What is an online Master of Arts in Counseling program?

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Woman counseling younger teenAre you good at talking to and engaging with others? Do you want to make a difference in your community or help others better understand themselves and their emotions?

Becoming a professional counselor may be the job path for you. And those who earn an online counseling degree like a Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) can gain the knowledge and skills to make big strides in their careers.

However, when you search for a program, it’s advisable to do some research to better grasp what enrollment entails, what coursework you will need to complete, what learning outcomes are expected and which online master’s counseling program offers you the best learning experience that fits your schedule and needs.

Here are some facts about the MAC degree and what program specifics you should seek.

Man counseling woman and child.

What does a MAC program prepare you to do?

As a professional counselor, there are a number of avenues in which to take your career. And those best equipped for this profession are likely individuals who earn a MAC, which can not only help you further hone your skills and knowledge, but also allow you to build your acumen and ability in a particular area of interest or specialization. For counselors, there are two routes to consider:

  • Clinical mental health counseling: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans experiences a mental health issue in any given year. As the stigma attached to seeking counseling or therapy for mental health begins to diminish, more clinical mental health counselors will be needed to meet demand for services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 23 percent job growth for mental health counselors between 2016-2026, compared to 7 percent growth for all occupations.
  • Professional school counseling: The school counselor is a cornerstone of any academic institution, and can offer a rewarding and fulfilling job helping children, adolescents and young adults handle school and take their first steps toward adulthood.

Within these greater domains of counseling are a number of specializations and positions that allow counselors who have earned a MAC to put their knowledge and skills to full use. These jobs include:

  • Substance abuse counselor: Recovery from drug addiction and substance misuse often includes one-on-one or group sessions with a professional counselor who can help clients explore emotions and behaviors that influence their condition. The BLS predicts 23 percent job growth for this position from 2016 to 2026.
  • College advisor: Not everyone entering college knows what they want to major in. As college advisors, counselors can help these students navigate school life and find their passions, as well as decide which classes to take.
  • Family and marriage counselor: Family dynamics and conflicts can be hard to control, and that’s when MAC-prepared counselors can use their education to better serve family clients who seek their help. Spouses and couples also often seek the aid of a professional counselor to resolve any number of issues that may negatively affect a relationship.
  • Grief counselor: MAC-prepared counselors in this position can help bereaved families and individuals who have suffered through a traumatic event process their emotions and experiences.
  • Guidance counselor: Employed in a number of education settings — from K-12, private school, public school and high schools — guidance counselors can help children and adolescents cope with emotional struggles to find success in school.

Objectives and curriculum of an online MAC program

Master of Arts in Counseling online programs aim to help prepare students for any job in the counseling field. This is made possible by offering a comprehensive curriculum that helps students build competency and skills in a number of areas, enabling them to progress toward key learning outcomes.

Students should expect to complete coursework like:

  • Brain-based interventions: Students will learn more about brain function and how to help clients manage emotions and behavior.
  • Human growth and development: Counselors research the human developmental patterns and stages to gain a better understanding and appreciation of cognition, which can inform client interactions and guidance.
  • Principles of group counseling: There are a number of in-demand counseling positions that may require a student to work in a group (like substance abuse or family). This is important to note because group sessions can require counselors to deploy completely different tactics and skills than they would with an individual client.

Considerations for an online counseling degree

For students who want to earn an online master’s of counseling, researching how a given school’s off-campus option lines up with the on-campus program is important. Getting the full value of a MAC means finding a school with little difference between online and on-campus options, and which provides a rich and personal experience to students completing courses on the internet.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Can I finish lessons on my own time and schedule?
  • Does the school extend enough support to both empower and assist me in my learning?
  • Can I choose my own site supervisor for clinical hours?
  • Will I have access to faculty and instructors?

How Bradley University can help

At Bradley University, there are two main tracks off-campus students can take advantage of to earn an online counseling degree: clinical mental health counseling and professional school counseling.

We ensure our online Master of Arts in Counseling program is comprehensive and flexible, so online students can complete their studies on time when it is convenient. Contact us today if you’re interested in more information about our admissions process or faculty.


National Alliance on Mental Illness

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Bradley University Online Master of Counseling

Recommended reading:

What is the difference between a master’s in counseling and master’s in social work?

Tips for becoming a first-class high school counselor