Skip to content

How Long Does It Take to Get a Counseling Degree?

Counseling is a rewarding profession for those who understand the importance of mental health and love to help and empower others. Counseling sessions can help patients receive the mental health care they need on varying levels of intensity and in a broad range of settings.

Undergoing the counseling process and developing a counseling relationship with a professional can help patients with their mental health care such as understanding mental illness, issues with family members, common mental health issues, and so much more.

For many people, regardless of their age or backgrounds, professional help from a counselor is simply a great way to work on stress management, self esteem, self awareness, and healthy coping skills. Speaking with a counselor one on one or attending group counseling regularly is a great way to put your personal well being and mental health first. Counselors can also work in school or workplace settings to provide guidance and find resources to help with education and career goals for the future. Career counseling is an excellent resource for professionals in need of guidance.

Counseling, however, is quite a competitive field that demands advanced education and knowledge to grow in the profession. When a student or professional chooses to earn a counseling degree, it is important to understand the road ahead of them and the goals they want to achieve.

The minimum requirement to get into counseling is a bachelor’s degree, though most organizations prefer that their counselors hold a master’s degree before they practice. A degree in psychology also provides the option to pursue a career in counseling. If one is pursuing a master’s degree, then the course of the counseling education, many take them six years before they can start practicing. Those who go on to a doctorate degree program may study for eight years more before being able to offer their counseling services.

Many students look for an associate’s degree to start with, especially working adults who want to continue working as they study. However, there aren’t too many options to get an associate degree in counseling. Some schools offer associate degrees in psychology, which can be a stepping stone to a career in counseling. An associate degree typically takes two years to complete and provides foundational knowledge of psychology that prepares students for entry-level jobs in the field. The most accepted qualifications are bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field.

Bachelor’s Degrees-4 years

A four-year undergraduate degree in counseling or psychology is the minimum requirement to embark on one’s counseling career and to pursue advanced degrees. In order to be able to provide any level of mental health counseling, this is the first step. In most cases, counselors must earn a master’s degree in order to offer their mental health services, and a bachelor’s degree is required to get into the master’s level program. The curricula are designed to help students develop essential skills, gain fundamental knowledge of counseling theories and concepts, and think critically.

Choosing the right degree, school, and specialization is important. One can opt for a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts degree depending on career goals. Those who wish to go into a more clinical role may want to pursue a BS in Psychology or Counseling. While the location of the school matters to local students, those who are looking for more flexibility can opt for an online degree. Whatever may be the choice, it is imperative that one chooses an accredited program. Other factors that weigh in are the cost, curriculum, specializations, internships, and practicum. The last two are important as they help students gain practical experience and real-world knowledge. Specializations range from mental health, substance abuse, school counseling, marriage and family therapy, recreational counseling, among others. Keep reading to learn more about excellent school options for earning a counseling degree. For more information on the technicalities of counseling and the opportunities available for both professionals and patients, be sure to check out the American Counseling Association website.

Top Schools

Crossroads College

Rochester, Minnesota

Online Bachelor of Science in Counseling

Visit Website

Crossroads College offers an online Bachelor of Science in Counseling that combines the basic principles of psychology with the tenets of Christianity to deliver holistic knowledge. Accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), the school prepares its counseling students for a wide array of careers in counseling and related fields.
Tuition per credit: $370

Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion

Marion, Indiana

Online Bachelor of Science in Addictions Counseling

Visit Website
Indiana Wesleyan University offers an online Bachelor of Science with a major in Addictions Counseling that covers psychological, social, and emotional aspects of the addiction and recovery process. The comprehensive curriculum combines theoretical and experiential learning to prepare the next generation of caring and competent counselors to share their knowledge of mental health counseling.
Tuition per credit: $976

University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

Online Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling

Visit Website

The University of Cincinnati offers an online Bachelor’s in Substance Abuse Counseling that offers foundational knowledge and practical experience to pursue a career in professional counseling. The comprehensive curriculum prepares students for Ohio state licensure as well as national certification.
Tuition per credit: $416

Capella University

Lynchburg, Virginia

Online Bachelor of Science in Psychology Pre-Counseling

Visit Website

Capella University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Psychology Pre-Counseling which prepares students for graduate programs and arms them foundational knowledge and skills in counseling. Students have the option to choose a specialization that will add to their skills and align with their interests.
Tuition per credit: $365-$415

Drexel University

Philadelphia, PA

Online Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Counseling

Visit Website

Drexel University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Counseling, which prepares graduates to practice as competent professionals who contribute to the wellbeing of others. Accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the program leads to successful and rewarding careers in mental health and addiction treatment counseling.
Tuition per credit: $790

Master Degrees-2 years

Students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology or counseling are eligible to pursue a master’s degree like a Master of Science in Counseling or a Master of Arts in Counseling. They can also get an MS or MA in Psychology and specialize in a particular field of counseling to practice. The varied specializations at the master’s degree level include community counseling, rehabilitation counseling, career counseling, art therapy, school counseling, addictions counseling, marriage, and family counseling, among others. There is also the option to get a Master of Education in Counseling, which offers specializations school, career, or clinical counseling.

Typically, a master’s degree takes two years to complete. However, some online programs offer students the flexibility to study at their own pace and take longer. This is a boon for working adults who are juggling a full-time job and studying at the same time. Most master’s degree programs in counseling offer a comprehensive curriculum that blends theoretical learning with hands-on experience in classroom/project settings.

Courses may include counseling theories, addictions, and substance use disorders, social and cultural diversity issues in counseling, marriage and family therapy, human sexuality, career development, Aging and long-term care, crisis and trauma counseling, psychopathology, diagnostics, assessment and treatment among others. Practicum and a clinical internship are required as well, to provide practical, real-world experience and to prepare students to take the state-based certification and licensure exams. Master’s degree holders are eligible to practice as counselors and do not have to earn a doctorate; most students prefer to do so. Some get into a doctoral program right after graduation, while others prefer to work for a year and two before pursuing the same.

Top Schools

Hays, Kansas

Online Master’s in Counseling – School Counseling

Visit Website

Fort Hays State University offers an online Master in Counseling-School Counseling that allows students to develop the academic and social skills they need to succeed in this competitive field. Accredited by the Kansas State Department of Education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, it leaves students well prepared to appear for state licensure as a certified school counselor.
Tuition per credit:$287.75

Liberty University

Lynchburg, Virginia

Featured Programs

Online Master’s in School Counseling

Visit Website
Liberty University offers an online Master’s in School Counseling that also offers specialized preparation for credentials for a K-12 school position. Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs, it prepares students to work as competent counselors and help future students navigate the challenging world with ease.
Tuition per credit:$565

University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Online Master’s in Counseling

The University of North Dakota offers an online Master’s in Counseling with an emphasis in K-12 School Counseling. Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation and approved by the North Dakota Education Standards and Practices for School Counselor Competencies, it is designed for individuals who wish to work as counselors within K-12 school system and help future students succeed in life.
Tuition per credit:$534.40

Adams State University

Alamosa, Colorado

Online Master’s in Counseling

Visit Website

Adams State University offers an online Master’s in Counseling that offers the choice of specialization in clinical mental health or school counseling. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, CACREP, and the Colorado Department of Education, the program preps students for licensure in the state of Colorado.
Tuition per credit:$435

University of Tennessee

Martin, Tennessee

Online Master’s in Counseling

Visit Website

The University of Tennessee offers an online Master’s in School Counseling that offers three concentration options – Clinical Mental Health, School Counseling, and School Counseling Endorsement. The program prepares graduates to become licensed mental health counselors or school counselors.
Tuition per credit:$620

Doctoral Programs-4-8 years

A doctoral degree is a terminal degree that helps students to grow in their academic and clinical professions. Typical postgraduate degrees in counseling include Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, EdD (Doctor of Education) in Counseling Psychology, PsyD in Counseling Psychology, and Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy: General Family Therapy, among others. Doctorate programs take anywhere between four to eight years, but for some students, it may take as long as ten years to complete. In any case, students need to be licensed to practice as counselors despite the nature of the degree they hold. Some jobs may require a one-year internship, as well.

Top Schools

Youngstown State University

Youngstown, Ohio

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership

Visit Website

Youngstown State University offers a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership that prepares the next generation of public and non-public school administrators. Accredited by the Educational Leadership Constituent Council and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, it also prepares them for leadership roles in health and human service organizations.
Tuition per year:$13,105

Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio

PhD in Counselor Education

Visit Website

The Ohio State University offers a PhD in Counselor Education which ranks as No. 1 in the country. The CACREP-accredited program prepares students for leadership roles in advanced counseling settings. Students go on to work as educators, senior counselors, and directors of public and private institutions.
Tuition per year:$​​​12,424​

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, Ohio

Developmental, Cognitive, and Affective Sciences (DCAS) PhD Program

Visit Website

Case Western Reserve University offers a PhD in psychological sciences with concentration options in developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and affective sciences psychology. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the program is essentially designed for students who are into full-time research or teaching careers.
Tuition per credit:$1,827

University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

Doctorate of Counselor Education

Visit Website

The University of Cincinnati offers a PhD in Counselor Education which helps students gain advanced competence in evaluation strategies, leadership, teaching, planning, and research. The CACREP-accredited program prepares students to practice in community-based settings, work in the underserved sections of the society and also hold leadership positions in various organizations.
Tuition per credit:$724

Cleveland State University

Cleveland, Ohio

Doctoral Program in Counseling Psychology

Visit Website

Cleveland State University offers a Doctoral program in Counseling Psychology is designed for the next generation of competent counselors who excel in assessment, research, intervention, and supervision tasks. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the American Psychological Association, it prepares students to work with diverse urban populations.
Tuition per credit: $556.35

Related Resources:

What are the Different Types of Counselors?

Top 30 Affordable Private Universities for Graduate Degrees in Counseling

Top 25 Master’s in Career/Professional Counseling

5 Podcasts for Counseling Students