Online Bachelor's in Counseling

Counselors help individuals identify problems in their lives and suggest solutions for improvement. The profession consists of many unique specialties, including marriage counseling, addictions counseling, and rehabilitation counseling. The profession boasts higher than average growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2016 and 2026, occupations in school and career counseling will grow 13%. By comparison, the average growth for all occupations is 7%.

Most students earn their bachelor's in counseling through a college or university campus. However, many reputable colleges and universities offer online programs that appeal to students raising families or holding full-time jobs. Online students benefit from flexible class schedules and lower tuition compared to students who live and study on campus.

Online Bachelor's in Counseling Degrees at a Glance

Length of Program Approximately four years
Cost of Program $10,000-$30,000/year
Core Courses Lifespan development, theories of personality, introduction to counseling, abnormal psychology, social policy
Specializations Behavioral health, disability studies, marriage and family therapy, abnormal psychology, special education
Internship Required? Depends on the program
Career Opportunities Social and community service manager, social and human service assistant, training and development specialist, human resources manager, special education teacher

What Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program?

This section describes common courses and concentrations for online counseling programs. You will also learn about aspects such as internships, cost, and timeframe. Keep in mind that all programs are different and that your experience may differ.

Courses in an Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program

Each online counseling degree includes unique courses and specializations. However, students can still expect to take certain classes and learn about certain core subjects. In the list below, you can learn about five common courses for counseling students. Before choosing an online bachelor's degree in counseling, make sure that your school offers courses and concentrations that match your interests.

  • Introduction to Counseling: This course contains information all counselors must know to become successful in their careers. Topics include the counselor's role, an introduction to modern forms of therapy, and the future of the counseling profession.
  • Lifespan Development: This course offers a broad foundation on human development, from childhood to adulthood. Students learn about current theories and emerging research concerning human development. Learners interested in counseling children may take one or more of these courses during their online counseling programs.
  • Theories of Personality: In this course, students learn about the latest theories regarding personality types and personality development. Learners also study theories of personality throughout history to understand how modern theories developed. This course provides many of the tools necessary for working one-on-one with clients.
  • Abnormal Psychology: This course introduces students to mental conditions that affect millions of people each year. Students learn how these conditions arise from environmental and genetic factors. Students planning to help people with mental disorders should take several abnormal psychology courses during their online bachelor's degree in counseling program.
  • Social Policy: In this course, students learn about how government policy affects social welfare at the community and individual levels. Topics include social security, child welfare, and analysis of the latest social policy trends. Social policy courses are essential for students planning to work for a government agency after graduation.

Bachelor's in Counseling Specializations

  • Behavioral Health: Behavioral health refers to the decisions and actions individuals take that affect their mental and physical health. Many behavioral health specialists help clients overcome addiction and other harmful behaviors.
  • Disability Studies: Disability studies introduces students to the physical, mental, and emotional disabilities that cause individuals to seek counseling. Counselors who choose this specialty can quickly identify how disability plays a role in clients' lives.
  • Marriage and Family Therapy: A specialty in marriage and family therapy trains counselors to assist couples and families in conflict. Students learn how to discern underlying problems and identify solutions that may help couples and families recover.
  • Psychology: Psychology covers the study of the human psyche. In psychology courses, students explore the history of psychology and modern techniques that counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists use to treat patients.
  • Special Education: Special education teachers play a vital role in helping disabled students learn to the best of their abilities. The curriculum focuses on addressing emotional, behavioral, and developmental challenges.

Skills Gained in a Bachelor's in Counseling Online Program

  • Interpersonal Skills: Interpersonal skills give counselors the ability to connect with their clients, hear their problems, and offer solutions. All counseling careers require strong interpersonal skills.
  • Research Skills: Much of a counselor's job involves researching ways to improve clients' lives. With strong research skills, counselors can find relevant solutions as soon as possible.
  • Identifying Social Issues: Counselors must know how to identify social issues that affect their clients' lives. By identifying these issues within the clients' community, they can create and implement solutions.
  • Statistics: Statistics allows counselors to identify trends in their clients' lives and the broader community. Counselors can then propose solutions to maintain positive trends or reverse negative ones.
  • Crisis Intervention: Many people go to counselors during a time of personal crisis. In crisis intervention courses, students learn how to diffuse these tense moments and help their clients begin to recover from a crisis.

Bachelor's in Counseling Internship Requirements

Some online counseling programs require students to complete an internship or another field experience. During an internship, students work at a counseling facility under the guidance of a trained counselor. Interns may perform administrative tasks, greet patients, and observe counseling sessions. Students track their hours to ensure they meet their program's requirements. Learners can expect to spend at least 100 hours at an internship site. Most programs assist students with finding internship opportunities close to their homes. However, students may need to adjust their personal and professional schedules to ensure they can complete all required hours. Some companies pay interns.

Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program Length

The length of an online counseling program depends on a students' educational history and enrollment status. If students already hold an associate in counseling degree, earning a bachelor's should take no more than two years. Students with no undergraduate education typically require four years to earn their degrees. In general, online counseling programs require at least 120 credits.

Program format can greatly influence the length of time required to earn a degree. Many schools use a cohort format or individually paced learning model. In the cohort model, a group of incoming students takes courses together, progressing through classes on a predetermined schedule. This format fosters personal and professional relationships. All students graduate at the same time. In the individually paced model, students work through coursework as quickly or slowly as they would like. Advanced students can graduate relatively quickly, while students with other obligations can take their time.

Online Bachelor's in Counseling Program Cost

Many factors affect the total cost of an online bachelor's degree. Tuition rates vary greatly from school to school. Some institutions offer discounted rates for online students, while others require higher technology fees. Many colleges charge higher tuition for out-of-state learners, while others provide the same tuition rate for all online students, regardless of where they live. Some schools charge the same flat rate for 12-18 credits, while others calculate cost per credit.

Online students may need to invest money in computer hardware and software that is necessary to complete coursework and interact with professors. Reliable technology is incredibly important for online learning.

Students earning an online counseling degree typically spend $10,000-$30,000 per year. Lower tuition does not necessarily mean a lower quality of education. Many excellent programs cost less than $15,000 per year.

Is Online Learning Right for Me?

Online programs offer many benefits, including flexibility, accessibility, and affordability. Many online programs allow students to learn at their own pace. Learners can continue working full time or take care of children while earning an education on their own schedule. Since many programs do not require any on-campus courses or residencies, students can research schools across the country that they otherwise would not be able to attend. Some schools offer lower tuition rates for online students, and many do not require distance learners to pay for campus costs such as facility fees. Online students also save money on housing and transportation.

Online learning requires a great deal of time management and self-discipline. Students must use their time wisely to fulfill all academic, professional, and personal obligations. Many younger students find this task challenging at first. To overcome these obstacles, try taking stock of your other responsibilities. What tasks take up most of your time right now? When will you have time to study? How much time per day can you commit to completing assignments? By answering these questions, you learn how online learning might affect your life over the next few years. Finally, online students should have strong communication skills. Instead of face-to-face communication, eLearning courses use chat rooms, discussion boards, and video conferences. Students should be able to effectively ask questions through these formats. Communicating with your peers and professors you can build valuable relationships that might last throughout your counseling career.

Counseling Careers for Bachelor's Graduates

Individuals with a bachelor's degree in counseling can seek entry-level positions in social services, education, and business. Candidates can work in settings such as government agencies, counseling centers, schools, and corporations. Depending on specialty, work experience, and professional interests, counselors may choose to earn a master's degree. The list below includes a mix of entry-level positions and jobs available to individuals with five or more years of experience.

  • Social and Community Service Manager: Social and community service managers coordinate programs such as addiction services, crime reduction initiatives, and skills training. These professionals work with community members to decide on future programs and improvements for current services. Many counseling programs offer courses on current issues, interpersonal relations, and community counseling.
  • Social and Human Service Assistant: Social and human service assistants help disadvantaged individuals improve their lives. Typical job duties include interviewing clients, researching appropriate social services, and tracking clients' progress over time. A bachelor's in counseling provides crucial interpersonal and research skills.
  • Training and Development Specialist: Large companies and organizations employ training and development specialists to create and implement courses and workshops for employees. These specialists design curricula, teach, and assess outcomes. Trainers with a bachelor's in counseling are particularly qualified to offer courses in conflict resolution, respectful behavior, and intercultural cooperation.
  • Human Resources Manager: Human resource managers oversee an organization's staff. They hire new employees, resolve disputes, and investigate complaints. Since organizations of all sizes feature many different personality types, a trained counselor can excel as a human resources manager.
Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Social and Community Service Manager $64,100 18%
Social and Human Service Assistant $33,120 16%
Training and Development Specialist $60,360 11%
Human Resources Manager $110,120 9%
Special Education Teacher $58,980 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salaries for Counselors by Experience

  Entry-Level (0-5 years) Mid-Career (5-10 years) Experienced (10-20 years) Late Career (20+ years)
Mental Health Counselors $38,000 $41,000 $44,000 $46,000
Substance Abuse Counselors $34,000 $38,000 $41,000 $44,000
School Counselors $43,000 $49,000 $57,000 $63,000
Marriage and Family Therapists $45,000 $51,000 $59,000 $66,000
Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licensure

  • State Licensure: Each state sets its own licensure requirements. Once counselors earn a license, they may open an independent counseling practice or take on management-level positions. Only Washington State grants licenses to counselors with a bachelor's degree. All other states require a master's degree, work experience, and an examination.
  • National Certified Counselor: To earn the NCC certification, counselors must hold a master's degree and complete 3,000 hours of work experience. A colleague must endorse the quality of candidates' work through a letter of recommendation. Finally, applicants take an examination developed by the National Board of Certified Counselors. Counselors who hold this certification benefit from an improved reputation and access to high-paying career opportunities.
  • National Certified School Counselor: The NSCS certification indicates that holders meet the highest standards in school counseling. Applicants must first earn the NCC, undergo an additional 100 hours of supervised work experience, and complete two years of work experience solely in schools. When searching for new counselors, principals and other administrators highly value the NCSC certification.
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor: To earn the CCMHC certification, applicants must already hold the NCC and complete specialized master's-level coursework. Applicants should have 3,000 hours of experience, including 100 directly supervised work hours. CCMHC-certified counselors must renew their certificates every five years.
  • Certified Rehabilitation Counselor: Awarded by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Commission (CRCC), the CRC certification helps rehabilitation counselors advance their careers. According to CRCC, CRC-certified counselors earn about $13,000 more per year than non-CRC-certified counselors. CRCC offers eight paths to certification. All tracks require a master's degree and at least two years of work experience.

Earning a Master's Degree in Counseling

Many counseling majors go on to earn a master's degree. Graduate degrees open advanced, specialized career paths in fields such as marriage and family therapy and addictions counseling. Additionally, many states require a master's degree for state licensure. Licensed counselors can take on managerial roles or work independently in private practice. Master's degrees also lead to higher salaries.

Many online master's programs offer excellent education at a reduced cost. Online programs also give professional counselors the ability to continue working while earning their degree. Most master's programs include a practicum or clinical experience. Distance learners can usually complete these requirements at a location near their home or workplace.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Counseling Degrees

In order to receive federal aid, earn a counseling license, and transfer your credits to another school, you must attend an accredited institution. Accrediting agencies review the quality of schools based on a number of factors, including academic rigor and professional outcomes. Accredited colleges adequately prepare students for a career in their chosen field. Before selecting an online bachelor's degree in counseling, ensure that your school holds up-to-date accreditation.

Schools may receive regional or national accreditation. Most employers and graduate schools prefer regional accreditation because it requires higher standards and a multi-year process. There are seven regional accrediting agencies, each of which oversees a certain region of the U.S. Nonprofit schools and public colleges typically receive regional accreditation. National accreditation requires less rigorous standards. Vocational and for-profit schools typically receive national accreditation, although many schools hold both national and regional accreditation. Online students may seek out a school with accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation regulate accrediting agencies to make sure they work in students' interests.

Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Counseling Degree

There are many methods for financing your online bachelor's degree in counseling. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Based on your financial information, the FAFSA determines how much federal aid you can receive to help pay for your online counseling degree. You may qualify for a low-interest loan, a grant for low-income students, or a federal work-study program. Many private lending institutions also give loans to undergraduates. However, private lending institutions often charge higher interest, and interest begins to accumulate before students earn their degrees.

Scholarships are by far the best way to pay for online counseling programs. Many scholarships specifically focus on counseling or a related field. Since fewer people apply for these scholarships, learners are more likely to receive at least one award. Many exclusive scholarship opportunities help minority students complete college at little to no cost.

Many schools also offer merit and departmental scholarships for students earning online counseling degrees. Before committing to a college or university, research what funding opportunities each school offers incoming students.

Scholarships for Counseling Students

Future Counselors of America Scholarship
Who Can Apply: presents this award to one undergraduate student each year. Students majoring in psychology may apply. Learners must hold a minimum 3.5 GPA and submit a 900-word essay titled "The Psychology of Online Dating."
Amount: $1,000

Diabetes Scholar Foundation
Who Can Apply: The Diabetes Scholar Foundation presents 15 scholarships each year to high school seniors with Type 1 diabetes. The scholarship committee considers applicants' academic merit and involvement with the diabetes community. The committee prefers applicants who plan to major in fields that benefit diabetes patients, including counseling.
Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Lullellia W. Harrison Counseling Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Zeta Phi Beta sorority awards this scholarship to one female undergraduate student studying counseling. The sorority accepts applications from all female students and does not give preference to Zeta Phi Beta members. To apply, applicants must submit proof of college enrollment.
Amount: $500-$1,000

William White Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Awarded to one undergraduate each year, the William White Scholarship supports students planning to enter substance abuse counseling. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and join the Association for Addiction Professionals.
Amount: $1,000

NFRW National Pathfinder Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The National Federation of Republican Women awards three scholarships each year to women earning a bachelor's or master's degree. Applicants must submit three letters of recommendation, college transcripts, and an essay.
Amount: $2,500

Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Arthur J Gallagher & Co. awards six scholarships to students majoring in a health-related field. Second-year or third-year undergraduates may apply. Applicants must submit an essay, academic transcripts, two letters of recommendation, and a financial aid form.
Amount: $7,500

Resources for Bachelor's in Counseling Students

Professional Organizations

While completing an online bachelor's degree in counseling, you should consider joining one of the many national, state, and local groups for counselors and mental health professionals. In addition to large organizations that appeal to all counselors, there are others that specialize in fields such as school counseling. Many professional organizations charge a membership fee, but several offer discounted rates for students and early professionals. Benefits include professional development, networking opportunities, annual conferences, and exclusive online forums where members can learn about job opportunities.

  • American Counseling Association: ACA members receive free publications and over $200 in continuing education courses. All members may attend the annual conference.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors: The NBCC helps members meet licensure requirements in their home states. Other benefits include subsidized liability insurance required for counselors who operate a private practice.
  • National Association for College Admission Counseling: NACAC represents high school counselors. Members benefit from free publications and multiple online professional development courses. Students earning an online bachelor's degree in counseling pay a reduced membership fee.

Internship and Career Opportunities for Bachelor's in Counseling Students

Additional Resources for Bachelor's in Counseling Students

  • American Mental Health Counselors Association: AMHCA provides a wealth of information for students planning to enter mental health counseling. Student members pay only 40% of the standard membership fee while receiving 100% of membership benefits, including access to publications and invitations to conferences.
  • Chi Sigma Iota: With more than 100,000 student members, Chi Sigma Iota is the nation's largest honor society in counseling. Non-members can take advantage of the society's professional development and career resources.
  • FAFSA Help: Many students have questions when filling out the FAFSA. The FAFSA Help page contains answers to dozens of common queries, including eligibility, deadlines, and requirements.
  • Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs: CACREP helps undergraduate students prepare for their careers. CACREP provides resources on planning for graduate school and earning state licensure.
  • Counseling Today: Published by the ACA, Counseling Today covers the latest news and best practices in the counseling field. Students can read the majority of articles without paying a subscription fee.
  • Counselor Magazine: Another publication aimed at counseling professionals, Counselor Magazine includes original research and advice for both new and seasoned counselors. Many articles do not require a fee to read.