Online Mental Health Counseling Degrees

Explore flexible, accredited online master’s programs that can prepare you to become a professional mental health counselor.

Best Online Mental Health Counseling Master’s Programs for 2020

When you think of online degree programs, mental health counseling may not be the first subject that comes to mind. However, many accredited, top-tier schools now offer mental health counseling master’s programs that combine convenient online coursework with in-person clinicals, fieldwork, and other curriculum components that require close interaction.

With so many options to choose from these days, it can be challenging to find the online program that’s right for you. It’s important to spend time researching programs to find the one that best fits your career and academic goals while still fitting your budget. To help get you started, we identified and spotlighted three of the best online mental health counseling degrees currently available. Each is accredited by the Council for Accrediting Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the primary accreditor for counseling programs and a signal of high quality. Take a closer look at the schools offering these top-rated counseling programs and see if they have the qualities to make your college shortlist.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University

Northwestern’s online master of arts in counseling prepares you for a career as a mental health counselor by combining technical counseling theories with evidence-based practices. The 60-credit program offers all classes entirely online through innovative, flexible delivery methods that most students complete within six quarter terms. During their second year of the program, students can pursue an optional emphasis in child and adolescent counseling. This concentration builds additional expertise in working with youth and responding to the unique challenges they face.

This program accepts students on a traditional, part-time, or accelerated basis to accommodate a wide variety of needs and circumstances. The school uses an expert field placement team to help candidates select a viable internship in their area. These placements involve 800 hours of real-world, on-the-job experience. Additional residential requirements include two immersion experiences that take place on Northwestern’s main campus in Chicago. The program concludes with an integrative capstone component rather than traditional comprehensive exams.

New York University

Regent University

FAQs About the Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling

There’s a lot to consider as you look at online mental health programs. Whether you’re wondering about typical curriculum offerings, overall costs, or common learning objectives, the best decision is an informed one. Below we discuss some frequently asked questions and provide key answers to help you select a program that make sense for you.

What specializations or concentrations are available in online mental health counseling master’s degree programs?

Most online mental health counseling programs offer areas of specialization. Some students select a specialization that correlates with their career goals. Others may select something that complements their main interests or lends itself to interdisciplinary application. Either way, these concentration opportunities are a great way to focus your skills in one area or develop additional areas of expertise.

Child/Adolescent Counseling

Trauma and Crisis Counseling

Forensic Mental Health Counseling

Addiction Counseling

What do you learn in an online mental health counseling degree program?

While each program is different and brings its own perspective, most online mental health counseling degrees share similar curricula designed to achieve shared learning outcomes. Most schools develop these outcomes in accordance with standards set by accrediting agencies like the Council for Accrediting Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). If you enroll in one of these programs, you can expect to graduate with:

  • A clear understanding of how major counseling and psychotherapy theories interact and with treatment plans and contribute to preventative care.
  • The ability to analyze group dynamics and identify how interactive processes hinder or enhance the emotional health and mental well-being of individual participants.
  • An empathic and informed perspective on how issues pertaining to culture, race, gender, sexuality identity, socio-economic status, and family history impact psychological development.
  • The capacity to sharply examine known personality differences and related your findings to deviant, abnormal, and psychopathological behaviors.  
  • Competence in generating individual and group behavior assessments as well as interpreting their results for application in treatment, therapy, or intervention.

Common Mental Health Counseling Degree Courses

Human Development

Counseling Theory

Applied Research Methods

Assessment and Evaluation

Internship and Practicum Experiences

Can you earn an online mental health degree completely online?

Most programs require at least some form of in-person component such as an internship, residency, or clinical fieldwork. Schools often accommodate requests for internships and clinical placements in your own local area. Some may require participation in 1-3 residential experiences on campus with all coursework components occurring online. This is the more common approach and ultimately gives you more opportunity for networking and hands-on application.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in mental health counseling?

Timeframes for completion vary widely and depend on enrollment status and outside professional responsibility. Many schools report that most students finish their online master’s in mental health counseling in three years or less. This figure is based on full-time enrollment with a normal course load and few outside obligations. Part-time students with additional work commitments will likely take longer. Some school may also offer an accelerated path. This route significantly reduces your time in school but may be more expensive in the long-run, depending tuition rates.

How much does an online mental health counseling degree cost?

This depends on the type of school you attend, where you live, program length, and available funding. In some cases, you may be able to pay a flat tuition rate as an online student regardless of location, but this is not a universal policy. The best rule of thumb is to check current rates for potential schools ahead of time. Below are three examples to give you a sense of the costs.

NCSU

North Carolina State
University

Online Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Total Credits: 60

$462/credit in-state;
$1,311/credit out-of-state

NYU

New York
University

Online M.A. in Mental Health Counseling

Total Credits: 60

$1,795/credit

UOA

University of
Alabama

M.A. in Rehabilitation Counseling

Total Credits: 60

$420/credit

What are the admissions requirements for mental health counseling program?

Most schools share the same admissions requirements as other graduate programs and many forgo standardized tests. If you’re planning to apply to an online mental health counseling program you will likely need the following:

  • A relevant bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution.
  • Official transcripts for all previous academic work indicating a competitive GPA.
  • A statement of purpose that discusses your academic background, professional goals, and fit within the program.
  • 1-3 letters of reference from previous supervisors or mentors.
  • A current resume or CV.

These are minimum requirements shared by a majority of programs. Other program-specific requirements may also apply, so pay close attention to the details.

Financial Aid for Your Online Mental Health Counseling Degree

Paying for higher education can be costly and it’s important to make sure you have the expenses covered before you enroll. Fortunately, there are a number of financial aid opportunities out there, you just need to know where to look. These include institutional scholarships, federal grants, student loans, and other program-specific opportunities.

1 Scholarships & Grants

These awards are a great way to fund your education and do not need to be repaid. Some schools may offer their own scholarships to qualified candidates. Many organizations and nonprofits in the mental health space extend similar opportunities. See our helpful scholarship guide for more information on where to find them and how to apply.

2 Student Loans

3 Other Options

Accreditation for Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs

The best schools out there will hold one of two forms of institutional accreditation, regional and national. Regional accreditation is the more prestigious of the two, but both are signals that a college has been properly reviewed by an independent organization, so long as the organization is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (and secondarily by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation).

Some mental health counseling degree programs may also possess programmatic accreditation. This is a supplementary credential providing additional backing and demonstrates that the program meets field-specific standards. In mental health counseling, the main accreditor is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Some programs may alternatively hold accreditation from the Master in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC).

Getting Your Professional License and Certification After Your Online Mental Health Counseling Master’s

Counseling Master

Mental health counselors need additional credentials beyond a master’s degree in order to practice, including earning a license in the state you plan to work in. This process generally involves completing education requirements, a certain number of supervised work hours, and an exam. Afterwards, you will be able to use titles specified by your state, such as Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).

Specific details vary by state. The American Counseling Association provides a helpful list of all licensing boards by state. Let’s take California as an example. The Board of Behavioral Sciences oversees licensure for that state and grants credentials for clinical counselors and therapists. This process requires earning a master’s degree, getting a background check, completing 3,000 hours of supervised experience, and passing two exams, one of which is specific to state regulations.

Your state will have a comparable process managed by a similar licensing board. Most states will require that you pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification.

In addition to licensure, mental health counselors who want to stand out and can earn voluntary board certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors. The most popular option is becoming a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor. Earning certifications like this can be a great way to show potential clients and employers that you are at the top of your field, and may lead to higher earnings potential.

Career and Salary Outlook for Mental Health Counselors

You probably have a few additional questions about what will happen after you graduate. Below we discuss some FAQs concerning career and salary prospects for graduates with an online master in mental health counseling.

Are mental health counselors and related careers in high demand?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs in mental health counseling will increase by at least 22% in coming years, much faster than average for all occupations nationwide. These trends are due to a sustained increase in local demand across the country. As people continue to turn to professionals for help, more jobs in mental health counseling and related fields will likely open up.

How much do mental health counselors make?

According to recent BLS data, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors receive earnings above the national average. In 2019, the median annual wage for these professionals was $46,240, with the lowest and highest percentile earners taking home $29,520 and $76,080, respectively. The highest-paying industries for mental health counselors include government agencies, hospitals (state, local, and private), and individual and family services facilities.

Continuing Education & Related Degrees

Earning this degree qualifies you for most mental health counseling jobs, but it also acts as a solid stepping stone for further academic and career advancement. Below are a few degree options that may be good options. Each one takes a master’s in mental health counseling as a starting point and develops additional expertise.

We’ve also listed a few alternative master’s degrees to consider, which are worth looking into if you’re not locked into earning a mental health counseling degree.

Continuing Education Opportunities

PhD in Mental Health Counseling

This is the highest terminal degree in mental health counseling. Designed for those interested in education, research, or continued practice, it develops advanced scientific knowledge and expert clinical skills. It prepares you for postsecondary teaching and to conduct cutting-edge research that broadens the field’s horizons.

PsyD (Doctor of Psychology)

This course of study is similar to a Ph.D. in terms of educational attainment but focuses on clinical work in psychology rather than research and teaching. It deepens evidence-based applications and usually involves an original project that explores a specific clinical problem. Graduates with this degree often work as clinical psychologists in private practice.

DSW (Doctor of Social Work)

A DSW applies mental health counseling knowledge in practice-based social work contexts. DSW candidates learn to assess and implement social welfare programs and focus on how mental health concerns interact with that space. The highest degree in social work, this credential qualifies you for work as an advanced practitioner or a postsecondary professor.

Related Degrees to Consider

Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW)

All social workers must earn this degree before commencing practice. It complements graduate work in mental health counseling by looking at how individuals, groups, and societies enable or impede collective well-being. It develops hard kills in case management, public health, and advocacy. Graduates stand fully prepared for work in social service centers, community health facilities, and government agencies.

Online Master’s in Psychology

A master’s in psychology develops social science research knowledge and additional expertise in treating and diagnosing mental health issues. If your mental health counseling degree focused how on to interact with patients in psychotherapy situations, this degree teaches you how to bring insights gleaned from those situations into a strong research focus.

Online Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis

This degree focuses on how people learn new behaviors and identifies the influential factors that contribute to behavior development in groups and individuals. Candidates use empirical techniques and scientific experimentation to gain a greater understanding of human behavior and how certain behaviors can be modified to support mental and emotional health.

Additional Resources for Mental Health Counseling Students and Professionals

American Counseling Association

American Mental Health Counseling Association

American Psychological Association

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Association for the Dually Diagnosed

National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists

National Board for Certified Counselors

Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association

The Association for Addiction Professionals