[2021] Top Master's in Counseling Psychology Programs | Psychology Degree Guide (2023)

  • February 9, 2021
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[2021] Top Master's in Counseling Psychology Programs | Psychology Degree Guide (1)

Forging a bright career path begins with choosing the best school, but what’s best for one person may not be best for another. As a student interested in pursuing a career in counseling, you already know where you want to go… but how do you get there? What is important to you? Are you looking for a school close to home? One that is affordable? Or is class size and research opportunities a more decisive feature?

We evaluated over 200 Master’s in Counseling programs across the US and used our rigorous six-point metric system to rank what we believe are the TOP 20 COUNSELING PROGRAMS in the country.

However, since we know each student has their own unique educational requirements, we have also included detailed information for each school so you can choose the program that works best for you!

Learn How We Rank Our Schools

Why Pursue a Master's in Counseling?

Master’s in Counseling Psychology programs appeal to professionals with an interest in both general psychology and counseling. Graduates may work in a variety of fields with a range of job titles, including school counselors, geriatric counselors, and sports psychologists. Some may work under the title Counseling Psychologist.

In general, counseling psychologists focus on improving day to day functioning and performance for their clients. They study the behavior and thought processes of each client and guide them toward reaching goals and improving mental and/or physical performance. The result is often a more fulfilling life and stronger social relationships.

A Master’s in Counseling Psychology degree may qualify graduates to work with a wide range of clients, including:

  • Students
  • Athletes
  • Business owners
  • Professionals
  • Married couples
  • Families

Counseling psychologists can work as independent counselors or as employees of larger businesses. They may work with professional clients interested in improving their behavior and mindset to further their careers or with clients struggling to overcome serious problems like marital discord, family dysfunction, or addiction.

What are the best counseling programs of 2021? Here is a snapshot of our top 10:

1University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA
2Northwestern UniversityEvanston, IL
3Lehigh UniversityBethlehem, PA
4Columbia International UniversityColumbia, SC
5Northeastern UniversityBoston, MA
6New York UniversityNew York City, NY
7John Hopkins UniversityBaltimore, MD
8California State University – BakersfieldBakersfield, CA
9University of CincinnatiCincinnati, OH
10Boston CollegeChestnut Hill, MA

For many students, obtaining a counseling psychology master’s degree is a step toward furthering their careers and earning a higher salary. Many students are interested in transitioning into research-based careers while others want to deepen their understanding of human psychology in order to help their clients achieve more and live better lives.

There are many options for Master’s in Counseling Psychology programs in the United States. Below are our top 20 choices for Master’s programs for students interested in counseling psychology with more details about each school to help you find the right program for your needs.

# 1University of Pennsylvania

Location: Philadelphia, PA Cost/Term: $34,882 Acceptance Rate: 8% Graduation Rate: 95%

The University of Pennsylvania offers their M.S.Ed. in Counseling and Mental Health Services program through the Penn Graduate School of Education, or Penn GSE. Students seeking future admission to Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D. programs participate in classroom learning while receiving up to 10 hours per week of practical experience. Graduates may also seek admission to Penn GSE’s Professional Counseling program, one of the best in the country.

Besides the traditional counseling program, Penn GSE also offers an “Executive-Model Program” for working professionals through the School and Mental Health Counseling Program which provides the same coursework and training opportunities, but does so in concentrated summer and weekend sessions.

Both the traditional and executive models offer school counseling certification and mental health counselor licensure tracks, with most students pursuing both tracks to expand their career opportunities. The focus is on person-centered counseling that emphasizes diversity and social justice. Students are typically interested in professional careers or research related to psychology, mental health counseling, or school counseling. Most students attend full-time, but university employees can attend part-time.

# 2Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, IL Cost per Term: $54,120 Acceptance Rate: 8% Graduation Rate: 94%

The Online Master of Arts in Counseling Program at Northwestern University allows students to receive the same level of instruction that’s provided to on-campus students with the flexibility of completing coursework online. The program is a hybrid of home-based learning and in-person experiences.

This CACREP-Accredited graduate school program is dedicated to inspiring mental health counselors to become more self-reflective in their work. Students interested in the program may want to transition into counseling from other fields or strengthen their qualifications within a specialized field of counseling.

Northwestern University boasts a high graduation rate, and students can choose between several completion tracks. The accelerated track speeds up the learning process, allowing students to graduate faster. The Bridge to Counseling Program is dedicated to students transitioning into counseling from other fields. Other options include the traditional track and the part-time track for working professionals.

# 3Lehigh University

Location: Bethlehem, PA Cost/Term: $27,000 Acceptance Rate: 37% Graduation Rate: 89%

Completing Lehigh University’s M.Ed. in Counseling and Human Services program qualifies students to apply for designation as a Licensed Professional Counselor or LPC in Pennsylvania. The MPCAC-accredited graduate program includes 20 courses plus a minimum of 100 hours of field work and a two-semester internship.

Students typically work 15-20 hours per week during the internship. Field work is often completed at the Community Voices Clinic with public school students, in college counseling centers, or in mental health clinics. Some students also take advantage of research opportunities throughout the program and then continue to seek doctoral degrees.

All students benefit from Lehigh University’s low student-to-faculty ratio, which allows professors to take mentor roles to help students excel. Most students take four courses per semester, including summer, and complete the M.Ed. program within two years. Graduates often accept jobs as counselors within hospitals or organizations.

# 4Columbia International University

Location: Columbia, SC Cost/Term: $9,360 Acceptance Rate: 33% Graduation Rate: 74%

The M.A. in Counseling program at Columbia International University boasts an impressive job placement rate for students. Graduates often work in church counseling centers, hospitals, mental health facilities, universities, public or private schools, and addiction rehabilitation programs. Some also move forward to doctoral studies or find positions in academics.

This CACREP-accredited graduate program is dedicated to Christians who want to become skilled mental health counselors. It focuses on personal and spiritual development as well as professional skill development, research, clinical experience, and interpersonal communication.

Columbia International University has lower tuition rates than many competing Master’s in Counseling Psychology programs, but it’s also a longer program to complete. Students are required to complete 60 credit hours, which may take three years or longer.

# 5Northeastern University

Location: Boston, MA Cost/Term: $24,027 Acceptance Rate: 19% Graduation Rate: 86%

The Master of Science in Counseling Psychology program at Northeastern University puts students on track to become Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) in Massachusetts. Students can specialize their coursework by selecting concentrations for deeper study and research. They may also gain experience in multiple professional settings by completing field work in different clinics throughout the program.

Students in this graduate program are required to complete experiential learning in real-world settings. Students are often matched to federal prisons, victim’s assistance programs, mental health centers, complementary medicine clinics, rape crisis centers, and shelters for battered women. Other clinics are available, depending on the professional interests of the student.

Northeastern University has a high graduation rate and accepts about 20 students into the Science in Counseling Psychology program each year. Most students complete the degree in two years, but part-time students may take longer.

# 6New York University

Location: New York City, NY Cost/Term: $42,888 Acceptance Rate: 20% Graduation Rate: 85%

New York University has a lot to offer students completing the Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness program. The school has a high graduation rate and low student-to-faculty ratio. New students can begin the program each fall and are permitted to attend full- or part-time. An online study option is provided, and international students are encouraged to apply.

In addition to core coursework and elective courses, students participate in counseling labs and internships. The internships allow students to apply learned concepts immediately while developing new skills for assessment, practice, case conceptualization, and advocacy. The program focuses on issues of power and privilege to help students develop skills that are relevant to the modern world.

This program requires the completion of 60 credit hours. It is MPCAC-accredited and prepares students to work in community mental health programs, trauma-focused programs, substance abuse treatment centers, and many other professional environments.

# 7John Hopkins University

Location: Baltimore, MD Cost/Term: $53,740 Acceptance Rate: 11% Graduation Rate: 92%

Students admitted to the M.S. in Counseling program at John Hopkins University are required to select between two concentrations: school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. The school counseling concentration prepares students to become MSDE certified and work in K-12 schools. The clinical mental health counseling concentration prepares students for a wider variety of clinical settings and allows applications from students coming from many undergraduate programs.

The clinical mental health counseling concentration requires students to complete 60 credit hours. The school counseling program gives students the option of 48 or 60 credit hours. Both programs admit full- and part-time students and allow up to five years for program completion.

The evidence-based counseling curriculum at Johns Hopkins has been nationally recognized. The program allows students to work with distinguished faculty while learning and growing at world-renowned institution. The school has a high graduation rate and low student-to-faculty ratio.

# 8California State University – Bakersfield

Location: Bakersfield, CA Cost/Term: $7,176 Acceptance Rate: 23% Graduation Rate: 43%

The M.S. in Counseling Psychology degree from California State University is a good option for students looking for low tuition rates without sacrificing education quality. The program is designed to prepare students to become Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) in California.

The coursework is relevant for students interested in non-profit, public, and private work settings, including but not limited to prisons, mental health clinics, foster homes, hospitals, and schools. Students gain real world experience through experiential learning at the University Counselor Training Clinic, which provides affordable services to the surrounding community.

Students must complete 60 semester units to complete this program. All students are required to pass the national Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Evaluation (CPCE) in order to graduate.

# 9University of Cincinnati

Location: Cincinnati, OH Cost/Term: $12,790 Acceptance Rate: 77% Graduation Rate: 71%

The Masters in Mental Health Counseling degree from the University of Cincinnati is priced at a reasonable level and has higher acceptance and graduation rates than many similar Master’s in Counseling Psychology programs. It’s a great option for students interested in keeping tuition expenses low as well as those struggling to gain admittance to other graduate-level counseling degree programs.

This program is designed to prepare students to become licensed Professional Counselors or PCs in Ohio. It is CACREP-accredited and requires students to complete an internship in addition to coursework. The program focuses on training highly skilled counselors ready to work with children, adolescents, and adults of all ages and economic positions.

Students may participate in research while completing this graduate program. That is recommended for anyone interested in doctorate-level education.

# 10Boston College

Location: Chestnut Hill, MA Cost/Term: $29,412 Acceptance Rate: 28% Graduation Rate: 93%

The M.A. in Mental Health Counseling degree program at Boston College was designed as a two-year program whether students select to complete 48 or 60 credit hours. The 48-hour program prepares students for doctorate-level study or further study in law, business, and public policy. The 60-hour program prepares students to become licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) in Massachusetts.

All students participating in this MPCAC-accredited master’s degree program are required to complete a one-year internship or practicum during the second year of study. The school assists students in finding suitable placement with organizations, schools, and clinics in the surrounding area to complete this requirement for graduation.

Boston College focuses this master’s program on social connection and cultural understanding. The program has a high graduation rate, and graduates have successfully gained employment as clinicians, research assistants, mental health counselors, psychologists, family therapists, and cognitive trainers.

# 11Hope International University

Location: Fullerton, CA Cost/Term: $13,764 Acceptance Rate: 29% Graduation Rate: 43%

Hope International University offers the Master of Science in Counseling program completely online, and it has an impressive graduation rate. It’s a Christian-based program designed to prepare students to become Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) in California. Individual study plans are developed and may give students two or three years to complete all required coursework.

Students in this graduate program learn from current practitioners with a variety of professional experiences and viewpoints. Doubling as faculty members, these practitioners are committed to guiding students through self-assessments, clinical courses, and professional development exercises for a well-rounded educational experience.

In addition to online coursework, students are required to complete at least 50 hours of professional development and 280 hours of supervised clinical work. The clinic work is completed with real-world patients directly, giving all students a chance to improve their counseling skills.

# 12University of Wisconsin – Madison

Location: Madison, WI Cost/Term: $10,728 Acceptance Rate: 52% Graduation Rate: 85%

The Master of Science in Counseling from the University of Wisconsin is geared toward students who want to work as practitioners in college counseling centers, community agencies, and businesses. Upon completion of the program, students should feel prepared to pass the Wisconsin exam to become licensed professional counselors.

This program requires students to complete 60 credit hours, of which at least 30 hours must represent graduate-level work. All students must pass the Professional Integration Exercise or PIE before graduation. This assessment requires the student to deliver an oral presentation to the faculty, demonstrating their professional identity and readiness to serve as a clinician at the master’s level.

The University of Wisconsin in Madison offers one of the most affordable Master’s in Counseling Psychology programs available today. The program has high acceptance and graduation rates and is focused on training service-oriented counselors.

# 13Clarks Summit University

Location: Clarks Summit, PA Cost/Term: $7,800 Acceptance Rate: 51% Graduation Rate: 54%

The Master of Science in Counseling program from Clarks Summit University is unique because it trains future counselors to serve in ministry leadership roles rather than focusing only on passing state licensure exams or entering doctorate programs for deeper study. Graduates are prepared to pass the National Certified Counselor exam, which is also known as the NCC, in addition to becoming Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) in Pennsylvania.

This program follows the Biblical counseling model for a Christ-centered education. Students can select concentrations and choose elective coursework to specialize their training. The school stands out in today’s academic landscape by offering one of the most affordable graduate programs. It’s also a leader when it comes to the highest acceptance and enrollment rates. Graduation rates are impressive as well.

Clarks Summit University students have the opportunity to watch real counseling sessions through the schools on-campus counseling center. They also gain hands-on experience while working with a co-counselor.

# 14Texas State University

Location: San Marcos, TX Cost/Term: $6,556 Acceptance Rate: 46% Graduation Rate: 54%

Students completing the Graduate Program in Professional Counseling at Texas State University are required to select one of three areas of concentration. The concentration chosen will determine whether the student is prepared to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate, Licensed Professional Counselor Intern, or Certified School Counselor in the State of Texas.

Texas State University offers reasonable tuition rates, making this a great option for students who need to minimize their educational expenses. This graduate program has high acceptance and admission rates, and the graduation rates are consistently high.

This graduate program is focused on training students for jobs with mental health agencies and schools. It is CACREP-accredited and works to foster the ideals of ethical service, lifelong learning, and pro-social autonomy in tomorrow’s counseling and psychology professionals.

# 15Southeastern University

The Master of Science in Pastoral Care & Counseling program at Southeastern University focuses on the intersection of ministry and advanced counseling methodology. Students attracted to the program are often interested in church counseling positions, community counseling, or caregiver positions. Theology is presented alongside counseling coursework for a Bible-based learning experience that promotes spiritual change alongside physical, emotional, and mental change for clients.

This graduate counseling degree is completed 100% online. It isn’t intended to prepare students for state licensure and doesn’t require an internship or any hands-on experience in the real world. The school encourages students to research the law in their state regarding exemptions for counselors practicing under the umbrella of a church.

The Pastoral Care & Counseling program requires 36 credit hours of study and is typically completed in one year. Graduates often seek employment in churches, Christian schools, hospice, or pastoral caregiving and counseling centers.

# 16Lincoln Christian University

Location: Lincoln, IL Cost/Term: $7,920 Acceptance Rate: 64% Graduation Rate: 62%

The M.A. in Counseling degree from Lincoln Christian University is a good fit for students who want to study theology and scripture while preparing for the National Counselor exam and/or Illinois state licensure. All courses are taught from a Biblical worldview in a program that is both CACREP-accredited and Christ centered.

This is a hybrid graduate program that allows students to benefit from in-person classes while doing some coursework online. All courses are designed to prepare students for jobs in secular or faith-based organizations, clinics, and businesses. The program requires 60 credit hours for completion and can easily accommodate busy working adults as well as full-time traditional students.

Lincoln Christian University has some of the highest acceptance rates for Master’s in Counseling Psychology programs today. The program also has high graduation rates and much lower tuition costs than many competing graduate schools.

# 17LeTourneau University

Location: Longview, TX Cost/Term: $19,170 Acceptance Rate: 46% Graduation Rate: 53%

LeTourneau University attracts students who want to balance advanced counseling skills and clinical assessment with spiritual development. The Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is completed fully online and is designed to teach students how spirituality can impact counseling work. Graduates are prepared to pass the National Counseling Exam (NCE) and to proceed with licensure in the state of Texas.

LeTourneau University has an impressive pass rate for the NCE and excels when it comes to placing graduates with suitable jobs in the mental health counseling field.

Students must complete 66 credit hours to complete the program. There is no requirement for real-world internships or field work.

# 18Bethel University

Location: St. Paul, MN Cost/Term: $11,700 Acceptance Rate: 71% Graduation Rate: 76%

Bethel University’s M.A. in Counseling program is suitable for working adults who prefer in-person classes. All classes are held in the evening, and most students take three years or longer to complete the required 60 credit hours.

This graduate counseling degree trains future counselors who are both competent and compassionate. Students are prepared to work with a diverse clientele and impact the lives of real people with advanced counseling skills. The courses are excellent for students who want to serve their communities by providing excellent counseling services that are accessible to the community.

This program boasts some of the highest acceptance and graduation rates when compared with many other Master’s Counseling Psychology degree programs. Students are required to complete a one-year internship or practicum during the final year of study.

# 19Northwestern Oklahoma State University

Location: Alva, OK Cost: $4,631 Acceptance Rate: 62% Graduation Rate: 26%

Northwestern Oklahoma State University offers a Master of Counseling Psychology program that allows students to pick their career path. The program requires between 48 and 60 credit hours for completion, depending on the student’s choice of three tracks. One track leads to jobs as a Licensed Professional Counselor or LPC. Another track leads to a career as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor or LADC.

The final option is a dual track that combines LPC and LADC coursework for a more comprehensive counseling education. That track takes the longest complete with 60 credit hours required for graduation.

This is one of the most affordable graduate programs in counseling psychology, but the graduation rates are below-average. Northwestern Oklahoma State University does have high acceptance and enrollment rates.

# 20Santa Clara University

Location: Santa Clara, CA Cost/Term: $24,144 Acceptance Rate: 50% Graduation Rate: 89%

The Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology at Santa Clara University caters to students who want to become Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) or licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT). The degree stands out from many graduate counseling programs because it allows students to specialize their education by selecting one of four concentrations: LGBT Counseling, Health Psychology, Latino Counseling, or Correctional Psychology.

Santa Clara University considers selecting a concentration as an “emphasis” for the degree. It’s like selecting a minor that complements your major as an undergraduate student. Students uninterested in those concentrations can select from a list of electives to complete the 90 units required for graduation.

Graduation rates for this program are good, and the acceptance rate is higher than many competing programs. The program is a good option for students interested in securing licensure in California.

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