Counseling Psychology Master’s Degree Guide | Salary & Programs 2023

Written by Sarah Harris
Published on January 29, 2023 · Updated on March 23, 2023

Counseling Psychology Master’s Degree Guide | Salary & Programs 2023

Written by Sarah Harris
Published on January 29, 2023 · Updated on March 23, 2023

Life on this planet has changed significantly over the last few years. One of the most significant changes has been the increase in awareness and normalization of mental health disorders, leading to a greater need for those with a master’s degree in counseling psychology.

What was considered taboo in years past is now accepted, and, as more and more people seek mental health counseling, opportunities in this field are expected to increase. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counseling jobs will increase by 23% in the next eight years.

Entering a career in counseling psychology can be both rewarding and scary. Is a master’s degree in counseling psychology right for you? Before deciding, learn more about the field, what to expect, and how to get started.

What Is Counseling Psychology?

Counseling psychology is a subset of general professional psychology that focuses on relationships between individuals and how people function in various settings throughout their lifespan.

Professionals in this field analyze everyday life stresses—work, social, school, family—at different times in a patient’s life and help them better their emotional and mental health to improve their overall wellbeing. Counseling psychologists also assess, diagnose, and treat more severe psychological symptoms.

While pursuing a degree in counseling psychology, you enhance your analytical and critical thinking skills in order to teach future clients how to improve their lives and cope with distress.

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology?

When you choose a counseling psychology graduate program, a world of career options can open for you. Depending on your passions and choice of specialty, common career outcomes include:

  • School or organizational counselor
  • Social worker
  • Group counselor
  • Therapist

A master of counseling psychology can work with almost any patient population: K-12 students, professionals, athletes, geriatric patients, parents, and more.

Master of Counseling Psychology Salaries and Career Outlook

The job outlook for master of counseling psychology graduates is good, especially considering the many opportunities available in various settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychology careers are projected to grow 3% every year for the next ten years. Median pay in 2021 is $82,180 per year or $39 per hour.

Keep in mind that projections do not guarantee job growth or a career as a counseling psychologist.

Master of Counseling Psychology Career Paths, Salaries, and Outlook

Individuals who pursue a graduate counseling psychology degree have dozens of options and career paths based on their specialization or special interest. Social workers, counselors who work in healthcare settings, sports and athletic counselors, and career counselors are only a few opportunities you can take with a master’s degree in counseling psychology.

  • Median Salary: $37,530 
  • Career Outlook: +10% (2020-2030)

These counselors assist those with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities live fuller, more independent lives.

  • Median Salary: $82,180 
  • Career Outlook: +8% (2020-2030)

Psychologists study cognitive and emotional behavior and note how people relate to one another in different environments. They conduct research, work directly with patients, or assist school counselors and social workers.

  • Median Salary: $58,120 
  • Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)

School and career counselors assist students in developing academic and social skills to help them succeed as adults and decide their future careers.

  • Median Salary: $51,760 
  • Career Outlook: +12% (2020-2030)

Social workers assist various people, from health clinics to schools, and solve problems in their daily lives.

 Source: BLS 

Earning a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology

A master’s degree in counseling psychology gives students the educational experience to start their careers. You can go down one of many avenues—school counseling, social work, private practice, organizational counseling, and more. Discover what type of degree will best fit your lifestyle.

Pros and Cons of Master’s Programs in Counseling Psychology

There are several benefits to pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology, including:

  • A high median income of $80,000
  • The option to specialize in population groups that interest you
  • Steady job outlook growth
  • A fulfilling career for students who love people and analytics

The career path has some cons, as well:

  • High-stress environment
  • Requisite continued education training
  • Time and cost of additional years of study

A master’s in counseling psychology can be an excellent choice for those who enjoy learning and stay calm under pressure or in high-stress and emotionally taxing situations.

MA in Counseling Psychology vs. Master of Counseling

People from counseling psychology and other counseling program backgrounds aim to help individuals make sense of their current stressors and support their mental and emotional health. Still, the two are very different in scope and educational requirements.

A Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling Psychology is, at its core, a scientific discipline with a focus on human behavior. Clinical research, research analysis, and application of this knowledge to patients are components of counseling psychology and any other psychology degree.

This degree is also a stepping stone to doctoral programs, like a PsyD, if desired. The MA in Counseling Psychology takes approximately 2-4 years and 60 credit hours to complete, and this is after first earning a bachelor’s degree.

Some common specializations include:

  • School/child psychology
  • Behavioral psychology
  • Clinical psychology (which lead to careers in mental health counseling)
  • Organizational psychology
  • Social work

Someone with a master’s degree in counseling is more focused on diagnosing, treating, and supporting the mental health of their patients while drawing on psychological research. This is a slightly more interdisciplinary approach to mental health that incorporates ethics, art, literature, and philosophy. A master’s in counseling takes about 18 months to three years to complete (in addition to an undergraduate degree).

Specialization programs focus on overcoming personal issues through different modalities. Completing the program will help sharpen a student’s skills in preparation for a career in the field and working with various patients.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Counseling Psychology Master’s Degree?

There’s no exact answer to how long a counseling psychology master’s degree takes to complete. Degree completion times range from 2-4 years in addition to a bachelor’s degree. Factors that influence how long the master’s degree takes to complete include:

  • Previous education
  • Online learning
  • Part-time vs. full-time learning
  • Accelerated program availability

Your program’s course load also plays a role in how long it takes you to earn your degree.

Choosing the Best Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology

Selecting the best master’s degree in counseling psychology can be a confusing process. There are dozens of great programs with subtle differences that can determine where you want to commit, including online or on-campus certifications and licensure and accreditation.

10 Best Schools With Psychology Programs

If you’re looking to continue your education and earn a graduate degree in psychology, it could be worth beginning your search with the best schools in the field. Based on our methodology, these are the 10 best schools that offer psychology degrees.

  1. Northwestern University
  2. Columbia University in the City of New York
  3. Lindsey Wilson College
  4. University of Pennsylvania
  5. Webster University
  6. Lamar University
  7. Liberty University
  8. Capella University
  9. Walden University
  10. University of Central Florida

If you’re looking for other schools that offer Master’s in Pschcololgy programs, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!

Online vs. On-Campus Degrees

Now more than ever before, many schools offer a counseling psychology degree partially or entirely online. Online studies are an excellent alternative for busy and working students as they come with more flexibility, less expensive fees, and no commute.

Of course, there’s nothing like the whole college experience, and many great programs are offered on college campuses nationwide. Also, if clinical experience is required for your future career of choice, you’ll need to gain that experience in person.

How Long Do Online Courses Take to Complete?

Online grad programs are not all the same and may have varying options that define how long the program takes to complete. For example, synchronous courses that are taught online and start/end at predetermined times move much faster than asynchronous courses. However, an asynchronous course is prebuilt and self-paced, ideal for anyone who wants more flexibility.

Hybrid courses combine online and in-person elements but stick to a more traditional timeframe. If a class is offered online only and is also self-paced, there’s usually an undefined period of time for you to complete the course.

Some schools offer accelerated online courses that shrink the timeline of a course from 16 weeks to 8-10-weeks. Online accelerated degrees can be a great choice if you want to jump into your career quickly; however, they do take a substantial amount of energy and focus to complete.

There isn’t a set timeline for finishing most online programs, but the typical student finishes within five years. It’s best to check with your program to determine if and when credits expire.

Counseling Psychology Certifications and Licensure

In many areas, counseling psychology positions require a license and certification. Prospective students should review licensure requirements for their desired industry to understand exactly what they’ll need to qualify. Other essential factors include regional requirements, educational requirements, and requirements for specific careers.


Program accreditation by the American Psychological Association is an essential factor in choosing a master’s degree in counseling psychology school. Accredited facilities are held to a higher standard of scientific research and evidence-based clinical programs, translating to high-quality education and better outcomes for alumni. Additionally, many psychology roles require a degree from an APA-accredited program.

Applying to Counseling Psychology Programs

There are many steps in applying to a counseling psychology master’s program, including paperwork, testing, reference letters, and lots of waiting.

Admission Requirements for Master of Counseling Psychology Programs

Standard admission requirements for the different master of counseling psychology programs include: 

The GRE test covers verbal, quantitative reasoning, and writing. Although some master’s programs no longer require the GRE, psychology programs typically do.

The program requires a full transcript from your undergraduate college with an average 3.0 GPA.

Programs want to see your personal and professional accomplishments, like volunteer and work experience.
Much like a cover letter, the essay helps you stand out. You should describe qualifications, explain why you chose the field, and outline career goals.
Plan two or three letters from mentors, past professors, and employers.
In most programs, you’ll need to undergo a background check, especially when participating in internships and fieldwork.

Paying For A Master’s Degree In Counseling Psychology

Although getting your master’s degree is a big financial decision, there are many ways to keep the financial burden from becoming a barrier to your continued education.

Counseling Psychology Master’s Degree Costs

The median annual tuition for a master’s degree in counseling psychology is about $20,000. This can vary considerably depending on several factors, including whether you attend online or on campus, in-state or out-of-state tuition costs, financial aid packages, and whether you’re in full-time or part-time attendance.

Scholarships For Counseling Psychology Students

Finding a grant or scholarship is a fantastic way to help you pay your way through a master’s program in counseling psychology. Some options for scholarships include:

Other opportunities may be available through alma mater, professional organizations, or as part of tuition assistance from an employer.

Counseling Psychology Career Resources

Discover how the field of Counseling Psychology can be a rewarding and stable career by reading these incredible resources:


  • What can you do with a master of counseling psychology?
    • You can go into various specialties, including rehabilitation counseling, social work, clinical counseling, school and career counseling, and family counseling.
  • Can you be a counseling psychologist with a master’s degree?
    • Yes, you can be a counseling psychologist in a variety of areas of practice.
  • Is it worth getting a master’s in counseling?
    • If you’re interested in a fulfilling career helping others be the best version of themselves in a field that’s growing steadily, it’s worth the time and financial investment.
  • How much can you make as a master of counseling psychology?
    • You can make an average of $82,000 per year, according to the BLS.

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