15 Best MFT Degree Programs

MFT Degree

An MFT degree is the path to becoming a Marriage and Family therapist. Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) play an important role in helping couples and families deal with personal and family issues.

Many things can cause problems in marriages, relationships, and family unit. Some common issues include financial difficulties, poor communication, parenting issues, mental/emotional disorders, and substance abuse.

Marriage and family therapists can help individuals and families work through these issues using various methods of psychotherapy. Individuals who are interested in helping families get through their problems and become stronger as a group often pursue a marriage and family therapy master’s degree.

Learn more about this degree and what it can provide individuals in terms of career opportunities.

What is an MFT Degree?

The marriage and family therapy degree is a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. This graduate degree prepares students to work as therapists in couple, family, and individual situations. As part of the degree program, the students complete training in psychotherapy and family units. A marriage and family therapist may have a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field with a concentration in marriage and family therapy.

In addition to completing courses, the student must complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in order to become licensed according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It takes approximately two years to complete the marriage and family therapy degree provided the individual already has a bachelor’s degree which is a requirement for entry into the graduate program.

The National Council on Family Relations indicates that there are more than 100 AAMFT- approved MFT graduate programs in the U.S. The American Association on Marriage and Family Therapy accredits all of these programs.

What Can You Do with an MFT Degree?

Graduates of a marriage and family therapy degree program can become licensed to work as marriage counselors or marriage and family therapists. They use a theory-based approach, known as “systems theory,” when treating clients and patients. Their treatment is based on the dynamics of relationships as they relate to marriage, family systems, and similar groups.

The therapists may work with couples on a one-on-one basis or may work with an entire family. They base their therapy on the clients in which they are helping at the time. These professionals held about 71,200 jobs according to a BLS 2022 report. While the largest majority of marriage and family therapists work for individual and family services, other places of employment for MFTs include offices of health practitioners, outpatient care facilities, mental health centers, substance abuse facilities and state government agencies like hospitals and schools.

Marriage and family therapists also choose to work as self-employed therapists. Some MFTs also choose to work with Employee Assistance Programs, which are mental health programs employers provide their workforce to help them deal with personal and family problems.

MFTs work with patients suffering from various clinical problems, including anxiety, depression, child-parent issues and psychological problems. MFTs are often very successful when dealing with patients suffering from serious mental health problems, such as:

  • Adult schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Mood or personality disorders
  • Drug abuse both adult and teenage
  • Anorexia in young adults
  • Childhood behavior issues
  • Childhood autism
  • Chronic physical illnesses

Online Marriage and Family Therapy Degree

Earning a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy is a huge accomplishment and an aspiration for many individuals. However, many candidates can’t earn their degree the traditional way due to finances, family obligations or various other reasons. Perhaps their daily schedule just doesn’t allow enough time to attend college on campus on a full-time basis. Rather than give up their dreams, many candidates choose to earn the MFT degree online.

More and more students are choosing online programs, and many colleges offer marriage and family therapy programs through distance learning. All that’s typically required to earn the degree online is a computer with internet access and a commitment to learning. The student will typically be required to complete the same prerequisite courses and admission requirements as on-campus students.

Once admitted to the online program, the student will learn through online platforms. One advantage of online degrees is that students with a busy schedule can take longer than the traditional two years of study as long as they complete the required number of credits. Because supervised clinical practice is a big part of the program, and a requirement for licensure, students will have to find a place to complete the clinical education on their own.

Marriage and family therapists are required to be licensed in the states they practice in, so it’s vital that the online student arrange to complete the training. The student will also be required to complete a state-based examination. One very important detail worth mentioning is that students should choose a program or school that is accredited. Look for any of these accrediting organizations.

15 Best MFT Degree Programs

Ready to embark on a transformative journey into the field of marriage and family therapy? Here are the 15 best MFT degree programs to pursue as you become part of the next generation of compassionate, skilled therapists. You can check out our methodology here for more information on how we chose programs for our list.

1. University of Nebraska – Lincoln 

Starting our list off is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which offers one of the programs with a program in medical family therapy. It not only includes core classes in traditional areas like clinical family therapy, but also trains students to use distance technology for long-distance sessions and how to develop a multicultural perspective in mental health care. 

2. Palo Alto University

Palo Alto University has an online MA in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in marriage, family, and child counseling. It exposes students to the latest research and clinical techniques in counseling while allowing them to supplement their learning with internships, a practicum, and two onsite residencies. 

3. Auburn University

A competitive program, Auburn University’s degree in marriage and family therapy accepts only six students each year. You’ll benefit from small cohorts and a four-to-one student-to-faculty ratio, giving you the most personalized experience possible as you take classes like Lifespan Development and Couples and Sex Therapy.

4. Syracuse University

Located in snowy Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University has a fully online MA in marriage and family therapy for students who don’t want to brave the cold. It combines theoretical knowledge and immersive, hands-on training. It includes a 500-hour clinical practicum and qualifies students for state licensure, as well as for membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. 

5. California State University – Northridge 

This program is one of the toughest to complete because it requires students to meet the more stringent licensure requirements of California. However, after completion, graduates can practice marriage and family therapy in practically any state. It involves hundreds of hours of hands-on work, along with opportunities for research and independent study.

6. Cambridge College

Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Cambridge College has a truly stellar program for aspiring marriage and family therapists. It includes classes on human development, mental illness, and psychotherapeutic techniques, among others. Integrated field experience is incorporated in the program, too, in the form of hands-on internships. 

7. Pacific Oaks College

Pacific Oaks is located in Pasadena, California, but offers a fully online MA in marriage and family therapy. This one-of-a-kind degree features three specializations in Latinx Studies, Trauma Studies, and African-American Studies. It blends evidence-based theory and family systems theories for a truly comprehensive degree. 

8. East Carolina University 

East Carolina University, located in Greenville, North Carolina, was the first MFT program in the state to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education. It includes core classes covering topics like family systems theories, theories of child development, and so much more. 

9. Valdosta State University

Combining relational and systemic theory and practice along with known intervention techniques, Valdosta State University’s program in marriage and family therapy is available only for on-campus students. It prepares students for Georgia state licensure (and licensure in other states) by the Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage & Family Therapists.

10. University of Colorado Denver

UC Denver offers a few different counseling degrees, but the marriage and family therapy is one of the most flexible, offering students the ability to take classes at night and on the weekends. It includes classes in subjects like Counseling Theories, Techniques in Family Therapy, and Human Development Over the LifeSpan.

11. Southern Connecticut State University

A GRE-optional program, Southern Connecticut State University’s degree in marriage and family therapy includes personalized on-site clinical supervision opportunities. It is ideal for the student who wishes to work in youth services, mental health facilities, hospital outpatient clinics, private practices, and so much more. 

12. National University

National University is known for its top-notch online programs, and this 100% online master of arts in marriage and family therapy is no exception. It offers nine different specialties and includes 60 credit hours of study. Courses focus on how to work with diverse populations in clinical settings while also incorporating the latest research in marriage and family therapy.

13. University of Maryland 

Widely regarded as offering one of the best MFT programs in the nation, the University of Maryland offers a program that emphasizes real-world experience above all else. It has both a thesis and non-thesis option, along with 400 direct counseling hours (250 of which must be specifically in family or couples counseling). 

14. Mercy College

Mercy College is located in Dobbs Ferry, New York, not too far away from the Big Apple. This program is incredibly interdisciplinary and offers extensive internship opportunities for graduate students in mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, and so much more. There are both full- and part-time enrollment options available. 

15. Fairfield University

Fairfield University’s marriage and family therapy masters is an on-campus degree that can be completed on a full- or part-time basis. It is recognized by the state of Connecticut as a pathway for state licensure and includes multiple options for collaboration with professionals in other fields.

Courses in an MFT (Marriage & Family Therapy) Degree

Whether a student chooses to earn the marriage and family therapy degree in college or online, the student must complete specific courses. Here are some of the many courses an MFT student may choose.

  • Couples Therapy
  • An Introduction for MFTs
  • Creating the Anti-Depressant Family
  • General Family Therapy
  • Family Medicine – A Necessary Unity
  • Child and Adolescent Family Therapy
  • Medical Family Therapy
  • Systemic Sex Therapy
  • Trauma-informed Systemic Therapy
  • Suicide Bereavement
  • LGBTQ Couple Therapy

LMFT Requirements

In order to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a candidate must complete several requirements. Some are required before entry to the program, while others may be completed during and/or after the program.
  • Students must have a bachelor’s degree.
  • Students must complete a master’s degree program in psychology, marriage and family therapy or a similar mental health field.
  • Students must complete the required number of hours of supervised field or clinical experiences. The number of hours required may vary from state to state.
  • Graduates must complete the state-based examinations, which also may vary by state.

To maintain licensure, the MFT must complete continuing education credits. Some MFTs may choose to advance their education and pursue a doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy. Like the master’s degree program, the doctoral degree programs may also be available either on-campus or online.

Career Outlook & Wage Potential for MFTs

The BLS predicts that jobs for marriage and family therapists should grow 15 percent during the 2022-2032 decade. This growth rate is substantially faster than other occupations. They also predict that 10,600 new MFT jobs will be created by 2032.

Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) have the potential to earn excellent wages. Wages may vary by many factors, including degree level, experience, employer, certifications and geographical location.

According to a 2022 BLS report, licensed marriage and family therapists nationwide earned an average annual wage of $56,570. LMFTs in the lowest ten percent earned $36,840, while those in the top 90 percent earned more than $98,700. The average hourly rate was $27.20.

Below are the top five states where LMFTs earned the highest average annual wages.

  • Utah – $88,980
  • New Jersey – $83,590
  • Maine – $71,730
  • Colorado – $61,490
  • Illinois – $69,900

Here are the five states where LMFTs earned the lowest average annual wage.

  • Nebraska – $53,990
  • South Dakota – $40,420
  • Tennessee – $40,520
  • Mississippi – $41,620
  • Alabama – $45,450

The states where the highest number of MFTs are employed are California, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maryland.


Many people hear the words Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and assume they’re one of the same and that they provide the same services. LMFTs and LCSWs are not only different titles, but their jobs are entirely different. They each have their own qualifications, perform different functions, have different job outlooks, and earn different wages.

There are distinct similarities and differences between LMFTs and LCSWs. One main difference is that LMFTs deal with relationship issues, while LCSWs deal with mental health disorders. They do share similar work environments and the types of therapy they may choose to use. Their educational requirements are slightly different as well.

Both careers require a master’s degree. LMFTs typically have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, which teaches them about cognitive behavioral therapy, psychology, and various other therapeutic techniques. They also have the skill to work with more than one patient at a time. LMFTs have also studied family dynamics more extensively than LCSWs. In fact, the biggest difference is that LMFTs treat patients as a unit or group, while LCSWs assess and treat patients on an individual basis.

An LCSW generally has a master’s degree in social work, which teaches them how to diagnose and treat emotional, mental and behavioral issues and disorders.

Both careers require the student to complete a certain number of clinical supervised hours before they can obtain licensure. However, LMFTs obtain the hours needed for licensure while they’re still in the program, whereas LCSWs can’t obtain these hours until they’ve graduated from the program.

Looking for more information on becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist? Check out our article on How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist.