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Guide to Earning a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Online

    Over 250 schools offer master’s in mental health counseling programs, and a growing number are offering online routes to earning the degree.1 Earning your master’s in clinical or licensed mental health counseling is a typical requirement for becoming licensed as a mental health counselor or licensed professional counselor (MHC, LMHC, or LPC), which is why these programs are sometimes searched for as “online LMHC programs” or “online LPC programs.” Most careers in mental health counseling require an advanced degree, licensure, and supervised work experience.

    On this page, you’ll find information about online master’s in mental health counseling options and advice for evaluating online programs. Our list of top online mental health counseling programs will help you research degree options from well-known schools as well as smaller institutions that provide competitive education and value.

    Table of Contents
    Master’s in Mental Health Counseling: Online vs. On-Campus
    Best Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs
    Profiles of Top Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs
    Frequently Asked Questions

    Earning a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Online vs. On-Campus

    Online study carries both benefits and drawbacks when compared to traditional on-campus study. In addition to evaluating specific mental health counseling master’s programs online, it’s a good idea to analyze whether online learning is right for you and your personal circumstances.

    One major benefit to online study is that it can potentially allow you to attend an out-of-state school without having to relocate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately 52% of postbaccalaureate students studying exclusively online attend institutions located outside of their home state.2 If you do study at an out-of-state school for your online master’s in counseling, be sure to check how that might impact your plans for licensure.

    Another factor to consider when evaluating clinical mental health counseling graduate programs online is institutional support. A department with a larger proportion of online students is more likely to be supportive and responsive to the unique needs of online learners. This factor is included in our ranking of online master’s in mental health counseling programs below.

    A possible drawback to online study that potential students should keep in mind is the differences in peer-to-peer interaction and networking. Networking is commonly viewed as a major benefit of graduate study, and online students may sacrifice face-to-face time which can make networking more challenging. However, engaged students can still build relationships and network with their peers, instructors, and potential mentors using by various online tools including discussion boards and online communications apps like Zoom and Slack.

    Counselor Licensing with an Online Master’s Program in Counseling

    In most cases, the pathway to licensure with an online degree in counseling will work the same as with an on-campus degree. To ensure that a program will be considered in assessing your eligibility for licensure it is important to look for:

    • Regional accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting bodies recognized by the US Department of Education;
    • Specific program approval from the state board of licensed professional counselors, if a requirement in that state; and/or
    • Accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP).

    Be sure to check your state’s specific guidelines in order to understand which of these are requirements for licensed mental health counselors in your area and whether mental health counseling online programs will meet those standards.

    Best Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Programs

    Our unique ranking of the best online master’s in mental health counseling programs analyzes various factors to identify the top programs designed to lead to mental health counselor licensure. All of the schools included on our list are not-for-profit and regionally accredited by a body recognized by the US Department of Education.

    Our ranking gives particular weight to the cost of tuition per online credit hour averaged between in-state and out-of-state students, the proportion of tenured faculty, the student loan default rate, and the proportion of graduate students studying exclusively online. Our model also takes into consideration national and regional ranking from US News & World Report and accreditation from CACREP. CACREP accreditation is not typically required for licensure, but it is a helpful indicator of overall program quality.

    SchoolCDG RankAverage Online TuitionCACREP accred.?% of Grad Students Taking Only Distance Education Courses1Overall Grad Rate (UG)1% Tenured Faculty3Student Loan Default Rate1US News National Ranking4US News Regional Ranking4
    William and Mary1$665Yes54%91%48%0.7%#38 tie
    North Carolina State University2$705Yes37%84%50%2.0%#79 tie
    Emporia State University*3$341Yes87%46%49%3.8%#82 tie
    Northwestern University4$5,005Yes2%95%46%0.6%#9 tie
    Oregon State University5$590Yes31%69%36%2.8%#162 tie
    Messiah University6$725Yes62%79%34%2.3%#23 tie
    Geneva College7$710Yes24%72%57%3.8%#73 tie
    Wichita State University8$308Yes21%48%46%5.6%#299-391
    Bradley University9$950Yes84%76%34%2.5%#2 tie
    St. Bonaventure University10$799Yes89%74%33%3.5%#18 tie
    University of Louisiana at Monroe11$500Yes58%57%45%5.4%#299-391
    Concordia University Chicago12$535Yes95%51%10%3.1%#61 tie
    Wake Forest University13$1,560Yes24%89%40%0.6%#28 tie
    Fort Hays State University*14$299Yes90%46%20%5.7%#108 tie
    University of Massachusetts-Boston15$575Yes100%49%31%5.5%#277 tie
    Lock Haven University16$645Yes78%50%72%7.6%#109 tie
    Spring Arbor University17$628Yes77%65%13%3.6%#54 tie
    Indiana Wesleyan University18$590Yes81%72%5.0%#19 tie
    Midwestern State University-Flower Mound19$415Yes71%44%36%7.7%#77 tie
    Malone University*20$650Yes54%54%28%5.5%#82 tie
    Adams State University21$453Yes60%32%20%5.6%#94-122
    North Carolina Central University22$600Yes35%52%33%8.2%#48 tie
    University of the Cumberlands23$400Yes43%40%6%5.3%#299-391
    Nova Southeastern University24$840Yes39%62%3%1.9%#213 tie
    University of West Alabama25$429No93%40%24%5.8%#93 tie
    Wright State University*26$893Yes53%43%58%5.5%#299-391
    Bellevue University27$610Yes92%23%3.1%#119-157
    Colorado Christian University*28$698Yes84%61%7.6%#61 tie
    Marshall University*29$767Yes21%50%40%7.8%#288 tie
    Prescott College30$825Yes99%49%4.7%#94-122
    National Louis University31$759Yes38%22%31%5.1%#299-391
    Lindsey Wilson College32$484Yes53%40%8.7%#84 tie
    University of Alaska Fairbanks33$822Yes65%39%31%8.5%#299-391
    Union Institute and University34$810Yes45%38%3.5%#299-391
    Hodges University35$830Yes90%28%5.7%#104-137
    University of Holy Cross36$705Yes5%38%7%
    Medaille College37$900Yes14%37%7%8.9%#131-171

    *Programs with an asterisk (*) are hybrid, meaning students must take at least some courses on-campus.

    Profiles of Top Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Programs

    William and Mary (#1)

    university of william and mary logoWilliam and Mary (W&M) offers an online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC). Students may choose to pursue further specialization with an emphasis in Military and Veterans Counseling or School Counseling. Regardless of the emphasis, the curriculum is designed to develop students’ competencies in four areas: Diagnosis, Treatment, Referral, and Prevention. The 60-credit hour program can be completed in three years and includes a practicum as well as a clinical internship. Students can expect to take courses such as Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy; Contemporary Issues in Clinical Mental Health Counseling; and The Counselor and Psychopathology. Two three-day residencies on campus are required, but coursework is completed online and the required internship and practicum can be completed in the student’s local area.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 2,7031
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 42%4
    GRE Required?:

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $665/$6555
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $584/$1,5735
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 37%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $16,5006
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 292%6*

    North Carolina State University (#2)

    north carolina state university logoStudents at North Carolina State University (NCSU) can earn a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Mental Health Counseling in as little as three years. The program uses a model of collaboration between the areas of school, college, and community in order to prepare professionals for multiculturally aware practice. Core courses include Theories of Counseling; Gender Issues in Counseling; and Strategies for Clinical Assessment in Counseling. Admission is competitive and is based on the student’s record of academic achievement, recommendations from past professors and professional supervisors, and leadership activities. An interview round is also part of the admissions process. Graduates of the program are qualified to pursue the Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHCA) credential in North Carolina.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 9,8921
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 46%4
    GRE Required?:

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $272/$1,1387
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $505/$1,5047
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 46%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $17,5006
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 251%6*

    Emporia State University (#3)

    emporia state university logoEmporia State University offers a Master of Science (MS) in Clinical Counseling with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that prepares graduates to practice in a variety of settings with diverse populations. Admission is competitive and it is recommended that students have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 in their previous studies. Concentration courses include Integrated Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders; Psychopharmacology; and Relationship & Family Counseling. Students may also elect to complete a thesis option, which may be of particular interest to those considering academic careers or doctoral study. All students will complete a 600-clock hour internship in a clinical setting. The 60-credit hour curriculum meets the educational standards for licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Kansas. Emporia State also offers master’s-level concentrations in Clinical Addictions Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, and Art Therapy.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 2,6471
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 86%4
    GRE Required?: No8

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $273/$4098
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $567/$8298
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 84%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $14,0006
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 191%6*

    Northwestern University (#4)

    northwestern university logoNorthwestern University’s online Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling emphasizes compassionate care and self-reflective, evidence-based practice. The majority of classes are real-time and the curriculum blends classroom-based study with clinical field placements in order to graduate well-rounded clinicians who are prepared for professional practice. The online program has strong ties to the on-campus program and includes in-person immersions to encourage networking. The program offers rolling admissions and students may start the curriculum in January, April, June, or September. Courses offered include Theories and Techniques of Group Counseling and Psychotherapy; Cultural Diversity in Counseling; and Theory and Technique of Substance Abuse. An optional emphasis in Child and Adolescent practice is offered. Northwestern also offers an online Master of Science (MS) in Marriage and Family Therapy.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 14,0441
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 9%4
    GRE Required?: No9

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $5,005/$5,0059
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $7,123/$7,1239
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 31%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $14,0006
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 472%6*

    Oregon State University (#5)

    oregon state university logo
    Oregon State University’s (OSU) hybrid Master of Counseling in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MCoun) program is designed for part-time students in the greater Corvallis, Oregon area. The curriculum emphasizes rural practice and is designed to be completed in three and a half to four years. Students take primarily online courses but must visit the Wilsonville, Oregon campus for in-person classes that take place two Fridays and Saturdays each term. Students take courses as a cohort, which encourages peer networking. Classes in the program include Social and Cultural Perspectives; Crisis, Trauma, and Grief Counseling; and Applied Psychopathology and Psychodiagnosis. Students also take practicum and internship courses to build their skills in professional clinical settings. OSU works with students to find acceptable sites, though ultimately students are responsible for securing placements.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 5,6681
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 84%4
    GRE Required?: No10

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $590/$59010
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $498/$1,01110
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 39%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $15,0006
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 265%6*

    Messiah University (#6)

    messiah university logoMessiah University is home to an online Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling with an emphasis in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Students take most courses online, with occasional required weeklong intensives on the school’s Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania campus. The 60-credit hour program is designed to lead to credentialing as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Pennsylvania. Courses are offered in eight-week blocks and the curriculum is offered on two-, three-, and four-year timelines to completion. Core courses include Lifespan Development; Spiritual Formation and Faith-based Counseling; and Research Design and Statistics. Emphases in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling and School Counseling are also offered for students interested in a different licensure track. Messiah also offers a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies (CAGS) in Counseling for those who earned a master’s in counseling but need additional credits for licensure or continuing education.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 7561
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 78%4
    GRE Required?: No11

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $725/$72511
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: N/A11
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 62%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $22,5436
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 117%6*

    Geneva College (#7)

    geneva college logoGeneva College offers a Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that can be completed online or in a hybrid format. Online students must attend one five-day residency on the Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania campus, which typically takes place in late August. In addition to professional practica and internships, students may take such online courses as Research Design and Program Evaluation; Social and Cultural Foundations of Counseling; and Foundations for Faith-Based Counseling. Online courses follow an accelerated eight-week schedule, which allows students to complete two courses per quarter. A total of 60 credit hours are required to earn the degree. MA concentrations in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling and Professional School Counseling are also offered.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 1481
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 73%4
    GRE Required?: No12

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $710/$71012
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $710/$71012
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 57%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $19,5006
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 140%6*

    Wichita State University (#8)

    wichita state university logoWichita State University (WSU) offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling with a track in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. 60 credit hours are required to earn the degree, with students given exposure to topics across the counseling spectrum including marriage and family therapy, counseling for children and adolescents, and grief and loss counseling. Example courses include Human Growth and Development for Counselors; Psychopathology and the DSM; and Research Methods and Program Evaluation. Students also take at least six credit hours of internship, which may be taken over one or two semesters. To be considered for admission, students must have a GPA of at least 3.0 across the last 60 credit hours. Graduates are eligible to pursue credentialing as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) in Kansas as well as certification by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 3,0531
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 55%4
    GRE Required?: No13

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $308/$30813
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $308/$75613
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 60%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $14,2506
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 234%6*

    Bradley University (#9)

    bradley university logoAt Bradley University, students can earn an online Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling with an emphasis in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Only two core courses are required, giving students wide latitude in customizing their degree program to personal interests. Courses offered include Loss and Grief Counseling; Counseling Diverse Populations; Crisis Intervention; and Consultation in the Helping Professions. Students will complete at least one professional internship in their local area, with faculty offering placement assistance and guidance. Bradley also offers an online MA in Counseling with an emphasis in Professional School Counseling for those interested in pursuing licensure as school counselors.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 1,2811
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 73%4
    GRE Required?: No14

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $950/$95014
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $950/$95014
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 74%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $22,6256
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 174%6*

    St. Bonaventure University (#10)

    saint bonaventure university logo
    St. Bonaventure University (SBU) offers an online Master of Science in Education (MSED) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The curriculum emphasizes strong professional foundations, the spirit of service, and the human perspective in adopting professional practices to specific communities and populations. In addition to developing professional practice competencies, students will learn about the business of counseling and cultural awareness. Courses include Advanced Human Growth and Development; Theories and Techniques of Counseling; and Abnormal Psychology. Students also complete professional internships and residencies for direct clinical experience. Graduates are prepared to pursue licensure in the state of New York.

    Admissions & Enrollment

    Number of graduate students (campuswide): 7011
    Acceptance rate (campuswide): 76%4
    GRE Required?: No15

    Tuition & Academics

    In-state/out-of-state tuition per online credit hour: $799/$79915
    In-state/out-of-state tuition per on-campus credit hour: $815/$81515
    Graduates studying part-time (campuswide): 81%1

    Graduate Statistics

    Median debt (campuswide): $20,5006
    Earnings-to-debt-return (campuswide): 182%6*

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is clinical mental health counseling?

    Clinical mental health counseling is the professional practice of helping people develop strategies to confront and overcome challenges, including but not limited to challenges with mental illness. You can read more about potential paths on our mental health counselor career guide.

    Can you get licensed in mental health counseling if you studied online?

    Yes, you can get licensed in mental health counseling if you earn your degree online. The process is the same as if you earned your degree on-campus. The key is ensuring that the program you complete meets the requirements for clinical mental health counseling licensure in your state.

    What can you do with a mental health counseling degree?

    A mental health counseling degree prepares you for careers in clinical mental health counseling. Professional settings for counselors include mental health centers, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. Counselors may also visit clients’ homes as well as family care and wellness centers. Some counselors work in college and university health and wellness centers. Those working in K-12 schools typically must be licensed as school counselors, who follow a different education and licensing pathway in many states.

    Is an online master’s in mental health counseling respected?

    Yes! In most cases, the degree awarded for completing an online master’s in mental health counseling is the same as the degree awarded for completing an on-campus program. The accreditation status and overall reputation of the school you attend is generally the driving factor in degree recognition.

    Is enrollment in online master’s programs really growing?

    Even before COVID-19, statistics indicated that online study was a major growth area for postbaccalaureate students (which includes master’s, doctoral, and certificate students beyond the undergraduate level). In Fall 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that 40% of students enrolled in postbaccalaureate programs in private nonprofit schools and 37% enrolled in postbaccalaureate programs in public schools were taking at least one distance education course.2 In the same year, 30% of postbaccalaureate students in private nonprofit schools and 27% of postbaccalaureate students in public schools were taking exclusively online courses.2

    Can you complete an LPC program online?

    LPC stands for licensed professional counselor, which is a professional qualification, rather than a concentration area for a graduate degree. People searching for “LPC online programs” typically mean online programs in clinical mental health counseling that will meet the education requirements for the LPC designation. There are many reputable online mental health counseling programs that can meet this standard.

    References:
    *The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce defines this as a ratio indicating how earnings 10 years after enrollment relate to the median total debt, expressed as a percentage.

    1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
    2. National Center for Education Statistics, Postbaccalaureate Enrollment: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/chb
    3. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/
    4. US News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges
    5. William & Mary: https://www.wm.edu/
    6. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/roi2022/
    7. North Carolina State University: https://www.ncsu.edu/
    8. Emporia State University: https://www.emporia.edu/
    9. Northwestern University: https://www.northwestern.edu/
    10. Oregon State University: https://oregonstate.edu/
    11. Messiah University: https://www.messiah.edu/
    12. Geneva College: https://www.geneva.edu/
    13. Wichita State University: https://www.wichita.edu/
    14. Bradley University: https://bradley.edu/
    15. St. Bonaventure University: https://www.sbu.edu/