25 Best Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling [2020 Guide]

If you want to make positive difference in people’s lives while working in one of the fastest-growing job fields in America, an online masters in mental health counseling may be right for you.

Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that mental health counseling jobs will grow by 25% by 2029, far faster than the average rate for occupations. With specializations ranging from substance abuse counseling to clinical mental health counseling, the field offers a wide range of opportunities.

You’ll need to get a traditional or online masters degree in counseling in order to get your state license to be a counselor. So, if that’s your goal, an online masters in mental health counseling may be the ideal degree for you to pursue.

Best Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Programs

Mental Health Counselor comforting a patient during group counseling

Mental health counselors help people thrive. Sometimes that means guiding clients through rough times. Sometimes it means giving them tools to take their lives to new levels of happiness, inner peace, and success.

Most counselors specialize in one area of mental health. They may provide help for people with relationship issues, substance abuse problems, trauma, or any of a number of other problems.

If you’re looking at earning your mental health counseling masters degree, you may already have a degree in psychology. You may even already be working in the field. Or perhaps you’re looking at taking on a new career path.

Either way, earning your mental health counselor degree online may be the perfect solution to affordably achieve your goal without giving up your current job.

Mental health counseling studies focus on core practices and theories, specialized courses tailored to your chosen niche, and supervised internships. Specifics will vary by individual program, but the overall approach is generally the same across the board because programs need to meet accreditation requirements in order to be seen as credible.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that mental health counseling jobs will increase by 25% before 2029. To give you some context, the average growth rate for all occupations is about 4-7%.

An increase of 25% means around 79,000 new jobs in mental health counseling by 2029. Mental health counselors play an important role in our society. Few careers give such a powerful opportunity to positively impact people’s lives on a one-on-one level.

Mental Health Counseling Careers & Salaries

Mental Health Counseling Careers & Salaries

As the name implies, a degree in mental health counseling is designed for a specific line of work. But within that line of work there are many different specialties.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for mental health counselors is $46,240. As with most other fields, your pay will likely increase with experience.

Where you choose to work will likely play a big role in your income level, as well. For example, government-employed mental health counselors have a median annual income of $52,720. Counselors employed by residential mental health and substance abuse facilities have a median income of $36,690.

The region where you work will also likely affect your range of income. The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down median annual incomes per mental health counseling specialization.

Careers Median Salaries
Psychologists $80,370
School and Career Counselors $57,040
Government Mental Health Counselors $52,720
Social Workers $50,470
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,610
Health Educators and Community Health Workers $46,910
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $46,240
Rehabilitation Counselors $35,950

Clearly, there are a wide variety of potential career paths within the field of mental health counseling, depending on your area of focus and prior experience.

Choosing an Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree

Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree student studying in a cafe

When selecting an online master’s in mental health counseling, there are a few criteria that you should take into account.

  • Make sure your college or university is accredited.
  • If a certain subject area interests you, check to see if the university you’re considering offers a concentration in that field.
  • Is the entire program offering online?
  • Does the university allow you to login anytime or are classes held at certain times?
  • Tuition rates vary widely by university, it pays to compare a few programs before applying.

Many other considerations will depend upon your particular circumstances and goals. Consider writing down a list of these as you shop around for programs.

Masters in Mental Health Counseling Curriculum & Courses

Marriage Counselor meeting with a couple

In earning your masters in mental health counseling, you’ll take a wide range of courses in both general therapeutic techniques and specialized investigations into the niche you intend to pursue.

Here are a few of the most common courses you may take:

  • Family Therapy: This course teaches you how help spouses, children, and siblings get along in a healthy and happy manner.
  • Clinical Skills: A class in clinical skills explores ways for you to communicate effectively with your client, your client’s family members, and your team. It also helps you develop your clinical reasoning and your ability to effectively assess your client’s needs.
  • Research Skills: No degree in the world is going to prepare you for everything you’ll meet in the workplace. Developing research skills will enable you to find the answers you need both in and out of your degree program.
  • Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: This class explores the theoretical foundations of how and why mental-therapeutic techniques work as they do.
  • Ethics: The deep personal relationships that often form in a therapeutic setting pose a unique set of ethical considerations. This class helps guide you through those considerations.
  • Psychopathology: This course walks you through the scientific study of mental illness.
  • Counseling Techniques: As differentiated from the theoretical course previously noted, a course in counseling techniques teaches you the actual “nuts and bolts” of providing mental health counseling.
  • Lifespan Development: This is the study of how people change physically and mentally (and in some cases spiritually) over the course of their lifetime.
  • Diagnosis: This class teaches you how to properly diagnose mental illness, both for your therapeutic approach and for the client’s possible insurance coverage needs.
  • Counseling Addictive Disorders: This course is for those looking to help clients overcome substance abuse and addiction.

There are many other courses you may encounter in your degree program, with some being shared with other degree programs such as with an online master’s in education counseling. The nature of these courses will largely depend on which specialization you choose to pursue.

Admissions Requirements

Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree student studying online

Admission requirements are evolving rapidly these days, but the following are required by most programs.

  • Letter of intent: Many programs will want to know how you intend to contribute to the field upon earning your master’s degree. Your letter of intent will tell them.
  • Undergraduate degree: Transcripts from all universities attended, including the university that conferred your bachelor’s degree.
  • GPA: Most schools post a minimum required score for consideration.
  • GRE scores: Some universities may require GRE scores for admission, but a number of schools do not require scores or offer GRE waivers for qualified applicants.

Specific requirements vary by university, so it’s helpful to compare the universities that interest you most before applying.

Accreditation

Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree Accreditation

Accrediting organizations inspect schools to ensure they meet a minimum level of educational quality. Degrees from accredited institutions will lend your degree a higher level of credibility among potential employers and clients.

When researching masters programs in mental health counseling, there are two types of accreditation to consider.

The first is regional accreditation, the gold standard for accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a great resource for finding information on regional accreditors. The second type of accreditation is programmatic accreditation.

For mental health counseling programs, some universities receive programmatic accreditation by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC), the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), or a similarly reputable group.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree Financial Aid

The most common form of financial aid is federal aid which includes student loans or grants for qualified students. Other options include state aid and private loans.

There are a number of research grants for masters and PhD level students. You may have less of a selection if you’re attending a full-time online master’s program, but it doesn’t hurt to look around at what’s available.

Scholarships are offered by all kinds of organizations and individuals at national, state, and local levels. Some of them don’t advertise, so turn over every stone. You might be surprised at what you find.

What Can You Do With an Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Degree?

Mental Health Counselor having a conversation with a child

An online mental health counseling degree prepares students primarily for jobs as a counselors or therapists.

The variation within the field comes from the specialization you choose. You can work in federal, state, or local government, or in private industry. You can counsel people through relationship troubles, substance abuse problems, trauma, or just general mental health issues.

While being a psychologist usually requires a PhD, the Bureau of Labor Statistics advises that a masters can get you into the field in some circumstances. A masters can also help you get into a PhD program.

How Much Does an Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Program Cost?

Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree student studying on her laptop

Although tuition varies widely from program to program, the cost per credit hour for a masters in mental health counseling averages around $600 per credit hour. There are also many programs that cost between $300 and $400 per credit hour.

When looking at these costs, keep in mind the amount of money that will be saved by attending school online. You’ll be cutting out the cost of commuting and the time spent commuting.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling?

Some masters programs in mental health counseling take as little as a year and a half to complete, but the majority take around two years, for full-time students. How long it takes will depend not only on the program but on how much time you can commit.

If you’re taking classes part-time, then it’s going to take longer to complete your degree. Conversely, some programs may allow you to take on an extra course load and finish ahead of time.

Are There Any Affordable Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Programs?

Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree student studying online at home

There are many affordable online masters in mental health counseling programs. The most inexpensive programs available run at about $300 per credit hour.

Affordability is subjective, so be sure to look at the numbers for specific programs and figure out what makes sense for you. When assessing cost, remember to factor in the additional income you can expect to make upon completing the masters.

Balancing cost and expected income are a good way to get a feel for what is affordable in terms of a long-term investment.

How Much Does a Mental Health Counselor Make With a Masters Degree?

Mental Health Counselor in a group therapy session

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for mental health counselors is $46,240, which is about $7,000 higher the median for all occupations.

The amount you make depends upon the specialization you choose, the amount of experience you have, and the sector you decide to work in. Different regions also have different standards of living, which may alter your pay level.

What Jobs Can I Get With a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling?

An online masters in mental health counseling can get you work as an addiction counselor, a clinical mental health counselor, a marriage and family counselor, a career counselor, or a counselor in another area. Programs are generally tailored towards one of these specializations.

Most of these careers require state licensure, which can only be acquired after earning a master’s degree. In other words, a master’s degree is required to pursue any of the careers on this list.

How Many Credit Hours for a Masters in Counseling?

Mental health Counselor researching online

This master’s degree is generally going to require 36 to 60 credit hours to complete, depending on the program. Those hours are going to be split between foundational courses in general mental health counseling and courses specific to whatever specialization you choose.

The degree will generally require hours spent in practicum and/or in a clinical internship, on top of the course hours. Masters in counseling degrees aren’t designed to be solely or even primarily theoretical. They’re made to be job-training programs that get you ready to do the real work of a counselor.

All states require some number of hours of supervised clinical work before you can do the work on your own. The general requirement is usually around 3,000 hours. Some masters programs will build some of these hours into the degree program.

Is a Masters in Mental Health Counseling Program Worth it?

Mental Health Counselor listening to a patient during counseling session

Yes, a masters in mental health counseling program is worth it. With a median annual salary of $46,240 and 25% job growth (Bureau of Labor Statistics), a degree in mental health counseling can help you launch a satisfying and profitable career in the fields of counseling or psychology.

A masters in mental health counseling (or a related field) is essential to those who want to work in counseling or psychology. While jobs in some fields can simply be worked up to, the mental health counseling field typically requires very specific credentials.

Beyond the potential financial and career benefits, mental health counseling grad programs can give you the knowledge needed to make a more powerful impact on people’s lives.

Universities Offering Online Master’s in Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs

Each of the universities included below are regionally accredited and offer mental health counseling master’s degree online.

#1  Antioch University

Antioch University campus

Antioch University’s online MA in Mental Health Counseling provides undergraduate students with the tools they need on their next step toward professional counseling.

Courses, fieldwork, practicum, available internships, and a residential colloquium develop students’ knowledge and skills as mental health practitioners. This CACREP accredited program is a three-year degree.

Antioch University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#2  Bellevue University

Bellevue University campus

Bellevue University’s Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offers a rigorous online course load for aspiring counselors. This CACREP accredited program has students take practicum and internships to balance knowledge of theory and its applications.

Students learn all aspects of how to become professional, empathetic mental health providers.

Bellevue University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#3  Capella University

Capella University campus

Capella University’s Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is a specialized and rigorous CACREP accredited program. Students take 10 core courses alongside residencies and practicum to ensure their success as counselors in the field of mental health.

Available enrollment counselors, advisors, and a career center all ensure student achievement.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#4  College of William and Mary

College of William and Mary campus

The College of William and Mary’s Master of Education in Counseling offers a comprehensive degree program to prepare students for a career in mental health services. Courses in topics like ethics and multicultural counseling round out the typical course load to provide the best education possible.

The College of William & Mary is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges.

#5  Creighton University

Creighton University campus

Creighton University’s Master of Science in School Counseling and Preventative Mental Health program educates and certifies students to graduate as licensed counselors. Students can customize their schedules to fit their busy lives while receiving a quality education within an ASCA based curricular model.

Creighton University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

#6  Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays State University campus

Fort Hays State University’s Master of Science in Counseling prepares its students for every part of their journey as licensed mental health professionals. Students receive a quality education alongside faculty mentorship and hands-on training to master every aspect of counseling. Classes are 50 percent online, 50 in-person on Fridays and Saturdays.

FHSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#7  Gallaudet University

Gallaudet University campus

Gallaudet University’s Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is a 30-year old program that specializes in counseling for the deaf and hard of hearing. Gallaudet is home to the world’s largest collection of printed material on deafness, and focuses on providing post-graduation employment to their students.

Gallaudet University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

#8  Gwynedd Mercy University

Gwynedd Mercy University campus

Gwynedd Mercy University’s Master of Science in Counseling provides students with the skills to enter the field of mental health services. With training in careers like mental health therapist, correctional counselor, and case manager, this online MS degree sets students on the path to a life of mental disability care.

Gwynedd Mercy University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

#9  Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University offers an Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. This 3-year, 60 credit hour degree program is an LPC or “license for professional counseling” degree. Students graduate from Liberty with the expert knowledge and capable skills for a career in mental health services.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#10  Lubbock Christian University

Lubbock Christian University campus

At Lubbock Christian University, students of the Clinical Mental Health Program receive the education and licensing to serve in a variety of clinical mental health careers. With a professionally developed faculty and a focus on ethics in healthcare, Lubbock provides students a well-rounded degree program specialized for their individual needs.

LCU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#11  Malone University

Malone University campus

Malone University offers a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling which covers topics such as addiction, social justice, and state-specific credential requirements. Students can take online courses at their own pace and schedule, and then receive in-person training through practicum and a two-part internship.

Malone University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

#12  Medaille College

Medaille College campus

Medaille College’s Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling provides a graduate education in mental health services that prepares students for work in the private and public healthcare fields. Students take classes at their own pace online, and can become licensed counselors in New York State.

Medaille College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

#13  New York University

New York University campus

New York University’s Master’s Program in Mental Health Counseling presents the NYU faculty at a flexible schedule. This program is divided into 60 credit hours of coursework, a counseling lab, internship, and practicum. Students can earn their degree in just 21 months, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

New York University is accredited by The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

#14  North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University campus

North Carolina State University’s online Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling presents an exemplary education in patient care at a flexible schedule for working professionals. Hands-on working experience is available through the program’s various internship opportunities, and students individualize their study concentrations.

North Carolina State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#15  Oregon State University

Oregon State University campus

Oregon State University CACREP accredited Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is a part-time, 90 credit hour online program. This program’s coursework is the same as its in-person program; students get the identical quality of education at their own schedule.

This program prepares students for hospital, individual practice, and public healthcare service.

Oregon State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

#16  Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University campus

Southern New Hampshire University’s Master’s in Counseling Online program is accessible 24/7 to students aiming for accreditation as licensed counselors. Under an experienced faculty, students become experts in individual and group counseling, the ethics of mental healthcare, and more. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Southern New Hampshire University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

#17  St Bonaventure University

St Bonaventure University campus

St. Bonaventure University’s online Master’s in Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offers the solid foundation any student needs to become a licensed and capable counselor. From cultural studies to the business practices of mental healthcare services, students personalize their curriculum to get the most of their master’s degree.

Bonaventure is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

#18  The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology campus

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offers a 3-year master’s degree at a part-time, online schedule. Students receive a CACREP accredited education, become licensed as mental healthcare professionals, and finalize the knowledge they need to succeed in their future careers in this field.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#19  Union Institute and University

Union Institute and University campus

At Union Institute and University, students who study for their Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling receive licensure and all the preparation they need as either professional counselors or PhD students.

This CACREP accredited program is personalized to students’ individual needs, guiding them with coursework, faculty attention, and tutors to achieve success.

Union Institute and University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#20  University of Louisiana – Monroe

University of Louisiana Monroe campus

The University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Master of Science in Counseling prepares students in either Clinical Mental Health Counseling or School Counseling. In each track, students receive a quality education to prepare them to be innovative and empathetic counselors and mental health practitioners.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#21  University of Massachusetts – Boston

university of massachusetts boston campus

The University of Massachusetts at Boston is home to a quality online Master of Science in Mental Health. A cohort model allows students to connect with their peers while taking classes with a first-rate faculty. This program supplies every requirement for students to graduate licensed to practice as medical health professionals.

The University of Massachusetts Boston is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc.

#22  University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands campus

The University of the Cumberlands offers an online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that prepares students for a promising career in health care services. This program presents many specialized courses, from Marriage and Family Counseling, to Private Practice Supervision and more. This is a CACREP accredited program.

The University of the Cumberlands is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#23  Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University campus

Wake Forest University offers two online Master’s of Arts in Counseling, one in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, the other in School Counseling. Whether students want to work with children or adults, in the public or private sector, Wake Forest ensures that they have the education necessary to become empathetic community counselors and leaders.

Wake Forest University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges.

#24  Walden University

Walden University campus

At Walden University, the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offers everything aspiring counselors need to succeed. From a diverse, specialized curriculum to faculty who are leaders in their field, students are supported and encouraged on their journey to licensure and a career in mental health care.

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

#25  West Virginia University

West Virginia University campus

At West Virginia University’s Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, students learn theory alongside practical skills to become expert mental health professionals.

This low-residency program offers 63 credit hours of diverse, specialized courses. Students graduate licensed and prepared for a variety of mental health care careers.

West Virginia University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your Masters in Mental Health Counseling Degree Online

Masters in Mental Health Counseling Degree student studying online

You’re probably reading this because you are interested in a career as a mental health counselor.

An online degree in mental health counseling may be just what you need to begin a meaningful career in the fields of psychology or counseling. It can be your stepping stone into a field that will allow you to make a real difference in the world, by helping people one-on-one.

While you may have a passion for this kind of work, the right credentials are required before you can begin. An online master’s degree in mental health counseling is a great place to start.

If you are ready to begin this journey, now is a great time to start exploring all of the options for accredited universities and programs in this field!

Jeff Suwak
WRITTEN BY
Jeff Suwak
Jeff's writing focuses on higher education programs and trends. He has a Bachelor's in English, as well as multiple certifications from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and the University of California. Jeff's background is in technical communication, science writing, and music journalism.