Earn Your PhD in Counseling Online

Explore some of the educational paths you can take to earn a PhD in counseling online. Get crucial information on accreditation, advice, tips on applying to programs, and criteria you can use to locate the best program for you.

Written By

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Feb 17, 2021

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?

Depending on the program you choose, you’ll develop specialized skills to work with or study particular patient populations in marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, children and school settings, and more. This page offers some great insight into the variety of programs out there, how to prepare for school, what you can expect from a PhD program in counseling, and where it can take you when you finish. Read on for advice on how to find and complete a PhD program in counseling online that fits your lifestyle and goals.

Best PhD in Counseling Online Programs for 2021

In this section, we offer a detailed look at three of the best PhD in counseling online programs for 2021. You’ll get a taste of what to expect in a doctoral-level program, including required courses, desired learning outcomes, and dissertation requirements. While specific requirements for students vary among schools, these spotlight schools will give you a general idea of what to expect in an online counseling PhD program.

Eastern University

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:

1

Convenience and flexibility.
One of the greatest advantages of pursuing a PhD in counseling online is the flexibility you’ll have to complete your coursework. Most students in doctoral programs are adult learners with busy lives. An online program enables you to fit your education into an already demanding schedule. Many part-time students continue to work other jobs while completing their degrees, and the flexibility of online learning supports this in ways that traditional on-campus learning does not. Additionally, online programs give you the opportunity to work from home, saving you time and energy while avoiding regular commutes to campus.

2

Affordability and cost savings.
Many distance learners enjoy pursuing their degrees online because of the savings in tuition dollars and other expenses. Many doctoral counseling online programs today offer students the same tuition rates as in-state learners, regardless of your location. Additionally, most or all of your required learning materials will be online, allowing you to avoid the burden of buying costly hardcopy textbooks. Since you won’t be making regular commutes to campus, you’ll save money on transportation fees or gas, child care, and other expenses you’d encounter while being on or around campus.

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.

Fully online

You’ll complete your coursework entirely online with few or no on-campus obligations. Bear in mind that programs that advertise as fully online programs may also still have some in-person requirements, which might include internships, clinical hours, or an in-person dissertation defense.

Hybrid or blended

Depending on the school, hybrid or blended formats allow you to complete the majority of your coursework online and finish additional in-person requirements on campus or at an approved clinical or educational location.

Timeline: Online Counseling PhD

The duration of your doctorate in counseling online program will vary depending on your school and department. In some cases, programs offer a relatively fast track that takes between three and four years to complete. In other cases, doctorate degrees will take six years or more. Aside from scheduling issues and regulations imposed by your department, there are two main factors that can affect the duration of your program: Whether you are a part-time or full-time student and how long it takes you to conduct the research and writing for your dissertation.

Year
1

Students take required first-year classes and begin incorporating elective courses that are tailored to their interests. First-year online counseling students get the chance to connect with faculty members who share their academic interests. This serves as a good start to the process of locating supportive committee members for your qualifying exams and dissertation process. Some schools may require first-year students to develop an individual plan that charts their course through the program and lay out their academic intentions or desired research.

Year
2

Students continue to take required classes as outlined by the department. They typically have a potential dissertation topic in mind and have been in touch with faculty members who can support that endeavor. By the end of the second year, learners also direct much of their attention toward preparing for comprehensive exams if required by their department. Proactive students begin firming up their dissertation committee during this time. The timing here varies among students and depends on whether a student is enrolled part-time or full-time.

Year
3

The first part of year three is typically dedicated to passing qualifying exams and getting things in motion with the dissertation committee to prepare for research. The timeline of this process varies depending on if a student has any lingering course credits to finish, where and how their dissertation research will take place, and how complex of a project they choose. Some students may need more time to prepare for dissertation research than others depending on the topic. In most cases, PhD students in counseling will need to complete their human subjects forms in compliance with the institutional review board (IRB) office at their college or university.

Year
4

Full-time students should be continuing or finishing up the writing aspect of the dissertation process. Learners also prepare to defend their dissertation in front of their dissertation committee, whether through online video chat or in-person. Most departments require students to complete specific paperwork and forms, which often requires faculty signatures, several weeks in advance of the date they wish to defend. For part-time students, the fourth year is typically the time to pass qualifying exams, receive approval for a dissertation topic, and begin conducting research.

Year
5

While this timeline varies, students in their fifth year should dedicate most of their energy toward finishing any part of the dissertation that remains and successfully defending it. Part-time learners in their fifth year should be continuing writing and submitting the necessary paperwork to schedule a defense.

Year
6 – 7

Full-time students should have defended their dissertation and met any departmental publishing requirements by the end of their sixth year. Part-time PhD students in counseling should, by the end of their sixth year, have a complete draft of the dissertation and have their defense scheduled with their dissertation committee.

PhD in Counseling Online Learning Outcomes

The curricula at each school with a PhD in counseling online will vary, reflecting the strengths of its faculty members and access to resources. At the same time, many degree programs will follow a similar set of standards to ensure that their graduate students develop foundational and necessary skills they’ll need 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.

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT)

Students acquire advanced clinical and therapeutic skills that are applicable in research and teaching careers. MFT students often focus on a particular demographic, including child development, family therapy, and couples counseling.

Mental Health Counseling

This specialization prepares you for careers in teaching, patient supervision, and research. You will acquire the necessary knowledge to address counseling needs of specific age groups or those with particular conditions, including anxiety and depression.

Rehabilitation Counseling

A rehabilitation focus helps clients adapt to various disabilities, improve their functionality in everyday settings, and help them achieve particular rehabilitation goals. Professionals who specialize in this area typically work as researchers, educators, supervisors, or counselors.

School Counseling

School counselors typically provide emotional, academic, and social support for students in elementary, middle, and high schools. The PhD, however, prepares graduate students for research roles that investigate counseling methods and student success.

Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance abuse counselors, also referred to as addiction counselors, often work with patients experiencing substance addiction and recovery issues. The PhD in this area is not necessarily geared toward client-facing roles. Alternatively, this degree usually helps students prepare for substance abuse research, teaching, and clinical supervisory roles.

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.

Specific programs within colleges and universities can also seek out accreditation of their own, known as programmatic accreditation. The top accrediting body for counseling programs is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). In order to ensure that your education is top-notch and worth your hard-earned tuition dollars, you should 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.

Bachelor’s or master’s degree in counseling

Some counseling grad programs may require you to possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in counseling before you apply to a PhD program.

Evidence of relevant work

In addition to a previous degree in counseling, some programs may ask you to submit proof of previous work or volunteer experience that relates to counseling. This shows admissions committees that you have some experience in this area and have some knowledge of what you’re getting into in a graduate program.

Show promise of commitment to diversity and multiculturalism

Because counselors work with many different types of clients and conduct research on a wide variety of disabilities and social issues, it is important to show your commitment to diversity and multiculturalism in the professional world. Applicants tend to illustrate this in their personal statement and through extracurricular or volunteer activities.

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.

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
Eastern University$90860$54,480
Regent University$67551$34,425
Liberty University$59560$35,700
Northcentral University$1,08560$65,100

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:

Job TitleMedian Earnings90th Percentile Earnings
Associate Professor, Postsecondary$78,000$129,000
Counseling Psychologist$58,000$91,000

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).