Master of Arts Degree in Counseling

Put Your Passion for Helping Others to Work

Rigorous standards. Diverse community. Flexible learning. Unique opportunities.

If you are ready to prepare for your helping career, expand your employment options or retool your career path, the Master of Arts in Counseling program at Palo Alto University is the place to start.

You can earn your degree from a fully accredited, world-renowned university in just two years – on campus or in a hybrid format.

The best way to learn about Palo Alto University is to meet with us. Schedule a Virtual Meeting
MA in Counseling Admissions Deadline Spring Start: March 5, 2023 Apply on Psycas

Accept Only the Highest Standards in Counseling

PAU is a diverse and dynamic community dedicated to developing highly effective licensed mental health counselors, future leaders, and innovators in the counseling profession. We strive to reduce human suffering by promoting mental health, wellness, social justice, education, and vocational well-being.

Our program's mission is to prepare you for licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist, Professional Clinical Counselor, or both, depending on your area of emphasis and your home state.

We are committed to five core values:

  • Creating and nurturing a diverse and inclusive learning community for all students, faculty, and staff.
  • Providing excellent education and clinical supervision for students.
  • Promoting healing and empowerment by addressing social privilege and oppression.
  • Generating knowledge through research and scholarship of the highest level.
  • Providing services to the local, national, and international community informed by science and scholarship.

Training in the MA in Counseling program at PAU focuses on ten key outcomes, including: professional identity and ethical practice, social justice and cultural diversity, human growth and development, counseling and systemic practice, career development, leadership, and more.


Areas of Emphasis
Mental Health Session
Clinical Mental Health

Are you interested in helping people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders? Become a professional clinical counselor, focusing on recovery-oriented treatment.

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Marriage, Family & Child Emphasis photo
Marriage, Family & Child

If you are interested in counseling families and couples, earn your license as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), or a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) in California.

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Fully Accredited Training

PAU’s CACREP-accredited programs and faculty training meet or exceed quality standards, reflecting our commitment to providing the highest level of care for all students. Palo Alto University was most recently accredited in January 2017 and received the maximum of eight (8) years CACREP accreditation.

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CACREP Accreditation

What is CACREP?Toggle Accordion

In the field of mental health counseling programs, the accreditation most often associated is CACREP: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program. In order for any organization to get CACREP accreditation, they must adhere to the standards set forth by the council.

Visit the CACREP website to learn more

What are the benefits of being CACREP accredited?Toggle Accordion

  • Universities that are accredited reflect meeting or exceeding the standards of quality within their program as set forth by the council
  • Accreditation also reflects the institution's commitment to providing the highest level of care for its student
  • CACREP provides guidance to institutions in determining acceptability of transfer credits into a CACREP program
  • Graduates from a CACREP program have the tools to perform better on their licensure exam and certification
  • CACREP programs are easily portable across other states to meet the education requirements for licensure
  • Various government agencies, such as the Veterans Health Administration, primarily hire CACREP graduates 
Learn More about our Certifications

PAU CACREP Accredited Counseling Program DetailsToggle Accordion

  • Palo Alto University was accredited in January 2017 and received the maximum of eight (8) years CACREP accreditation
  • Palo Alto has two areas of emphasis accredited in its MA in Counseling program
    • Clinical Mental Health
    • Marriage, Family and Child 
  • Palo Alto University has faculty that is CACREP trained which supports the organization's commitment to high quality education
  • The MA in Counseling program is offered both online and on-campus
  • The MA in Counseling program is designed to provide the tools for individuals to become qualified and trained clinicians
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State AuthorizationsToggle Accordion

California graduates of this program can pursue both the Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)  and Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) licenses. Graduates living in other states can pursue similar licenses (see your state's licensure board regulations for qualifying degree requirements).  

Due to US Department of Education Regulations, the MA in Counseling program currently cannot enroll students from several states. Please see the list of those states on our State Authorizations page. Please check back regularly for updates.

State Authorization Details

Student's ResponsibilityToggle Accordion

PAU does not guarantee that the completion of this program will result in state licensure or certification. In addition to successfully completing the educational requirements, graduates of the MA in Counseling program will need to meet other state licensure requirements.

Graduates are also responsible for understanding if a background check is required to apply for licensure and for determining if their own circumstances pose any barriers to licensure.

It is a student’s responsibility to understand the specific requirements of the state in which they intend to apply for licensure and to be aware of any changes to those requirements. If they move to another state, the requirements for licensure will likely be different from the state where they currently reside, and they are responsible for determining the licensure requirements in the state to which they relocate.

The American Counseling Association provides a directory of all state professional licensure boards.

Contact Faculty To Assist

Admissions & Application Deadline

Students in the MA in Counseling program are admitted on a rolling basis – we review applications and schedule admissions interviews as soon as all application materials are received. You will typically be notified of your admission decision within a few weeks of your interview.

Upcoming application deadlines:

Spring Start: April 2023
Application Opens: September 8, 2022
March 5, 2023: Regular Deadline

Fall Start: September 2023
Application Opens: September 8, 2022
July 30, 2023: Regular Deadline

While these deadlines are final, we encourage you to apply early – space in the program may fill up before then.

Before your first term starts, you will attend an online orientation to learn the foundations of your program.

Admissions FAQ How to Apply

Tuition & Costs

Palo Alto University's Tuition Stabilization Plan:

Guarantees that you will pay the same tuition and fees each year you are enrolled with no tuition rate increases.

For the 2020-2021 academic year, total tuition and fees for the full 93-unit program is $53,940. This is based on:

  • Tuition charged at $544 per unit
  • Fees charged at $36 per unit

In addition to tuition and fees, you are responsible for textbooks, online computer equipment, parking passes and American Counseling Association Student Membership fees. You will also be responsible for travel expenses to the one-week residency, if applicable.

More information More on our Tuition Stabilization Program


The MA in Counseling program consists of 93 quarter-units, as well as mandatory fieldwork, workshops, and intensives. The curriculum is academically rigorous and progressive, preparing you for fieldwork and culminating in a capstone project.

Depending on start term, students may complete the program in 9 or 11 quarters.

In addition to the 93 quarter credits required for degree completion, students must complete at least a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships during the program. 


View Curriculum MA in Counseling Residencies


You won’t spend all your time in the classroom – you’ll gain direct experience during supervised counseling working in a practicum or internship.

Please note that some states require additional hours of clinical training for licensure. In those states where additional practicum/internship hours or coursework is required, PAU will work with students to obtain the additional hours and coursework.

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Faculty Experts at Palo Alto University
Expert Faculty

Your PAU professors have expertise in nearly every counseling discipline, including clinical practice, family therapy, child/adolescent development, counselor education, and more.

Meet Your Professors

Multicultural and Multidimensional Learning

Our unique multicultural focus emphasizes culture, social justice, and families. Faculty, instructors, and staff prepare you to serve individuals, families, and communities of different backgrounds with widely different needs. 



NBCC Certification Logo
Become a Nationally Certified Counselor upon Graduation

Our MA in Counseling program has been evaluated and determined to provide the necessary educational coursework for eligibility for national certification.

More on our National Certification Program Outcomes

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Board Certification ExamsToggle Accordion

When you graduate from PAU’s MA program, you will be eligible – and more than prepared – to get board-certified in professional counseling. 

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Academic RequirementsToggle Accordion

Get all the details about how the MA in Counseling program works, including academic advising, degree requirements, learning outcomes, and more. 

View Program Details

Annual Report DataToggle Accordion

Each year, the PAU counseling faculty participates in a thorough strategic review of our curriculum, processes, student learning, and student and program outcomes. 

As required by CACREP, the Department of Counseling publishes an annual data report on its website and shares the posting of this data with students, faculty, site-supervisors, alumni, and university leadership.

2019-2020 Annual Data Report

The Department of Counseling (MCFC and CMHC tracks) has developed and implemented a comprehensive assessment plan that guides both student-level and program-level assessment. As required by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the counseling faculty participate in an annual review of curriculum, processes, student learning, and student and program outcomes through a systematic process of evaluation and assessment.

In June 2020 the Palo Alto University Counseling faculty reviewed the research findings on students, graduates, and clinical supervisors and employers of our students and graduates. The period of examination is from September 2019 through June 2020.

As required by CACREP, the Department of Counseling publishes an annual data report on its website and shares the posting of this data with students, faculty, site-supervisors, alumni, and university leadership. The 2019-2020 report is posted here.

In addition, the Department of Counseling collects and posts each year outcome data as required by CACREP to include student graduation rates, completion rates, employment data, and licensure pass rates on credentialing exams. This data for 2019 - 2020 is found in the CMHC Outcomes Report and the MCFC Outcomes Report.

Frequently Asked QuestionsToggle Accordion

Enrolling in a Master’s program is a significant life choice – Palo Alto University faculty and staff will answer all your questions before you apply and after you are accepted.

What are the tuition and fees?

Palo Alto University's Tuition Stabilization Plan guarantees that students pay the same tuition and fees each year they are enrolled with no tuition rate increases.

For students enrolled during the 2020-2021 academic year total tuition and fees for the full 93-unit program is $53,940*. This is based on:

  • Tuition charged at $544 per unit
  • Fees charged at $36 per unit

*Students who take additional units of practicum in order to meet the program fieldwork requirement are billed for additional units at the same per unit rate.

In addition to tuition and fees, students are responsible for textbooks, online computer equipment, parking passes and American Counseling Association Student Membership fees. They also are responsible for their travel expenses to the one-week residency, if applicable. 

Is a psychology Bachelor's degree required to apply?

No. For students whose undergraduate major was not psychology, four additional courses are strongly recommended: developmental psychology, physiological or biological psychology, personality or abnormal psychology, and statistics. These classes can be taken at a community college or state university extension. However, these are not required for admission to the MA in Counseling program.

Does PAU accept transfer units taken at another university?

Yes. If the classes are similar to courses offered in the PAU program, the student can request to transfer up to 15 units of prior graduate work. Prior coursework cannot be more than 5 years old. Transfer coursework is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Students must submit a course description and supporting documentation (e.g. a comprehensive syllabus) for each transfer course. A Palo Alto University faculty member then reviews the documentation, and either accepts or rejects the course for transfer credit.

Are there fellowships available?

PAU fellowships are not available at the Master's level. However, financial aid is available in the form of student loans. Students can apply for aid through the Palo Alto University Financial Aid Office to see what aid they are eligible for.

Can students maintain employment while enrolled in this program?

During the first year of the program most students can maintain full-time employment during the day, and study in the evenings and on weekends. During the second year (on-campus format) or third year (online format) when students complete their clinical fieldwork, students are typically at their fieldwork site 20-25 hours per week or more. Students should be aware that evening and weekend practicum placements are extremely hard to find. Most students will need to adjust their schedules during the clinical training year in order to spend at least two to three full days during the normal workweek to complete their clinical fieldwork training.

When are application deadlines?

The MA in Counseling program admits students on a rolling basis. Applications are reviewed and admissions interviews are scheduled as soon as all application materials are received. Applicants are typically notified of their admission decision within a few weeks after their interview. The deadlines listed below are final deadlines, but applicants are encouraged to apply early for early consideration. Although applications will be accepted until the posted deadlines, space in the program may fill up before then. Applicants are encouraged to apply early to ensure space is still available. 

Spring (April 2021 Start)
  • March 5, 2021: Regular Deadline

Fall (September 2021 Start)
  • July 26, 2021: Regular Deadline

Do online formats take place entirely online?

The distance learning online format includes two residential training experiences that require all students to attend residencies at PAU campus locations. Students outside California (U.S. and International) can fulfill practicum/fieldwork requirements in their home city, state or country.  

How much of the on-campus format is online?

The PAU residential hybrid on-campus option is a blended format that requires students to attend approximately two-thirds of classes on campus and one third online. Taking two courses per quarter on campus and one course per quarter online enables students to take three classes per quarter. Classes take place on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, in addition to occasional Friday and weekend workshops.

I'm an F-1 student, can I apply to a PAU Masters program?

F-1 International students who plan to be in their home country while being enrolled in an online PAU Master's program are eligible to apply. International students currently living in the U.S. in F-1 status and those interested in becoming F-1 international students for studying in the U.S. are not currently able to apply to PAU Master's Programs. PAU has a pending application on file with U.S. immigration/DHS, that if/when it is approved, will allow F-1s to apply. Please contact your PAU admissions staff for updates on this issue.

What types of practicum placements are available?

Palo Alto University works with students to find practicum/internship placements that match their specific interests. For students in the residential hybrid format of the program, PAU works with a wide variety of mental health agencies in San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties, where students have been placed in school districts, teen counseling centers, adult psychological service agencies, aging senior counseling centers, and with organizations such as the Salvation Army and the YMCA.

For students living outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, the program faculty and staff work with students to find individual practicum/internship sites near their home communities. 

What can I do after I graduate?

Graduates who choose to pursue licensure must work as a registered intern and accumulate a specified number of hours or supervised work experience before taking their licensing examinations.

  • California MFT Licensure requires a minimum of two years (104 weeks) as a registered intern and a total of 3,000 hours of supervised work experience.
  • California LPCC licensure requires a minimum of two years (104 weeks) as a registered intern and a total of 3,000 hours of supervised work experience.

Pre-licensure experience requirements vary from state to state. To find information on state boards and requirements, visit the AASCB website

Graduates of the program initially register as post-master's interns (or associates) in their state, and then work under the supervision of another licensed professional in a variety of practice settings in order to accrue the necessary hours to be eligible to sit for licensure exams.

After achieving licensure, graduates can work independently in their own private practice, assume wider responsibilities in a group practice, or provide leadership as a licensed practitioner in a mental health-related agency.

Students who defer intern registration and licensure may seek teaching, advising, or administrative positions in an educational setting, or continue their education at the doctoral level.

Will I have an advisor?

Yes. Students are assigned a faculty advisor upon entering the program.

What do the elective requirements for the CMHC emphasis entail?

The CMHC emphasis has two elective courses as part of the program of study. Students can select from a list of approved electives to fulfill this requirement. Please note that if you take the Introduction to Play Therapy course as one of your electives, there is an additional residential requirement.

MA in Counseling FAQ

Program and Student Learning Outcomes Toggle Accordion

  • Outcome 1 - Professional identity and ethical practice. Graduates will have developed a professional identity as a counselor in alignment with ethical and legal standards of practice as well as the dispositions related to effective practice including integrity, sensitivity, flexibility, insight, compassion, and personal presence. (2.F.1.i, 2.F.1.k.)

  • Outcome 2 - Social justice and cultural diversity. Graduates will have developed an understanding of various cultures and the implications of diversity for social justice and advocacy. Graduates will have demonstrated insights into the social and psychological implications of socioeconomic position and how power, privilege, and oppression can affect an individual's mental health and recovery. (2.F.2.c, 2.F.2.e, 2.F.2.h)

  • Outcome 3 - Human growth and development. Graduates will have incorporated the theories and principles of optimal lifespan development towards promoting resilience and wellness across the lifespan. (2.F.3.a, 2.F.3.i.)

  • Outcome 4 - Career development. Graduates will have demonstrated the ability to advocate for clients’ diverse career needs and educational development using theories and models of career development (2.F.4.a., 2.F.4.g.)

  • Outcome 5 - Counseling and systemic practice. Graduates will have applied theories and models of counseling through essential interviewing, counseling, and case conceptualization skills and will have integrated a systems approach to conceptualizing client development, presenting issues, and counseling strategies and approaches. (2.F.5.a, 2.F.5.b, 2.F.5.g)

  • Outcome 6 - Group counseling and effective leadership. Graduates will have incorporated theoretical foundations of group work to become a group process facilitator and a positive force in achieving high levels of participation, cooperation and cohesion in group counseling settings. (2.F.6.a, 2.F.6.b)

  • Outcome 7 - Assessment and testing. Graduates will have acquired, refined, and demonstrated appropriate ability to assess client issues for diagnosis and treatment planning.  (2.F.7.b, 2.F.7.e)

  • Outcome 8 - Research and program evaluation. Graduates will have demonstrated the ability to critique research in order to incorporate evidence-based counseling practices in a variety of settings. (2.F.8.a, 2.F.8.b)

  • Outcome 9 (MFC track only) - Professional practice. Graduates will have acquired, refined, and demonstrated appropriate knowledge, skills, and dispositions to effectively work with couples, families, and other systems in a variety of settings. (5.F.1.f, 5.F.2.a, 5.F.3.c)

  • Outcome 10 (CMHC track only) - Professional practice. Graduates will have acquired, refined, and demonstrated appropriate knowledge, skills, and dispositions to effectively assess, diagnose, and treat clients in a variety of settings. (5.C.1.e, 5.C.2.d, 5.C.3.b)
Alum Spotlight: Stefany Fuentes, MA in Counseling, Class of 2015

Since graduating from PAU’s MA Counseling Program with an MFT emphasis, Stefany Fuentes has opened Vida Counseling, which provides mental health care in-person and virtually for Spanish and English speakers of all ages.

More on Stefany

PAU Latinx Task Force

Bringing the PAU community together to improve diversity on campus. Faculty, students, and staff joined forces across programs and branches to implement projects serving the Latinx/Hispanic community within PAU and the surrounding community.

Learn More about Latinx Task Force Clínica Latina @ Gronowski Center
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Choose Your Format: Online or In-Person

Are you ready to get your Master’s degree without uprooting your life? Palo Alto University’s MA in Counseling program program offers both online and in-person class options. This give you the flexibility you need while working or raising a family.

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