15 Best Bachelor’s in Counseling Degrees for 2024

bachelor's in counseling

As a counseling student, you’ll spend countless hours learning about human psychology, interpersonal relationships, and the many influential factors that shape our mental health.

While the road to becoming a licensed counselor can be challenging, it all begins with a solid foundation in a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Counseling program.

To help you find the right program to start your counseling journey, we’ve put together a list of the 15 best BA in Counseling programs available today.

Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or a working professional looking to make a career change, there’s a program on this list for you. Some of the programs are in human services or psychology, as a graduate degree in counseling is the next step for many on this career path.

What is the Best Degree for Counseling?

Let’s start with the basics: the different types of degrees available in counseling. The most common ones are Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), and doctorate (Ph.D. or PsyD).

Each degree caters to different areas of counseling and has its own set of requirements. It’s important to note that while a BA is a great place to start as an aspiring counselor, you will likely need to earn a master’s or doctorate to qualify for many counseling positions.

Many programs also come with specializations. Some of the most common examples are mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, art therapy, rehabilitation, and school counseling.

Mental health counseling is usually the first specialization that comes to mind for most people when they think about counseling.

It’s ideal for students who are interested in helping people cope with mental health problems like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It will prepare you to work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, and private practices.

Then there are more unique concentrations, like art therapy. Art therapy combines the therapeutic process with the creative arts to help people express their thoughts and emotions in a non-verbal way. This approach to counseling can be very helpful, especially for individuals that may not feel comfortable or verbalize their feelings.

No matter which concentration you’re interested in, make sure the program you choose has exactly what you’re looking for so that you can hone your skills and tailor your courses to your unique interests.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling?

A B.A. typically takes four years to complete. Some schools also offer part-time programs, which can be extended over more than four years. If you take an online accelerated program, there is a chance you can finish in even less than four years.

In your first year, you will be introduced to the basics of counseling. You will study the history of counseling, different approaches to therapy, and basic theories and techniques used in counseling.

Some other classes you might take include:

  • Human Development and Life Span: This course will delve deep into issues of infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. You’ll learn about physical, cognitive, and emotional development, as well as how cultural factors can influence growth and development.
  • Group Dynamics: Often, counseling doesn’t happen one-on-one—sometimes, you’ll be working with groups of clients at once. That’s where this class comes in. You’ll learn about how people interact in groups, how to facilitate productive discussions, and how to manage conflicts when they arise.
  • Introduction to Addictions: You’ll learn about different types of addictions, the brain chemistry of addiction, and the potential sources of addiction (such as trauma or family history).
    Marriage and Family Dynamics:
    As a counselor, you may be called upon to help clients manage crises and access resources. This class will help prepare you for these scenarios, with a focus on developing intervention and assessment skills.
  • Crisis Intervention: As a counselor, you may be called upon to help clients manage crises and access resources. This class will help prepare you for these scenarios, with a focus on developing intervention and assessment skills.

What is a BA in Counseling Good For?

Whether you envision yourself working in education, healthcare, public service, or spiritual work, this degree can open all kinds of doors for you.

Some popular career paths include:

      • School counselor: As a school counselor, you would work with students to address academic and social challenges. You can expect to work in an educational setting and collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents to develop support plans for students in need. The average salary is $60,140 per year.
      • Mental health counselor: You could work in a variety of environments such as a private practice, hospital setting, or community health agency. You will work with patients to identify areas of need, develop a treatment plan, and support them through the process. The average salary is $49,710 per year.
      • Government or nonprofit social services administrator: This role would include managing social service programs, analyzing data, and working with community members to develop cost-effective strategies. The average salary is $74,240 per year.
      • Substance abuse counselor: A substance abuse counselor will work with patients who have addiction or alcoholism issues and can help them with gaining sobriety, relapse prevention, and family dynamics. The average salary is $49,710 per year.
      • Spiritual leaders: If a career in ministry is your passion, this might be a good choice for you, since it will allow you to work at churches or other nondenominational organizations. The average salary is $60,180. Other types of counselors within this profession are pastoral counselors.

All salary information is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retrieved December 2023.

Choosing the Best BA in Counseling

Here are the essential factors you need to consider when choosing a counseling program.

Programmatic Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that the program meets the rigorous standards of the accrediting agency, indicating that it provides high-quality education.

Look for programs that hold accreditation from bodies like the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the American Counseling Association (ACA), or the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA).

Admissions Requirements

You’ll want to make sure you meet the minimum academic requirements, such as GPA and completion of prerequisite courses. Also, pay attention to any additional requirements such as letters of recommendation, personal essays, or interviews.

Online vs. On Campus

Online programs may offer more flexibility, allowing you to study at your own pace from anywhere. However, for some students, the in-person experience of a traditional campus program provides a more immersive and social learning experience.

Consider your learning style, preferences, and scheduling needs when choosing between an online or on-campus program.

Specialty Areas

Consider what specialty areas the counseling program offers. Some programs may have concentrations in areas such as addiction counseling, family counseling, or school counseling, providing a more focused education.

If you have a specific area of interest, make sure the programs you’re considering have a curriculum that aligns with your career goals and interests.

How We Made Our Final Cut

Choosing the top 15 BA in counseling degrees wasn’t easy – there are plenty of excellent choices out there. However, to narrow down our list, we looked at the following factors:

  • Accreditation
  • Admissions, retention rates, and selectivity
  • Affordability and accessibility
  • Earning potential
  • Academic reputation

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out our detailed methodology.

What’s New for 2024

We changed out two of the schools since they no longer offer a BA or BS in Counseling, and added New Mexico State University and Arizona State University. We added the ‘modality’ of the program to make it more clear to students, and we added a ‘why it’s on our list’ section to show prospective students a special reason why each program made our list. In the salary section, we updated the salary information to reflect the newest BLS data, and we added career information for substance abuse counseling, which is a popular career for this degree.

15 Best Bachelor’s Degrees in Counseling

1. Liberty University

Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University makes it to our list for its well-rounded and affordable counseling programs.

Their Bachelor of Science in Psychology-Counseling includes a unique emphasis on Christian values in counseling, as well as plenty of hands-on experience opportunities.

With tuition prices among the lowest in the country, Liberty University offers an affordable education without sacrificing quality.

To be admitted into their program, students must possess a high school diploma or GED, as well as a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher.

Modality: Online

Why it’s on our list: Liberty allows students to transfer in up to 75% of the credits required for graduation.

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC Chapel Hill offers a pre-counseling program for students who want to eventually work as a school or family counselor. Their program prepares students to work with individuals from a variety of backgrounds, and offers opportunities for students to work in research projects. Their program is a Bachelor of Science in Human and Family Development and is a precursor to a graduate program in counseling.

Students must meet strict requirements such as having a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA.

Modality: On campus

Why it’s on our list: While not a formal counseling degree, this degree offers the ability to focus on Child and Family Health, or Family Education.

3. Lesley University

Lesley University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers a counseling program that’s both rigorous and specialized.

Their unique program offers an optional specialization in expressive art therapy or in holistic psychology. You’ll take core courses in social sciences, policy and psychology to prepare you for a counseling career.

To be admitted, students must hold a high school diploma or equivalent. 120 total credit hours are required for the program.

Modality: On campus

Why it’s on our list: The specialization options really make this program stand out. Once you graduate, you are prepared to work in human services, or you can go on to earn a graduate degree in counseling.

4. Alaska Pacific University

Looking for a unique counseling program in an equally unique location? Alaska Pacific University might be just what you’re looking for. Their counseling program has a strong emphasis on wilderness therapy, cross-cultural counseling, and practice in rural populations. Students take part in experiential learning opportunities, such as extended backpacking trips.

Admissions requirements include a high school transcript or equivalent, official college or university transcripts, and a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher.

Modality: On campus

Why it’s on our list: You can apply your coursework to professional certifications in Chemical Dependency (CDC), Behavioral Health (BHC) and Behavioral Health Aid (BHA).

5. Johnson & Wales

Known for its culinary and hospitality programs, Johnson & Wales also offers a bachelor’s in psychology with a strong emphasis in counseling. They offer a specialization in counseling at their Providence and Charlotte campuses. You’ll take courses in things like Counseling Theories and Techniques, Principles of Group Counseling, Introduction to Career and School Counseling. Students gain hands-on experience through visiting speakers, internships, and independent studies in the field.

Admissions requirements include a high school diploma or its equivalent, official transcripts, and a rigorous high school curriculum.

Modality: Online and on-campus

Why it’s on our list: We like that this program gives you a taste of several different types of counseling practices, so you can decide which area you like best.

6. New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University offers an online program for aspiring counselors. Their Bachelor of Science in Counseling and Community Psychology prepares students for graduate coursework in counseling or to add on additional coursework for a double major in substance abuse counseling.

To be admitted, students must hold a high school diploma or equivalent, official transcripts, and a cumulative GPA of 2.75 or higher or SAT and ACT scores over 1060 and 21, respectively.

Modality: Online

Why it’s on our list: Students can get up to 100% of their tuition covered with the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship.

7. Clarks Summit University

Clarks Summit University has a distinct faith-based curriculum that integrates Christian values and principles into the counseling program. The courses in their program focus on fundamentals like counseling theories, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, and family counseling.

To gain admission, you must have a GPA of 2.5 or above, ACT scores of at least 17 or SAT scores of at least 873, and a letter of recommendation.

Modality: On campus

Why it’s on our list: Students can watch live counseling sessions as part of the curriculum and debrief with an experienced supervisor and counselor. This gives needed experience and fulfills observation requirements.

8. Eastern Kentucky University

Eastern Kentucky University has a comprehensive program that offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in Psychology with an emphasis on counseling. The program places a strong focus on evidence-based practice and research approaches that prepare students for graduate study in the field of counseling.

Admission to the program requires an online application and official transcripts. Tuition is affordable, starting at just $421 per credit hour.

Modality: Online and on-campus

Why it’s on our list: Eastern Kentucky University has 8 online programs and 8 on-campus programs in areas ranging from Substance Abuse Concentration to Workplace Psychology Concentration.

9. Western New Mexico University

Western New Mexico doesn’t appear to offer their B.S. in Chemical Dependency Counseling any longer, but you can earn a B.S. in Psychology for the same career path, which immerses students in a rigorous and diverse academic environment. One unique feature of the program is the Clinical Internship option, which allows students to gain practical work experience before graduation.

To qualify for the program, you need to have a high school diploma or a GED.

Modality: On campus

Why it’s on our list: WNMU offers this degree in a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science, so more science and research-oriented people can earn a B.S. and social service students can earn a B.A.

10. Oregon Institute of Technology

The Oregon Institute of Technology offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Psychology where you will take courses in counseling, behavior modification and abnormal psychology.

To enter this program, you must have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or better from all previous coursework.

Modality: Online and on-campus

Why it’s on our list: The access to externships and research projects with faculty set this program apart from others.

11. Averett University

The Online Applied Psychology and Human Services program at Averett University prepares graduates for careers in human services, social work, and counseling. The degree carries a certification in addictions counseling, a valuable credential in the counseling industry.

To qualify, you must have a high school diploma or a GED and a minimum of a 2.0 high school GPA. Test scores are not required.

Modality: Online

Why it’s on our list: We like the asynchronous class format and the ability to Zoom with a supervisor during the course for field education work.

12. Minot State University

The Behavioral Sciences department at Minot State University offers a Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies program. Addiction counseling is an exciting and challenging career, with plenty of places to work and improve lives.

To qualify, you must have ACT or SAT test scores, a $35 application fee, and official transcripts.

Modality: On campus

Why it’s on our list: Faculty help students with their supervised clinical experience, which is a requirement for licensure, but not for the degree. We love that they go above and beyond!

13. Oklahoma Baptist University

With a campus that values both academic excellence and spiritual growth, OBU offers a counseling program that intertwines faith and practice. They offer a Pre-Counseling Psychology degree that offers more coursework in theory and practice than a typical psychology degree.

Students in the program are required to complete a minimum of 120 credit hours with a 2.75 GPA. Prospective students must complete both an application and an essay.

Modality: On campus

Why it’s on our list: OBU provides a $10,000 scholarship to every incoming freshman and $8,000 to every transfer student.

14. University of Detroit – Mercy

UDM’s coursework is both theoretical and practical, with students participating in practicums starting in their first semester. Students interested in a career in counseling may want to enroll in either the Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies or a Bachelor of Science in Psychology before they go on to either a graduate degree or certificate.

To apply for the program, prospective students must possess a minimum GPA of 2.75 and a B- or higher in both required counseling core classes. They must also submit recommendation letters, professional goal statements, and participate in an interview.

Modality: Online and on campus

Why it’s on our list: We like the ability to seamlessly transition to their graduate degrees and certificates, which are offered 100% online for those students who are now working full-time.

15. Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Counseling and Applied Psychological Science. It’s the first program of its kind at a major research university. This program prepares students to work in a behavioral health facility or to earn a graduate degree.

Admission to the program requires an application, transcripts, personal statement, and either a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, a 22 on the ACT or an 1120 on the SAT or have graduated in the top 25 percent of your class.

Modality: Online and on campus

Why it’s on our list: We like how ASU has created a focus on diversity and cultural competencies.