Masters in Counseling vs. Masters in Psychology

As you navigate through higher education programs, you may notice that there is an abundance of degree options and specializations available for you to choose from. Each of these paths was created to provide you with structured learning that is specific to the career you plan to engage in after graduation.

Your choice of degree program should revolve around your intended audience as a mental health professional. As you read through this guide, consider which option is more closely related to the type of work you plan to do in the field, so that you can make the best next step in your program.

Educational Requirements

Doing your research into career options in mental health and psychological science can help you determine the most fitting learning path for you to pursue. Both the online Masters in Counseling and Masters in Psychology can be beneficial for learners that are intrigued by the human mind and how it processes daily stimuli from the environment.

Most careers in counseling and advanced psychology require that you go through the steps required to become licensed. As a general rule of thumb, you should keep in mind that the minimum degree requirement for licensure in most states is the masters degree.

Your chosen school should also contain the right type of accreditation for your field, which can help you rest assured that your involvement in a masters program could potentially lead to licensure. Accreditation for fields of counseling and psychology is often completed by the CACREP and the APA.

As you take the next step of choosing your certification program, you should definitely research the specific accreditation of your program against the requirements of licensure in your state. Most universities offer this information to you on the program's web page.

Consider a Featured Online Counseling Program

School and Program Information Online Program? Entry Requirements Course Information
Northwestern University
Online MA in Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs CACREP Accredited
check_circle Online GRE Scores Not Required 24 Courses (standard program for those with counseling experience) or 27 courses (bridge program, for those with no counseling experience)
NYU Steinhardt
Online MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
MPCAC Accredited Programs MPCAC Accredited
check_circle Online GRE scores are not required for admission. Weekly live classes taught by distinguished NYU Steinhardt faculty.
University of Denver
Online MA in School Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs Designed to adhere to CACREP standards
check_circle Online GRE Scores Not Required Learn from doctoral-level faculty in live classes and gain experience through mock counseling and in-field training.
Our Lady of the Lake University
Online MA in Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs Designed to adhere to CACREP standards
check_circle Online No GRE required. Three specializations in Clinical Mental Health, Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling, or School Counseling.
University of Southern California
Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Can be completed in less than 2 years.
check_circle Online No GRE requirement Classes led by USC Rossier faculty who are experts in school counseling, educational leadership and family therapy.
Vanderbilt University's Peabody College
Online Master's with School Counseling Specialization
SACSCOC Accredited
check_circle Online Bachelor's Required. Live, online classes every week led by Vanderbilt faculty.

info For detailed degree information, view the guides to:
Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs

What is the Masters in Counseling?

While you review online institutions offering degree programs in counseling, you should look closely at the curriculum provided by each one. The courses that you take during your program can roughly outline what your career role is the public environment.

The online Masters in Counseling involves coursework that can increase your awareness of the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, methods for conducting assessments on your clients, and the step-by-step process of developing an individualized treatment plan.

The Masters in Counseling can also include specializations that can better prepare you for working with different populations in society. Marriage and family counseling, school counseling, and career counseling are just a few of the many different concentration options you might see during your initial search.

What is the Masters in Psychology?

For students that are more focused on the scientific and experimental aspects of mental health, the Masters in Psychology may be a viable option to consider. This online program can prepare for you developing effective treatment programs for individuals with simple to complex mental health disorders, and even help you gain expertise in the development-specific aspects of individual psychology.

During a degree program in this area, you may also have the option of choosing a secondary field to add to your degree, some of which include focus in forensic psychology, counseling psychology, or developmental psychology. As you can see from these options, this type of degree program can also lead you into fields that include deep research and experimentation.

The Masters in Psychology can be an excellent program for upcoming collegiate learners interested in helping people through further developments in their field. On a small scale, psychologists are trained to conduct psychological tests in different professional environments in an effort to diagnose and recommend treatment for their clients.

Online Programs to Consider

If you choose to move into the field of professional counseling, your minimum degree requirement for licensure is found at the masters level. The CACREP is your most trusted resource for finding online degrees at the masters level, since this organization provides students with an updated list of accredited schools on its website. Take a look at a few example schools that can be found through your search.

  • Messiah College: Online Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling, and School Counseling
  • North Carolina State University: Online Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Students Affairs and College Counseling, and School Counseling

At the masters level, many psychology programs may require additional certification in order to lead to licensure. Generalized online degree programs in psychology at the masters level can be found at a large number of schools all over the U.S. A couple of the schools offering this program online can be found below.

  • Arizona State University: Online Masters in Psychology
  • Purdue University: Online Masters in Psychology – Applied Behavior Analysis, Addictions, Forensic, and I/O Specializations Available

Pros and Cons of Psychology and Counseling

If you were to shadow students in each of these programs, you might notice that the focus of each is rooted deeply in the generalized field of psychology. The Masters in Counseling and Psychology were both developed from the same central focus, which each branching out into different techniques and goals at the graduate level.

Benefits of a Master of Counseling

The benefits of the Masters in Counseling include your ability to learn more about effective counseling techniques that can be relevant to all members of society. While counseling students can specifically focus on the needs of their clients, they lack the availability to influence their field through further research and development.

Benefits of a Master of Psychology

The Masters in Psychology could be the ideal choice for upcoming college learners with the desire to break apart complex problems and determine an effective and meaningful solution. Psychology as a science can be applied to several different professional fields, including business, education, and even healthcare.

A shortcoming of the Masters in Psychology is that it is focused more specifically on the scientific aspects of behavior and leaves out some of the generalized relationship and communication considerations found within the counseling program. Your decision to pursue either of these degrees should include a look at both the positive and negative effects of choosing them.

Classes to Take

  • Intro to Counseling: Students enrolled in counseling programs may begin their experience with a course that outline the history and development of this field at the start of their classes. This course can introduce students to the general mission of this field, as well as founding professionals that aided in its growth.
  • Research Methods: Majors in both counseling and psychology may spend some time training students to plan and implement relevant research projects during their studies. This course leads students through the conceptualization of a hypothesis, planning the research project, collecting data, and reporting results.
  • Working with Diverse Populations: Both counseling and psychology professionals alike should extend their capabilities to people from all walks of life. Since these fields are based strongly on the needs of all people, learning different cultures, beliefs, and religions in this course can be beneficial to providing the best quality of care to everyone served.

Licensure for Counseling and Psychology

Most people enrolled in counseling degree programs intend on pursuing their license once completed with their studies. In order to meet all of the requirements for licensure in your state, you may need to spend a significant amount of time reviewing the requirements set forth for professionals in counseling.

Many states require that students obtain a minimum of a Masters in Counseling that has been accredited by the CACREP. In addition to the educational components, prospects of counseling must also work under the supervision of a licensed counselor for up to 2 years in a clinical setting.

Once these conditions have been met, students are eligible for sitting for the National Counselor Examination, which is the final step towards applying for licensure. You are encouraged to find your state's guidelines prior to enrolling in a program.

In psychology-based fields, different certifications can often have varying licensure paths. If you plan to work in fields of research or in specialized areas such as forensic psychology, licensing may not be required.

Other treatment fields such as Applied Behavior Analysis and School Psychology may require you to receive higher certification, engage in supervised clinical experience, and apply for licensure.

Careers Available to You

Counseling and psychology have grown into very important fields in the U.S. Each offer career options in different settings that can influence different populations with diverse needs.

As a counselor, you can choose to work in different specialized areas such as child and adolescent counseling, school counseling, clinical mental health counseling, and even marriage and family counseling. Each provides its own standard of care to the groups it focuses on, making it important for you to explore the type of people you would like to work with in the field.

Psychology careers can be found in education, research, or even partnered with law enforcement and social services. Careers in behavior analysis, school psychology, and clinical psychology are also available to students that are willing to pursue additional training and licensure in their future.

List of Programs

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
MPCAC Accredited

University of Denver

Online MA in School Counseling
Accredited

University of Southern California

Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Accredited

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling and Guidance
MPCAC Accredited

Vanderbilt University's Peabody College

Online Master's with School Counseling Specialization
SACSCOC Accredited

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
MPCAC Accredited

Regis College

MS in Applied Behavior Analysis
NECHE Accredited

University of West Alabama

Online Counseling and Psychology Degrees
SACSCC Accredited
Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed writeup of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.