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Discover the Best Online Counseling Degrees with Financial Aid

Paying for a counseling degree is tricky. Scholarships, loans, and grants make it easier. To help, the best counseling degrees with financial aid are rounded up below.

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Author: Angela Myers
Editor: Kari Scare

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Two individuals are engaged in a conversation in a well-lit room with shelves in the background. The person on the left, a woman with short blonde hair, is smiling, while the person on the right, a man with glasses, listens attentively.

Becoming a licensed counselor in most states requires a master’s degree. While getting a counseling degree is rewarding, it also comes with a hefty price tag considering the average master’s degree costs about $19,792, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Getting a counseling certificate or finding a mental health counseling degree that’s fully online can lower the cost, but they aren’t the only ways to make graduate education affordable. Financial aid through loans and scholarships can also make your counseling degree a financial reality. Receiving financial aid is quite common, too, with 74% of graduate students receiving some sort of financial aid, according to the NCES.

However, schools vary in how much financial aid they provide. Over 90% of counseling students receive aid at some schools while that number is less than 20% at others. To help you find programs that fall into the former, the best online counseling degrees with financial aid are rounded up below. Read until the end for tips on maximizing your chances of receiving more scholarships, grants, and student loans.

Inside Look at Counseling Programs with Financial Aid

While many counseling programs offer financial aid, it can be hard to tell which ones hand out smaller scholarships to a few students and which ones have a comprehensive aid program. The five affordable counseling degrees below give you an idea of what to look for. Continue reading to discover if any are the right fit for you.

Angelo State University

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Angelo State University offers one of the most impressive suites of funding options for counseling students. Master’s in mental health counseling students have access to over 600 university-funded scholarships for graduate students, including degree-specific ones. While 600 may sound like an overwhelming number to apply for, Angelo State made the process easy with one financial aid application that covers all scholarships. The school also offers annual distinguished graduate scholarships that range from $1,500 to $2,500 per year and are renewable if students maintain a GPA between 3.4 and 4.0. Like the school’s other 600 scholarships, the distinguished graduate scholarship is awarded automatically based on a student’s undergraduate GPA. Along with generous financial aid packages, the school’s counseling master’s is hosted 100% online, so students also save on transportation costs.

Arkansas State University

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Arkansas State University offers a high-quality online master’s in school counseling with stand-out features like advanced classes on counseling theory, guidance on being a counselor in private and public schools, and a culturally responsive curriculum. This master’s degree can be completed in as few as 24 months and costs $340 per credit for tuition no matter what state a student lives in. While Arkansas State’s tuition is already competitive, the school also offers multiple types of financial aid with the most common ones being scholarships, grants, and loans. The school also has a robust work-study program, and online graduate students are invited to apply for graduate assistantships that include bimonthly pay and reduced tuition costs. Graduate assistantships also allow students to gain experience teaching or conducting research. Over 90% of students in the program receive some form of financial aid, and most opportunities are decided based on a student’s entrance application and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Auburn University of Montgomery

If you’re interested in gaining an education specialist postgraduate degree in school counseling or clinical mental health counseling, Auburn University of Montgomery may be a good fit. The school’s graduate counseling programs have specialties in clinical mental health or school counseling as well as online coursework. Enrolling in some in-person or hybrid classes is also an option. While the online tuition rate – $469 per credit for in-state students and $516 per credit out-of-state – is a bit higher than some other universities on this list, the school makes up for it with comprehensive financial aid. The aid process starts with free financial counseling where financial counselors walk students through the different aid options and help them create budgets. Common types of aid for graduate students include scholarships, grants, and the federal work-study program. The school also offers scholarship opportunities for veterans.

Chardon State College

Chardon State College offers an affordable master’s in mental health counseling and school counseling, and both degrees can be completed online. Class times are flexible, so they fit around a full-time work schedule. Applicants need a background in education since both degrees dive into more advanced topics. An online master’s at Chardon State College costs $392 per credit, but the school is committed to bringing down the price with financial aid. Financial aid options include scholarships, grants, and loans. Unlike other schools, students are automatically considered for funding based on their FAFSA and graduate school applications; no additional essays or financial information is required. Along with school-wide scholarships, counseling students are eligible for the Dr. Earl Strohbehn Memorial Scholarship, a need-based scholarship for eligible education and counseling students. Thanks to the school’s generous scholarships, its master’s students graduate with less debt than the state and national averages.

North Carolina Central University

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Students looking for a robust program for clinical mental health counseling, career counseling, or school counseling should consider North Carolina Central University. All three programs are fully online, can be completed on an accelerated timeline, and feature a pay-as-you-go model. Cost per credit is especially affordable for in-state students at about $300 per credit. Out-of-state students do pay significantly more, though, at about $1,040 per credit. Fortunately, North Carolina Central University offers a variety of financial aid options for in-state and out-of-state students. The most common types of financial aid include grants, loans, and scholarships. While not all certificate programs are eligible for financial aid, the school counseling certificate is eligible, so North Carolina Central University has financial aid available for counseling students in any program type. Along with offering school-funded financial aid, the university’s financial aid office supports students in applying for state and federal aid.

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Most Common Types of Financial Aid for Counseling Students

Financial aid comes in various forms, and keeping them straight can be confusing. Fortunately, three forms are popular across private and public institutions. Continue reading to learn more about why scholarships, grants, and loans are excellent financial aid options for counseling students.

Scholarships

Scholarships are one of the most common forms of financial aid for counseling students. A scholarship is an amount of money awarded based on academic merit, financial need, or a combination of the two. Sometimes, there are additional requirements such as studying a certain field or being from a specific state. Scholarships are awarded by universities, state or federal governments, and private institutions.

Counseling students are fortunate when it comes to degree-specific scholarships because they are usually eligible for scholarships designed for education students and counseling and mental health students.

Grants

Grants are awarded to students who excel academically or stand out professionally. Like scholarships, they provide money for tuition and other expenses and don’t need to be paid back. Unlike scholarships, grants often come with stipulations, such as teaching undergraduate courses or helping out in a lab.

Grants are common for both master’s and PhD students in counseling. Many PhD programs even offer a full tuition waiver as part of their grant awards. Because grants often have tasks students must complete, it’s important to find one that aligns with your professional goals. If you want to conduct research in mental health counseling, for example, a grant with a requirement to help a professor with research may be a better fit than one with a teaching requirement.

Loans

The most common type of financial aid is student loans. If your degree costs $20,000, for example, but you can’t pay that much upfront, you can take out a loan for part or all that amount and pay it back later with interest. Student loans have lower interest rates than regular loans and are usually considered “good debt” because they don’t impact your ability to get a mortgage, qualify for a credit card, or make other financial decisions. As a counseling student, you are eligible for federal and private loans, though government-funded loans often have better interest rates.

Financial Aid Eligibility & Application Checklist for Counseling Students

Every financial aid opportunity has its own unique requirements, but many of them share certain features. Having a clear process on how to fill out financial aid applications will save you time and headaches. The checklist below is a place to start.

Complete the FAFSA Early

Almost all financial aid opportunities require the FAFSA. The FAFSA is a government-produced form where students and their families report earnings, debt, and other important financial information. It is used by private organizations, universities, and government bodies to award need-based financial aid. Filling out the FASFA is free and can be done online.

Thoroughly Review Eligibility Criteria & Requirements

Each financial aid opportunity has different requirements. To determine if you’re eligible, read each application carefully. Jot down the specific requirements you meet, so you can tailor your application to those requirements. For example, if you find a scholarship specifically for teachers looking to pivot into school counseling, write that requirement down and reference your experience as a teacher and why you’re switching careers when you write the scholarship application essay.

Check Deadlines and Apply Early

Most financial aid opportunities have strict deadlines. Write them down in a calendar or planner to ensure you meet each one. When possible, start the application process early for as many opportunities as possible to make it less stressful and provide ample time to gather any application components needed.

Gather All Necessary Documents

Once financial aid deadlines are on your calendar, gather the necessary documents. Each application asks for different components, though common ones include essays, short answer questions, official transcripts, FASFA information, and details about your graduate program. Having this information ready early makes the application process less stressful.

Receive Feedback on Supplemental Materials

Before submitting supplemental material like essays or statements of purpose, have someone like a professor, friend applying to graduate school, or family member review it. If you’re still in an undergraduate program or currently in grad school, your university may have services and support such as a free online writing center where someone can review your supplemental materials.

Review Award Letters

Typically, each counseling program provides an award letter detailing your entire financial aid package. Private scholarships may also provide award letters detailing the scholarship amount and its allowable uses. Look holistically at the entire financial aid package, and then choose an affordable option with a curriculum that aligns with your academic goals.