Your Complete Guide to

Online Counseling Degrees

The best counseling programs, benefits, list of universities, rankings, FAQs and everything you ever wanted to know.
Grant Aldrich on March 13, 2023

Why We Love Them

  • Rewarding Career
  • Problem Solving Work
  • Good Salary Potential

That you are reading this right now means you are most likely considering going back to college to pursue your degree and dream of improving your life and that of your family. That is a really fantastic decision. Many studies have conclusively shown that degree holders typically earn more – much more – than non-degree holders.

But now the question is, what degree is the right one for you? If you’re like a lot of people, you have different interests and skills that could be applied to a range of degrees and each one has its perks and leads to different kinds of career opportunities.

Well, if you have an interest in building a rewarding career, and one where you really make a positive impact in people’s lives, then a degree in counseling is a wonderful idea. Counselors are professionals who people overcome mental and emotional challenges. Not only would you feel good at the end of each day for the work you are doing by helping people deal with their challenges, but you would also be more secure due to increased job security. More and more people are becoming open to the idea of seeking counseling for their problems.

In this article, we’re going to share everything you need to know about obtaining your counseling degree. We’ll list the counseling degrees we see as offering the best career paths and compare online programs to traditional programs. We’ll also help you figure out whether you should aim for an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree.

And be sure to read this ENTIRE article because we’re also going to tell you exactly how could help you save a TON of time and money on your tuition!

Ready? Let’s dive in…

6 Best Online Counseling Degrees

Before we discuss the specific counseling degrees we believe will set you on a rewarding career path, let’s first talk about WHY we believe these degrees are the best.

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Job Stability

Everyone is looking for a career they love, but what’s equally important is having a career that offers job stability. Having just come out of economic uncertainty in the past couple of years due to COVID, everyone is prioritising stable income as well as career growth. And there is good news about that. Over the past couple of decades, the stigma of mental health has dissipated, causing an increase in demand for skilled counselors.

Increased focus on corporate wellness initiatives and the adoption of mental health benefits by businesses, recognising the influence of mental health on general productivity and employee satisfaction, have also contributed to increased attention on the issue. This means you can feel secure knowing there will always be people who seek out your expertise.

Perfect for Changing Careers

Many adults who have been in the workforce find themselves seeking a change. Maybe you’re looking for a new challenge. Or maybe you seek a career that offers rewarding work, work that you can feel great about. A counseling degree can help you tick both boxes.

Flexible and Affordable

We’ve decided to focus on those counseling degrees that can be earned online because online programs are flexible and affordable for busy working adults. With the rise in financial struggles as well as difficulties in time management due to multiple commitments, with technology making it easier with every passing day, online education is worth considering. Learn at your own pace and on YOUR own schedule and for a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree.

Now that you know why we chose the online counseling degrees we did, let’s jump into the specifics:


Have you always been fascinated with human behavior? Do you often wonder why people do the things they do? Why do we feel the way we do? Many people are compelled to take this fascination and use it to help people understand and shift their own behaviors to bring about positive change. Given how the world continues to climb out of the pandemic crisis, positivity is what we all need.

There has never been a better time to consider thinking about a profession in counseling and making a difference in people’s lives as the issues surrounding mental health continues to be destigmatized, the various development in the field of healthcare and the expansion of mental health services adding to the growing need for qualified counselors.

For those individuals looking to positively impact countless lives, a counseling bachelor’s degree will allow you to work in the field while going for your graduate degree and licensing. You may eventually decide you want a career as a guidance counselor, career or mental health counselor, or perhaps as a marriage and family therapist.

In this program, you’ll take interesting classes that introduce you to the different fields of psychology. You’ll study topics such as:

  • Principles of psychology
  • Ethics
  • Multicultural issues in human services
  • Behavioral science research methods
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Psychology statistics
  • Psychology of disability
  • Childhood and adolescent development

Job and Salary Data

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow 22% from 2021 to 2031, which is FAR faster than the average for all occupations. There is a growing need for counselors to work with school children, veterans, and substance abusers.

The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for mental health counselors was $48,520 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $77,980.

Psychology (with a Concentration in Crisis Counseling)

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a great option for those people who wish to work in human resources, public relations or marketing across a variety of industries. While many students will choose to go on and earn graduate degrees and become licensed, there are also many job opportunities available to those with only a bachelor’s degree.

This program is challenging, exciting and very interesting and helps students understand human behavior. You’ll study a variety of topics including neuroscience, experimental and abnormal psychology, research methods, ethics, human personality, and human development.

Crisis Counseling

Many psychology majors decide to go with a concentration in crisis counseling. Trauma can have devastating effects on a person’s mental health and overall well-being. A crisis counselor is someone that offers support and guidance to those who have suffered from a recent crisis such as an accident, natural disaster, or the death of a loved one.

Crisis counseling (or crisis intervention) is generally very brief, often lasting only a few weeks. That’s because crisis counselors seek to address people’s immediate needs, rather than provide long-term therapy. Crisis counselors provide emotional support to their clients and help ensure their physical and psychological safety in the wake of traumatic events.

Courses in this concentration will focus on aspects of crisis response. Students will explore methods for helping people cope with grief and function in the wake of a traumatic event. You’ll learn how to mitigate the poor health effects of PTSD and help clients deal with extreme grief.

What Can You Do with This Degree?

Graduates with a psychology degree and concentration in crisis counseling may find work in a variety of settings including crisis support lines (phone, text, or chat), emergency rooms, humanitarian organizations, clinics, and even the military. Moreover, the global challenges, one after the other, leading to economic instability have added to stress and anxiety all around the world. As a result, professionals trained in counseling are in need, greater than ever. People with education and training in crisis counseling have a chance to create a real difference in society.

And finding a job should be relatively easy, as the BLS projects a 22% increase in employment of these professionals, which translates into the creation of 68,000 new jobs over the coming years. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for these professionals is $49,950.

Human Services (Concentration in Substance Abuse and Addiction)

Are you someone with a lot of compassion for your fellow man? Are you seeking a meaningful career where you can help motivate people to change their lives? Then a bachelor’s degree in Human Services with a concentration is Substance Abuse would be a great program to look into!

Substance abuse counselors are mental health professionals who have been trained to assist those individuals struggling with addiction and substance abuse. In addition to offering guidance and support to their clients, they also work with the families to provide tools to navigate the recovery process.

In this program, you’ll learn how to analyze social events and trends to advocate for those in need, how to use culturally appropriate strategies across diverse populations, evaluate policy development, learn critical and creative thinking and more.

Your classes will be interesting and engaging, and will include topics such as:

  • Addiction Counseling
  • Theories of Counseling
  • Case Management
  • Psychology
  • Family and Group Counseling
  • Individual Counseling
  • Psychological Evaluation
  • Diagnosis of Behavioral and Chemical Dependency
  • Pharmacology and Psychopharmacology

Career Options with This Degree

According to the American Addiction Centers, 15.35% of American adults suffered from both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder in 2023. Sadly, this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing but you as a counselor can contribute to it!

These numbers indicate a growing demand for mental health counselors with a specialization in addiction and substance abuse. In fact, the BLS projects that the employment of these professionals will increase by a staggering 22% over the coming decade. This is much faster than the national average for all occupations. Graduates can find meaningful work in a variety of settings including residential addiction treatment facilities, outpatient addiction programs, state drug courts, prisons, mental health centers, community health centers, and private practices.

The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $48,520 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $77,980.

Early Childhood Development

It has been said that the majority of a child’s mental and emotional development happens before the age of 7. If you love children and the idea of providing support and encouragement during this special time in their lives, then a degree in Early Childhood Development, with an enriching and fulfilling career ahead, is a great fit for you!

Advanced education in Early Childhood Development comes with a chance to contribute to something very meaningful – the growth of young children in our societies. A long-term career in this field can be very personally fulfilling. Additionally, the demand for professionals with the right knowledge and skills is never going to go away due to its significance for the progress of our societies.

A bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Development prepares students to work with young children and families in roles as diverse as a childcare provider, parent educator and preschool teacher. Some states require licensure to work as a preschool teacher so it’s a good idea to check.

Students will love the coursework as they take a deep dive into the study of language development and social skills in young children. You’ll also explore groundbreaking research and examine the importance of healthy relationships as they relate to the overall well-being of children.

In addition to core curriculums such as social sciences or humanities, you may also take interesting classes such as:

  • Care and education of infants and toddlers
  • Childhood guidance
  • Children’s creative arts and literature
  • Family sociology and systems
  • Parenting issues
  • Cognitive psychology

Where Can This Degree Take You?

Graduates have several exciting options for career paths:

  • Kindergarten or elementary school teaching positions
  • Head Start teaching or leadership positions
  • Pre-school education jobs
  • Daycare education and management positions
  • Nannying and private daycare services
  • Curriculum specialist
  • Child development educator or specialist

According to the BLS, employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is expected to grow 4% from 2021 to 2031 due to rising student enrollment rates. Post pandemic shift is also leading to this rise in enrollment and an increase in demand for teachers. The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for elementary school teachers was $61,400 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $99,420.

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Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MA)

Clinical mental health counselors study and diagnose disorders that affect human behaviors, thoughts and emotions. These professionals sometimes work with patients one-on-one, with couples, or in group counseling sessions. Some may work as researchers, conducting comprehensive studies and creating new theories.

Clinical mental health counselors also find engagement through various outreach programs such as those working for the prevention of psychological problems or those advancing overall mental and emotional wellness. Typically, these programs involve working in schools, community organisations, and other such places, reaching out to some of the most vulnerable individuals.

Individuals interested in this master’s degree will most likely want to start their educational journey by obtaining a bachelor’s in psychology first. Once you have completed your bachelor’s degree, you can begin your graduate degree, taking a deeper dive into some incredibly diverse and interesting core subjects, such as:

  • Ethical Issues in Counseling for Mental Health & Wellness
  • Foundations of Counseling
  • Theory and Process
  • Individual Counseling
  • Cross-cultural Counseling
  • Research and Evaluation in Behavioral Sciences
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Group Dynamics: Theory and Practice
  • Dynamics of Vocational Development
  • Special Population Course

Potential Career Paths

Upon graduation, many clinical mental health counselors will find work in elementary, middle, and high schools. Some counselors will desire to open their own private practice or be employed by government agencies, hospitals, or other healthcare organizations. There is no lack of opportunities for well-qualified individuals.

According to the BLS, employment of clinical mental health counselors is projected to grow 5% from 2021 to 2031 thanks to the greater demand for mental health services within hospitals, schools, and social services agencies, due to rising complexities and challenges in our every day lives, around the world.

The BLS also reports the median annual wage for these professionals was $80,370 in May 2019, with the highest 10% earning more than $132,070.


If you’ve always been interested in society and group dynamics, then a degree in sociology makes a lot of sense. Sociology majors use scientific observation, analysis, and research to better understand groups of individuals and their common behaviors, group dynamics, and methods of influence. Students typically study the philosophies of Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim, among others, and take incredibly diverse and interesting courses, such as:

  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Social Problems
  • Research Methods and Statistics
  • Industrial Psychology
  • Racial and Ethnic Relations
  • History of Social Thought
  • Political Sociology
  • Economic Sociology

Where Can Your Degree Take You?

Graduates with a sociology degree have an in-depth understanding of society as a whole and the factors affecting the behaviors of specific communities. This specialised training and knowledge make these individuals extremely important in bringing about positive change through advocacy, research, social services, and other such educational initiatives. Their skills help identify and solve issues on the micro as well as macro levels of society. As you can imagine, this knowledge and specific skillset are valued by many. Because of this, graduates can set out on a variety of diverse career paths, such as:

  • Guidance Counselor
  • Human Resource Representative
  • Management Consultant
  • Media Planner
  • Policy Analyst
  • PR Specialist
  • Social Worker

That’s a pretty varied set of job titles. Let’s take a look at one of them to get an idea of job outlook and salary. According to the BLS, employment of social workers is projected to grow 12% over the coming decade. That’s much faster than the national average for all occupations.

The BLS also reports that the annual wage for social workers was $50,390 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $82,540.

Online Vs Traditional Campus Counseling Degrees

As you’ve noticed by now, we’ve focused solely on those counseling degrees that can be earned online. But why is that?

It’s simple: online learning makes it incredibly easy and convenient for students, particularly adult students with work and family responsibilities, to pursue their degree and dreams of a better life and a more satisfying career.

Here are 3 reasons why an online degree makes a LOT of sense!

  1. Learn on your time schedule

It’s not easy fitting night or weekend classes into your busy schedule. But learning online means YOU decide when and where you will study. Study on your lunch break at work. Study in your living room Thursday nights. You call the shots. No rushing to college and no compromising your work. This also allows students to balance their various commitments along with their education without having to compromise one or the other. For people with family responsibilities or full-time jobs, this can be extremely useful.

  1. These degrees are affordable!

Generally speaking, an online program will cost just a fraction of what a traditional college degree will cost you. On top of these savings, you don’t have to pay for room and board, and can continue to work your regular job. And trust us, given the uncertainty we all have just come out of, savings is what families need.

  1. Counseling Degrees Fit Online Learning Perfectly!

You can earn just about any degree online these days. But some, like certain science degree that require lab work, isn’t well suited for digital learning. But that’s not the case with our suggested degrees like Counseling degrees which are perfect for this online environment. With advancements in technology making online education, including online counseling programs quite convenient, students can now benefit from quality education without having to forego the advantages of a conventional classroom environment.

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Benefits of a Counseling Degree

Here are just a few benefits of getting your degree in counseling:

Numerous Job Opportunities

Many students think solely about what interests them when they choose their degree but give little thought to the job market and the opportunities they will have once they graduate. And all too often, good jobs are hard to come by.

Fortunately for prospective counselors, jobs in the counseling field have terrific prospects. In fact, according to the BLS, employment for mental health counselors is growing at a rate of 23%.

Solid Earning Potential

While earning a luxurious salary isn’t generally why people flock to this field, it is nice to know that you can earn a solid salary while helping others. With the demand only increasing for mental health services, the opportunities for earning equally competitive salaries are also increasing. Experienced mental health counselors will never run short of opportunities for stable and fulfilling career growth.

For instance, according to the BLS, counselors who work in mental health and substance abuse earn a median wage of $48,520, while marriage counselors earned $49,880 and career counselors earned $60,510.

A Chance to Help Others

Ultimately a degree in counseling offers you the opportunity to make a profound difference in other peoples’ lives. For many, it doesn’t get any better than that. Working in this field offers the best of both worlds – growing career prospects and a rewarding experience.

Cost and Tuition of Obtaining a Counseling Degree

There is no denying that pursuing your degree is a financial commitment. Many adult students give up their dream of going back to school because they believe they simply cannot afford to do so.

We’re here to tell you, there are MANY ways you can shave off a LOT from your tuition bill.

Read our article on 5 ways you can save on college tuition, and also use our free Smartplan to find ways to save at various schools across the country by taking advantage of free courses, discounts, and more.

We created this free tool so that everyone would have access to an affordable education.

Choosing the Right Type of Counseling Degree

If you’ve read this far, you most likely are starting to get an idea of what the best counseling degree is for you and what kind of career you can build. Now it’s time to determine what type of degree will help you reach your career goals.

Associate’s Degree in Counseling

Associate’s degrees typically take 2 years to complete and are earned at a vocation school or community college, though there are online associate’s degrees as well. If you are considering a career as a counselor, earning an associate’s degree can be your first step to reaching your career goals.

You’ll most likely find your state requires at least a bachelor’s degree for counseling licensure. However, an associate’s degree will provide critical foundational knowledge for entry-level support positions. You may use this degree and begin working as a counseling assistant, human service assistant, or caseworker.

Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling

All but one of the degrees we covered in this article are bachelor’s degrees, which usually take 4 years to complete, though there are ways you can shave some time off your studies. Most employers in the mental health field will want to see candidates who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. With this degree, entry-level work in positions in community health centers and vocation rehab offices can be found, which will help graduates gain some critical hands-on experience.

Having said this, most career paths in this field will require a master’s degree to become licensed.

Master’s Degree in Counseling

Once you’ve obtained your bachelor’s degree in counseling, you may decide to continue your education and obtain your master’s degree in a chosen specialization so that you may become licensed. These programs typically require another two to four years of coursework.

Here are just some of the careers you can have once you have earned this degree:

  • School Counselor – Median Annual Salary: $60,510
  • Substance Abuse Counselor – Median Annual Salary: $48,520
  • Genetic Counselor – Median Annual Salary: $80,150
  • Family and Marriage Therapist – Median Annual Salary: $49,880
  • Rehabilitation Counselor – Median Annual Salary: $38,560

Doctoral Degree

A doctoral or Ph.D. degree is the highest degree there is. Some students will want to continue their education and get their counseling doctoral degree. This advanced education will open up even more career opportunities and lead to the highest salaries in the industry.

Choosing the Correct University or College for Counseling

Now that you have a good idea of which online counseling degree interests you and the type of degree that will help you reach your career goals, it’s time to find the right school!

Here is a short list of criteria we feel is incredibly important when selecting a school, especially if you are an adult learner:

  • Online Programs
  • $0 application fees
  • Doesn’t require SAT/ACT testing
  • Faculty and professors that understand adult students’ needs
  • Offer discounts or scholarships
  • Convenient year-round enrollment dates (so you don’t have to wait for Spring or Fall)
  • Accredited

Now, admittedly, finding schools that offer all of this can be challenging.

BUT, that’s why we created our Smartplan.

We know that every student is unique and has their own set of needs when it comes to finding the right online program. When you use our Smartplan, you’ll be able to find only those schools that fit your needs and criteria.

So don’t put this off. Register today to get your free Smartplan and compare different colleges! >>

Salary Data for Counseling Professionals

If you’ve read this far you know that graduates with a degree in counseling can have numerous career paths, each with their own expected salaries. Here again are some of the most common job titles in this field and the median annual wage for each:

  • Guidance Counselor: $60,510
  • Marriage and family Therapist: $49,880
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: $38,560
  • Substance Abuse Counselors: $48,520
  • Healthcare Social Workers: $60,840


Q: Can I Get a Counseling Job with Just a Bachelor’s Degree?

A: There are a lot of job opportunities available in the field of counseling. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree will definitely open doors for you and you will be able to find entry-level jobs in areas such as counseling, social work and even criminal justice. Many states will require a master’s degree in order to become licensed, at which point, even more career opportunities will be available to you.

Q: How is the Job Outlook for Counseling Degree Graduates?

A: In general, the outlook is fantastic for those holding a counseling degree. For many of the positions we covered here, the BLS has projected double digit job growth.

Q: What are the Fastest Growing Fields in the Counseling Profession?

A: We have seen an uptick in jobs in mental health and human services. This is most likely because many people are now interested in self-improvement and self-discovery. Marriage and family counselors are also more in demand now than ever, as are school counselors and occupational therapists.

How to Get Started

Phew! We just discussed a LOT of topics. If you need, please read through this article again so you have a handle on all of the information we’ve shared.

We also encourage you to spend some time playing around with our Smartplan to find the right school that offers everything you’re looking for. We’ve designed this tool for students so they can find ways to save a TON of time and money toward their counseling degree.

Register today for free >>

About the Author
Grant Aldrich
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

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