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Inside Look at the Best Online Counseling Certificates

Explore flexible online counseling certificates from top-ranked universities and see how they can strengthen your skillset and advance your career.

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If you hold a degree in counseling or a closely-related mental health field, you know that counseling services are as varied as the needs of those who seek them. Therefore, earning a specialized counseling certificate is a great way to better serve clients because it can sharpen your expertise or even help you enter the niche field you’re passionate about. In addition to these benefits, you can also use a counseling certificate to gain licensure or pivot in your career. Fortunately, if any of these objectives align with your personal goals, there are many high-quality counseling certificate programs available online that can get you there quickly and flexibly.

To help you get started, we have created this guide to 2024’s best online counseling certificate programs. In it, you will discover some great schools that offer a wide variety of options to meet your needs. Keep reading below to learn more and find one that is right for you.

School Spotlights: Best Online Counseling Certificate Programs for 2024

The following online counseling certificate programs earn a best-in-class ranking by offering flexible and affordable curricula that are perfect for busy working professionals. They supply students with rigorous, cutting-edge coursework that prioritizes the essential theoretical and practical skills working counselors require. We spotlighted three top-performing programs below to help you start your school search.

Capella University

Offering several unique graduate certificate programs in counseling and therapy, Capella University is home to affordable and flexible programming for building your expertise while expanding your career options. Choose from four graduate certificates in counseling: addictive behavior, family therapy, mental health services, and school-based services. Consisting of graduate-level courses, certificate credits often also apply towards a master’s program.

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), students in these certificate programs engage with asynchronous coursework, allowing them to access online class content 24 hours a day. In addition to regional accreditation, the addictive behavior track is also recognized by the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC). All four graduate certificates require completion of five online classes, including four core courses and one elective.

Counseling certificate programs build on your knowledge of human behavior through theory, history, and practical application. Prospective students must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and supply Capella with all relevant academic transcripts.

Northeastern Illinois University

Northeastern Illinois University’s counseling certificate programs include four non-degree certificates — addiction counseling, couple and family counseling, trauma-informed counseling, and rehabilitation counseling. The school also offers one endorsement — the non-degree school counselor endorsement — to those who want to meet the academic and clinical requirements necessary for obtaining a school counselor endorsement in the state of Illinois. To be eligible for the certificate programs, students must hold a master’s degree in counseling or a closely related mental health field. However, students currently admitted to an NEIU graduate program are also eligible to apply to any of these certificate programs (excluding the endorsement program).

All certificate courses (except those required for the school counselor endorsement) are offered entirely online through a combination of remote learning (scheduled virtual meetings) and online coursework (students work independently, but must meet project and assignment deadlines). Although specific requirements vary, some of the common application components include: application + fee, transcripts, resume, professional recommenders, and a prompt-based essay.

PennWest Global Online

The 100% online graduate certificate programs at PennWest Global can be completed in mere months and encompass seven concentrations that appeal to a wide variety of counseling niches. Five of these programs—spiritual, ethical, and religious counseling; substance use disorder–level I; student affairs practice; brain-based trauma recovery; and sports counseling and student athlete mental wellness—are open to those who hold a bachelor’s-level degree. However, applicants to the other two programs—the post-master’s certificate in counseling and substance use disorder–level II—must have at least a master’s degree. In addition to an undergraduate or graduate degree, applicants must also write an essay and have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

PennWest features a variety of support services to ensure student success, such as online tutoring, an online writing lab, and access to a career coach before, during, and after the educational journey. Once enrolled, students can log in to the student experience portal, which contains the D2L Learning Management System, student email, online library resources, and more.

Types of Counseling Certificates You Can Earn Online

The counseling field is relatively broad and home to various specializations spanning general mental health counseling, addiction, and substance abuse counseling. We highlight several popular academic concentrations below and provide examples of accredited schools offering them.

Mental Health Counseling Certificates

Often designed for master’s graduates pursuing professional counseling licensure, mental health counseling certificates offer the additional practical and theoretical skills needed to provide competent counseling care. Additionally, many assist you in meeting academic licensure requirements while also supplying licensure exam preparation.

Standard core requirements for online mental health counseling certificates include classes in foundations of clinical mental health counseling, advanced ethics in mental health counseling, and marriage, couple, and family counseling. Many of these programs require applicants to hold a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution.

Examples of Accredited Colleges with This Online Counseling Certificate

School Counseling Certificates

Designed for individuals with a master’s degree in a counseling-related field, school counseling certificates add a resume-boosting academic specialization while simultaneously preparing you for school counseling licensure. Full-time students often complete these certificate tracks in about a year.

Typically requiring around 20-credits of coursework, required classes include principles of school counseling, intro to exceptional learners, and school counseling to close the achievement gap. In addition to online courses, school counseling licensure tracks also require internships in both elementary and secondary settings.

Examples of Accredited Colleges with This Online Counseling Certificate

Marriage and Family Counseling Certificates

These professional certificates often act as an endorsement to licensure and are also utilized by working professionals for continuing education requirements. These programs evaluate the developmental elements of marriages and families while covering topics like couples’ therapy and family counseling methods.

Common required coursework includes classes in couple and family therapy foundations, professional ethics in marriage and family counseling, and working with families across the lifespan. Most of these programs require about 20 credits, and full-time students often receive their certificate in a year.

Colleges with This Online Mental and Behavioral Health Certificate Program

Rehabilitation Counseling Certificates

Usually designed for current and future rehabilitation counselors, online rehabilitation counseling certificates offer graduate-level coursework for those interested in pursuing professional certification. Usually requiring around 20 credits, students tackle a curriculum focusing on the needs of individuals with a variety of cognitive, medical, physical, and intellectual challenges.

Students seeking this certificate come from various academic backgrounds, including behavioral health, human services, and social work. Standard courses for an online rehabilitation counseling certificate include rehabilitation plan development, medical and psychological aspects of disabilities, and clinical interventions for stress and trauma.

Examples of Accredited Colleges with This Online Counseling Certificate

Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Certificates

Designed for individuals working to earn certification as addiction and substance abuse counselors, these programs utilize scientific knowledge and practical clinical practice to address substance-use disorders. They are typically available for individuals with a bachelor’s degree and those currently seeking a graduate degree.

Through a curriculum comprising around 20 credits and taking full-time students a year to complete, addiction and substance abuse courses include psychopharmacology, assessment and diagnosis, and comorbidity in substance use related problems. Other common topics include evidence-based interventions, multicultural issues, and group therapy.

Examples of Accredited Colleges with This Online Counseling Certificate

Christian Counseling Certificate

Whether a student wants a career as a church counselor, lay pastor, or non-licensed counselor, an online Christian counseling certificate offers a variety of counseling and mental health skills. Additionally, credits earned from this online certificate often count towards a master’s degree in pastoral counseling.

As opposed to traditional counseling informed by scientific research and rigorous professional standards, these certificate programs utilize Biblical guidance to address emotional, mental, and spiritual issues. Standard online courses for a Christian counseling certificate include topics like marriage counseling, Christ our Healer, and counseling, psychology, and the Christian.

Examples of Accredited Colleges with This Online Counseling Certificate

FAQs About Online Counseling Certificates

What are the admissions requirements for online counseling certificates?

Admissions requirements for online counseling certificates vary among programs. Since most programs offer graduate-level coursework, expect that you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to enroll. Additionally, certificate programs with a licensure component typically require applicants have a degree in counseling-related fields. Common admissions requirements across programs include:

  • Official academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement outlining academic and career goals
  • Professional resume
  • GRE/GMAT scores
  • Admissions interview

How long do online counseling certificates take to complete?

While the duration of an online counseling certificate depends mainly on program specifics, full-time students often complete coursework in just one year. Students in the University of Buffalo’s online certificate in school counseling program, for example, finish their 24 required credits in two full-time semesters. However, since this program leads to state licensure, it also requires 150 hours of hands-on experience in schools. Conversely, Regent University’s certificate in school counseling requires just 12 credits plus an internship. Make sure you confirm that any prospective certificate program requirements mirror your needs as a student.

How much do online counseling certificates cost?

Graduate-level programs carry a hefty price tag, but the shorter duration of certificate programs typically results in cost far less than a master’s degree. Your status as an in-state student can reduce costs, and how long it takes you to complete the program also influences how much you pay. Additionally, funding through scholarships and grants helps mitigate your tuition cost.

Regent University

Certificate of Graduate Studies in School Counseling

Total Credits: 12


Arizona State University Tempe

Online Addiction and Substance-Use Related Disorders Graduate Certificate

Total Credits: 21


Liberty University

Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Counseling

Total Credits: 9


Can I earn my counseling certificate entirely online?

While some programs require that you spend time gaining supervised, hands-on experience in the field, many programs offer coursework entirely online. Online delivery varies among programs so expect to complete a lot of your certificate program at your own pace. Keep in mind that some programs do require that you attend live virtual lectures.

Is financial aid available for online counseling certificate programs?

Financial aid is available for online counseling certificates offered by accredited programs. Like other academic tracks, students can take out federal or private loans to cover tuition and related fees. Additionally, grants and scholarships can also help offset the cost of your certificate program.

Make sure to check our financial aid and scholarship pages where we highlight some essential information that can help you secure the funding you need to complete your degree or certificate program.

Accreditation for Online Counseling Certificates

Accreditation for your online counseling certificate acts as a stamp of approval and means that the value of a certificate mirrors your investment of time and money. Accreditation typically comes in two forms: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation refers to the school as a whole, and the best colleges hold regional rather than national accreditation.

Programmatic accreditation refers to the academic and professional standards of a specific college program, and these can even differ between concentrations within counseling certificate programs. Many of the best addiction counseling certificates hold programmatic accreditation from the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission. Similarly, many of the best Christian counseling certificate programs hold accreditation from the National Association of Christian Counselors.

What Can You Do with a Counseling Certificate?

Whether you decide to work in public, private, or non-profit sectors, a counseling certificate can increase your career options and your pay. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that many counseling and counseling-related careers will expand between 2019-2029. Areas of significant growth include substance abuse counseling, marriage and family counseling, and social service roles.

Below we’ve highlighted a handful of popular career paths for individuals securing an online counseling certificate.

  • School Counselor
  • Addiction Counselor
  • Child Protection Case Manager
  • Human Resources Specialist
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Social Service Manager
  • Rehabilitation Counselor

How much can you make with a counseling certificate?

Even though your salary depends on the specifics of a particular job, an online counseling certificate helps individuals both enter the field and build upon previous skills and education. Adding a certification to your resume can boost your career options, increase pay, and add credits towards a master’s degree in counseling. Review the salaries below to get an idea of earning potential for those with counseling credentials.

Career Median National Annual Earnings (2020) 10th Percentile 90th Percentile
Substance Abuse Counselor $47,660 $30,590 $78,700
Social Service Manager $69,600 $42,230 $115,800
Rehabilitation Counselor $37,530 $25,660 $66,180
Marriage and Family Therapist $51,340 $33,140 $92,930
School Counselor $58,120 $35,620 $97,910