Top 10 Most Affordable Online Counseling Degree Programs

Little is more intrinsically rewarding than working as a counselor and aiding others in overcoming life’s many obstacles. Counselors have the job of forming helping relationships with diverse people to assist in achieving their mental health, educational, social, and vocational goals.

Whether they are specialized in community counseling, clinical mental health counseling, career counseling, school counseling, marriage and family therapy, or addictions counseling, these professionals use a variety of evidence-based techniques to guide their clients through changing their behavior and coping with difficulties.

Counselors typically collaborate with social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, educators, and other specialists to give comprehensive support to their clients. Employment of counselors is expected to grow much faster than average by 29 percent, thus creating around 48,200 jobs before 2022.

Turning your hobby for community service, good listening skills, and compassionate spirit into an in-demand counseling career is a smart move. Before you can leap into this profession, you’ll first need to obtain a master’s degree and licensure to legally practice in most states across America. Since graduate programs cost an average $30,000 at public universities and $40,000 at private colleges each year, this step can be difficult for some to financially achieve. Luckily, there’s several higher learning institutions that are offering online counseling degrees that cut this average cost in half! Doing your homework to find affordable programs with quality counselor preparation can help you reap a solid return on investment while watching others make strides of progress in their improved well-being.

Ranking the Top Affordable Online Counseling Programs

In creating our program ranking, we started off by finding reputable online colleges offering graduate degree programs for the various diverse counseling specialties. Since we believe you shouldn’t have to compromise on quality to receive an affordable price, we focused in on online degrees or hybrid programs with significant online coursework that have been accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This certifies that graduates will have the marketable skills and professional credentials needed to perform well on the National Counselor Exam (NCE). From there, we used the College Navigator tool from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to narrow down the online counseling degrees based on average in-state graduate tuition price.

To assist students searching for high-quality counseling programs, we used several other ranking factors to determine which affordable online degrees would be included in our final listing. Any universities with notable rankings from the U.S. News and World Report, the Princeton Review, Washington Monthly, or other surveys were given preference. Extra brownie points were given to schools with both cheap tuition and a high percentage of financial aid. We also considered criteria like student-faculty ratio, cutting-edge technologies, market reputation, field learning experiences, variety of specializations, residency requirements, job placement, and graduation rates. Without further ado, we present the following top 10 most affordable online counseling degree programs ranked from least costly to slightly more expensive.

1. The University of Montana

The University of Montana

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$4,135

As the flagship site of the four-campus system, the University of Montana is a major comprehensive senior public research institution situated on a 220-acre campus in the lively college town of Missoula at the foot of Mount Sentinel. Comprised of 11 distinctive colleges accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (NCA), UM serves more than 14,900 students every year with the state’s largest enrollment. The U.S. News and World Report has ranked UM as the 194th best university, 110th top public school, and 69th best college for veterans in the United States. The University of Montana has also been named among the top 10 nationally in Outside magazine and ranked 97th in the country for service in Washington Monthly.

Not only has the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences (COEHS) been acclaimed for hosting the 135th best online graduate education degrees in America, but it was also approved by the CACREP. Despite its very high academic standards, UM has the lowest graduate tuition rate on our list at just $4,135 per year for in-state residents. The COEHS offers two hybrid options for students to blend minimal face-to-face instruction with online courses to complete a counseling degree. Both of these programs in the Department of Counselor Education were structured to foster intellectual and emotional development in a stimulating learning environment to prepare ethical, competent counselors. UM is highly regarded for ranking sixth nationwide in producing Peace Corps volunteers for working with those in need abroad.

Students seeking to become licensed school counselors in Montana can take online classes to complete the Master of Arts in School Counseling program. Following a rigorous 51-credit curriculum, the program has the goal of blending online coursework with a total of at least 700 hours of supervised school counseling experience. There’s also a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program available at the University of Montana for students to spend two years full-time in developing intervention and diagnostic abilities. Students in this 60-credit program take online coursework and obtain 700 hours of supervised experience in a local mental health agency to become licensed. Some online courses could be applied towards receiving the Doctorate (Ed.D.) in Counselor Education and Supervision as well.

2. North Carolina Central University

North Carolina Central University

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$4,335

Initially founded by James E. Shepard in 1910, North Carolina Central University is a mid-sized comprehensive public senior historically black teaching institution with membership in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Enrolling more than 9,600 diverse students, NCCU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to grant bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctoral degrees. Along with its 135-acre urban campus in the heart of the Research Triangle in Durham, NCCU now offers 12 online degree options that can be completed from anywhere. The U.S. News and World Report has ranked NCCU as the 65th best regional college and 29th top public school in the South as well as the country’s 11th best historically black university.

Within the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, NCCU hosts an online Master of Arts in Career Counseling degree that has been approved by the CACREP for excellence. In-state students in this program can expect to pay North Carolina Central University’s very affordable graduate student rate of $4,335 each year. As the only online program of its kind in the United States, the 48-hour degree is structured to prepare graduate students for working as career counselors to guide individuals on their vocational opportunities. Featuring a total of 700 hours of supervised field experience, the dynamic curriculum unlocks job options in career services at colleges, universities, public or private schools, non-profit agencies, and private corporations.

For those looking for a traditional degree with some online courses, NCCU also offers a 60-credit Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling, which prepares students for meeting the qualifications to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in North Carolina. Evening and online courses can also be used for conveniently obtaining the 51-credit Master of Arts in School Counseling program and reaching K-12 licensure to practice as professional school counselors. All of these programs at North Carolina Central have been approved by the International Registry of Counselor Education Programs (IRCEP) to produce leaders for meeting complex human needs across the lifespan in our increasingly global community.

3. Adams State University

Adams State University

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$4,428

Based near the Great Sand Dunes National Park on a main 90-acre campus in Alamosa within Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Adams State University is a small comprehensive public state-supported institution. Since its founding in 1921 as a rural teacher’s colleges, ASU has grown to educate more than 3,700 students annually. With accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (NCA), ASU offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in a close-knit community. Adams State University is well-known for being the first federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in Colorado with over $14 million in grant funding. ASU has been listed in the second tier of the top 120 regional colleges in the West through the U.S. News and World Report survey.

With an affordable graduate tuition rate of $4,428 per year, Adams State University has been accredited by the CACREP for offering a rigorous Counselor Education Department within the Graduate School. In addition to the traditional brick and mortar counterparts, there’s a unique Online Plus Program available for aspiring counselors at a distance. Built on the same curriculum, the online degree was created to satisfy the educational needs of students whose work or location won’t allow physical attendance. Students take predominantly online classes, but are required to attend one-week session on the Alamosa campus each summer to become acquainted with peer learning groups. The program seeks to produce professionally competent counselors with the therapeutic skills to excel in delivering individual and/or group counseling.

In the Online Plus Program, students have the option to follow one of two degree tracks. The M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling track is devised for students specifically wishing to meet the requirements for becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Colorado. Students in this specialization will develop a wide range of diagnostic techniques for working in mental health clinics, private practices, hospitals, corrections, and more. The M.A. in School Counseling track has a different focus for online learners to start joining a school’s academic team. Students are prepared with the advocacy and collaboration abilities to assist educational staff in ensuring achievement for all children as licensed K-12 school counselors in Colorado.

4. Columbus State University

Columbus State University

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$5,264

First opened in 1958 as a junior college, Columbus State University is now a comprehensive degree-granting public teaching institution fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to provide bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees. Along with its main 132-acre suburban campus in Columbus near Georgia’s border with Alabama, CSU operates a satellite location on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and virtually from anywhere with an Internet connection. Enrolling more than 8,200 students each year, CSU serves the Southeast with stellar faculty, impressive facilities, small class sizes, and creative college experiences. In fact, Columbus State has been named among the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

The College of Education and Health Professions (COEHP) at CSU has further been recognized by the U.S. News and World Report for having the 60th best online graduate education programs. This distinction includes the two master’s degree programs accredited by the CACREP for giving high-quality education to the latest generation of counselors. With an average annual graduate student in-state tuition rate of $5,264, the COEHP has the mission of giving an affordable pathway for students to unlock their fullest potential in educational, healthcare, and mental health careers. Both of the counseling degree programs at Columbus State University offer graduate students online options to blend face-to-face campus meetings and field practicum with online coursework at a distance.

Centered on a 48-credit curriculum, the Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling program is focused on preparing graduates for achieving state certification to increase the social, emotional, and vocational development of growing minds in PreK-12. With 100 hours of practicum and two 300-hour internships in a local school district, the curriculum guarantees that counselors are well-equipped to implement developmental school counseling programs. Those with an accredited master’s degree could also the online Post-Graduate Certificate in School Counseling. The Master of Science (M.S.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is also built around a similar 48-credit curriculum with practicum and internships to produce counselors for functioning in a wide variety of community settings.

5. Jacksonville State University

Jacksonville State University

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$8,376

Named within the nation’s 90th percentile by the prestigious Princeton Review, Jacksonville State University is a major comprehensive public co-educational teaching institution that claims to have the “friendliest campus in the South.” Headquartered on a main 459-acre suburban campus in the city of Jacksonville, Alabama, JSU is home for more than 8,600 students in an array of traditional and online programs. Fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), JSU has 40 bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees available. has recognized Jacksonville State for being one of its “Best Buys” in online education. Not only does JSU have an affordable graduate tuition rate at $8,376 per year, but it also provides financial aid to 93% of students.

In the College of Education & Professional Studies, JSU is also acclaimed for hosting the nation’s 135th best online graduate education programs by the U.S. News and World Report. Featuring dual accreditation from the NCATE and CACREP, there’s two unique online counseling degree programs to choose from for Alabama licensure at JSU. Firstly, the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) in School Counseling program is delivered online for graduate students with a master’s degree who wish to further their skills in addressing elementary and secondary students’ needs in academic, career, and personal growth. In the 30-credit curriculum, school counselors will take online courses, participate in a PK-12 internship, prepare a portfolio, and pass a comprehensive examination for degree completion.

At Jacksonville State University, there’s also the option to earn the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) in Community Agency Counseling fully online from anywhere at any time. As a terminal degree program, the Ed.S. is focused on preparing graduate students for finding success in high-level leadership positions in community agencies across Alabama and Georgia with full licensure. In the 30-credit curriculum, counselors can expect to take courses in research methods, lifespan development, counseling assessment, professional ethics, counseling theory, career development, group procedures, diversity issues, and substance abuse counseling. It’s impressive to note that the JSU Counselor Education programs have achieved an average 90% completion rate and a 96% job placement rate since 1997.

6. Grace College and Seminary

Grace College and Seminary

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$8,592

Following the motto “Character, Competence, Service,” Grace College and Seminary is a private evangelical Christian higher learning institution that applies biblical values to preparing students for careers of serving others. Fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (NCA), Grace College is serving more than 1,200 students with high academic standards. Nestled on a main 180-acre rural campus in the historic resort town of Winona Lake near Warsaw, Indiana, Grace has over 65 major programs either on-campus or online in a caring Christian community. According to the U.S. News and World Report, Grace is ranked as the 46th best regional college in the Midwest. Grace College and Seminary was also distinguished by the prestigious Princeton Review as a “Best in the Midwest” school.

With 99% of students receiving financial aid, Grace College offers an affordable graduate tuition rate of $8,592 per academic year. Thanks to the Grace Placement Promise, students who fulfill certain criteria and don’t find employment within six months of graduation can earn one additional year of education without tuition. In the Department of Distance Education, aspiring counselors can start their career with an Online B.S. in Human Services. Adult learners in this program have flexible online courses to develop the intervention skills needed to help people overcome personal issues affecting their well-being. This is an accelerated degree completion program, which means students transfer with an associate’s degree and complete their remaining studies in just 18 months online.

Boasting approval from the CACREP, the Online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MACMHC) program at Grace College and Seminary was initially developed in 2010 to provide a more flexible format to the same quality degree. Within the two-year full-time program, students complete 60 credits from a Christian worldview to become competent professional counselors. While the majority of coursework is delivered fully online, there’s an annual 10-day residency required on-campus in Winona Lake to facilitate networking connections. Additional costs may be required for transportation, textbooks, hotel accommodations, and meals. Students completing this online counseling degree are qualified to seek LPC licensing in Indiana for working in any religious or secular counseling setting.

7. Liberty University

Liberty University

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$9,360

Training champions for Christ since 1971, Liberty University is a major private non-profit Christian teaching institution that serves more than 13,000 residential and 100,000 online students each academic year. From its sprawling 7,000-acre suburban campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Liberty maintains the honor of being the world’s largest evangelical Christian university. Hosting more than 150 academic programs, Liberty is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In fact, the U.S. News and World Report has ranked Liberty as the 80th best regional college and 37th top school for veterans in the South. Liberty University was named in the Young America’s Foundation “Top 10 Most Conservative Colleges” nationwide.

Along with the 79th best online bachelor’s degrees, the School of Education is widely acclaimed for giving students the 112nd best online graduate education programs. Within the Department of Counselor Education and Family Studies, graduate students have the opportunity to specialize in various online options given the check of approval from the CACREP. The mission of the department is to extend counselor preparation through cutting-edge technologies to students who cannot attend the traditional residential program. The M.A. in Professional Counseling program is offered online for 60 credits of comprehensive training in preparation for licensure and national certification. Graduate students apply biblical values to building the knowledge necessary to effectively shape the lives of others.

With four on-campus intensives, the M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy program is mostly online for graduate students seeking to integrate faith into counseling practice with individuals, families, couples, and other interrelated groups. In the 60-credit curriculum, there’s required practicum and internship that must be completed to fulfill requirements for MFT licensing in most states. Liberty University also delivers a unique M.A. in Human Services Counseling program online with specialization tracks in Addictions & Recovery, Business, Christian Ministry, Criminal Justice, Crisis Response & Trauma, Executive Leadership, Health & Wellness, Life Coaching, Marriage & Family, or Military Resilience. It’s even possible for advanced students to receive their Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision online with 66 credits for leadership.


8. Messiah College

Messiah College

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$10,710

Affiliated with the Christian College Consortium, Messiah College is a small comprehensive private non-denominational Christian liberal arts and applied arts institution enrolling around 3,050 students annually. Located on a beautiful 471-acre suburban campus in Grantham near Mechanicsburg and Pennsylvania’s state capital of Harrisburg, Messiah recently celebrated its 100th anniversary of educating men and women of character. Offering more than 80 majors in four distinct schools, Messiah College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The U.S. News and World Report has ranked Messiah as the 5th best regional college and 8th top value school in the North. Messiah College was also honored in the Princeton Review’s “Best in the Northeast” and “Great School at a Great Price” rankings.

Nearly 96% of Messiah graduates are employed full-time within six to nine months of graduation across all academic specialties. In the Division of Graduate Studies, students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year institution can enroll in the Online Master of Arts in Counseling program. With a reputation for academic excellence, this program has been fully approved by the CACREP to prepare competent counselors at the highest level of professional standards. From two to six years, the self-paced online counseling degree at Messiah College allows students to achieve work-life balance for pursuing a career and education simultaneously. All online courses are taught by Messiah’s expert faculty with small class sizes averaging just 13 students for personalized attention.

In the M.A. in Counseling program, students have the freedom to select from one of three distinctive specializations. The Clinical Mental Health Counseling track requires 60 credits to fulfill the standards for becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Pennsylvania, New York, and several other states. There’s a Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling track that follows a dynamic 60-credit curriculum towards LMFT state licensure to work within a relational context. Last but certainly not least, the 51-credit School Counseling track is available to produce graduates who are well-equipped for passing the Praxis II exam and becoming a certified school counselor for K-12 settings. Online learners can be accepted into any of these Messiah programs year-round with rolling admissions.

9. Walden University

Walden University

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$11,925

Founded in 1970 by two teachers specifically for working adults, Walden University is a major comprehensive private for-profit institution providing higher learning for more than 48,900 students worldwide. Owned by Laureate Education, Walden is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (NCA) to provide bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees fully online. From its urban headquarters in the downtown Mill District of Minnesota’s largest city at Minneapolis, Walden is one of the top 15% campus-based and online colleges ranked as “Military Friendly” in GI Jobs magazine. Walden University was also distinguished in the Top 100 Producers of Minority Graduate Degrees within Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, including in the health and mental health services categories.

Given the gold standard of excellence from the CACREP, the School of Counseling at Walden is dedicated to giving online students the chance to gain practical knowledge and scholarly research experience to excel in community practice settings. Since 2009, the School has offered a high-achieving Chi Sigma Iota Honor Society chapter for online students to build a greater sense of community. Students can choose from five online degree offerings. The M.S. in Addiction Counseling program features 90 quarter credits for students to treat people who struggle with addictive behaviors and pass the Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC). The M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is available online for Walden students to specialize in Addiction Counseling, Career Counseling, Forensic Counseling, Military Families and Culture, or Trauma and Crisis Counseling.

Over eight terms, the M.S. in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling program included 90 quarter credits of online courses to prepare graduate students for evidence-based counseling practice and resolving interpersonal conflicts on the pathway to MFT licensing. Also accredited by the NCATE, the M.S. in School Counseling program includes 75 quarter credits online with two in-person residencies and field experiences in preparation for working in PreK-12 school counselor positions. Through the exclusive Walden Virtual School, online learners use simulation to learn various techniques and perspectives for functioning in school communities. There’s also an Online Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision program for those wishing to broaden their leadership into higher education.

10. Colorado Christian University

Colorado Christian University

Average Graduate Tuition Rate:$13,881

Since being created as the Denver Bible Institute in 1914, Colorado Christian University has evolved into a comprehensive private inter-denominational Christian liberal arts institution for cultivating a love of God. Boasting exemplary academics in over 45 degree programs, CCU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (NCA). Nestled on a main 53-acre suburban campus in Lakewood within just 10 miles west of Denver in the majestic Rockies, CCU enrolls more than 5,300 residential and online students. Colorado Christian University was one of just 21 schools nationwide to receive an “A” grade for their core curriculum for three straight years.CCU has an affordable graduate tuition rate of $13,881 and 100% of their students receive some form of financial aid.

Featuring a low student-faculty ratio of 14:1, Colorado Christian University is proud to deliver online degree programs through its College of Adult and Graduate Studies. The College has the mission of offering associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees specifically to meet the unique needs of adult learners from a Christian worldview. Following the standards set by the CACREP, the Online M.A. in Counseling program offers students a flexible training opportunity to participate in high-quality counselor preparation from their own local communities. Requiring a total of 60 credit hours, the dynamic program takes around two and a half years of intensive study. Online classes are typically completed in seven-week or 14-week sessions for convenient start times year-round.

With the same expert faculty as CCU’s In-Seat M.A. in Counseling Program, the online counterpart uses technology to help a cohort group of students build a solid foundation in professional counseling theories and skills. Courses will cover a wide range of topics, such as spiritual formation, counseling methods, personality, psychopathology, human development, crisis intervention, group therapy, marital counseling, research, psychopharmacology, group processing, and professional ethics. Although most coursework is online, students will be required to attend three separate five-day integrative intensive residential trainings in Lakewood. There’s also counseling practicum and a part-time internship completed over two semesters. In the end, graduates will be qualified to sit for the National Counselor Exam (NCE) for licensure.


Advancing Your Counseling Career Online

Some students are often skeptical whether they can truly receive optimal training in mental health while studying from afar online. While a lack of face-to-face interaction can be a challenge, advancements in distance education have made online degrees very similar in the content and rigor of their traditional brick and mortar counterparts. Online colleges go a step beyond to provide future counselors with the chance to maintain their employment and/or other life obligations while completing their degree. Most accredited counseling degrees even arrange practicum and internship opportunities in students’ local communities for convenience.

Online counseling programs today often allow students to roleplay their therapy skills and receive immediate feedback from experienced faculty through video chatting. There’s also the chance to build a more diverse virtual learning environment with students from across the country and the globe. If you’re looking to cut costs in your counselor education, online degrees save bundles of cash on transportation, room, board, meal plans, childcare, and other commuting costs. Consider applying to some of these top 10 most affordable online counseling degree programs to reap high-quality, accredited training for less than $15,000 a year!

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[2] Is the Cost of a Graduate Degree Worth It? - Peterson's
[3] Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) - Bureau of Labor Statistics
[4] College Navigator - National Center for Education Statistics
[5] 2019 Best Colleges | College Rankings and Data | US News Education