Counselors have the opportunity to work with people in a variety of settings to help them understand and resolve psychological, personal, or even social problems or issues. Counseling work is interpersonal, as both the counselor and the counselee have a job to do. A Ph.D. in counseling can open doors to several potential career paths, including working as a psychologist, a school and career counselor, or a marriage and family therapist. Our list of the Top 9 Most Affordable Online PhDs in Counseling is a great place to start if you are considering pursuing a doctorate in the field in the flexible format that online degrees offer.
FINDING A PHD IN COUNSELING
Because of the nature of the profession, Ph.D. counseling programs require significant internship and practicum work. Individuals pursuing a degree should be prepared to participate in extensive training in clinical settings. The field of counseling is somewhat broad, and programs can vary in regard to focus. Some programs are geared to train people for counseling in educational settings, while others are better suited for preparing people for clinical settings. Individuals with a Ph.D. can also serve as educators either in clinical settings or in the academy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in counseling are generally trending upward. Positions for psychologists are supposed to grow by 14% into 2026. School and career counselors and marriage and family therapists will also be in high demand. In fact, the Department of Labor expects marriage and family therapist positions to grow at a 23% clip, which is well above the 6% national average for all occupations. If you are considering a doctorate in counseling, then be sure to check out our list of the Top 9 Most Affordable Online Ph.D.'s in Counseling!
RANKING THE TOP 15 MOST AFFORDABLE ONLINE PHD'S IN COUNSELING
While you're on your way to earning your Ph.D. or Doctorate within your field, the editors at Online PhD Programs are already practicing doctors of their craft: ranking the best online Ph.D. programs. To be featured on our annual rankings online doctorates must satisfy four coinciding requirements: accreditation, research and scholarship doctorate certification, NSF recognition, and institutional association with peer-reviewed academia.
Each degree is then ranked using information provided — primarily — through the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. The data collected is scored through a series of weighted categories to represent seven crucial aspects of what makes an online doctorate valuable to future students. Online program quality and presence are joined by industry salaries, student reviews, degree exclusivity, costs, and completion rates to determine the best online doctorates available. For a comprehensive breakdown of how we categorize and source data, please visit our methodology page.
#1. AMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY
Ambridge University is a small private university that is affiliated with the Churches of Christ. AU is located in Montgomery, AL, and has a little over 600 students enrolled each year. AU offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Professional Counseling through its School of Human Services. The program consists of 60 credit hours and is designed as a research degree in the field of counseling. The program is not meant to prepare students for licensure but does assume that enrolled students will have already achieved such a credential. Graduates will be able to demonstrate a mastery of the most recent research in the field of psychology and will be equipped with rigorous research training.
The program generally takes about four years to complete. Overall, students take 16 courses, complete their comprehensive exams, and conduct research and write their dissertation. Courses in the program include Systems of Relational and Intrapsychic Diagnosis, Analysis of Substance Abuse Interventions, and Strategies to Reduce Marriage and Family Dysfunction. Admissions require a bachelor's degree, as well as a writing sample. Students are not required to submit GRE scores for the program. Students services are available for all students enrolled in the online program, including career services and writing help.
#2. ADAMS STATE UNIVERSITY
Adams State University is a public liberal arts university located in Alamosa, CO. ASU's educational programs are geared primarily toward preprofessional areas of study. ASU offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education & Supervision. The program is designed to prepare individuals for clinical and academic careers in counseling, research, or teaching. The program is offered online and requires four one-week residencies on campus during the summer. Students move through the program in a cohort with other students enabling them to get to know one another over the course of the degree.
Classes in the program include Seminar in Counselor Education, Seminar in Leadership Advocacy & Ethics, and Seminar: Program Evaluation & Grant Writing. Participants can expect to become highly proficient at research and writing. The program has internship and practicum expectations which are required by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. The practicum requires at least 100 hours, while the internship expectation is listed at 600 hours that are spread across three types of settings and six courses.
#3. CAPELLA UNIVERSITY
One of the most well-known online universities, Capella University is headquartered in Minneapolis, MN. CU has over 35,000 students enrolled in their programs. CU offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. The degree is geared to help individuals become proficient in the skills and competencies necessary to succeed as counselors in educational settings. The program includes nine core courses, comprehensive exams, three four-day residencies, a practicum, and two internships, in addition to the dissertation. Faculty in the program are experienced professionals who bring a wealth of practical knowledge into the classroom experience.
Classes in the program include Foundations of Advanced Social Science Research and Design, Advanced Research in Human Development, and Leadership and Advocacy in Counseling. Courses are formatted in the ten-week quarter system and the program recommends that students take around three classes per quarter. Because CU is committed to online education, they provide robust services to help students succeed. This includes their Guided Path program which offers additional significant structure to their programs of study. Admission requires a master's degree with a 3.25 GPA. International students need to verify their English-language proficiency and there is no GRE requirement for the program.
#4. REGENT UNIVERSITY
Regent University was founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson in 1977 and since then has grown into a mid-sized private university. RU is located in Virginia Beach, VA and enrolls around 8,000 students every year. RU offers a fully online Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling & Psychological Studies. As with other programs, RU's stresses a combination of practical clinical skills and research. The program offers 11 different concentration options, including Human Services for Student Affairs, Human Services Counseling, and Marriage & Family Ministry, among others.
Courses run on a 16-week format and there are 11 different core classes required, in addition to dissertation research. Some classes in the program include Disaster Trauma & Psychological First Aid, Indigenous Mental Health Care, and The Law & Governance of Higher Education. Coursework will vary according to concentration, though all students take the same key research focused classes to assist them in preparing for their dissertation research and writing. Admission requires a master's degree in a mental health field with a GPA of 3.5. Though not required, RU views practical skill in the profession to be a major asset.
#5. OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
Oregon State University is a large public research university with an annual enrollment of over 30,000 students. OSU offers over 200 undergraduate programs, and is a major center for research carrying not only land-grant, but, sea-grant, space-grant, and sun-grant status. OSU offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling through their Ecampus and the College of Education. The program is concerned to train individuals as clinicians who work either as practitioners, supervisors, or clinical educators. Students enter the program and are placed in a cohort which means that they get the opportunity to learn from other individuals from across the country and the globe.
The program is hybrid in nature, with face-to-face classes occurring twice a quarter over a weekend. Overall, the degree is 150 credits, including a series of practicum requirements, comprehensive exams, and the dissertation. Classes in the program include Applied Psychopathology and Psychodiagnostics, Social and Cultural Perspectives in Counseling, and Developmental Perspectives in Counseling. Admission does require a master's degree, and the program prefers that applicants have at least two years of experience in a counseling setting, though that is not required.
#6. GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY
With the largest Christian university in the world, Grand Canyon University has over 90,000 students enrolled, with some 70,000 in their online programs. The sheer size of their offerings speaks to their commitment to an online format for learning. GCU offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision which equips individuals to supervise counselors or to teach students in counseling programs. The degree overall requires 62 credits which include a residency requirement, internships, a practicum, and various dissertation-related courses.
The program offers six different domain areas including Leadership and Advocacy, Supervision, and Teaching. Some courses in the program are Advanced Family Dynamics and Systems, Pedagogy of Counselor Education and Models of Supervision, and Ethics, Laws, and Multicultural Issues. Online courses are specifically designed with working professionals in mind. Students can also take evening courses if they wish. Admission requires a master's degree with a 3.4 GPA or higher, and students must have achieved a C or higher in a course on statistics. Interested individuals can also potentially transfer in up to nine credits.
#7. EASTERN UNIVERSITY
Eastern University is located near Philadelphia, in St. Davids, PA. EU is a Christian university with affiliation with the American Baptist Churches USA and has an annual enrollment of over 3,000 students. EU offers a Doctor in Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy through the College of Health and Social Sciences. The Ph.D. MFT consists of 60 credits and includes a one-week required residency that can be pursued residentially or through the extension campus in Philadelphia. Because of the Christian orientation of the program, there is a strong emphasis on integrating a faith perspective with the discipline of psychology.
Students who enter the program are placed in a cohort for the first two years. Classes in the program include Holistic Approaches to Prevention and Enrichment in Family Systems and Diversity Issues in Marriage and Family Therapy. EU offers three potential start dates for students to choose from and admissions require a master's degree with a preferred cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. Students are also asked to submit a statement of purpose and a statement of faith as part of their application.
#8. HAMPTON UNIVERSITY
Hampton University has a long and storied history of diversity and social justice. HU is a private historically black university located in Hampton, VA, which was founded by white and black missionaries after the Civil War. Through their online program, HU offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. HU's program is designed for individuals who are already licensed professionals, with the intention of taking them further in their career. The degree is 64 credits and includes internships, practicums, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. Students who graduate from the program will have been trained in rigorous research methods as well as the latest best-practices in the discipline.
Courses run for 16 weeks and the program generally takes about three and a half years to complete. Classes include Theory and Practice of Counseling Education, Advanced Counseling Theory and Techniques, and Ethics and Legal Aspects of Counseling. Admission to the program requires transcripts from advanced degrees, licensures, a personal statement, writing sample, and GRE scores from the last five years. HU has been recognized as an excellent online program and was ranked No. 2 by Affordable Colleges Online, in their Best Affordable Colleges in Virginia.
#9. LIBERTY UNIVERSITY
Liberty University vies for first place as the world's largest Christian university, largely because of its online enrollment. LU has enrolled over 90,000 students online in the past. Among their many online offerings is included a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. The degree program is designed to prepare individuals to become academic educators, counselor educators, and supervisors. Because of its Christian identity, there is a strong faith component in the program, and an intentional attempt to bring together Christian theological and ethical principles with psychology. The program can be completed within three to four years.
Students are required to take a practicum, internships, and a dissertation, and the class format is intensive-based. Classes include Counseling Leadership & Advocacy, Advanced Multivariate Statistics & Quantitative Research, and Advanced Career Counseling. Admission requires a master's in counseling or a related field with a 3.25 GPA, as well as a letter of intent, and two letters of recommendation. Applicants also need to take either the Miller Analogies Test or the GRE. The program at LU is fully Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Accepted students can also potentially transfer in up to 15 credits.