If you want to help people with mental health struggles, substance abuse issues, behavioral disorders, or marriage and family troubles, a master’s degree in counseling may be an important step in your career. If you’re considering this professional path, check out our list of several schools that may be a good fit. These online counseling degree programs can help you start on a path to a brand new career. Let’s explore the top master’s counseling programs.
A wide variety of master’s degrees are available in counseling, depending on what area you want to specialize in. Overall, a master’s degree is required to obtain a license to practice counseling. Most schools provide degrees that meet the requirements for licensure for the state they are located in, but some also provide shorter tracks that qualify graduates for a license in states with lower requirements. After graduating, students will need to apply for a license in their state of practice and complete other requirements, depending on the state. Master’s degrees in counseling are most often a Master of Arts, but they can also be a Master of Science or Education.
What Careers are Available in Counseling?
Counseling is a growing professional field with a diverse variety of career opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that the number of jobs in behavioral disorder, substance abuse, and mental health counseling will increase by 25% by 2029, much faster than average. School counselors also see promising opportunities in their field and have a median salary of $57,000 per year. Counselors work in a variety of situations, from private practice and mental health centers to schools and government institutions.
Consider a few specific careers that you may be able to pursue with the best masters in school counseling programs.
Mental Health Counselor
Those working as mental health counselors typically work with people facing a range of mental health complications. This may include behavioral disorders, substance disorders, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. They often work in hospitals for emergency care, as well as mental health centers, private practices, and community health centers. The BLS shares that the 2021 median pay for someone working in this field was $48,520 per year. From 2021 to 2031, there is an expected increase in demand for those in this field of about 22%. That’s much faster than other fields.
Family and Marriage Counselor
For those who wish to work in a field helping families with mental health challenges, working as a family and marriage counselor could be the ideal opportunity. The 2021 median pay for a family and marriage therapist was $49,880 per year. These individuals often work in private practices or in mental health centers, often helping families to communicate better, manage challenges, and overcome problems. From 2021 to 2031, there’s a significantly high demand for those in this field, with the number of jobs increasing by 14%, according to BLS data.
Those passionate about working with students may wish to pursue a school and career counselor or advisor role with their master’s degree. This field often involves working in academics, whether at the elementary, high school, or higher education level. Some people also work with adults looking for a career change. There’s an expectation of another 32,400 people in this field from 2021 to 2031, which is about a 10% increase. The BLS also notes that the 2021 median pay was $60,510 per year for those working as counselors or advisors.
What Schools Have the Best Counseling Programs?
We’ve compiled a list of the best master’s programs in counseling. These colleges are ranked based on their graduate tuition (lowest is best) and faculty-student ratio (lowest is best). We included a mix of both large, well-known universities and less famous institutions
|1||Yeshiva University (44.5 points)||New York City, New York|
|2||Johns Hopkins University (43.5 points)||Baltimore, Maryland|
|3||New York University (43 points)||New York City, New York|
|4||Northwestern University (42 points)||Evanston, Illinois|
|5||University of Southern California (36.5 points)||Los Angeles, California|
The Top 17 Schools for Masters in Counseling Programs!
Yeshiva University (44.5 points)
The Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University offers a two-and-a-half-year Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling with options to specialize in Addictions, Couples and Family, and Multicultural Counseling. Students learn both theoretical and applied principles of psychological counseling and spend over 600 hours in supervised field placement. Yeshiva University, located in New York City, is associated with Orthodox Judaism, but many of its students are not Jewish.
Johns Hopkins University (43.5 points)
Through the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, students can earn a Master of Science in Counseling with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health Counseling or School Counseling. The School Counseling Concentration has a focus on urban school settings, and graduates are eligible for a certification from the Maryland State Department of Education. Both programs are available online and in-person and take 3-5 years to complete, depending on whether they are enrolled full-time or part-time. Students learn from experienced faculty at one of the country’s most distinguished universities.
New York University (43 points)
New York University’s Steinhardt School offers Master of Arts degrees in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness and in School Counseling or Bilingual School Counseling. Both degrees are also offered online and can be combined with an advanced certificate in LGBT Counseling. NYU is a top-ranked school with close access to diverse experience and career opportunities in the largest city in the U.S.
Northwestern University (42 points)
The Family Institute at Northwestern University has a selective Master of Arts in Counseling program that admits 28 students each year. Counseling students at this top-15 university participate in 100 hours of clinical training per practicum and have a 100% pass rate on the counselor licensing exam. Northwestern offers the master’s in counseling both online and in-person.
University of Southern California (36.5 points)
The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education offers a Master of Education in Educational Counseling for students working or aspiring to work at colleges and universities and an online Master of Education in School Counseling that prepares students to work in K-12 schools. USC also offers a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy, which qualifies graduates for a California MFT license. Rossier is the 11th highest-ranked education school in America, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis (36.5 points)
The Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis offers a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that trains students in psychodynamic techniques. This program admits up to 20 students a year and offers small classes and an emphasis on experiential learning. This program meets the requirements for graduates to apply for licensure in all but seven U.S. states.
Indiana Wesleyan University (33.5 points)
Indiana Wesleyan University offers a Master of Arts in Counseling with majors in the following areas: Clinical Addictions Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Community Care, Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy, School Counseling, and Student Development Administration. The Community Care program is a non-licensure track that prepares students to serve as non-licensed sources of support for people struggling with mental health issues.
Gannon University (34 points)
Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania offers a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. With a faculty-student ratio of 1:10, the program offers small class sizes, and graduates have a 100% pass rate on the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam and scores significantly higher on the National Counselor Exam than other schools.
University of Rochester (33 points)
The University of Rochester’s Master of Science in School Counseling has a 48-credit program that meets the requirements for a provisional certification and four 60-credit options that lead to a permanent certification. Students in the 60-credit program can specialize in the following areas: School and Community, Diversity, Disabilities, or Leadership. UR also offers a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling, and students who want to be licensed in both areas can take part in a bridge program.
Southern Methodist University (32.5 points)
Southern Methodist University in Dallas offers a Master of Science in Counseling degree. This program prepares graduates to be licensed as marriage and family therapists, licensed professional counselors, or school counselors. Students can also incorporate requirements to be licensed as a chemical dependency counselor.
Wake Forest University (31 points)
Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers a Master of Arts in Counseling with specialization options in School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The degree is available online and teaches students the skills to address a wide variety of circumstances as professional counselors. Wake Forest also offers a dual Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Counseling degree for students who want to enter into a religious profession with an emphasis in counseling.
Missouri Valley College (24.5 points)
Missouri Valley College is a small private college that offers a Master of Arts in Community Counseling. This program is an affordable opportunity to earn a counseling degree, with evening and hybrid classes providing flexibility for working students. MVC offers a 48-credit option that qualifies students for Missouri licensure and a 60-credit path for students who want to be licensed in states that have higher academic requirements.
Boston College (24 points)
Students at Boston College can earn a Master of Arts in School Counseling or Mental Health Counseling. Both programs include a 600-hour practicum and allow students to develop strong counseling skills with a focus on social change. The Mental Health Counseling program has a 60-credit option for Massachusetts licensure and a 48-credit option, which does not qualify students for Massachusetts licensure.
North Carolina State University (23.5 points)
At North Carolina State University’s high-ranked College of Education, students can earn a Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, College Counseling and Student Development, or School Counseling. All three programs are available both online and in-person and give students the opportunity to learn from nationally recognized faculty.
Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (22 points)
IUPUI offers a master’s degree in Counseling and Counselor Education. In this program, students learn from experienced faculty and complete field experiences, particularly in urban schools. IUPUI’s counseling program places a strong focus on opportunity gaps based on socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity.
East Carolina University (17.5 points)
East Carolina University offers a Master of Science in Clinical Counseling with an emphasis in Addictions. ECU is one of only a few schools in the U.S. that offers a specialization in substance use and drug addiction. Graduating from the program reduces the experience requirements to be licensed as a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist by one year. Students may also be licensed as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor.
University of Maryland (15 points)
The University of Maryland College of Education has the top-ranked student counseling program in the United States according to U.S. News and World Report. Students can earn a Master of Education in School Counseling, which will prepare them to be licensed to work in K-12 schools.
Why Earn a Master’s in Counseling Degree?
The best master’s in counseling programs provide an opportunity for you to explore new areas. Earning a master’s in counseling degree could help you prepare for a wide range of new opportunities. Some key benefits include the following:
- Providing counseling services: With a master’s degree, you are able to actually provide mental health support to patients, something you could not do with a bachelor’s degree.
- Pursue a career in corporate positions: There are many alternative career paths for those with this degree, including working within the legal system, business management, research, and marketing.
- Improve skills in communication: One of the most important ways you can help people with your degree is to enable them to understand their mental health needs and struggles. You’ll gain good communication skills to help you achieve that in your master’s program.
- Be in demand: Depending on the career path you select, you could be very much in demand. That includes those working as therapists and counselors in hospitals, doctor’s offices, mental health facilities, and drug and alcohol treatment programs.
- Engage more fully in your career: For those working in social work or related fields, earning a master’s could help you qualify for a higher wage and may also enable you to work more hands-on with your clients.
What Courses Will I Take in a Master’s in Counseling Program?
Students often are able to complete a range of courses to fit their unique educational interests and paths. Some examples include:
- Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice: You’ll learn about the role ethics plays in providing professional counseling services to patients.
- Assessment and Testing: This type of program focuses on working with people to assess their mental health and to use various methods to test their overall condition to lead to the diagnosis of a health condition.
- Social and Cultural Diversity: This course will focus heavily on preparing students to understand how mental health differs based on societal factors as well as cultural upbringings.
- Group Counseling and Group Work: In this type of program, students learn how to work with a group of people through group therapy sessions and educational programs with the goal of helping people to learn how to work together.
- Human Growth and Development: Many students will spend time in this program focused on learning how mental health is impacted by various developmental aspects throughout life.
What is the Average Salary of Masters in Counseling Degree Holders?
The average pay for someone with a master’s degree in counseling will range based on the career they work in. However, data from PayScale shows the median pay is $56,000, though you could earn significantly more depending on the path and your experience.
Master’s in Counseling Programs Accreditation
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) provides accreditation to counseling programs in the U.S. The accreditation process is valuable because it enables students and the general public to know that the information and educational process provided by the degree program at the college level is high in quality and meets the standards set by the accrediting organization. Accreditation helps ensure that students have access to the quality of content they need to develop core skills in this region.
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master’s in Counseling Degree?
Master’s of counseling degree programs typically take about 60 credits to complete. If you plan to do this full-time, that could take about two years. You may be able to complete your degree through an accredited online program or accelerated in-person program sooner, in as little as 18 months.
How Much Does a Master’s in Counseling Degree Cost?
The cost of completing a master’s degree in counseling will range from school to school. When you factor in tuition, fees, and other costs associated with attending a graduate school program, total costs between $20,000 to $40,000 are not unusual. However, some programs fall outside of this range, and scholarships and financial aid options should also be considered.
How Did We Rank this List?
Our ranking was based 71.4% on faculty-student ratio and 28.6% on tuition.
From each institution’s website, we gathered in-person graduate tuition rates for out-of-state domestic students in the different programs. Where tuition was only listed on a per-year or per-semester basis, the year was assumed to consist of two semesters, twelve credits each. Tuition figures do not include fees or other expenses. For IUPUI, graduate tuition could not be found, so the average of the other 16 programs was used for the ranking.
Each school was given a score from 1 for the highest tuition to 17 for the lowest. Schools were also scored from 1 to 17 for faculty-student ratio based on data from U.S. News and World Report. The faculty-student ratio of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis could not be found, so the average of the remaining schools was used for the ranking.
Then, faculty-student ratio points were multiplied by 2.5. The weighted scores were added together to produce the final ranking.
Problems with your Ranking?
If your school isn’t on this list and you think it deserves consideration for an update, please contact us. Also, if you work for one of the schools on this list and you notice an error, please let us know. We always seek to provide the most accurate information available and let readers know about the best schools across the country.
Still Not Sure Which School is Right for You?
If you’re looking to get a master’s in counseling, it’s an important decision to choose a college that will fit your needs and provide the education your career requires. Check out our degree finder and our other lists to help find the best programs in your field.