The best master’s degrees in counseling psychology

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Introduction to counseling psychology

In 1998, the American Psychological Association (APA) classified counseling psychology as a niche field in professional psychology. Fast forward 23 years and it’s now deemed commonplace in the field.

Although the professions sound similar, a master’s degree in counseling psychology differs from a master’s degree in counseling. The former focuses more heavily on citizens that may have experienced life challenges rather than battled with mental or physical illness. The latter program allows graduates to work as general counselors, providing support to children, families, and those suffering from addiction.

A master’s degree in counseling psychology is a hugely rewarding program, equipping you with the practical and theoretical skills to make a difference in the lives of clients. If you consider yourself an empathetic, compassionate individual with strong personal and communication skills, a career as a counseling psychologist could be the perfect fit for you.

Counseling psychologists are required to understand how clients are hard-wired mentally, determining how they function and interact with others in terms of relationships with family and friends.

Within this page, you’ll discover the top universities we recommend for master’s programs in counseling psychology to further your education and secure relevant practical experience.

The top universities for studying a master’s in counseling psychology

The following colleges have been selected as the leading schools for counseling psychology master’s programs. These institutions have been hand-picked based on a combination of potential earnings post-graduation, the higher-than-average graduation rate of these programs, and the levels of investment in students aside from tuition.

  • Chicago School of Professional Psychology

    Chicago School of Professional Psychology Chicago, Illinois
    Chicago School of Professional Psychology

    Established in 1979, the private Chicago School of Professional Psychology has over 5,700 active students at campuses located throughout the U.S. Its campuses are fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and currently operate over 30 academic programs.

    Accreditation

    Accredited by the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)

    Tuition fees

    Estimated tuition costs are $1,234 per credit our for on-campus learning.

    Financial aid

    Admission details

    Prospective applicants must submit the following with their application:

    • Resume or CV
    • 500-750 word essay
    • 3 letters of recommendation
    • Grades C or better in psychology and research methods
    • Official GRE scores can also be used to optionally enhance applications

    Graduation details

    This master’s program can be completed in 2 years full-time or 3-5 years part-time. To finalize the program, graduates must complete all core modules as well as an internship and practicum involving supervised hands-on interaction with clients in the field. This placement is a minimum 9 months, with at least 700 hours and 280 direct service hours needed to gain licensure as a counseling psychologist in Illinois.

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  • Columbia University

    Columbia University New York, New York
    Columbia University

    Columbia University is an Ivy League private research university based in the grounds of Manhattan’s Trinity Church in New York. A 5% acceptance rate means applicants have a 1-in-20 chance of being accepted onto a program here. Postgraduates significantly outweigh undergraduates at Columbia, with 24,000+ graduates compared with 9,000 undergrads.

    Tuition fees

    Estimated tuition costs are $21,216 per semester for full-time students, $10,608 per semester for part-time students

    Financial aid

    Admission details

    Successful applicants must meet the following criteria:

    • Undergraduate major in psychology or related behavioral and social science is desirable
    • References and transcripts
    • Previous relevant work experience

    Graduation details

    Columbia’s master’s degree requires 60 credits to be completed, 45 of which have to be completed at Teachers College. The minimum grade in all core modules is B and graduates must achieve this minimum standard to remain in the program. This program can also lead to a doctoral program in counseling psychology at Teachers College.

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  • Santa Clara University

    Santa Clara University Santa Clara, California
    Santa Clara University

    Proudly described as the “Jesuit University in Silicon Valley”, Santa Clara University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the State of California. Established in 1851, it remains in its original location and this vibrant campus is currently home to over 3,000 postgraduate students.

    Tuition fees

    Estimated tuition costs are $654 per quarter unit (during remote learning)

    Financial aid

    Admission details

    Successful applicants must meet the following criteria:

    • File an online application
    • Provide a Statement of Purpose
    • Submit a Resume or CV
    • 3 letters of recommendation
    • A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0


    Graduation details

    This program allows students to choose 1 or 4 tracks:

    • MFT – to work towards becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist
    • LPCC – to work towards licensure as a counselor in the state of California
    • MFT/LPCC – joint track with the option to apply for both MFT and LPCC licenses
    • No-track option – which does not lead to licensure.

    Additional emphasis in health psychology, Latinx counseling, LGBT counseling, and correctional psychology, can be included in 52.5-90 unit programs.

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  • The University of Nebraska

    The University of Nebraska Lincoln, Nebraska
    The University of Nebraska

    The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is the flagship public research college in Nebraska. As the oldest and most respected university in the state, it’s no surprise that its acceptance rate is lower than some, with only 22% of applicants in securing a place on their preferred program.

    Tuition fees

    Estimated tuition costs are $7,723 for Nebraska-based residents and $19,513 for non-domestic students, per annum

    Financial aid

    Admission details

    Successful applicants must meet the following criteria:

    • Minimum ACT score of 20
    • SAT score of 950 as a minimum requirement across math and reading sections
    • 4 units of English
    • 4 units of math
    • 3 units of social sciences

    Graduation details

    This master’s program offers the choice of 2 tracks – community counseling and school counseling. The community-based track requires a 600 hours counseling practicum to secure licensure as a counseling psychologist. The 48-credit school counseling track meets the academic requirements to be endorsed by the state office of education to work as a school counselor.

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  • University of Kansas

    University of Kansas Lawrence, Kansas
    University of Kansas

    The University of Kansas is part of an exclusive band of 65 colleges that the Association of American Universities (AAU). Its main campus is situated in the heart of Lawrence, with multiple satellite campuses and research centers located throughout the state. An acceptance rate of 93% means that most students can rely on securing a place on the master’s counseling psychology program here.

    Tuition

    Estimated tuition cost is $10,182 per 30 credits

    Financial aid

    Admission details

    Successful applicants must meet the following criteria:

    • Bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or related area
    • Minimum undergraduate GPA score of 3.0
    • Valid GRE general test scores within the last 5 years, in 50th percentile or higher
    • Criminal background check

    Graduation details

    This 60-credit program requires graduates to undertake a minimum of 600 hours of practicum experience spanning 2 years. A minimum of 240 hours of this must be supervised by an approved professional. Graduates should seek 350 hours of supervised direct contact to achieve licensure as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Kansas. Graduates must also complete one of 3 research options – a) master’s project; b) master’s thesis; c) Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE).

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  • Boston College

    Boston College Boston, Massachusetts
    Boston College

    Boston College is a private Jesuit research university in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Established in 1863, Boston College is home to over 9,000 full-time students, including 4,300+ postgraduates as of fall 2019. Although it is classified as an R1 research university, its college name denotes its roots as a small liberal arts college.

    Tuition fees

    Estimated tuition costs are $23,256 per year for full-time students

    Financial aid

    Admission details

    Successful applicants must meet the following criteria:

    • File an online application
    • Provide a personal statement
    • Submit a resume
    • 2 letters of recommendation
    • Valid GRE test scores

    Graduation details

    Dual degree master’s graduates will complete a curriculum in the master of arts in theology and ministry, followed by a choice of a master of arts in mental health counseling or school counseling. Two tracks are available – the 84-credit track is sufficient for licensure as a mental health counselor in Massachusetts, while the 78-credit track is suitable for those considering doctoral study.

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  • University of Missouri

    University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri
    University of Missouri

    The University of Missouri is a public land-grant research university situated in Columbia. As of 2020, the college enrolled over 30,000 students studying across 300+ undergraduate and graduate programs. This is an in-demand college and, fortunately, the majority of applicants can secure places on programs here with an acceptance rate of approximately 81%.

    Tuition fees

    Estimated tuition costs are $394.90 per credit hour (resident) and $1,081.10 per credit hours (non-resident)

    Financial aid


    Admission details

    Applicants must supply:

    • 3 letters of recommendation
    • Minimum GPA of 3.0
    • Statement of purpose

    Graduation details

    The counseling psychology program is operated within the Department of Educational, School & Counseling Psychology. The program equips graduates with training and education that’s aligned with scientific philosophy, which is applicable for entry to doctoral counseling psychology programs. Students that graduate from this master’s program will not be eligible for licensure as a counseling psychologist. Applicants wishing to join the master’s counseling psychology program with an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field must undertake 15 hours of coursework in behavioral sciences first.

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  • Northeastern University

    Northeastern University Boston, Massachusetts
    Northeastern University

    Northeastern University in Boston is a highly regarded private research university. Established in 1898, less than 20% of applicants are admitted to undergraduate and postgraduate programs here. In 2020-21, more than 78% of students received some form of financial aid. That is beneficial for anyone looking for grant or scholarship to finance their counseling psychology studies.

    Tuition fees

    Estimated tuition costs are $97,300 for full-time students

    Financial aid

    Admission details

    Successful applicants must meet the following criteria:

    • Minimum GPA of 3.0
    • Undergraduate major in psychology or equivalent
    • Unofficial transcripts from all previously attended institutions
    • Personal statement and resume
    • Minimum 3 letters of recommendation


    Graduation details
    The general requirements include grades of B or higher across all modules. Internships and practicums require S or satisfactory grades, with grades B or lower requiring students to repeat the modules. This program can be completed in 2 years full-time and 3 years part-time. This program equips graduates with the competencies required to become a licensed mental health counselor.

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Career outlooks for graduates

The nationwide job outlook for counseling psychologists is positive. The 2020 annual average salary for a counseling psychologist in the U.S. is $89,890, although this figure varies with experience, employer and state. With a master’s degree in counseling psychology, the follow careers are generally accessible

Clinical psychologist

Working with clients to assess and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, as well as short-term personal issues.

Developmental psychologist

Monitoring the psychological development of children and adolescents as they grow up and progress through life.

Forensic psychologist

Working alongside the criminal judiciary to support attorneys and judges as expert witnesses, providing the psychological aspects of specific legal cases – usually family and civil cases.

Rehabilitation psychologist

Working with developmentally or physically disabled clients to develop new ways of enhancing their quality of life.

School psychologist

Working in close collaboration with elementary and secondary schools to address student learning and behavioral issues.

Financial aid available for applicants

There are multiple options you can consider to secure financial support when studying for a master’s degree in counseling psychology. Your first port of call should be Federal Student Aid. On this website you can complete the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) which assesses your eligibility for financial support.

Other types of financial aid include federal grants and scholarships to help graduates cover the cost of college or graduate school.  Contact the financial aid department at the school you are interested in applying to for more information.