Best Online Masters in Mental Health Counseling Degrees for 2023

Master's Degree in Mental Health Career Options & Salary

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The subject of mental health continues to increase in importance year after year. As a result, mental health counselors alone are expected to grow as a profession by roughly 23% in the next 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These mental health professionals help to observe, diagnose, and treat individuals who suffer from various mental health concerns. Such concerns and issues might include anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and more. Earning a master’s in mental health counseling degree, also referred to as a master's in clinical mental health counseling degree program, is essential for most mid-level and higher career paths and you must already have a baccalaureate degree to earn it. You could work in a wide array of environments such as a hospital, clinic, school, corporate office, private practice, or community center. Additionally, now that insurance companies are providing more coverage for mental health services, this industry could be experiencing some much-needed financial injections in both the public and private sectors.

While student's core courses in counseling will depend on their specialization, those students who attend master's in mental health counseling on-campus or online programs, and related educational programs, will study a variety of subjects, including many of the following.

  • Human Development
  • Mental Illness
  • Courses in Counseling Theory and Practice
  • Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Marriange and Family Counseling
  • Clinical Psychology Theory and Practice
  • School Counseling
  • And More


Because the mental health profession is growing rapidly and is a highly sensitive and serious subject, earning a master’s in clinical mental health counseling is essential for any career advancement or pay increases. This degree will vastly expand your employment options beyond what you would have with an undergraduate degree and your core courses in counseling, human development, and clinical psychology will give you deeper insight into your patients. Completing master’s mental health counseling programs will allow students who graduate to work for far more employer types than their baccalaureate degree would including medical facilities, private practice psychologist or psychiatrist offices, substance abuse treatment centers, government-run agencies, schools, non-profits, community outreach programs, and corporations. The top colleges and universities that offer a master’s degree in mental health counseling programs will be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) so that all program graduates are able to become licensed mental health counselors upon graduation. This is a critical step to your career success.


It is important to note that while many employers require a master’s degree rather than a baccalaureate degree for even relatively low-paying jobs compared to other industries, you must consider your return on investment before you select a mental health counseling program. If you select one of the most reputable degree programs that cost $30,000 or more, you must ensure the salary you can obtain upon completion of your degree will allow you to pay back any money you must borrow to complete your degree. Make sure good-paying jobs in mental health exist in the job market in which you wish to work. It is also important to note that a master’s degree will add at least a few years to your educational experience. If you are unable to attend a program full-time, it could take longer, and online master's in clinical counseling are rare and still require in-person learning for students. This could delay your pay increases and take away from any social or family life you might have for the duration of your program. If you simply wish to be an aide, technician, or assistant, a master’s degree from a mental health counseling program may not be the right fit for you at this time.

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Best Online Master's in Mental Health Counseling College Programs?


North Carolina State University at Raleigh

  • Net Price: $14,600
  • Retention Rate: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 84%
  • Total Enrollment: 36,042
  • Undergrad Students: 26,150
  • Graduate Students: 9,892
  • Grads Salary: $76,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 26
  • Student-to-faculty: 14:1
  • North Carolina State University at Raleigh

William & Mary

  • Net Price: $18,588
  • Retention Rate: 93%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%
  • Total Enrollment: 8,939
  • Undergrad Students: 6,236
  • Graduate Students: 2,703
  • Grads Salary: $74,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 17
  • Student-to-faculty: 11:1
  • William & Mary

Wake Forest University

  • Net Price: $26,324
  • Retention Rate: 95%
  • Graduation Rate: 89%
  • Total Enrollment: 8,789
  • Undergrad Students: 5,441
  • Graduate Students: 3,348
  • Grads Salary: $76,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 17
  • Student-to-faculty: 11:1
  • Wake Forest University

Marquette University

  • Net Price: $34,732
  • Retention Rate: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 84%
  • Total Enrollment: 11,550
  • Undergrad Students: 8,024
  • Graduate Students: 3,526
  • Grads Salary: $77,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 28
  • Student-to-faculty: 13:1
  • Marquette University

New York University

  • Net Price: $45,417
  • Retention Rate: 90%
  • Graduation Rate: 88%
  • Total Enrollment: 52,775
  • Undergrad Students: 27,444
  • Graduate Students: 25,331
  • Grads Salary: $80,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 17
  • Student-to-faculty: 8:1
  • New York University

Creighton University

  • Net Price: $32,355
  • Retention Rate: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 82%
  • Total Enrollment: 8,770
  • Undergrad Students: 4,458
  • Graduate Students: 4,312
  • Grads Salary: $74,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 40
  • Student-to-faculty: 12:1
  • Creighton University

Lewis University

  • Net Price: $20,022
  • Retention Rate: 80%
  • Graduation Rate: 70%
  • Total Enrollment: 6,437
  • Undergrad Students: 4,306
  • Graduate Students: 2,131
  • Grads Salary: $72,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 25
  • Student-to-faculty: 14:1
  • Lewis University

West Virginia University

  • Net Price: $13,087
  • Retention Rate: 82%
  • Graduation Rate: 62%
  • Total Enrollment: 26,269
  • Undergrad Students: 20,495
  • Graduate Students: 5,774
  • Grads Salary: $71,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 24
  • Student-to-faculty: 21:1
  • West Virginia University

University of St. Thomas-Houston

  • Net Price: $19,940
  • Retention Rate: 83%
  • Graduation Rate: 66%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,692
  • Undergrad Students: 2,411
  • Graduate Students: 1,281
  • Grads Salary: $73,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: 133
  • Student-to-faculty: 14:1
  • University of St. Thomas-Houston

LeTourneau University

  • Net Price: $25,661
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Graduation Rate: 57%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,122
  • Undergrad Students: 2,853
  • Graduate Students: 269
  • Grads Salary: $79,000
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Student-to-faculty: 15:1
  • LeTourneau University
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Overview of a Master's in Mental Health Counseling

What Mental Health Master’s Degrees are Available Online?

Degrees in counseling or psychology used to be the only options for people in mental health. Today, students complete specialized degree programs specifically designed for mental health careers and the mental and emotional health needs of today, such as clinical rehabilitation, clinical mental health counseling, school counseling, family therapy, career counseling, substance abuse counseling or addiction counseling, counsling education, individual and group counseling, and other options in the counseling profession.

  • Online Master of Arts (MA) in Mental Health:
    An MA in mental health is a graduate program that focuses on clinical work and will prepare program participants for licensure and to continue on to a doctoral degree. This is often the most common type of mental health master’s degree as it centers around health services, communication skills, and other social sciences and liberal arts courses.
  • Online Master of Science (MS) in Mental Health:
    An MS in mental health often prepares program participants for more clinical work and research as professional counselors helping clients cope with mental health, mental illness, or behavioral disorder issues using various counseling techniques. Much like the MA, graduates will also be ready to pursue licensure and a doctorate degree. An MS degree will focus on analysis and critical thinking in addition to mental health methodologies.
  • Online Master of Education (EdM) in Mental Health:
    Some colleges and universities offer clinical mental health counseling programs through their education departments with an EdM in mental health counseling. These degrees focus their curriculum around individuals who wish to work in school settings, either as a professor or a clinical mental health counselor or in school counseling.
  • Dual Degrees in Mental Health:
    Dual degrees are becoming increasingly commonplace to ensure people are as qualified as possible in every field. You can pursue a dual degree in many areas including medical sciences and mental health, doctor of osteopathic medicine and an MS in mental health counseling, MS in crime and justice studies and MS in mental health counseling, an MS in counseling and an EdS (Education Specialist), or any option involving clinical mental health counseling and a pertinent second degree. These prepare students to be a licensed professional counselor in clinical mental health counseling and to teach, work in medicine, as a teacher, etc.

Admission Requirements

If you wish to participate in an accredited program that will lead to licensure or a doctoral degree, you will require a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with at least a 3.0 GPA. You do not have to complete a bachelor’s degree in mental health; however, you will be required to have completed several related courses such as in psychology, sociology, and statistics. You will also require letters of recommendation, personal statements regarding your professional clinical mental health counseling degree and career goals and ambitions, extracurricular activities, community involvement, and possibly more. Keep in mind that if your application is approved, you may have to travel to the college or university for an interview for official acceptance into the program and be sure to check with the school to determine the application requirements for their dual degree programs, as many will expect you to apply for both degrees separately and at the same time.

How long does it take to earn a Mental Health Counseling Master’s Online?

The majority of online master’s degrees in mental health counseling are two-year programs. It is important to note that many programs require up to 1,000 clinical hours of hands-on counseling or related work experience prior to graduation. You will complete the majority of these hours in year two of your degree program. If you are unable to participate in a program as a full-time student, you may require a year or two extra to complete your degree. If you complete a dual degree, it will take several more years. Keep in mind that programs do not include counseling state licensure. You will have to complete this on your own time after graduation. Licensure is a requirement for most employers. To take this exam, be sure to choose a college or university that has a CACREP-accredited mental health program.

Potential Mental Health Counseling Careers for Master's Graduates

  • Behavioral Health Director
    As a behavioral health director you will be responsible for the coordinated efforts to manage all behavioral health services related to inpatient and outpatient care. You will be required to delegate responsibilities, establish relationships, and regularly update your skills.
    Average Income: $84,900
  • Licensed Professional Counselor
    A licensed professional counselor works with patients to establish goals and to improve their mental health. You will be in charge of administration work alongside counseling sessions, consultations, case management, and more depending upon your employer type.
    Average Income: $48,700
  • Social or Community Service Manager
    A social or community service manager oversees the day-to-day operations of a social services department. You might work for a private medical facility or the government. Goals of these positions include improving the quality of life for clients and assisting with their healing process.
    Average Income: $50,800
  • Mental Health Program Manager
    A mental health program manager will create and relay eligibility requirements for programs in the best interest of the organization and the patients. You will gather patient information, monitor progress, and adapt programs as necessary. It will also be your responsibility to work with other mental health professionals, maximize patient satisfaction, and meet with the families of patients.
    Average Income: $58,100
  • Executive Director
    An executive director in the profession of mental health is one of the top managerial positions of a business or organization. You will develop and execute strategic directives that are designed to improve client care in a cost-effective and timely manner. You will also be required to perform various analyses to improve operational performance.
    Average Income: $79,800

Options to Advance

As a mental health professional, you can expect to be underpaid for your experience and your education by most employers. The money and funding are significantly lacking, as the importance of mental health is still astonishingly underestimated and undervalued by most lawmakers and citizens today. If you wish to continue to advance your career and earn more money, it is essential that you continue your education. This could be in the form of specialized certificates or doctoral degrees. Certificates in mental health can help you achieve higher paying jobs with more responsibility. With a doctoral degree, you might become a professor, psychologist, or a psychiatrist. You could also perform invaluable research that could help millions who struggle with mental health issues. These jobs also have higher salaries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a master’s in mental health worth it?

The short answer to this question is yes. Not only is the field continuing to expand, meaning that there will continue to be available roles all over the US for those who graduate now or in two more years, but this field has many educational requirements. Often, even if you’ve finished a bachelor’s degree in counseling or mental health, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to jump into the field. Instead, counseling roles require that you complete at least a master’s degree. That’s why earning a master’s in this field is always worth it; this is the only way that you are likely to gain access to the role you really want.

Is there a difference between an MA and an MS in this field?

The difference between a Master of Arts and a Master of Science is basically the same in counseling as it is in any other field. That is, if you want to go into a science-heavy field, such as research, then you might want to complete an MS in Counseling. However, if you are planning to work as a counselor and don’t think that you’ll be interested in moving into teaching or research later in your career, then an MA will provide you with the same outcome as the MS. And, really, the only difference in one over the other is that, if you choose to earn a PhD that has a huge focus on research, then you might have to complete some prerequisites before you can move into taking your actual courses.

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