Top 100 Affordable School Counseling Programs

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The most in-demand affordable counseling programs can fast track a career in any number of fields and industries. People can choose between a general counseling education or a specialized area of counseling including marriage and family, career, substance abuse, rehabilitation, behavioral, grief, pediatric, and others.

The pathway to becoming a counselor depends on the school and the state. Most counseling careers require at least a master’s degree. However, some states only require a bachelor’s degree for certain fields, such as addictions counseling. The majority of states will require a minimum number of supervised work experience hours. This amount will also vary by state and counseling type. A license of some sort will also be necessary for most states and employers.

It’s possible for graduates to find work in many types of settings. Many counselors will work for employers in various fields over the course of their career such as hospitals, clinics, corporations, rehabilitation centers, schools, etc. It’s also possible to become self-employed or start a counseling center with a group of other counselors. And many counselors work for non-profits in underserved communities.

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Top 100 Affordable School Counseling College Rankings

University HQ has a proprietary ranking system that includes many different factors. To begin, it reviews all of the colleges and universities considered to be affordable with counseling or counseling-related degrees. These higher learning institutions are also considered based on additional considerations. Some of these considerations include the retention rate and the graduation rate. The retention rate is representative of the percentage of students who stay at the same school after their first year. A graduation rate reflects whether or not colleges and universities offer enough support and tools to students to increase their chances for success.

The organization also reviews the number of programs that are offered as well as the admission rate. Experts in academics have demonstrated that low admission rates (exclusivity) are often directly correlated to high retention rates. The University HQ team also examines the percentage of students receiving financial aid, the loan default rate, the graduating salary, and more. While cost is important in this ranking, it is also essential to include many factors to have a more comprehensive evaluation of a higher learning institution, including accreditation and online degrees offered.


Texas A&M University-Central Texas

  • Net Price: $3,637
  • Retention Rate: NA
  • Total Enrollment: 2,440
  • Undergrad Students: 1,954
  • Graduate Students: 486
  • Graduation Rate: 51%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 4
  • Texas A&M University-Central Texas

California State University-Los Angeles

  • Net Price: $3,859
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Total Enrollment: 26,671
  • Undergrad Students: 22,797
  • Graduate Students: 3,874
  • Graduation Rate: 52%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 96
  • California State University-Los Angeles

CUNY Lehman College

  • Net Price: $3,913
  • Retention Rate: 83%
  • Total Enrollment: 15,143
  • Undergrad Students: 13,002
  • Graduate Students: 2,141
  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 35
  • CUNY Lehman College

CUNY Hunter College

  • Net Price: $4,014
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Total Enrollment: 23,193
  • Undergrad Students: 17,121
  • Graduate Students: 6,072
  • Graduation Rate: 56%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 47
  • CUNY Hunter College

Texas A&M International University

  • Net Price: $4,165
  • Retention Rate: 79%
  • Total Enrollment: 8,305
  • Undergrad Students: 7,220
  • Graduate Students: 1,085
  • Graduation Rate: 46%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 23
  • Texas A&M International University

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

  • Net Price: $4,419
  • Retention Rate: 76%
  • Total Enrollment: 29,113
  • Undergrad Students: 24,965
  • Graduate Students: 4,148
  • Graduation Rate: 47%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 44
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

CUNY Brooklyn College

  • Net Price: $4,736
  • Retention Rate: 80%
  • Total Enrollment: 17,811
  • Undergrad Students: 14,970
  • Graduate Students: 2,841
  • Graduation Rate: 54%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 32
  • CUNY Brooklyn College

CUNY Queens College

  • Net Price: $5,594
  • Retention Rate: 82%
  • Total Enrollment: 19,923
  • Undergrad Students: 16,866
  • Graduate Students: 3,057
  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 14
  • CUNY Queens College

California State University-Fresno

  • Net Price: $6,906
  • Retention Rate: 83%
  • Total Enrollment: 24,298
  • Undergrad Students: 21,541
  • Graduate Students: 2,757
  • Graduation Rate: 58%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 101
  • California State University-Fresno

The University of Texas Permian Basin

  • Net Price: $7,424
  • Retention Rate: 63%
  • Total Enrollment: 5,283
  • Undergrad Students: 4,347
  • Graduate Students: 936
  • Graduation Rate: 41%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 9
  • The University of Texas Permian Basin
Full Ranking Report

Why a Degree from an Affordable Counseling School?

The reasons to choose an affordable counseling school will vary by person. For one thing, these affordable colleges and universities can drastically reduce the amount of debt one incurs upon graduating with a degree. This is money saved that can be spent on any number of areas in the future rather than having to pay additional monthly student loan bills such as investments, retirement savings, annual vacations, starting a business, increasing your level of education (which is a requirement for the best-paid counseling jobs), and much more.

Another reason to choose these more affordable counseling universities and colleges is the flexibility that is often associated with such counseling degrees. These programs often offer online, in-person, and hybrid courses to meet the needs of a wide range of students. Whether a student has a full-time job or someone for whom to care at home, affordable counseling programs are likely to offer flexibility.

And don’t forget about the many careers available in the field of counseling. It’s possible to work with a specific type of mental health or physical health concern, or you could choose to work with specific groups of people. This might include families or children, those caught up in drug and alcohol use, veterans, those within the LGBTQ community, those with several behavioral disorders, and many others.

Choosing an Affordable Counseling College

Today, affordable counseling colleges and universities do not lack for quality of education. Just because a school costs tens of thousands of dollars does not mean that it necessarily offers a better education. More affordable counseling programs can be just as good and, indeed, they can even be better than those with a high price tag, while in some instances, you do get what you pay for. As such, it’s best to consider a number of factors before selecting your counseling college.

An easy way to eliminate tens of thousands of dollars from a degree program is to choose in-state schools over out-of-state schools. The savings could be as much as $30,000 or more each year. This is also true for public schools versus private schools. Public schools are often a fraction of the price of private schools because they are subsidized by the state in order to create a well-educated workforce that can provide local industries with the professionals they need. And most public schools are often known to have a high-quality education.

Some people can also save money by selecting an online counseling degree rather than in-person programs. Be aware though that some higher learning institutions are beginning to charge equal amounts or lower for online school counseling degrees. Other schools encourage online students from all over the country by offering online degrees at lower rates. This will vary by program. Also, be aware that some schools will charge out-of-state tuition rates for non-resident students who enroll in online programs. And some parts of a counseling degree cannot be completed in an online format anyway, so that’s important to keep in mind.

Accreditation is another important aspect to consider before making a final decision. Employers typically do not care about the cost of a degree; however, they do care whether or not it’s regionally accredited. A bachelor’s degree in counseling from a regionally accredited school is essential to being accepted into a master’s degree in counseling program. You might also consider the graduation rate, retention rate, job placement rate, and other aspects before applying to a certain school.

Online Options

Online counseling degrees are widely available, particularly at the bachelor’s degree level. Many online courses are perfectly appropriate for distance learning. At the undergraduate level, most degrees will be available in psychology with a counseling emphasis, counseling and community psychology, mental health and psychology, a bachelor’s degree in counseling, or others. The program’s title will depend on the school.

You can apply for in-person courses or a hybrid of both in-person and online counseling degree courses. This provides some flexibility for those with busy lives outside of the classroom. Hybrid programs are the more common option when it comes to a master’s degree in counseling. These degrees require between hundreds and thousands of hours of supervised training. As a result, these supervised hours are in-person. However, it is possible to complete some hours through online counseling sessions with some programs.

Other programs require counseling sessions to be completed both online and in person. This is to remain in line with the current climate today of some people feeling more comfortable with in-person counseling and other people preferring video group sessions and online one-on-one sessions.

Are Counseling Programs in High Demand?

A greater understanding and acceptance of the importance of mental health has counseling programs skyrocketing in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that nearly every counseling field will experience growth through 2029. The amount of growth is entirely dependent on the specialization of the field. Some sectors will grow more than others. Substance misuse, mental health and behavioral disorders are expected to grow the most at a rate of 25%. This is significantly higher than the average growth rate of all careers.

The rate of growth will also vary by state. Some states have always had a strong counseling presence and acceptance of mental health needs; whereas other states are only just beginning to embrace counseling in a wide array of fields. In states that are more recently opening up to counseling and mental health, growth rates might be higher. Another reason for high growth in these specific areas can be attributed to an increase in the use of counseling and treatment over jail time for various drug offenses in many states. There is also a continued and growing need for military and veteran counselors as these individuals continue to reach out for assistance to get their lives back on track.

Other areas of counseling will also experience growth in the coming years. Rehabilitation counselors are expected to grow by 10% as the population continues to age. School counselors at both the K-12 and college and university levels have an anticipated growth rate of 8% as schools embrace the need for better mental health programs. Career counselors are also expected to grow in these employment areas.

What Can You Do with a Degree in School Counseling?

One of the reasons people are drawn to careers in counseling is that it allows for counseling professionals to help a wide array of conditions, illnesses, and trauma. Generally, counseling is a form of talk therapy that can be conducted in one-on-one sessions or in a group environment. Unlike psychologists and psychiatrists, counselors do not require a doctoral degree to become a professional.

Many counselors choose to work with trauma victims. This trauma could be any event in one’s life such as sexual assault, violent death of a loved one, military action, home invasion, car accident, a near-death experience, and much more. It’s even possible for individuals to experience trauma by witnessing an aggressive or violent event.

Another area of expertise involves substance abuse. As the stigmas associated with mental health begin to break down, more people are ready to seek assistance with any number of issues. One of the biggest is that of misusing drugs and alcohol. It turns out most people who fall prey to drugs and alcohol do so because they have an undiagnosed mental health issue or they are coping with additional life challenges, such as surviving a traumatic event.

A growing number of counselors are also choosing to work with behavioral disorders. These counseling professionals might work with children or adults. At a younger age, counselors might work with kids who need special attention in certain areas for any number of reasons such as violence at home, learning disabilities, bullying, and more. Adults might develop behavioral issues over time including eating disorders, gambling addictions, and others. You could also choose to become a career counselor, marriage counselor, divorce counselor, rehabilitation counselor, grief counselor, or one of the many other counselor types.

School Counseling Graduates Earn More After College

The amount of money a person earns as a counselor each year will depend on several factors. One of the biggest factors will be the type and level of degree a person completes. It’s possible to become a counselor in some states with as little as an associate degree. These positions and degree holders will typically make the least amount of money. They may earn less than $30,000 a year. The earning potential for counselors with a bachelor’s degree is likely to be over $40,000. This could be higher based on the employer, state, and area of interest.

A graduate degree and many years of experience will lead to jobs with the best pay. At this level, individuals can expect to earn over $80,000 a year. Those who work for public K-12 schools and government agencies can expect to earn less than those who work for top-paying employers. These fields often include corporations, private medical facilities, luxury treatment centers, and more.


  • What are the admission requirements for counseling students?

    Counseling students’ admission requirements will vary by school, program, and degree type. At the bachelor’s degree level, most colleges and universities require a minimum grade point average from your high school, or they may simply require you to have the equivalent of a high school education. Some universities or colleges will also require a minimum ACT or SAT score. However, many higher learning institutions are moving away from minimum requirements and more toward a weighted scale that evaluates many factors.

    At the graduate level, programs often require that you have a bachelor’s with a minimum GPA and a graduate examination score. Again, like undergrad degrees, master’s degree programs in counseling are using new entrance requirements to make acceptance more equal and equitable.

  • What are the requirements of counseling programs?

    Counseling program requirements will also vary from school to school and by degree level. Many programs will have several prerequisites, such as math and science courses, before students are able to take core courses. A specific set of core courses and electives must be completed prior to qualifying for graduation. The requirements will also depend on the specialization. All graduate degrees will require several thousand hours of supervised hours.

  • What are the requirements for transferring to a new program?

    Transfer requirements for counseling degree programs will depend on whether a student is transferring from a community college to a four-year school or a four-year program to a similar higher learning institution. If someone is transferring from a community college, it’s best to select a four-year school within the network that accepts transfer students from a specific community college. This will minimize the risk of having to retake courses. Keep in mind that transfer students will still typically have to meet certain classroom grades and GPA requirements to transfer. Some schools will have more difficult transfer requirements than others.

  • What kinds of supervised hours can you expect to need in a counseling program?

    The number of mandatory supervised hours is based on the type of counselor, state, and degree program. Degrees and state licensure both require supervised hours. The number of hours will depend on the type of counselor one wishes to become. Military and veteran counselors require a master’s degree and 4,000 hours of supervised work. Some states might only require 3,000 hours for mental health counseling. And, in some states, school counselors only require 600 hours of supervised work.

  • What type of accreditation should counseling students be looking for?

    Because most counselors require a master’s degree, it is essential to complete a bachelor’s degree in counseling from a regionally accredited college or university. The top programs with the best reputations will also have a CACREP-accredited program in addition to the school’s accreditation. These program accreditations are available in many counseling fields including career, mental health, addiction, college and student affairs, couple, marriage, family, school, rehabilitation, and more.

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