Earning a Master’s in Family Counseling Online

If you want to help couples and families identify, evaluate, and solve relationship problems, then consider earning an online master's degree in marriage and family therapy. To work as a family counselor or therapist, you need a master's degree at minimum. This guide discusses job growth and salary potential for family counseling master's degree holders. It also outlines strategies for funding your online master's in marriage and family therapy and reviews the work necessary to earn the degree. Additionally, you can explore professional organizations and resources for students and graduates of family counseling programs.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master’s Degree in Family Counseling?

Bachelor's degree holders who want to work as marriage and family counselors often pursue master's degrees in marriage and family therapy online. Another group that pursues online master's degrees in family counseling includes counseling students who want to specialize in marriage and family. Working professionals who want to extend their career prospects or salaries also enroll in marriage and family therapy master's programs online.

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Family Counseling?

Pursuing Specialization

Individuals who want to specialize in treating families and couples benefit from earning an online master's degree in marriage and family therapy. The advanced knowledge that students gain during their master's also applies to other industries, such as human services and social work.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Anyone who wants to work as a professional marriage and family therapist needs a master's degree in family counseling. The field does not offer many professional opportunities for those without graduate-level education.

Online Learning Technology

By pursuing a degree online, students gain expertise in using the latest communication technology. Marriage and family counselors can use these skills to communicate with their clients, colleagues, and the public.

Prerequisites for Online Family Counseling Programs

Online family counseling programs typically require prospective students to meet certain prerequisites. We outline common prerequisites below.

  • Work Experience: Most programs do not require applicants to hold relevant work experience. However, applicants with work experience may receive preferential consideration for admission. Real-world professional knowledge may also enhance students' learning experiences during the program.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Many master's in family counseling online programs require students to submit GRE scores. Rather than set a minimum score for admission, programs typically consider scores in combination with the rest of the application package. GRE scores remain valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Courses required for admission vary by program, but many programs require applicants to complete a statistics or introduction to psychology class. Most programs that require undergraduate courses let students complete the requirement during the first year of the program. Some programs require individuals with an unrelated undergraduate degree to complete additional prerequisites. Most programs require a minimum 3.0-3.5 GPA for admission.
  • Recommendations: Most programs require applicants to submit two or three letters of recommendation. These letters should come from supervisors and professors who know the applicant well and can speak to their strengths and readiness for graduate-level work.
  • Essays: Most graduate family counseling programs require prospective students to submit an essay or personal statement explaining why they want to earn a master's and how it supports their professional goals.
  • Interviews: Most family counseling master's programs do not require applicants to complete interviews.
  • International Students: International students from non-English-speaking countries may need to prove English proficiency, usually by taking the TOEFL exam.

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s Degree in Family Counseling?

Individuals who earn their master's in marriage and family therapy online can expect to earn a salary between $43,000 and $84,000. Marriage and family therapists make a median annual salary of nearly $49,000. Graduates with the degree can also pursue nontraditional career opportunities in fields outside of family counseling.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Family Counseling Graduates

Career Stats Description

Marriage and Family Therapist

Median Pay: $48,790

Job Growth: 23%

Marriage and family therapists help clients analyze and understand relationship and family problems. They provide guidance for making decisions and develop strategies for coping with hard situations.

Ideal for: Compassionate listeners with organizational and interpersonal skills.

Counseling Psychologist

Median Pay: $77,030

Job Growth: 14%

Marriage and family therapists help clients analyze and understand relationship and family problems. They provide guidance for making decisions and develop strategies for coping with hard situations.

Ideal for: Compassionate listeners with organizational and interpersonal skills.

Counseling Psychologist

Median Pay: $77,030

Job Growth: 14%

Counseling psychologists work with clients to understand their social, cognitive, and emotional behavior and processes. They create treatment plans, write reports, and conduct research.

Ideal for: Analytical individuals with interpersonal, problem-solving, and observational skills.

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers provide instruction to students in colleges and universities. They plan lessons, develop course outlines, and assess students. They commonly conduct and publish research.

Ideal for: Critical thinkers with interpersonal, public-speaking, and writing skills.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Family Counseling Graduates

Career Stats Description

Community Health Worker

Median Pay: $45,360

Job Growth: 16%

Community health workers work with specific populations to collect health data or discuss health concerns. They conduct outreach, provide health education, and help people access healthcare

Ideal for: Analytical individuals with interpersonal, instructional, writing, and problem-solving skills.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor

Median Pay: $43,300

Job Growth: 23%

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors help individuals manage and overcome mental health issues like drug addiction, eating disorders, and behavioral problems. They develop treatment plans to improve the well-being of clients.

Ideal for: Patient and compassionate individuals with interpersonal skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master’s in Family Counseling

The cost of an online master's degree in marriage and family therapy varies by program. Students save money by choosing programs with lower tuition rates and accelerated study timelines. Generally, learners who spend less time in school pay less for their degrees. A variety of financial aid opportunities, including grants and scholarships, can reduce the cost of an online master's in marriage and family therapy.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

Master's in family counseling students enjoy many financial aid opportunities to help pay for their degrees. Below, are several opportunities for these students.

What to Expect from a Master’s Level Online Family Counseling Program

Most master's in family counseling online programs take about two-and-a-half years of full-time study to complete. Students take courses that cover subjects like counseling children, marital counseling, clinical diagnoses, and human sexuality. Many programs require learners to complete a practicum or capstone course near the end of their studies. Students also must complete a two-semester internship in most programs, which helps them fulfill licensing requirements. Specific curriculum and graduation requirements vary by program.

Major Milestones

  1. Core Coursework

    Students usually complete core coursework at the end of the first year of their master's in marriage and family therapy. Most programs stipulate completion of core coursework before beginning internships.

  2. Internship

    Students typically complete around 600 internship hours. Internships give students real-world professional experience while helping them meet licensure requirements.

  3. Capstone Course

    Toward the end of many family counseling programs, learners take a capstone course that synthesizes the knowledge and skills gained throughout the program. Students create a portfolio of work or undertake a group project in many capstones.

  4. Licensure Exam and Exam Preparation

    Learners can start studying for their licensure exam as early as they want, but most wait until near the end of their master's program.

  5. Intent to Graduate

    Students typically need to submit their intent to graduate during the last semester before graduation. This letter usually requires getting signatures from their program adviser and department chair.

  6. Apply for Licensure

    Upon graduation, students can apply for their professional marriage and family counseling license. Requirements for licensure vary by state.


Students who want to earn their master's degree in marriage and family therapy online typically take the following types of courses. Specific requirements and availability vary by program.

Counseling Children and Their Families

This course explores counseling theories and practices that practitioners can use with children and their families. It reviews topics like crisis intervention, identifying at-risk children, ethical issues when working with children, and the influence of schools and families on children.

Clinical Diagnosis and Treatment Planning

Students learn the principles and practices of clinical diagnosis and treatment planning in counseling and study the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The course explores topics like risk assessment, ethical issues, and multicultural issues in clinical diagnosis and treatment.

Couples Counseling

Students explore counseling theories and practices to use when treating couples. They study the ways that a couples' behavior can become dysfunctional and short-term methods for addressing relationship problems.

Human Sexuality

This course includes an analysis of the cultural, psychological, physiological, and religious dimensions of human sexuality. Learners study the role that sexuality plays throughout different phases of the life cycle.

Counseling and Advocacy With Diverse Populations

Students learn strategies for counseling and advocating for diverse populations. They develop counseling skills that consider culture, race, sexuality, gender, class, ability, and religious views. Students also analyze their own assumptions and belief systems.

Licenses and Certifications

A career in marriage and family counseling requires a license. Every state regulates marriage and family therapists, but requirements for licensure vary by state. Most states require prospective therapists to pass an exam and submit proof of a certain number of hours of professional work/internship experience.

  • Pass the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards Examination: Prospective marriage and family therapists must receive at least a 70% on the AMFTRB exam for licensure. Applicants arrange for the licensing board to receive their official exam score from the Interstate Reporting Service.
  • Post-master's Marriage and Family Counseling Experience: Licensure applicants must complete their state's specified number of post-master's marriage and family counseling professional hours. Many states require around 3,200 hours over a 2-4-year period, with at least half of the hours needing to be under direct supervision by a counseling professional.
  • Criminal History Record Check: Prospective marriage and family therapists must agree to a criminal background check for licensure, which includes fingerprinting.
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: Most states require licensure applicants to hold a master's in family counseling, pass an exam, and complete a specific number of supervised internship hours. Specific licensing requirements vary by state.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations for marriage and family counseling professionals provide a variety of benefits to students and graduates, such as networking opportunities, discounts on professional resources, and access to job boards and career services. Students and recent graduates often qualify for membership discounts.

  • International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors: IAMFC promotes the family counseling profession, and as a division of the American Counseling Association, it emphasizes collaboration, publishes materials, and hosts online discussions with members.
  • International Family Therapy Association: IFTA organizes international conferences, publishes a journal and three newsletters, and maintains a member directory. Its mission includes improving the quality of family therapy worldwide.
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists: AAMFT's main mission is to advance the practice and profession of marriage and family therapy. It represents more than 50,000 therapists. Members gain access to a variety of professional resources and benefit from the group's advocacy efforts.
  • American Family Therapy Academy: AFTA represents 600 national and international experts in family therapy, including researchers, clinicians, and policymakers. Membership benefits include networking, an annual conference, listservs, and webinars.
  • National Council on Family Relations: Founded in 1938, NCFR focuses on family research, education, and practice. It publishes scholarly journals, promotes family life education, and organizes an annual conference.
  • AAMFT Approved Supervisors: AAMFT hosts this page about finding an approved supervisor for student internships in marriage and family therapy. It includes a directory of approved supervisors across the United States.
  • Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy: COAMFTE provides accreditation for graduate academic programs in marriage and family therapy. Students can confirm the accreditation status of prospective programs here.
  • Marriage and Family Therapy Licensing Boards: AAMFT maintains this list of marriage and family therapy licensing boards in every state. The page also contains information about licensing practices.
  • Occupational Employment Statistics for Marriage and Family Therapists: The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles these statistics about the job outlook for marriage and family therapists. Students and graduates can find the annual mean wage for marriage and family therapists in each state and other information.
  • Journal of Marital and Family Therapy: AAMFT publishes this quarterly, peer-reviewed journal with articles about clinical practice, research, training, and theories of marital and family therapy.