Top 10 Best Online Counseling PhD Degree Programs (Doctorates)


We rank the best online PhD degree programs in counseling.

Key Takeaways

  • A growing number of doctoral level counselor education degrees are available through online programs.

  • Students seeking online doctoral-level counselor education and supervision have a number of excellent options to choose from.

  • An online counseling PhD program prepares students for careers in marriage and family counseling, community mental health counseling, professional counseling, and more .

Featured Programs

Aspiring counseling PhDs with an interest in becoming mental health counselors, working in marriage and family therapy, providing school counseling services and program evaluation, or providing mental health services through a private practice have several online programs to choose from.

A PhD is considered a terminal degree in counseling education, which means it is the highest degree that you can earn in your field. This means that online doctoral counseling programs can lead to opportunities for leadership, public consultation, research, and post-secondary education in your field.

Online PhD in counseling candidates are typically already working at a high level in the counseling profession. This means that students seeking their doctorate must balance existing work and personal responsibilities with the demands of an advanced counseling program. For many graduate students, online courses and fully online programs provide a way to achieve this balance.

For a look at how the online PhD in counselor education stacks up against traditional on campus programs, check out our look at the Best Research Universities for Psychology Degrees.

Or see the complete List of College Rankings.


Otherwise, read on and learn more about how you can earn a PhD in counseling online through a top-ranked counselor education program.

Woman counseling a group of people

About Online Doctoral Degree in Counseling Programs

Online doctoral students have plenty of options, but quality and credibility are important when it comes to finding an online PhD. The best online doctor of counseling programs will have proper accreditation:

  • Institutional Accreditation: Accreditation is vital for online doctoral programs. It signifies that the online PhD programs offered by the graduate school are in compliance with the standards of a Department of Education-approved accrediting body. A school must also be accredited in order to offer federal financial aid to its online PhD candidates.
  • When looking for an online doctoral program, seek out options with accreditation from a colleges and schools commission in your region. This stamp of approval is critical for ensuring the quality and credibility of your online program.

  • Programmatic Accreditation: In addition to institutional accreditation, be sure that you are only considering online doctorate degree programs with programmatic accreditation. In the field of counseling, graduate degree accreditation is typically granted to both master’s degree and doctoral degree programs by CACREP. Look for CACREP accreditation to identify online graduate programs in counseling.
  • Carnegie Classification: The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, or as it is more commonly known, the Carnegie Classification, is a framework for categorizing all accredited, degree-granting institutions in the United States. Originally formulated in 1970 by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and administered through the University of Indiana’s Center for Postsecondary Research since 2014, the Carnegie Classification is “the leading framework for recognizing and describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education.”
  • Under this classification, top research universities for doctoral degrees and PhD candidates are identified as either R2: Doctoral Universities for “high research activity” or R1: Doctoral Universities for “very high research activity.” Look for these classifications when considering options for your online Phd programs.

Key Point: The best online doctoral programs will have both institutional and programmatic accreditation.

Admission Requirements for Doctoral-Level Counselor Education

Prospective students will typically be required to submit the following in order to qualify for admission into online counselor PhD programs or related educational programs in psychology:

  • A completed online application
  • Official undergraduate college transcripts
  • A cumulative GPA of at least 3.0
  • GRE scores, MAT scores, or GMAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal interviews
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Plan of study

Key Point: In most cases, you’ll be eligible to enter a doctoral degree online after earning a bachelor’s degree. However, some specialized online PhD programs may require you to have earned a master’s degree as well. Be sure you’ve completed all required undergraduate and graduate coursework before applying to your doctoral degree program.

Woman counseling a veteran

Curriculum and Courses

As with other advanced degree and graduate programs, research is the central component of your online counselor education program. This is true for fully online doctorate degrees as well as hybrid degrees combining online education with traditional on-campus courses. Regardless of whether you complete a traditional, hybrid or online program, the typical time to completion is five to seven years.

The typical components of your online counselor education program may include:

Foundational Courses

Core courses will typically include courses aligned with your concentration including family therapy education, clinical counseling, counseling psychology and more. Other foundational courses will focus on research methods, experimental design, training for leadership positions, ethical and legal issues in counseling, and more. You may be able to complete many of these requirements through online classes.

Examinations for PhD Candidacy

Many online doctoral students are required to complete certain examinations to enter into online PhD candidacy. This will typically occur after you’ve completed one to two years of foundational courses.


In most cases, the central component of your online PhD program will be the completion of your dissertation. After gaining status as an online PhD candidate, you will typically work closely with a professorial advisor or mentor to develop an original research question.

This research question will form the basis of your dissertation—an ongoing project designed to address this research question through applied research. While you will work closely with your advisor or mentor, much of your dissertation will be rooted in independent research. This is especially true for students pursuing an online PhD.

Oral Defense

Upon completion of the written portion of your dissertation—which will typically present the findings from your original research project—you will be expected to defend your findings. This “oral defense” will typically be conducted by a commission of professors and experts in your field. PhD candidates in some online degree programs may be able to conduct this defense via teleconferencing.

Teaching Requirements

Some online PhD programs will also include a teaching component, which will require you to work as an adjunct professor or teacher’s assistant in an undergraduate or graduate school. It may be possible for students in the online doctoral degree program to also serve teaching requirements by instructing online students.

Professional Development

Many accredited programs in counseling require PhD candidates to complete a field practicum as well. This will typically be an internship or residency under clinical supervision in the mental health field. For students otherwise completing their PhD through online coursework, one week summer residencies may be available to complete this component.

Key Point: The online PhD in counseling is a research-focused degree. Your dissertation will be a central part of your online doctoral degree program.

Back to Top

Careers for Students Who Complete an Online Doctoral in Counseling

Online PhD in counseling programs are generally terminal degree programs. This means that students who complete an online PhD in counseling program from a regionally accredited institution are generally eligible for top positions and opportunities in their field. Indeed, many practicing marriage and family therapists, substance abuse counselors, and advanced group counseling professionals do engage in counseling practice with just a master’s degree.

However, many of the top earners in the field are those who apply their counseling education to research endeavors for government agencies as well as those who apply their clinical and supervisory skills in post-secondary educational settings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these individuals account for the top 10% of earnings in the field. In 2021, the highest earning counseling professionals earned more than $98,000.

These higher earnings are reflective of the rarified professional opportunities that await those with a PhD in counseling. Working professionals who earn an accredited online doctorate may be eligible to work in the following areas.

  • Counseling Practice Research
  • Journal Publishing
  • Post-Secondary Counselor Education
  • Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Mental Health Policy Consultation
  • Clinical Practice
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Conflict Medication

Key Points: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, counseling students with a doctorate will earn more than graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Woman being counseled
Back to Top

What’s the difference between online doctoral degrees and online PhD programs?

Technically, a PhD is a type of doctorate degree. This means that all online PhD candidates are doctoral students. By contrast, not all doctoral students are PhD candidates.

The primary distinction is that doctoral students are primarily focused on putting existing theories into practice. Depending on your chosen field, your online doctoral degree may require participation in an educational leadership program, engagement in clinical practice, work as a resident in a nursing program, and much more.

By contrast, online PhD students are focused on creating new knowledge in their area of study. This usually means that online PhD candidates are focused on introducing new theories, creating research projects around these theories, and presenting new findings that demonstrate a mastery of existing knowledge and the insight to introduce new ideas into the field.

Today, more working professionals than ever before are pursuing both online doctoral degrees and online Phd programs.

Median Salaries of Similar Careers in the U.S.

The following graph depicts the average salaries of similar occupations to Marriage and Family Therapists in the U.S.


Annual Salary
44740Rehabilitation Counselors
49730Counselors, All Other
53490Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
59660Marriage and Family Therapists
63090Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors
Back to Top

The Best Online Counseling Doctorates (PhDs)

The online counseling PhD programs identified here are ranked based on influence, with weighting for graduation rate and full-time online enrollment.

  1. #1

    Liberty University

    Lynchburg , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What do we love about Liberty University?

    Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world as well as one of the largest private non-profit universities in the U.S. Much of this size is based on its online enrollment.

    Liberty enrolls roughly 15,000 residential students across its 17 colleges, and an additional 80,000 through its extensive online course and degree offerings.

    Liberty is noted for the sheer volume of advanced degrees and online degrees earned by its student body. With more than 47,000 students pursuing advanced degrees, Liberty offers an extremely wide range of doctoral programs, including online PhDs in many different disciplines.

    One of the top online programs at Liberty is their Online PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision.

    • Liberty University is great for students who:

      Wish to attend the world’s largest seminary—Liberty’s Rawlings School of Divinity.

    • Liberty University might not be the best fit for:

      Students who do not identify with Evangelical Christianity.

  2. #2

    Hampton University

    Hampton , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    What do we love about Hampton University?

    Hampton University is a private HBCU based in Hampton, Virginia. Founded in 1868 by a joint commission of Black and White leaders, Hampton was established with the mission of educating freedmen in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War.

    Today, Hampton University is home to 16 leading research facilities, including the largest free-standing Proton Therapy Institute in the world.

    Hampton is also noted for its four unique PhD programs, each of which is hybrid in nature. While students in programs such as the PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision will complete their coursework online, a brief on-campus summer residency is also required.

    Hampton offers a fully online Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision degree. The program takes approximately 3.5 years to complete.

    • Hampton University is great for students who:

      Wish to attend an HBCU that consistently ranks among the top ten Historically Black institutions.

    • Hampton University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a college with a major athletics program.

  3. #3

    Regent University

    Virginia Beach , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What do we love about Regent University?

    Regent University is a private Christian University that provides an array of both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Founded in 1977 by Southern Baptist Minister Pat Robertson, Regent University offers a wide range of both online and on-campus degree programs.

    Regent University serves more than 10,000 students today, with many pursuing online degrees at the master’s and doctoral degree levels.

    Regent University is also noteworthy for its extremely diverse range of online PhD programs, including its faith-based counseling PhDs.

    Regent offers a fully online SACSCOC accredited PhD in Counseling & Psychological Studies degree.

    • Regent University is great for students who:

      Are pursuing advanced degrees online. More than 60% of Regent’s students are in post-graduate programs.

    • Regent University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a secular educational experience.

  4. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What do we love about Jackson State University?

    Jackson State University was founded in 1877, and began history as the Natchez Seminary. Today among the largest historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., Jackson State was initially designed to help educate recently freed slaves in Christian leadership.

    Jackson State University has undergone roughly half-a-dozen name changes since its founding. Currently located in Jackson, Mississippi, the public research university serves more than 7000 undergraduates and postgraduates.

    Jackson State University is listed among R2: Doctoral Universities, those noted for their high level of research activity. This makes it an excellent draw for students pursuing their PhD. While Jackson State does not technically offer a doctoral degree in counseling entirely online, the school of education is home to several online post-masters professional programs including the online Ed.S. with a Concentration in School Counseling.

    • Jackson State University is great for students who:

      Are looking for an affordable educational experience. Students describe Jackson State as an excellent education and experience for a modest tuition.

    • Jackson State University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for state of the art facilities. Some students note that campus buildings are in need of updating.

  5. Man counseling a group of people

  6. #5

    Mississippi College

    Clinton , MS
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What do we love about Mississippi College?

    Mississippi College was founded in 1826, which makes it the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of Mississippi. Mississippi College is also the second oldest Baptist college in the United States.

    Mississippi College has grown rapidly in recent years, with the rate of enrollees jumping 60% between 2002 and 2015.

    Mississippi is also noted for several groundbreaking online doctoral degree programs, including its Doctor of Professional Counseling (D.P.C.), which is described as the first clinical doctorate to be developed for professional counselors.

    Mississippi College offers the first clinical doctorate to be developed for professional counselors. The online program results in an Online Doctorate in Professional Counseling (DPC).

    • Mississippi College is great for students who:

      With an interest in public service. Mississippi College places an emphasis on student and staff participation in local community service opportunities.

    • Mississippi College might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a secular learning environment.

  7. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What is Jacksonville State University known for?

    Jacksonville State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about Jacksonville State University?

    Jacksonville State University was founded in 1883 as the Jacksonville State Normal School. Over the course of the next century, the Jacksonville, Alabama teachers college evolved into a top-ranked public university.

    Today, Jacksonville State University enrolls more than 9000 students at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Among its most noteworthy programs are its nursing, business, education, and communication degrees, all of which enjoy specialized programmatic accreditation.

    Jacksonville State University began offering its first doctoral-level programs in 2018, and today offers an array of advanced Clinical Counseling and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees.

    Jacksonville State offers a Counselor Education - Clinical Mental Health Counseling (Education Specialist) degree.

    • Jacksonville State University is great for students who:

      Are looking for a warm and welcoming campus. Many students say that Jacksonville State lives up to its reputation as one of the friendliest schools in the South.

    • Jacksonville State University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for a community with a lot of nightlife and weekend activities. Students describe the surrounding area as a small, quiet town.

  8. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What is University of West Georgia known for?

    University of West Georgia’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about the University of West Georgia?

    University of West Georgia formed as the 4th District A&M School in 1906. Gaining college status in 1933, and joining the public state school system in 1996, University of West Georgia is one of four comprehensive universities in the state today.

    With a primary campus in Carrollton, Georgia and a satellite campus in Newnan, the University of West Georgia today serves more than 13,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

    UWG is also noteworthy for its top-ranked doctoral degrees in areas such as counseling and psychology. Prospective students can access PhDs in areas such as Professional Counseling and Supervision; and Psychology: Consciousness and Society.

    UWG offers a Doctor of Education in Professional Counseling and Supervision (EdD).

    • University of West Georgia is great for students who:

      Are looking for affordable options. Students describe UWG as a great deal for the money.

    • University of West Georgia might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a lively campus on the weekends. Students describe the Carrollton campus as fairly quiet.

  9. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What is Valdosta State University known for?

    Valdosta State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about Valdosta State University?

    Valdosta State University was formed in 1913 as the Georgia State Normal College. In its first year of operation, the teaching college included three college level students and 15 prep level students. In the next decade, the institution evolved into the Georgia State Women’s College.

    By 1950, Valdosta State had become a coeducational institution. Today, Valdosta serves more than 12,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

    Valdosta State offers a small array of fully only PhD and doctoral degrees, including a doctoral program in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.). With concentrations in areas like organizational leadership, higher education leadership, and special education leadership, this advanced degree can provide pathways for education-based counseling in a wide range of learning contexts.

    • Valdosta State University is great for students who:

      Are pursuing careers in education, business administration, and health sciences. Valdosta offers excellent programs in each of these areas.

    • Valdosta State University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are seeking a big city campus experience. Some students describe opportunities for off-campus activity as limited in the relatively small town of Valdosta.

  10. Counseling session with two women
  11. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What is Auburn University at Montgomery known for?

    Auburn University at Montgomery’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about Auburn University Montgomery?

    Auburn University Montgomery was formed in 1967 as the Montgomery-based campus in the Auburn university public school system. Today, AUM offers a full selection of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in more than 90 distinct academic programs.

    Today, more than 5000 undergraduates and postgraduates are in pursuit of degrees at AUM. Among the most popular degree programs are AUM’s business administration, biology, and elementary education programs, as well as nursing and medical laboratory sciences programs with an exceptional 90% post-graduate job placement rate.

    Auburn University Montgomery is also noted for its selection of only PhD and doctoral degree programs, including.

    Auburn University Montgomery offers a Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling.

    • Auburn University Montgomery is great for:

      Adult learners. AUM offers a highly regarded continuing education program that enrolls more than 10,000 non-traditional students annually.

    • Auburn University Montgomery might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for a campus with a lot of recreational opportunities. Some students describe AUM as a commuter school with a limited number of clubs and events on campus.

  12. #10

    University of West Alabama

    Livingston , AL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    What is University of West Alabama known for?

    University of West Alabama’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about University of West Alabama?

    University of West Alabama was formed in 1835 as the Livingston Female Academy. The Livingston, Alabama-based public university began with the goal of educating teachers, and became coeducational in 1915.

    Becoming University of West Alabama in 1995 to better reflect its public status, the school today serves more than 5000 students.

    The University of West Alabama is also noted for offering an online Education Doctoral Degree (Ed.D.) in Rural Education. The only program of its kind in the nation, this advanced degree includes a counseling track for students interested in working as advocates for diverse student populations and their families.

    • University of West Alabama is great for students who:

      Are looking for a residential campus experience. Students are encouraged to live on campus for their first two years of attendance.

    • University of West Alabama might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are seeking a large campus experience. Students describe the campus and the surrounding west-central Alabama region as relatively quiet.

Other Options for Aspiring Counseling PhDs

Students considering an online doctoral in counseling should also check out the best on-campus options to compare features like cost, curriculum, acceptance rate, and more.

  1. #1

    Boston University

    Boston , MA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


  2. #3

    New York University

    New York , NY
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


  3. #4

    University of Minnesota

    Minneapolis , MN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


  4. #5

    Walden University

    Minneapolis , MN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees


    Student body


    What is Walden University known for?

    Walden University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

Find out what your options are with a look at our full Online Program Ranking List.