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Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Guide

Marriage and family therapy, sometimes also called marriage and family counseling or couples and family counseling, is a form of advanced practice counseling that helps individuals, couples, and families build healthy relationships. As an advanced practice occupation, all 50 states in the US require that prospective marriage and family therapists (MFTs) hold a master’s degree in order to become licensed. On this page, you will find detailed information about master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy as well as potential careers with this degree, professional certifications, and more.

Table of Contents
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy?
Best Value Schools with On-Campus Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Programs
Best Value Schools with Online Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Programs
Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Requirements and Coursework
Professional Certifications for Degree Holders
What Jobs Can You Get with a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy?
Other Degrees in Counseling
Frequently Asked Questions

Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy?

Since it is a requirement for licensure in all US states, earning a master’s in marriage and family therapy is a critical step towards becoming a marriage and family counselor or therapist. Although there are select opportunities to work in the marriage and family therapy field with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, most positions require an advanced degree and license to practice. As a result, earning a master’s in marriage and family therapy will likely be the first step you take on your journey to this career.

Master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy that are designed to lead to licensure typically comprise 48 to 60 credit hours, depending on the program and the requirements of the state in which it is located. This equates to two to three years of study for most students and ensures that graduates have the skills and knowledge that are required to successfully lead relationship counseling sessions. If you completed a 48-credit hour marriage and family counseling degree but need 60 credit hours to qualify for licensure, a graduate marriage counseling certificate may help you meet requirements. PhD in marriage and family therapy programs are also available and can potentially lead to licensure or academic careers. A PhD in marriage and family therapy commonly takes 45 credit hours (or more) beyond the master’s level, typically with a greater focus on counseling theory and research.

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Programs

We designed the following table to help you find the not-for-profit colleges and universities with the top marriage and family therapy graduate programs, based on best value weighing graduation rate and net tuition cost. We included schools according to whether they have a master’s in marriage and family therapy program with an average graduation rate of 65% or better with a tuition cost under $20,000 per academic year. High graduation rates are a commonly accepted indicator of student success, while a low net price is important for many prospective students. Considering this and other factors can help you find the right marriage and family counseling degree program for your needs and goals.

SchoolMFT Graduate Degree(s)US News National Rank1Grad Rate*2% Tenured Faculty3Net Price**2
Appalachian State UniversityMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR72%39%$10,491
University of FloridaM.Ed./EdS, MAE/EdS in Marriage and Family Counseling#34 tie90%50%$11,313
University of Central FloridaMA in Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy#166 tie73%44%$13,016
Brigham Young University-ProvoMS in Marriage and Family Therapy#77 tie86%45%$13,120
Arizona State University-TempeMAS in Marriage and Family Therapy#117 tie69%39%$13,731
East Carolina UniversityMS in Marriage and Family Therapy#228 tie65%42%$13,746
University of OregonMS in Couples and Family Therapy#104 tie73%39%$15,939
University of Maryland-College ParkMS in Couple and Family Therapy#64 tie86%44%$16,790
Lincoln Christian UniversityMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR71%N.Av.$18,653
Harding UniversityMS in Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy#240 tie67%N.Av.$19,580
Fresno Pacific UniversityMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR66%42%$19,965

Table notes and references can be found at the bottom of this page.

Best Value Schools with Online Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Programs

Due to increased demand, more schools are offering online marriage and family therapy programs as well as hybrid online programs that combine on-campus coursework with distance education. The schools in the below table offer online or hybrid online master’s in marriage and family therapy programs with a graduation rate of at least 30% paired with a net average tuition cost of $22,000 or lower. When considered with other factors, graduation rate and net tuition cost can be indicators of quality online marriage and family therapy programs.

SchoolOnline MFT Graduate Degree(s)US News National Rank1Grad Rate*2% Tenured Faculty3Net Price**2
Medaille CollegeMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR37%8%$11,929
Mid-America Christian UniversityMS in Counseling, Marital, Couples, and Family Counseling/TherapyNR39%N.Av.$12,944
University of West AlabamaMS in Family CounselingNR31%28%$13,357
Regent UniversityMA in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling#281 tie59%37%$16,779
Campbellsville UniversityMaster’s in Marriage and Family TherapyNR40%17%$17,843
Lincoln Christian UniversityMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR71%N.Av.$18,653
Touro UniversityMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR50%N.Av.$19,045
Fresno Pacific UniversityMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR66%42%$19,965
Houston Baptist UniversityMA in Marriage and Family TherapyNR40%N.Av.$21,479

Table notes and references can be found at the bottom of this page.

Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Requirements and Coursework

A master’s in marriage and family therapy can also be called a master’s in marriage and family counseling, a master’s in marital and family therapy, a master’s in couples and family therapy, and other variations. There are also marriage and family counseling degree programs that are designed as master’s in mental health counseling with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. Despite variations in titles and coursework from program to program, at its core a master’s in marriage and family therapy will emphasize relationship counseling skills as well as individual counseling skills in order to prepare you to help clients build and support healthy relationships of all kinds. Programs may offer opportunities to focus on a specific type of relationship, such as romantic relationships, working relationships, or family relationships.

Prerequisites for admission to a master’s in marriage counseling include a bachelor’s degree with a strong record of academic performance. This typically translates into a minimum GPA of 3.0 or above. Most programs will consider graduates from any major, although those who studied a closely-related field such as psychology, social work, human services, or pre-counseling may have an edge. It is also common for schools to require a minimum score on graduate admissions exams such as the GRE.

To meet state licensing requirements, a master’s in marriage and family therapy counseling typically takes 48 to 60 credit hours (two to three years) to complete. The coursework will include at least one formal field experience in a mental health setting. Common courses for aspiring marriage and family therapists include:

  • Advanced Crisis Counseling
  • Counseling Across Cultures
  • Couples and Marital Therapy
  • Ethics in Clinical Practice
  • Family Life Cycle
  • Group Counseling
  • Marriage and Family Systems
  • Non-traditional Families
  • Research Methods in Counseling
  • Theories in Counseling

Professional Certifications for Degree Holders

License and certification requirements for marriage and family therapists may vary from state to state. However, in all 50 states and Washington, DC, the minimum requirement for a license is a master’s degree. Many states follow a 60-credit hour requirement for prospective MFTs, meaning that a minimum of 60 graduate credit hours that include the award of a master’s degree or above are required. All states also have supervised experience guidelines that require prospective counselors to gain one to three years of experience after earning their master’s in order to become fully licensed.

In addition to licensure, there are professional certifications that you can qualify for with a master’s in marriage and family counseling. If you are fully licensed as a marriage counselor at the highest level of licensure offered in your state, you may join the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy as a clinical fellow. You may also qualify for professional certifications through the National Board for Certified Counselors, such as the National Certified Counselor (NCC) or Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC). There are various certifications offered by the National Association of Forensic Counselors (NAFC) which may be of interest to MFTs, particularly the Certified Domestic Violence Counselor (CDVC) credential.

What Jobs Can You Get with a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy?

Since the title and practice of “marriage and family therapist” requires a master’s degree, most opportunities in this field are found by those who have a master’s degree and their MFT license. In addition to licensed marriage and family therapist, job opportunities include roles in supervising and management. Master’s degree holders can also find work in research and academia.

Titles for marriage and family therapists vary somewhat by state, and you should be sure to check your state licensing board for detailed requirements. Typical license titles for marriage and family therapists, all of which require a master’s degree, include:

  • Certified Marriage and Family Therapist (CMFT)
  • Independent Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (ILMFT)
  • Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist (LCMFT)
  • Licensed Marital and Family Therapist (LMFT)
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
  • Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

Visit our guide to careers in marriage and family therapy for detailed information on career paths by degree level.

Other Degrees in Counseling

Frequently Asked Questions

What degree do marriage counselors need?

In all 50 states and Washington DC, marriage counselors are required to have a master’s degree in order to become licensed. Depending on the laws of a given state, the master’s should be between 48 and 60 credit hours long. Many states will also recognize degrees in allied fields, such as mental health counseling, for licensure provided that specific course requirements are met. Check with your state licensing board for detailed and up-to-date information.

Can you earn a master’s in marriage and family therapy online?

Absolutely! There are many online marriage and family therapy programs that can help you qualify for licensure and launch a career in this field. You should be aware, however, that while many programs are low-residency or even non-residency, you will be expected to complete an in-person practicum or field experience. Most programs will allow you to complete this in your local area.

What can I do with a marriage counseling certificate?

If you already have your master’s degree in marriage counseling or mental health counseling, a marriage counseling certificate can help you meet a state’s 60-credit hour requirement for licensure. Even if you are already licensed, earning a graduate certificate can be a good career move as it can provide additional, high-level specialization that can benefit your practice.

What are the different marriage and family therapy degrees?

Marriage and family therapy degrees are most often found at the master’s and doctoral levels and in the form of graduate certificates. There are a limited number of bachelor’s programs in marriage and family counseling as well, although these will not qualify graduates for licensure. Common titles for a major in marriage and family therapy include marriage and family counseling, marriage counseling, marital and family therapy or counseling, and family counseling.

How long does it take to earn a master’s in marriage and family therapy?

Marriage and family therapy master’s programs typically require 48 to 60 credit hours, which comprises two to three years of study for most students. Studying part-time or on an accelerated schedule may extend or reduce this timeline. A doctorate in marriage and family therapy, which is commonly at least 45 credit hours beyond the master’s level, typically takes three to five years to earn. A bachelor’s degree commonly takes four to six years to earn with no transfer credit, depending on whether the student is full-time or part-time.

What can I do with a bachelor’s in marriage and family therapy?

While a bachelor’s in marriage and family therapy will not qualify you for licensure as a marriage and family therapist, it may qualify you for licensure in substance abuse counseling depending on your state’s guidelines. A bachelor’s degree can also qualify you for support roles as an intake assistant or technician, as a behavioral health technician, or as a crisis counselor, again depending on your state’s guidelines. Earning a bachelor’s degree, whether in marriage and family therapy or another subject, is also important as preparation for marriage and family therapy master’s programs.

What can I do with a PhD in marital and family counseling?

A PhD in marriage and family counseling is a firm foundation for a career in research, advancing the theory and practice of counseling as a field. It is also a great way to set the stage for a career in academia as a professor or to become competitive for job openings in administration in various types of agencies. A doctorate in marriage and family therapy may also qualify you for state licensure. In some states, you may also qualify for licensure with a PhD.

Are there undergraduate degrees in marriage counseling?

Undergraduate degrees in marriage counseling are unusual in the US since the standard for this field is a master’s degree or above. However, select programs do offer bachelor’s degrees in marriage and family therapy and allied fields that can help you prepare for marriage and family therapy master’s programs and become qualified for support roles in the counseling field.

Table Notes and References:
*Graduation rate is for undergraduates beginning studies in 2012 who completed their degree within 150% of the normal timeframe.
**Net price is for undergraduates during the 2017-2018 academic year and reflects the average total cost of tuition, fees, and books after scholarships and financial aid.

1. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
2. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/