes. Curricula also vary by specialization.

  • Ethics in the Counseling Field

    This course helps learners develop a framework for navigating ethically challenging situations. Participants discover the importance of mandated reporting and learn how to maintain client confidentiality. Students read case studies about ethical dilemmas and discuss best practices. Coursework highlights client-patient relationships and techniques for maintaining professionalism.
  • Advanced Counseling Theory

    This class examines cognitive, behavioral, and psychoanalytic counseling theories. Students learn about noteworthy psychology researchers, including Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Learners identify potential theories to examine in their thesis. Degree-seekers write essays and participate in class discussions.
  • Counseling Thesis

    Students work on their thesis throughout their studies. Learners search for gaps in industry knowledge and aim to prove or refute theories through research. A thesis requires a lengthy written paper. Upon completion, counseling students present their findings to a thesis committee. Learners may submit portions of their thesis for publication in scholarly journals.

Counseling Specializations

Learners may concentrate on one area of the broad counseling field. Most schools offer various specializations, also called concentrations. Specializing their studies can help graduates earn competitive niche positions.

Before pursuing a master's in counseling degree online, prospective students should research available concentrations. Even if a school does not offer formal specialization, students may be able to tailor the program to their career goals through elective classes. The following list features three common counseling specialties.

  • Adolescent Counseling

    This specialization covers practices for counseling youth. Learners explore human development stages. Coursework covers common behavioral and emotional disorders in children. Students explore best practices for mandating reporting and learn when to notify guardians of issues. Graduates with this specialization often become mental health counselors for children.
  • Family and Couples Therapy

    This concentration emphasizes talk therapy for relationships. Learners discover how to maintain neutrality and explore conflict resolution principles. Degree-seekers learn to diffuse tense situations in group therapy settings. This specialization prepares learners to become marriage and family therapists.
  • Grief and Trauma Counseling

    Students with this specialization learn how to help people experiencing current trauma and post-traumatic issues. Coursework covers various types of trauma and how the human mind processes stressful events. Learners discover how to help people dealing with losing loved ones or relationships.

How to Become a Counselor

Most aspiring counselors begin by earning a bachelor's degree in the field. However, some master's programs accept students with unrelated undergraduate degrees. These applicants may need additional prerequisite courses.

Graduate-level counseling students learn about important theories, conduct research, and communicate their findings through essays. While earning a master's in counseling degree, learners typically complete clinical hours. After obtaining enough clinical experience to meet state requirements, aspiring counselors take an exam and apply for licensure.

Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors

Online master's in counseling programs prepare students for various counseling roles. According to the BLS, outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers hire the most mental health counselors.

Licensed counselors may open their own practice. These professionals can set their work schedules and may benefit from improved work-life balance.

The list below highlights three common positions for graduates of online master's in counseling programs.

  • Mental Health Counselors

    These professionals work with clients individually and in group settings. They provide treatment and guidance for people with emotional and behavioral disorders. Some mental health counselors focus on helping people dealing with addiction. Mental health counselors may use talk therapy and mentalization-based therapy.
  • School Counselors

    School counselors assist students with emotional and mental health conditions. They also help learners select career paths and overcome barriers to education. These counselors help students hone academic and social skills. They often work in public schools.
  • Marriage and Family Counselors

    These counselors help families and couples resolve conflicts. They recommend treatments and strategies for managing relationship issues. Marriage and family counselors take detailed notes to remember intricate details involving multiple parties. They keep session notes confidential but do practice mandating reporting.
Salary Potential and Growth Rate
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
Mental Health Counselors $48,520 23%
School Counselors $60,510 11%
Marriage and Family Counselors $49,880 16%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Licensure for Counselors

In most states, unlicensed counselors can practice under supervision. However, all states require a master's degree and clinical hours for independent practice. State licensure typically requires passing scores on exams from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). NBCC provides a list of each state's licensure requirements.

To sit for an NBCC exam, candidates need a master's degree in counseling from an accredited institution. Clinical requirements vary by state. Many states require the National Counselor Examination, which covers human growth and development, treatment planning, and intake processes. NBCC provides study materials for the exam.

Counselors moving to a new state may need additional credentials. Some states participate in reciprocity agreements, which allow counselors to transfer their license to certain states.

Online Master's in Counseling Programs

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