Accredited Online Counseling Degree Guide for 2015

You can earn a counseling degree online at all levels, and more and more universities are offering online or hybrid programs. Counseling programs at more advanced levels generally include on-campus components such as mentoring, residencies, or practicums as a requirement before graduation, though these may only take place once or twice per year. While online students are at a disadvantage when it comes to practicing counseling with their peers, online programs are increasingly using software such as Skype to allow students or entire classes to connect in real time and practice counseling skills. You can supplement online study with internships, mentorships, or work experience in the field. Read More


C Most professional counselors need to be certified or licensed before they are able to practice, and requirements vary from state to state. Some states have a list of licensure-qualifying counseling programs. If you are considering an online counseling degree program, contact your state’s professional licensure department to find out if the program satisfies licensure requirements.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits master’s and doctoral programs in different types of counseling specializations, including addiction counseling, career counseling, clinical mental health counseling, family counseling and school counseling as well as counselor education and supervision. Many counseling jobs require applicants to either graduate from a CACREP-accredited online counseling program or earn a similarly accredited traditional degree. Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards.



Students working toward a counseling degree can expect to take classes that will expand their knowledge in the following areas:

  • Group Counseling helps students develop group counseling skills through both theory-based education and role-playing. Group dynamics between members and leaders and the therapeutic value of group counseling sessions vs. individual sessions are typically covered.
  • Crisis Intervention and Disaster Counseling courses cover what to do in cases of crises, disasters and other trauma-causing events.
  • Human Growth and Development courses cover all human developmental levels and in multicultural contexts. Additionally, theories of learning and personality development, individual and family developmental theories are usually covered.
  • Research Methods, in particular for advanced degrees, typically address experimentation, program evaluation, qualitative measurement and case study design to gather and evaluate data.
  • Interviewing skills are one of the most-practiced in counseling. Coursework teaches students how to gain insights and understanding from patients or clients.
  • Assessment Techniques teach students how to apply basic concepts to individual, group, couple, family and child appraisals.

Associate Degree in Counseling

One of the key things to remember about counseling certification is that professional certifications are not the same as a certificate in counseling. Although you can take counseling certification courses, you will not be certified until you have applied with the state certification board and taken either the National Board of Certified Counselor’s National Counselor Examination (NBCC/NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NBCC/NCMHCE).

  • Credit hours/length of study: 2 years
  • Employment prospects: substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor, a career counselor, or a life coach in many states

Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling

  • Credit hours/length of study: 4 years
  • Employment prospects: assistant at a mental health or rehabilitation facility, assistant researcher to a certified counselor or psychologist

Master’s Degree in Counseling

  • Credit hours/length of study: 2-3 years
  • Employment prospects:  family counselor, a mental health counselor or a school counselor

Doctoral Degree in Counseling

  • Credit hours/length of study: 4 years
  • Employment prospects: advanced practitioner, a clinical supervisor or a counseling professor at a university


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Licensing and Professional Certification

Certification is required for many counseling positions as well as better pay. For example, a mental health counselor makes $30,325-$53,872/year, but a licensed professional counselor makes up to $62,848, and a marriage/family therapist (certified) can make up to $140,000/year. Most graduate programs offer a certification track where students graduate ready to take their certification exams or with the qualifications and in-field hours required to be certified on the spot.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in counseling are on the rise. Counselors, like teachers, have found employment in an array of fields. As counseling fields become much more specialized, a greater number of career opportunities continue to develop. Changes in cultural trends have created a high demand for counselors that specialize in different areas, such as family counseling and alcohol abuse counselors.

Professionals looking to make a career out of helping people in need can find a spot for themselves in the field of counseling. Counselors with a master’s degree will have a much easier time getting hired and working in positions that offer higher salaries. Because counseling is a career which deals with mental state and health, six years of education is necessary to be hired by many organizations, schools, corporations or to go into private business. Salaries for counseling professionals range from $44,000 to $140,000 for different positions. While salary is mainly dependent on job title and location, going to the right school can also be helpful.

Counseling professionals will benefit their career by specializing in a niche track. Many programs will offer in-field experience for students in their specialty of interest to further skills and help students get a leg up when it comes time to apply for jobs. Some job possibilities students can consider:

  • School and Career Counselors help students or professionals work through social, personal and career growth issues. School and career counselors earn an average annual salary of $56,540 in the United States. Expected increases in public school and university enrollment are expected to create a 19 percent increase in this type of employment between now and 2020.
  • Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists are typically combined statistically because of similarities in practice and subject matter. Counselors specializing in either mental health or marriage and family address emotional problems that prohibit healthy relationships between patients and their loved ones. Employment is expected to increase rapidly, by 39 percent before 2020, as the population grows and people continue to seek help for mental health issues.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors require a master’s degree as the minimum educational requirement for licensure. Rehabilitation counselors work with patients who live independently and are confronting emotional or physical problems in order to work and contribute to society. A student pursuing this career path can expect to earn an average salary of $37,070 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in this career will grow by 28 percent between now and 2020, due largely to increased numbers of populations like the elderly and people with disabilities.

Some additional fields for people with counseling degrees:

  • Addictions Counselor
  • Military Mental Health Counselor
  • Career Counselor
  • Behavioral Counselor
  • Trauma and Disaster Mental Health Counselor
  • Sexual Abuse Counselor
  • Credit Counselor
  • Genetic Counselor
  • Gerontological Counselor
  • LGBTQ Counselor
  • Religion and Spirituality Counselor