Best Online Master's in School Counseling Programs (2023)

Overview of an Online School Counseling Program

For many young students, navigating the education system can be daunting. They are faced with social issues, challenging coursework, and tough decisions regarding the direction of their lives after grade school. School counselors are hired by institutions to guide students through these issues by offering advice and mentorship. If you're interested in this career path, you'll need to earn a master's degree in school counseling.

Online school counseling programs at the master's level can take students one to three years to complete, and they require 30 to 75 credit hours.

Before applying to school at the master's level, you'll need a bachelor's degree in a similar subject, such as teaching, counseling psychology, social work, or simply counseling. Some students earn their bachelor's in school counseling before going on to study for a master's in secondary education in order to work at the university level.

Earning a master's degree online is a valuable option for your future career prospects as a counselor. It's also considered a well respected degree in line with traditional on-campus learning. By attending an online school counseling program, you'll learn important skills in interventionism and behavioral assessment techniques, and you'll study the detailed history of the U.S. education system. You'll use data to drive your counseling studies and look at modern counseling strategies for an increasingly diverse student body.

Common Courses for a School Counseling Major

Coursework in school counseling online programs cover the specific skills and knowledge you'll need to become a licensed counselor. You'll study social and cultural issues, human growth development, career development, and how to apply research and data to your profession.

Below is a list of five courses that are commonly found among the best masters in school counseling programs:

Ethics and Legal Issues in School Counseling

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This course covers the ethical standards of modern-day school counseling while also looking at this field through an historical, philosophical, and cultural lens. You'll discuss the trends of school counseling as well as the profession's ethical standards put forth by prominent organizations in the education industry.

Lifespan Development

Lifespan development looks at the emotional, social, and cognitive processes of human growth. This course provides insight into basic developmental phases in order to provide a better understanding of what young students go through at a biological level.

Research in School Counseling

Here, students will take a data-driven approach to counseling by investigating and analyzing research in school counseling. They are introduced to the scientific practice of research and the relevant terminology, before being assigned their own research projects, where they'll write their findings in a report.

Child Therapy and Assessment

This class takes the proven methods of adolescent psychology and applies it to an education environment. You'll look at intervention techniques and assessment practices while keeping in mind a student's home environment, cognitive issues, and family structure to provide constructive therapeutic techniques.

School Counseling Techniques

This course covers the hard skills needed to be an effective and ethical school counselor, including interview best-practices, observation techniques, data collecting, and writing comprehensive reports.

School Counseling Concentrations

Some online master's in school counseling degrees offer concentrations that allow you to more closely study a niche within the field or create additional skills that will better your employment opportunities.

For example, some programs may offer a bilingual extension, which looks at education practices and theory in a commonly spoken language, such as Spanish.

(Video) School counseling: online master’s degree

Others offer mental health concentrations that focus on the practice of addressing cognitive and behavioral issues that many young students face during their education.

Career Outlook

School counseling degrees are designed to teach students the skills to operate as a professional counselor in an educational institution. School's are unique environments, especially when compared to psychologist offices, rehabilitation centers, or social work agencies.

Professionals in this field are hired by both public and private schools, where they monitor student behavior, provide academic and social guidance, and administer aptitude tests.

School counselors earn an annual median salary of $60,510 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). When you compare this to the $58,260 average salary for all occupations in May of 2021, you can see that school counselors earn only slightly more each year.

There were 322,000 school counselors working in the U.S. as of 2020. The BLS projects that there will be 37,000 more jobs added before 2030, giving school counselors an 11% job outlook. This is faster than the average occupation's growth rate which sits at around 8%.

Do You Need a Master’s To Be a Guidance Counselor?

Typically, you are required to obtain a master's degree in school counseling before applying to become a licensed guidance counselor. Additionally, the skills and knowledge you'll gain from a graduate program are necessary to be an ethical, fair, and effective counselor for young students.

Public school counselors, specifically, are required to have a state-issued credential in order to practice. Unfortunately, this credential's title varies from state to state. Some states call it a certification or a license, others call it an endorsement.

What Licensure and Certification Do You Need?

States generally require a master's degree — along with a license — to work as a school counselor in grades K-12. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is an excellent resource for each state's requirements when it comes to working as a certified counselor.

Every state has their own requirements in education, practical experience, and even background checks. Some states, such as Alaska, may also require you to take cultural coursework related to their region, including a specific set of credit hours dedicated to multicultural and Alaskan studies. Once you meet said requirements, you'll be eligible to apply for a state license in school counseling. From there, you can begin applying for full-time employment in both state-funded and private schools.

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If you're looking for more professional accolades, a certification provides a designation for an individual's achievements in the field. You can choose to earn a National Certified School Counselor certificate or complete the National Counselor Examination from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). These will help boost your credibility and knowledge through additional coursework in trauma, abuse, addiction, and family counseling, as well as program evaluation and human development.

Choosing an Online Master's in School CounselingProgram

Accreditation verifies the legitimacy and efficacy of an institution. Verifying your school's accreditation status should be your first step in choosing the right program.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the main institution that accredits graduate programs in school counseling. Their rigorous standard looks at everything from a program's learning environment to how a program evaluates its students. Furthermore, all of OnlineU's recommendations for master's degrees in school counseling come from accredited institutions.

Aside from accreditation, there are other facts to consider as well. If you have credits from another university, you should ensure they will be properly transferred to the new program. Credits are a valuable asset for master's students, so it's important that you check your school's transfer policy before committing to said program.

Another thing to think about is how the application of online learning differs from on-campus learning and what requirements there might be for your online degree. Most school counseling master's degrees require in-person practicums or internships. So while the majority of your coursework will be online, you will also need to gain on-site work experience from an approved employer. For those studying out-of-state, you'll need to ensure there are local institutions where you can complete your internship.

If you are looking to graduate from your master's fast, see our article about accelerated learning options and how to graduate from college early.

Is a Master's in School Counseling Worth It?

There are several things to think about before choosing an online master's in school counseling. With so many hoops to jump through, and a hefty cost along the way, you might be asking yourself if it's worth it.

Let's take a look at the various pros and cons of earning a master's in school counseling:

Potential Benefits

School counseling can be a very fulfilling and satisfying career. This is primarily because your responsibilities revolve around assisting and guiding children and young students through their most formidable years.

Teachers and counselors receive more time off than other occupations. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, teachers work approximately 185 days per year compared to the average occupation which works around 230 days per year.

Some school counselors are eligible for federal loan forgiveness plans. Once you're employed as a school counselor, you may qualify to have your master's degree loan forgiven by the federal government through Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

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Potential Drawbacks

Grade school counselors are often considered underpaid. Even though their role in public schools is vitally important, counselors receive only a modest salary of $60,510, which is even less than the $61,820 salary of high school teachers.

School counseling can be a stressful undertaking. According to recent research compiled by NBCC's academic journal, The Professional Counselor, school counselors report that stress and burnout contribute to "a negative influence on the services they provide to students."

A growing ratio of students-to-school-counselors could mean your job becomes less effective. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) reports that the national ratio of students-to-school-counselors in 2021 was 415-1, which is much higher than their recommendation of 250-1.


As a graduate student, you may look for assistance in a variety of ways — from student loans to scholarships. As mentioned above, there are several organizations that offer helpful resources to school counseling graduate students.

ASCA provides a list of state requirements for certification and membership opportunities for master's graduates, where you can receive professional liability insurance coverage, among other benefits.

NBCC offers two professional certificates which are relevant for aspiring school counselors.

CACREP offers resources for accredited educational programs in the field of school counseling.

At the American Counseling Association (ACA), you can apply for a membership that offers career and continuing education resources, discounts for relevant services, counseling-related content, and advocacy projects on behalf of professionals in the field.

Bottom Line

Earning a master's degree in school counseling is a costly endeavor that can take years to complete. The subject matter deals with sensitive topics related to adolescent behavior and the corresponding therapeutic techniques that are used in a school environment. There are plenty of support networks and organizations that are designed to help students with their studies and career steps thereafter. Upon graduation, you'll likely find yourself earning a modest salary, which can feel more balanced when considering all the days-off you receive and the help you're able to provide your students.

If you're unsure about pursuing a master's in guidance counseling online, you may also look into graduate programs in educational leadership, elementary education, special education, or health education.


How do I become a school counselor in MA? ›

Steps to Becoming Licensed
  1. Get your bachelor's degree.
  2. Get your master's degree.
  3. Pass the Communications & Literacy sections of the MTEL.
  4. Apply for your Initial License through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). ...
  5. Move your Initial License to a Professional License.

What is the best degree for counseling? ›

Counselors must earn a four-year undergraduate degree, and typically a master's degree, in order to begin their practice.
Doctoral Programs
  • PhD in Counseling Psychology.
  • PsyD in Counseling Psychology.
  • EdD (Doctor of Education) in Counseling Psychology.
  • PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy: General Family Therapy.

How do I become a school counselor in California? ›

Educational Requirements: There are two pathways: (1) Completion of a CACREP-accredited school counselor program, which includes an internship in a school setting of 600 hours, or (2) Completion of a master's degree in school counseling from a regionally accredited college or university, including an internship in a ...

Do you need to take the GRE for masters in counseling? ›

No GRE Required. Bachelor's Degree Required. Minimum GPA 3.0. CACREP accredited program prepares you to work as a counselor in schools, private practices and mental health clinics.

Is a counseling degree worth it? ›

Yes, a masters in mental health counseling is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 12% job growth in community and social service occupations over the next 10 years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

How much does a high school counselor make in Massachusetts? ›

How much does a School Guidance Counselor make in Massachusetts? The average School Guidance Counselor salary in Massachusetts is $66,139 as of September 26, 2022, but the range typically falls between $54,614 and $80,951.

How do I become a school counselor without a degree? ›

Research available certification options

There are a variety of colleges, universities and professional institutions that offer certifications online for counselors without degrees. These certifications can range from a few days to a year in length.

How do I become a school social worker in Massachusetts? ›

Becoming a School Social Worker in Massachusetts

Earn a Master's degree in Social Work or Counseling from an accredited institution. Complete a practicum comprised of at least 900 hours of social work, including a minimum of 450 hours working with children, adolescents, and their families in an academic setting.

What's the difference between a counselor and a therapist? ›

Counselors tend to offer short-term care, while therapists tend to offer long-term care. Therapists can be more past focused and counselors more future focused. Counselors often have a set number of sessions, and therapists often work on an ongoing basis. Therapists are more likely to treat mental health conditions.

How long does it take to become a counselor? ›

Generally speaking, becoming an LMHC requires a solid base of psychology, therapy, and counseling training. The entire process can take anywhere from three to five years, based on your time commitment, internship hours, and post-grad supervised experience.

How long is a Master's degree? ›

Master's degrees typically take two years to complete, but the timeframe can vary from person to person. Depending on your degree program and whether you're going to school full-time or part-time, it could take you less time to get your master's degree – or more.

Can you be a school counselor with a bachelor's degree in California? ›

All school counselors in the state of California must have earned a bachelor's degree followed by a graduate degree specializing in school counseling. Your graduate program must be Commission on Teacher Credentialing-approved, consist of at least 48 semester units and include an in-school practicum experience.

How much does a high school counselor make in California? ›

Didn't find your job? How much does a High School Guidance Counselor make in California? The average High School Guidance Counselor salary in California is $60,920 as of September 26, 2022, but the range typically falls between $48,817 and $76,835.

How much do elementary school counselors make in California? ›

How much does a School Counselor make in California? The average School Counselor salary in California is $53,116 as of September 26, 2022, but the range typically falls between $50,461 and $62,021.

Is the GRE difficult? ›

The GRE test is often viewed as the most difficult graduate college entrance exam when compared with the SAT and ACT tests. The GRE's challenging essays, reading, and vocabulary sections make it a tough exam, but it doesn't have to be that hard.

Is the GRE psychology test hard? ›

The test can be challenging, but there are plenty of things you can do to prepare for the test and get the scores you need to get admitted to a good psychology program. Get the information you need to know about the GRE Psychology Subject Test.

What is GRE in counseling? ›

Counseling Schools Search

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is one of the most common testing requirements for students who want to enter into a master's level educational program.

What is the difference between a MA and a MS in counseling? ›

An MS degree is best suited for students who have earned a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field, while a master of arts in counseling is ideal for students with a general bachelor's degree, such as English. These programs are designed to incorporate lab work, scientific research, analysis, and evaluation.

Why should you get a masters in counseling? ›

A master's degree in counseling may help to prepare you for a career that focuses on helping others. Professional counselors provide valuable services to clients during challenging times or life transitions, with an impact that may extend from individuals to families and communities.

Is a PHD in counseling Psychology worth it? ›

Earning an advanced degree allows counselors to have more career opportunities open to them. If your career goal extends beyond simply having a private practice, a doctoral degree might be a requirement for acquiring a high-level job in a university, hospital, school system or community center.

Where do school counselors get paid the most? ›

New Hampshire is the best state in the country for school counselor jobs, and New Hampshire has the second-highest median salary in the country.
4. New Jersey.
Total School Counselor Jobs:658
Average Annual Salary:$53,340
Lowest 10 Percent Earn:$37,000
Highest 10 Percent Earn:$74,000
1 more row
6 Apr 2021

How much do high school counselors make in Hawaii? ›

The average salary for a school counselor in Hawaii is $59,500 per year.

How much do public school teachers make in Massachusetts? ›

How much does a Public School Teacher make in Massachusetts? The average Public School Teacher salary in Massachusetts is $60,324 as of September 26, 2022, but the range typically falls between $50,381 and $73,552.

What type of counselor does not need a degree? ›

Do You Need a Degree? Maybe Not. Here Are 5 Counseling Careers That Don't Require a Degree.
  • Community Health Worker. ...
  • Peer Support Specialist. ...
  • Psychiatric Technician or Aide. ...
  • Social and Human Services Assistant. ...
  • Teacher Assistant.
15 Aug 2022

How do I start a career in Counselling? ›

Counselling training

And, although you don't need a degree to train to be a counsellor, you will need to complete relevant training courses. There is a wide range of professional training providers which provide a variety of courses that will allow you to kick start your career as a fully-fledged counsellor.

Can you be a therapist with a bachelor's degree in psychology? ›

After earning a bachelor's degree, one can start working as a behavioral disorder counselor. In order to become a licensed behavioral therapist, one must earn their master's degree in psychology or counseling, and work towards licensure.

How much do Lcsw make in Massachusetts? ›

How much does a Clinical Social Worker - LCSW make in Massachusetts? The average Clinical Social Worker - LCSW salary in Massachusetts is $82,700 as of September 26, 2022, but the range typically falls between $76,300 and $91,900.

What degree does a school social worker need? ›

To be a social worker, you need to hold a degree in social work from an accredited college or university program. The undergraduate degree is the bachelor of social work (BSW). Graduate degrees include the master of social work (MSW), and a doctorate (DSW) or PhD in Social Work.

How much do Licsw make in MA? ›

How much does a Licsw make in Massachusetts? As of Oct 23, 2022, the average annual pay for the Licsw jobs category in Massachusetts is $62,488 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $30.04 an hour. This is the equivalent of $1,201/week or $5,207/month.

Is it easier to become a counselor or therapist? ›

Comparing Counselors to Therapists

Most counselors need about 600 hours of supervised practical experience after completing a master's degree. Psychotherapists often have to complete at least 1,500 hours of supervised work experience in a clinical setting.

How do I become a certified counsellor? ›

After completion of 12th class in any subject, you can go for an undergraduate degree program. To become a counsellor in India, you need to pursue a counsellor degree (B.A./ B.Sc) in Psychology/ Clinical Psychology/ Counselling Psychology or any other similar subject.

Can a counselor diagnose? ›

According to Mental Health America, a mental health counselor has received training to hold individual and group counseling sessions. They can diagnose mental health conditions, but they cannot prescribe medications.

Can you be a counselor without a degree? ›

Training as a counsellor involves a combination of theoretical study and practical experience, but you don't need a degree to become a counsellor.

Can you become a therapist without a psychology degree? ›

Complete a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution.

While it may be fitting to complete your undergraduate degree in psychology, it is not necessary in order to become a therapist.

How do I become a Counsellor with a psychology degree? ›

To qualify, counselling psychologists complete a Health and Care Professions Council-accredited practitioner doctoral degree, which require at least 450 hours of supervised counselling practice over three or more years. These hours should be undertaken in a variety of settings.

What is your title if you have a Masters? ›

Guidance on Post-Nominal Letters
Award LevelAward TypeAbbreviation
Master's DegreesMaster of ArtsMA
Master of Business AdministrationMBA
Master of DesignMDes
Master of PhilosophyMPhil
28 more rows

Can you finish Masters in 1 year? ›

Typically, earning a master's degree takes two years. But many colleges and universities offer one-year master's degrees in high-demand fields like business, healthcare administration, education, and social work. Earning a master's degree in one year can save you time and money on your degree.

Do all masters degrees require a thesis? ›

Note that most master's degrees require the completion of a thesis for graduation. Some bachelor's degree programs even require students to write an undergraduate thesis, which is typically shorter and less in-depth than a master's degree thesis.

Can you become a counsellor with an online course? ›

It is possible to complete a certificate in counselling via online learning, which is a flexible and cost effective option for those who are interested in moving in to this area of work. The diploma in counselling is the next stage and is viewed as one of the most essential qualifications in this industry.

Can you do a counselling course online? ›

There are many counselling courses online available for various disciplines that can equip you with the skills and expertise to help people who are struggling with incredibly difficult situations.

Can I become a counsellor without a degree? ›

Training as a counsellor involves a combination of theoretical study and practical experience, but you don't need a degree to become a counsellor.

How do you become a counsellor? ›

After completion of 12th class in any subject, you can go for an undergraduate degree program. To become a counsellor in India, you need to pursue a counsellor degree (B.A./ B.Sc) in Psychology/ Clinical Psychology/ Counselling Psychology or any other similar subject.

How long does it take to become a qualified counsellor? ›

Professional counsellor training takes three to five years and can be diploma or degree level.

How do I train to be a child counsellor? ›

Qualifications Needed for a Child Counsellor

The school you study at must be registered with and accredited by, the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) and you can expect to spend two years studying to reach diploma level or three years studying to reach Masters level.

How long does it take to become a counselor? ›

Generally speaking, becoming an LMHC requires a solid base of psychology, therapy, and counseling training. The entire process can take anywhere from three to five years, based on your time commitment, internship hours, and post-grad supervised experience.

What is difference between psychotherapy and counselling? ›

Psychotherapy is more in depth and facilitates long term changes; a reconstruction of personality or psyche areas. Counselling helps support existing personality structures. If you imagine the analogy of a house being the therapy. Counselling might involve a lick of paint and some new furniture.

Can you do a masters in Counselling? ›

Masters degrees in Counselling involve advanced study of therapy techniques aimed at improving individuals' mental health. When you've finished an accredited Masters in Counselling, you'll be able to apply to become a registered counsellor or psychotherapist.

What can I do with a level 3 counselling certificate? ›

This qualification is intended for candidates who have already acquired a recognised qualification in counselling skills and want to: take the next step in training to become a counsellor. learn more about counselling theory, ethics and mental health. be prepared for work as a professional counsellor in an agency ...

What skills do you need to be a counsellor? ›

Key skills for counsellors
  • Listening skills.
  • Empathy and understanding.
  • A non-judgemental attitude.
  • Patience and a calm manner.
  • Ability to cope with emotional situations.
  • Ability to relate to and adapt communication style to suit a wide range of people.

Can anybody call themselves a therapist? ›

In California, as in most states, anyone can call themselves a psychoanalyst, a counselor, a hypnotist a hypnotherapist or a psychotherapist without any kind of training or education. These titles are not regulated, licensed or controlled in any way.

What subjects are needed to become a counsellor? ›

These are the matric subjects needed to study a psychology course at SACAP:
  • Higher Certificate in Counselling and Communication Skills. ...
  • Diploma in Counselling and Communication Skills. ...
  • Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Majoring in Psychology and Counselling) ...
  • Bachelor of Psychology (BPsych)
12 Oct 2021

How do I become a counsellor with a psychology degree? ›

To qualify, counselling psychologists complete a Health and Care Professions Council-accredited practitioner doctoral degree, which require at least 450 hours of supervised counselling practice over three or more years. These hours should be undertaken in a variety of settings.

What is it like to be a counsellor? ›

Counsellors are impartial and non-judgemental, providing a safe and confidential environment for clients to look at their own values and beliefs. You won't give advice, but will support clients to explore their behaviour patterns and make their own choices.

Why do I want to be a counsellor? ›

A counsellor provides much-needed assistance to clients who are experiencing problems in their everyday lives. As a counsellor, you provide guidance, support, and direction, and you can see your contribution to your client's betterment firsthand as together you work towards a positive solution to their problem.


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