How to Choose the Best Counseling Degree?

This article is designed to teach you how to choose the best master’s degree in counseling. It will tell you about what a counseling degree is, the types of courses that you will take in the typical counseling program, where the best programs are located, and accreditation information for counseling programs.

What Is a Master’s in Counseling?

For professionals who want to work in mental health and counseling, the best way to enter the field is to earn a master’s degree in counseling or counseling psychology. A master’s degree is the minimum degree required for working as a counselor. For those who want to work in private practice, you must eventually earn your doctorate, as well.

Earning this graduate degree will provide you with many opportunities to work as a counselor and to help individuals, couples and families to deal with their personal problems.

Most master’s in counseling programs are Master of Art programs that can be finished in two years full time, and many of them are now offered online. This allows you to earn your degree on your own and to never need to visit a campus.

Most master’s in counseling programs will include courses on counseling and its application; core coursework on mental health and behavioral health, counseling theories and cognition.

Counseling programs will prepare you to recognize the most common symptoms of mental and emotional problems and how to use the most modern and effective counseling strategies to help patients deal with them. Some counseling programs also will feature extensive work in marriage and family classes, which will help you to understand how marriages, families and relationships operate and how these relationships affect mental health.

While the types of classes you take will depend upon the university, you may expect to take these types of courses:

  • Counseling Methods
  • Ethics and Legal Issues
  • Strategies for Counseling and Psychotherapy
  • Outreach, Prevention and Advocacy
  • Foundations of Family, Marital and Couples Counseling
  • Assessment in Counseling
  • Psychotherapy in Counseling

Why Earn a Master’s in Counseling?

Students who earn a master’s degree in counseling want to focus their careers on psychology and how it affects people’s behavior and lives. Mental health counselors show people how to more effectively overcome and manage their mental and emotional problems which in turn affect their family relationships.

Mental health counselors play a very important role in listening to clients, and asking them questions to help them better understand their issues. In this way, counselors help their clients to improve their lives.

As a counselor, you will have the opportunity to make a major difference in people’s lives by doing some or all of the following:

  • Diagnose and treat all types of mental and emotional problems, including anxiety and depression
  • Encourage patients to talk about their experience and emotions, which helps them to process what happened
  • Help clients to make needed adjustments to their lives, which might include job change or divorce
  • Assist clients to come up with new strategies and skills to change how they behave

Professionals often choose to become counselors because they want to help others, but also because there is plenty of job demand in the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the field of mental health counselor will see a 19% increase in jobs by 2024, and the median pay is at least $49,000 per year, with the top 10% earning more than $81,000 per year.

An important part of earning your counseling degree is to earn your license. Every state requires all mental health counselors to have a license in their state of practice. You need to have at least your master’s degree and a minimum of 2000 hours of clinical experience after graduation; this is referred to as an internship or residency.

You also must pass a state examination to practice as a counselor in your state.  For information about licensing, please visit the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Options

A significant advantage of earning a counseling degree today is that you may earn your degree online, and rarely if ever attend the college campus. You may select a program in any part of the US and can continue with your family and work obligations with little problem.

Remember that which program you choose is very important for your long term success. You want to be sure that the program will give you the certifications and training in the areas of counseling that you want.

One of the key parts of choosing the right program is determining which speciality if any you want in the general counseling field. Some of the most common specialties in counseling are:

  • School counseling
  • Mental health counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Marriage and family therapy

If you are not sure which area of counseling that you want to focus on, you should think about the following factors:

  • What types of clients do you want to work with daily – young children, families, urban/rural youths, people with addiction issues?
  • What type of work environment attracts you – private practice, hospital, university, school?
  • Do you want to work in developmental counseling, counseling in crises, or with families?

Next, think about the specific attributes of the university you are considering:

  • What is the student/teacher ratio?
  • What types of financial aid and scholarship opportunities are there?
  • Alumni that are from that university in your field?
  • Quality of the online counseling programs?
  • Ranking of the university?
  • Job placement success?
  • Accreditation information for the university?

With all of these factors in mind, consider these online counseling programs at these universities:

Northwestern University

Northwestern University offers a Master of Arts in Counseling from one of the top ranked universities in the country. The online program features high quality classes with plenty of clinical training on site. This allows you to build your core counseling skills without needing to relocate.

One of the most vital parts of this two year master’s program is a complete immersion in clinical work that occurs at the same time you are taking your classes. This is purely learning by doing, and you will have the chance to apply everything you learn in class to clinical work in the field right away. This will give you the real world experience needed so that you can become the strongest mental health counselor possible.

During the two year master’s program, there are two immersion experiences where you are required to report to the Chicago campus. One of them is the Tavistock Group Relations Conference where you will experience and examine institutional, group and diversity dynamics.

The other immersion experience is your Conference Immersion, which is a three day experience that takes place right before you graduate.

This program could be a great fit for you if you are interested in the Child and Adolescent Specialization, which will provide you with the skills you need to provide expert child and teen counseling. You also will be completely trained to work with adults, but this specialty is a good choice if you think you want to focus your career more on the child and adolescent area of counseling.

Wake Forest University

The Master of Counseling degree at Wake Forest University is an excellent choice because the university is ranked #27 in the US according to US News and World Report, making it one of the best values in the country.

This program offers the following specialities, each of which can be completed online in two years:

  • School counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Family and marriage counselor
  • Career counselor
  • Crisis counselor

The mental health counseling speciality is the most popular track at WFU. This program will train you to serve as a highly experienced counseling professional and you will be able to find excellent work opportunities in health care facilities, hospitals, employee assistance and substance abuse programs.

Wake Forest has a highly experienced team of Ph.Ds leading this online and campus based counseling program, and all of them are highly respected counselors in their speciality.


You want to be confident that the university that you may attend for your counseling degree has been properly accredited by one of these regional organizations recognized by the US Department of Education:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education,
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities


If you decide to earn your master’s degree in counseling, you will be able to enjoy a very rewarding career where you can help other people to deal with mental health and relationship issues. Earning your master’s degree can be a springboard to eventually earning a Ph.D. in counseling psychology or a related field. This is required if you want to eventually work in private practice.