The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of psychologist jobs will grow by 14% between 2016 and 2026. Earning a doctorate in this field can lead to better career opportunities and higher earning potential. A doctoral degree also deepens your skills and knowledge to give you a competitive advantage over other candidates. Determine your specific career goals before researching programs so you know what to look for as you consider different schools.

What to Expect in an Online Ph.D. in Counseling Program

The curriculum and admission requirements for Ph.D. in counseling online programs can differ widely. Components to consider when looking at programs include delivery format, required credits, program length, cost, and possible internship or dissertation requirements.

Admission Requirements for a Counseling Doctoral Program

Most online Ph.D. counseling programs require applicants to possess a bachelor's or master's degree in psychology or a related field. Common GPA requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a minimum 3.5 GPA at the graduate level. Many programs also require applicants to submit GRE or GMAT test scores. Alternatively, if a program is offered by a medical school, MCAT scores may be required. Some schools may waive test score requirements if applicants have work experience. Applicants must also submit transcripts for all of the postsecondary schools they have attended.

Other requirements may include professional experience, letters of recommendation, and holding valid licensure. Carefully research each program's requirements to ensure you qualify before paying any application fees.

Sample Courses for an Online Ph.D. in Counseling

Curricula for online Ph.D. counseling programs vary by school, but many of the best programs feature some common courses, including the ones listed below. Doctoral programs focus on developing research and analytical skills through advanced classes, and coursework builds deeper knowledge related to current psychological theories and techniques. Many programs also require an internship, giving students hands-on experience. By earning a doctoral degree, you gain advanced knowledge and skills that can lead to career advancement opportunities and higher earning potential.

Advanced Theory of Counseling

This course considers psychoanalytic, feminist, and rational emotive behavior theories. Coursework challenges students to apply theories to simulated populations, settings, and patient scenarios. Students also explore various counseling styles and examine the strengths and challenges of each.

Assessment and Testing in Counseling

Coursework covers current diagnostic principles and techniques used to conduct patient evaluations. Students discuss testing methods and techniques for analyzing and interpreting results, while also developing critical thinking skills by learning how different theories can be applied in a variety of situations.

Social Issues in Counseling

This class examines how cultural factors, such as race, gender, ethnicity, and religion, impact mental health. Coursework also examines how these factors have shaped psychological theories. Courses may focus on certain demographics, geographic locations, counseling specializations, and/or client bases.

Research Methods in Counseling Psychology

Students in this course examine qualitative and quantitative research methods while learning about current methods of collecting and interpreting data. Participants also enhance their interview and survey creation skills so they can gather client information to shape solutions and create new or improved counseling theories.

Ethics of Professional Practice

This course provides an overview of legal and ethical regulations in the field of psychology. Students learn industry practices related to protecting client information, running a practice, and reading legal policies. They also develop the skills necessary to practice ethically and protect both clients and practitioners

Online Doctorate in Counseling Completion Time

Several factors can affect how long it takes to earn a Ph.D. in counseling online, including credit requirements, a student's enrollment status, field/internship requirements, and the length of a student's dissertation.

Delivery format can also affect a program's length. Some online programs use a self-paced format while others use a cohort model. Self-paced programs let students complete coursework on their own schedule, allowing them to move through programs at a quicker or slower pace. Alternatively, cohort learning blends online instruction with virtual or in-person group learning; these programs typically adhere to a more rigid schedule. Understanding the requirements and format of your program is also important because it can impact your out-of-pocket costs. Think about your career goals to determine the program that best fits your needs and budget.

Internship and Research Requirements for a Counseling Degree

Most online Ph.D. counseling programs require an internship, a dissertation, or a combination of both. Online students should work with a program advisor to determine how they can meet their internship requirements. Schools may provide resources or assist with placement. Faculty must approve all internships, which typically involve direct-service counseling with clients, administrative duties at a clinical practice, and/or supervising individuals or groups.

Some programs may require both an internship and a dissertation.

Dissertation requirements also vary by program. A dissertation involves conducting original research to address a faculty-approved question. Research topics should align with a student's interests or career goals. Throughout the process, students work under the guidance of a dissertation advisor and then defend their findings to a committee. Some programs may require both an internship and a dissertation; if this is the case, learners may need to complete their internship before they begin working on their dissertation.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Counseling Graduates

Various careers exist in the field of counseling, including psychologists, postsecondary teachers, and psychiatrists. To learn more about different career specialties and educational requirements that may suit your interests, visit Learn Psychology. No matter their specific career, successful counseling professionals tend to be compassionate and patient. They also possess strong interpersonal, communication, and listening skills.


Psychologists study cognitive and emotional behaviors by observing individuals. They interpret findings to improve behaviors and help individuals get through issues and life changes. Primary tasks include conducting research, diagnosing clients, and supervising interns or other clinical professionals. Most employers require a doctorate to work as a psychologist. Some positions may also require certification or licensure, but this varies by state.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

Postsecondary Teacher, Psychology

These professionals teach current theories and methods in counseling psychology at the college level. Primary tasks include developing curricula, grading assignments and exams, advising students, and working with colleagues to ensure programs remain current and meet industry standards. A doctoral degree is the minimum requirement needed to work as a postsecondary teacher at many schools.

Median Annual Salary: $76,710

Marriage and Family Therapist

These professionals help individuals manage relationship and family issues. Their primary roles are listening to clients discuss their emotions and helping them develop skills to change their behavior or develop healthier coping mechanisms for handling difficult situations. A master's degree is typically the minimum requirement to be a marriage and family therapist. However, earning a doctorate may lead to supervisory roles and increased earning potential.

Median Annual Salary: $50,090


Psychiatrists meet with patients to diagnose and treat mental health issues. Primary tasks include evaluating patient behavior and symptoms and then making a diagnosis. Psychiatrists are licensed as physicians and may prescribe medication. A doctorate and additional certification or licensure are required to practice.

Median Annual Salary: $201,000