Jul 28, 2023
There’s a significant growing demand for trained counselors. Demand for mental health and substance abuse counselors is projected to grow more than six times the average rate for all other occupations in the U.S. from 2019–2029. Counselors with PhD credentials are needed in essential roles across the education, research, and healthcare industries. With such wide appeal, it’s no wonder that PhD in counseling programs typically feature specialized tracks and offer graduate students unique learning experiences depending on their interests and career aspirations.
If there are so many degree options out there, how do I decide which PhD in counseling online is the best fit for me?
The counseling field offers a diverse range of specializations, with each program focusing on the development of specialized skills to work with or study particular patient populations. These specializations may include marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, children and school settings, and more. This page provides valuable insights into the different types of counseling programs available, how to prepare for them, what to expect from a counseling PhD program, and the career opportunities that await graduates. Continue reading for expert advice on finding and completing an online PhD program in counseling that aligns with your goals and lifestyle.
Best PhD in Counseling Online Programs for 2023
In this section, we offer a detailed look at the four best online PhD in counseling programs for 2023. While every student’s learning needs and preferences are unique, these schools all provide a quality education in a convenient online learning format that can fit your busy schedule. Learn more about each top-ranked college and its online counseling PhD program below.
Regent University's Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Counseling and Psychological Studies program is ideal for mental health professionals who want advanced training in the highest level of psychology research. As a result, the core curriculum revolves around subjects such as research methods, quantitative analysis, and statistics. By completing the program, graduates will be ready for careers as academic leaders, researchers, and mental health services managers. One reason for this wide range of career prospects is that a significant part of the curriculum is devoted to one of the more than 10 concentrations, which include Addictions Counseling, Biblical Counseling, Life Coaching, Pastoral Counseling, Industrial-Organizational, and Trauma and Crisis Counseling. The program can be completed relatively quickly and consists of just 51 credits. Therefore, prospective students must already have a master's degree in a mental health field with at least one year of experience working as a mental health professional.
PhD in Counseling and Psychological Studies
- Credits: 51
- Length: About two years
- Cost: $695/credit
- Mode: Partially online
- Accreditation: SACSCOC
Western Michigan University's Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology is tailor-made for individuals interested in becoming licensed psychologists. The program is accredited by the American Psychological Association, which means graduates will meet not only Michigan's licensing requirements, but also the licensing requirements of many other states. Because the curriculum is designed to prepare students to become psychology practitioners, they must complete a 2,000-hour predoctoral internship. Additionally, the bulk of the coursework must be completed on campus in Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids. However, to provide some learning flexibility, many of the required courses can be completed online. Another feature of the Counseling Psychology program is that extra attention is placed on training students to accommodate and treat clients who come from diverse groups. This means diversity considerations are integrated into the coursework, as well as reflected by the professional practices of faculty.
PhD in Counseling Psychology
- Credits: 91
- Length: Varies
- Cost: $764.76/credit (residents and online) and $1,096.17/credit (nonresidents, on-campus classes)
- Mode: Partially online
- Accreditation: APA-CoA
The Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision program at Hampton University is designed for students who already have their counseling license and want to shift into a more managerial role in their clinical practice. Specifically, this program teaches students the skills they'll need to help train new counseling psychologists and well as supervise existing ones. The curriculum offers the option of specializing in either school counseling or community mental health counseling. Courses typically last 16 weeks. When applying, students should note that they'll need a graduate degree in psychology or a related field and must submit GRE scores. While not required, applicants are encouraged to also submit their professional licenses and credentials for consideration by the admissions committee.
PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision
- Credits: 64
- Length: Three-and-a-half years
- Cost: $695/credit
- Mode: Partially online
- Accreditation: SACSCOC
Kansas State University's Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Counselor Education and Supervision prepares graduates for future careers in a wide range of roles. These include advanced clinical practice, management, and research. Graduates can also complete this program as a basis for obtaining a mental health counseling license. The curriculum requires students to complete at least 96 credit hours, but students who already have a master's degree can apply that coursework to the requirement. Most of the coursework is online, but students must complete nine credit hours of an advanced counseling practicum and internship in counseling and educational psychology. Curriculum customization is also possible because students can use six credits to develop an area of focus outside their dissertation research or required coursework.
PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision
- Credits: 96
- Length: Varies
- Cost: $510.60/credit
- Mode: Partially online
- Accreditation: HLC
Highlighting Quality Online Counseling PhD Programs
Eastern University is a private nonprofit institution offering an online doctorate in counseling. Distance-learning students at Eastern can earn a PhD in marriage and family therapy. This 60-credit degree features instruction in counseling practices and theories with a theological perspective. The school prides itself on providing PhD students with access to various psychological and spiritual enrichment programs, counseling training that helps them meet the needs of a diverse client base, and practice creating expansive research projects. Eastern students can complete this program almost entirely online, with required residencies on its main campus in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.
- Prospective students should have a 3.5 or higher GPA.
- Most learners complete the program in four to six years.
- Learners pursuing this PhD in counseling online pay $908 per credit.
Adams State University
Located in Alamosa, Colorado, Adams State offers remote learners its PhD in counselor education and supervision program. Distance students complete this program entirely online except for one-week summer residencies. Adams State’s program prepares PhD students to work as researchers, supervisors, counselor educators, and practitioners in both clinical and academic settings. Coursework centers on helping learners develop professional practice skills related to research in the field, counseling practice, and related supervisory roles.
- Students need to complete 66 credits, 40 practicum hours, and 600 hours of internship experience as both a professional counselor educator and supervisor.
- Prospective students need to submit their GRE scores and possess a 3.0 or higher GPA from a related master’s program for consideration.
- Online students in the PhD counseling program pay $452.80 per credit.
University of the Cumberlands
UC is a private nonprofit institution located in Williamsburg, Kentucky. The school offers a PhD in counselor education and supervision online. This program focuses on helping students develop their research skills and higher education teaching methods. Coursework includes instruction in advanced leadership skills and prepares learners for administrative roles in behavioral health agencies. This program is also well-suited for students interested in leadership or administrative roles in clinical and education settings in addition to teaching and higher education. Learners in UC’s 66-credit hour doctorate in counseling online program also develop skills in addiction counseling, advanced counseling, and leadership techniques. The department requires PhD students to complete a comprehensive exam and write a traditional dissertation.
- To graduate, students need 100 hours of supervised clinical experience, including 40 hours of direct contact with clients.
- Counseling students pay $400 per credit hour. Applicants should have a 3.5 or higher GPA and a master’s degree in counseling.
Benefits of the Online PhD in Counseling
Students pursuing a doctorate in counseling online enjoy a variety of perks and benefits. Here’s just a couple of advantages online learning can do for you:
Convenience and flexibility.
One of the most top benefits of pursuing an online PhD in counseling is the flexibility it offers in terms of completing coursework. Given that most doctoral students are adult learners with busy lives, an online program enables you to balance your education with existing demands. Many part-time students can continue to work other jobs while completing their degrees, and the flexibility of online learning facilitates this in ways that traditional on-campus learning may not. Moreover, online programs provide you with the opportunity to study from home, which saves you time and energy while avoiding the need for regular commutes to campus.
Affordability and cost savings.
For many distance learners, pursuing an online PhD in counseling can result in significant cost savings on tuition and other expenses. Numerous online doctoral counseling programs today offer students the same tuition rates as in-state learners, regardless of their location. Furthermore, most or all of the required learning materials will be available online, reducing the need to purchase costly hardcopy textbooks. By studying online, you can avoid the expenses associated with regular commutes to campus, such as transportation fees or gas, child care, and other related costs.
Types of Online Doctorates in Counseling
As you search for a PhD in counseling online program that fits your personal and academic needs, you will find that online doctoral programs come in a variety of formats with differing requirements. In some cases, you’ll find programs that offer degrees entirely online with no in-person requirements. Alternatively, many colleges and universities with a PhD in counseling offer a hybrid or blended program, which typically requires some in-person interaction.
Each department will have different requirements for its PhD students when it comes to remote or in-person requirements for qualifying exams, dissertation proposals, and dissertation defenses. Qualifying exams and dissertation proposals usually take place face-to-face, between the student and a designated committee of faculty members. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many schools are electing to do these requirements remotely.
Timeline: Online Counseling PhD
The length of your online PhD in counseling program will depend on several factors, including the policies and regulations of your school and department. Some programs may offer a fast track that can be completed in as little as three to four years, while others may take six years or more to complete. The duration of your program can also be impacted by whether you are enrolled as a part-time or full-time student, as well as how long it takes you to conduct research and write your dissertation.
PhD in Counseling Online Learning Outcomes
While the curricula of each online PhD in counseling program may differ depending on the faculty members’ strengths and access to resources, most programs follow a set of standards to ensure that their graduate students acquire the foundational skills required for success in the field. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common learning outcomes that you can anticipate in an accredited doctorate in counseling online program.
Demonstrate mastery of theories and practices as outlined by CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs)
Schools with CACREP accreditation will follow curriculum and instructional guidelines that align with the association’s accreditation standards and expectations. In this way, you’ll develop critical knowledge and applicable academic theories that are current in the field.
Understand relevant multicultural issues
Counselors work with a wide variety of clients in clinical and educational settings. A doctorate in counseling online program will prepare you with the necessary training in cultural sensitivity in order to deal with clients and related research materials with care, openness, and respect.
Understand ethical practices
Graduates will understand and adhere to ethical practices that professionals in the field follow closely on a daily basis. Counseling ethics apply for both client-facing counselors and those conducting research on their own.
Professional communication skills and standard practices
Professionals in all industries today need high-level communication skills, especially in an increasingly remotely connected workforce. Graduate counseling programs give their students a chance to develop critical communication skills, some of which may be specific to the field’s norms, while others apply to general communication practices.
Contribute to the field
Graduates are prepared for high-level research in a specialized area of the field. Even if you do not end up pursuing a research-heavy career, you will receive training on how to formulate original ideas, construct and execute effective written arguments, and identify and utilize credible documents that allow you to contribute knowledge to the counseling field.
Specializations in Counseling: Should I Choose Mental Health and Addiction, Family Therapy, or Something Else?
Most PhD in counseling online programs will have official specialized tracks that you can pursue. Alternatively, PhD programs are historically a place where you develop a specialization in a concentration area of the field, whether or not an official designation is offered by your department. Oftentimes, similar to coursework, specializations that a college or university offer reflects the strength of its faculty members. When researching schools to pursue your doctorate in counseling online, keep an eye out for concentrations that will meet your personal or academic needs. Here’s a list of common specializations for counseling PhD students.
Accreditation & Online PhDs in Counseling
Colleges and universities today that offer a valuable education and worthwhile credentials for their graduates will possess either national or regional accreditation. National accreditation is typically possessed by career-oriented schools that specialize in a particular vocation. Regional accreditation, on the other hand, is typically for schools that offer a wide range of degrees and focus more on academics. Regional accreditation is considered the gold standard.
In addition to institutional accreditation, specific programs within colleges and universities can also seek out programmatic accreditation. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) is the leading accrediting body for counseling programs. To ensure that your education is of the highest quality and worth the investment of your tuition dollars, it is recommended that you apply only to doctoral programs in counseling that possess both regional accreditation and programmatic accreditation from the CACREP.
Applying to a PhD in Counseling Program Online
When you apply to PhD in counseling online programs, you’ll need to make sure you include all of the required documents required by each school. These programs tend to be fairly competitive and accept only a handful of students each year. Keep a close eye on testing requirements and expected minimum GPA for each application. You will also likely need to submit college transcripts, GRE test scores, a resume, and letters of recommendation that address your likelihood of success in a doctoral program. You might also need to submit a heavily detailed personal statement that outlines why you wish to earn a PhD in counseling and how you intend to contribute to the field after you graduate.
Tuition & Fees
When it comes to earning a doctorate in counseling online, you’ll have a combination of traditional and tech-related fees. For example, you’ll still be required to pay tuition and several fees that students pay regardless of their major or place of residence. As an online student, you’ll be saving money on parking fees, most on-campus activity fees, and commuting expenses. Bear in mind that you will need to pay for things like your own wi-fi and computer, unless you plan to access one at a public library or similar location.
NOTE: Students who pursue a PhD in counseling online can often find graduate assistantships, grants, and other means of financial support to help pay for their education. Many graduate programs today only accept the number of students that they have the financial means to support with assistantships and related academically focused appointments. The amount and type of financial support available through your department or school varies between programs, so don’t hesitate to contact financial aid representatives or academic advisors at the school to see what your options are.
Salaries for Counseling PhDs
According to Payscale.com, the average salary for professionals holding a PhD in counseling is $74,000 per year, with the top 10% of salaries for professionals with this degree coming in substantially higher depending on job titles and descriptions. Payscale reports earnings for the following job titles that typically require a PhD in psychology:
Comparatively, professionals with a master’s degree in counseling make an average salary of $51,685. Popular careers for master’s degree holders in this field include licensed professional counselor ($47,000), mental health counselor ($44,000), and mental health therapist ($45,000).