Home Blog Online Counseling Degree Programs: A comprehensive guide

Online Counseling Degree Programs: A comprehensive guide

June 26, 2024
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From 2019 to 2022, the share of fully online learners more than doubled.1 The popularity of online programs for all levels of education has significantly increased–those for clinical mental health counseling included. These master's in counseling programs, many of which are accredited and highly ranked, cater to a wide range of specializations within the counseling sector, reflecting their commitment to high-quality education standards. They offer a path for aspiring mental health counselors to prepare for the challenges of the field, providing comprehensive knowledge and practical skills through advanced online learning environments, responding to a need for education that is both flexible and reputable. This shift towards online education highlights the legitimacy and effectiveness of online counseling degree programs in preparing students for successful careers as mental health counselors.

The rise of online counseling degrees

Online learning has revolutionized higher education by offering unparalleled accessibility and flexibility. It enables students to tailor their study schedules around personal and professional commitments, making higher education more attainable for those who might not be able to commit to traditional, on-campus programs. Although online learning hit its peak during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the fall of 2022 about 54% of college students were taking distance education courses. More than 10 million students take at least some distance education courses.1

The convenience of accessing course materials from anywhere with an internet connection allows for a more balanced approach to education, work, and life. This flexibility does not sacrifice quality; online courses offer the same rigorous curriculum as their in-person counterparts, preparing students for success.

Accredited online counseling programs

An online counseling program may receive accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which is considered the gold standard in validating the quality of clinical mental health counseling programs. CACREP establishes, upholds, and updates criteria guaranteeing that students obtain a comprehensive, pertinent counselor education. Earning CACREP accreditation signifies that a mental health counseling program's curriculum adheres to professional standards and importantly, meets the prerequisites for state licensure.

You can check to see if your counseling online program is accredited by visiting the CACREP website. It should also be prominently displayed on any online counseling programs' website.

Specializations in online counseling degrees

Online counseling programs offer a rich array of specializations, allowing students to tailor their education to their personal interests and career goals. After completing a series of foundational courses on topics like counseling theory, human development, and clinical counseling, focused pathways allow students to hone into the specialized skills and knowledge needed to excel in their chosen niche.

Child and adolescent counseling:

  • Focuses on the unique psychological needs of children and adolescents, equipping students with the skills to provide effective therapy for issues such as anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.
  • Prepares candidates to work in settings like schools, private practices, and youth mental health counseling centers, offering support through developmental challenges and transitions. Those interested in working in schools may have to pursue specific school counseling programs to achieve licensure for that setting.

Marriage and family therapy:

  • Concentrates on the dynamics of relationships and family structures, training students in therapeutic techniques that help families and couples navigate conflict, communication issues, and major life changes.
  • Graduates are prepared to work in a variety of settings, including family counseling centers, private practices, and community health agencies, fostering healthier relationships and familial bonds.

Substance abuse and addiction counseling:

  • Provides students with a deep understanding of the complexities of addiction, including the physiological, psychological, and social factors contributing to substance abuse.
  • Mental health counselor students build strategies for treatment and recovery support, preparing them for roles leading individual or group counseling in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and community outreach programs.

Navigating online counseling degree program costs

Prospective students exploring an online counseling degree should investigate financial aid options, scholarships, and cost-saving strategies to make their education more affordable. Federal financial aid, which includes grants and loans, is available to eligible students and can significantly reduce education costs. Additionally, many institutions offer scholarships specifically for counseling students, including merit-based and need-based awards. Researching early and applying for multiple scholarship opportunities can increase your chances of receiving aid. Moreover, consider part-time enrollment or employer tuition assistance programs as ways to spread out costs and possibly gain support from your workplace. Understanding all available options can ease the financial burden and make your educational goals more achievable.

Choosing the right mental health counseling program

When choosing a clinical mental health counseling program, it's vital to look beyond rankings and consider aspects that directly impact your education and career. The format of the counseling program is crucial—whether it's fully online or offers hybrid options can affect your ability to balance studies with personal and professional obligations. Faculty expertise is another key factor; experienced instructors can provide invaluable insights and mentorship, enhancing your learning experience. Additionally, the availability of specialization options allows you to align your education with your career goals, ensuring you acquire the skills and knowledge needed for your specific field of interest. These considerations are essential for finding a program that not only meets academic standards but also supports your individual needs and aspirations.

Continue your exploration of online counseling degrees

Securing a master’s degree is a crucial step toward licensure and becoming a proficient mental health counselor–and now you can study counseling online from wherever you're located. If you choose to attend Marquette University's online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, you can trust that your online master's degree is accredited and respected.

Marquette's on-campus degree program graduates have demonstrated high success rates on licensing exams. In the 2023 cohort, comprising 47 on-campus students, an impressive 83% passed the national counseling exam, surpassing the national average of 81%. Furthermore, every Marquette counseling graduate looking for work and responding to an alumni survey reported finding employment within three months after graduation. Not only is Marquette University's online counseling degree accredited, but it mirrors the on-campus program in curriculum and requirements, so you know your counseling skills will be top-notch and you'll leave with a robust clinical mental health counselor network.

Specialize in child and adolescent mental health counseling or take the traditional track and hone into your interests via practicum and internship experiences. Want to learn more? Schedule a call to speak with an admissions outreach advisor to have all your questions answered.