christian marriage and family therapists

Ranking the Top 10 Graduate Degree Programs in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT Degree)

Reviewed by Sean Jackson, B.A. Psychology; M.S. Counseling

A career as a marriage and family therapist allows you to nurture bonds, strengthen families, and transform lives. With a marriage and family therapist degree, you can work in many settings, including private practice, mental health centers, and churches. However, you must first complete a rigorous master’s degree program, preferably from one of the top marriage counseling schools in the nation.

This ranking gives you 10 excellent options for getting your MFT degree. More precisely, each program outlined below leads to an LMFT degree or a marriage and family therapy degree that prepares you for state licensure.

How We Rank the Top Marriage and Family Therapist Degree Programs

The methodology for this ranking is simple:

  • Consult the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for a directory of universities with MFT online programs at the master’s or doctoral level.
  • Narrow the list to marriage and family therapy programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).
  • Rank programs using the following criteria:
    • Estimated Annual Graduate In-State Tuition:  
      • Under $25,000: 5 points
      • Under $35,000: 4 points
      • Under $45,000: 3 points
      • Under $50,000: 2 points
      • Over $50,000: 1 point
    • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time*:
      • 90% and above: 4 points
      • 85-89%: 3 points
      • 80-84%: 2 points
      • Below 80%: 1 point
    • Job Placement Rate*:
      • 95% and above: 4 points
      • 90-94%: 3 points
      • 85-89%: 2 points
      • Below 85%: 1 point
    • Licensure Rate*:
      • 90% and above: 4 points
      • 85-89%: 3 points
      • 80-84%: 2 points
      • Below 80%: 1 point

*This includes data from the most recent graduating cohort reported by each institution.

Below are the top 10 schools with masters in family and marriage therapy programs as ranked using this methodology. The maximum point value possible is 17 points. These online MFT programs have a substantial portion of the curriculum available either synchronously, asynchronously, or both in a digital classroom.

See Also: 30 Most Affordable Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

1. The University of Akron – Akron, Ohio

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: This is the only COAMFTE-accredited master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy in Ohio.
  • Program Format: Hybrid
  • Credits: 60 semester credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $24,352
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 66.67%
  • Job Placement Rate: 100%
  • Licensure Rate: 100%
  • Points: 14

Program Website

This hybrid program from the University of Akron includes 16 didactic courses. Of these, three are completely online. The remaining 13 courses require both online and on-campus learning. You can expect anywhere from 30-70 percent of this coursework to be completed in person. Online content takes the form of recorded lectures, activities, and readings. You’ll also participate in research and writing, quizzes, and discussion board activities. In all, the didactic portion of the program is 47 credits.

An additional 13 credits of clinical work are required. This includes 300 hours of direct client contact time and 200 alternative hours of training. Your clinical experiences will primarily take place at the University of Akron School of Counseling’s Clinic for Individual and Family Counseling. You can complete additional hours at agencies throughout the Akron area and the state of Ohio.

Upon completing your degree and passing the MFT National Examination, you will be eligible for an entry-level marriage and family license in Ohio. You can expect to find a job quickly after graduation. In fact, most program graduates are offered positions at their internship sites.

2. Syracuse University – Syracuse, New York

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature:
  • Program Format: Hybrid
  • Credits: 60 semester credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $20,502
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 82%
  • Job Placement Rate: 92%
  • Licensure Rate: 89%
  • Points: 13

Program Website

Syracuse has trained marriage and family therapists on campus for nearly 50 years. That training is now available to you online as a 60-credit program. Coursework includes 51 credits of required courses and nine credits of electives. You will complete various courses to prepare you for working with diverse clientele. These courses include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • System Dynamics in a Group Setting
  • Intro to Cultural Diversity: Theory and Therapy
  • Psychopathology
  • Family Therapy with L.G.B.T.Q. Youth
  • Family Therapy with Complex Trauma

A short on-campus residency is required as well. The purpose of the residency is to build collegiality with your professors and classmates. You will also participate in skill-building exercises that enhance the skills you acquire in your online studies.

You must also complete a 500-hour clinical practicum. Your practicum experience will be arranged in your local community, where you will work directly with individuals, couples, and families. This program specifically emphasizes working with veterans and military families too. Completing these requirements will make you eligible for membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Furthermore, you will be eligible for licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist in New York.

3. Indiana Wesleyan University – Marion, Indiana

Master of Arts With a Major in Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy

  • Unique Feature: This program emphasizes a holistic approach to therapy, including a family systems focus within a Christian worldview.
  • Program Format: Online
  • Credits: 60 semester credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $10,836
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 25%
  • Job Placement Rate: 100%
  • Licensure Rate: 75%
  • Points: 11

Program Website

Indiana Wesleyan’s MA in Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy offers studies with an interpersonal focus. Not only will you gain the necessary skills to build trusting relationships with individual clients, but you’ll also acquire the skills needed to work with couples, children, and families. These skills are gained over the course of 60 credits of coursework and clinical experiences.

Your training begins with essential coursework in Human Growth and Development, Multicultural Counseling, and Group Counseling Theories and Techniques. You’ll also take classes exploring topics such as:

  • Career Counseling
  • Appraisal of Individuals and Families
  • Legal, Ethical, and Professional Issues
  • Psychopathology
  • Research and Evaluation of Methods and Practice

The other component of this program is clinical practice. You must complete at least 300 hours of direct clinical work. Of these, 100 hours must be in a relational setting, such as with couples or families. Your work in these settings will be under the direction of an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)-approved supervisor.

Upon completing this degree program, you will be eligible for a marriage and family therapy license in Indiana. Since licensure is handled at the state level, you are encouraged to consult with the licensing board in your state to ensure this program satisfies the requirements for obtaining a license.

4. Capella University – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: This GuidedPath program includes ample opportunities to interact with your classmates and professors, including residency and internship experiences.
  • Program Format: Hybrid
  • Credits: 72 semester credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $11,928
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 39%
  • Job Placement Rate: 100%
  • Licensure Rate: 76%
  • Points: 11

Program Website

This hybrid MS in Marriage and Family Therapy includes 16 courses and two residencies. The coursework, which is aligned with COAMFTE standards, prepares you to be a competent practitioner in this field. You’ll gain skills related to the following:

  • Psychopathology: Diagnosis and Treatment of Behavior Disorders
  • Systemic and Group Interventions for Grief, Loss, and Trauma
  • Diversity and Social Justice in Systemic Family Therapy
  • Impact of Addiction and Addictive Behavior on Family Systems

The residency component includes two parts. First is a 10-week online course with self-paced learning activities. During this course, you will work closely with other members of your cohort and your professors to build greater competence and confidence in your clinical knowledge and skills. The second aspect of the residency is a five-day in-person field experience. During this experience, you will participate in small and large-group discussions and exercises, role-playing activities, and informational presentations. The faculty will also present theory demonstrations so you can see how different therapeutic techniques can be used in a marriage and family therapy setting.

Additionally, you will complete a 300-hour internship that spans four internship courses. The internship must include at least 100 hours of work in a relational setting, such as with a family or a couple. You will be eligible for an initial marriage and family license upon completing this program.

5. National University – San Diego, California

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: This is the first distance education Marriage and Family Therapy program to gain COAMFTE accreditation.
  • Program Format: Online
  • Credits: 45-60 semester credits, depending on the track you choose
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $11,934
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 49.78%
  • Job Placement Rate: 97.4%
  • Licensure Rate: 49.97%
  • Points: 11

Program Website

As a National University student, you can choose from two different tracks. The first option is a basic 45-credit program with foundational and fundamental coursework in marriage and family therapy. You will also complete five clinical training courses, including a practicum and an internship, to gain real-world experience in a clinical setting. This track further requires you to complete a capstone presentation in which you articulate which marriage and family therapy model fits your personal view of therapy.

The second option is the California Licensure Track. This program includes additional coursework in areas like California law, professional ethics, and family violence, among others. These courses help satisfy California’s requirements for licensure as a marriage and family therapist. You might be able to use your studies at National University to satisfy licensure requirements in other states. It’s best to consult with the licensing boards in the state(s) where you wish to practice before enrolling in this program.

Additionally, National University offers nine specializations for marriage and family students. Popular options include Child and Adolescent Family Therapy, Couple Therapy, and General Family Therapy. You can also choose from the following:

  • LGBTQ Couple and Family Therapy
  • Medical Family Therapy
  • Military Family Therapy
  • Systemic Sex Therapy
  • Systemic Treatment of Addictions
  • Trauma-Informed Systemic Therapy

In addition to being a COAMFTE-accredited program, this master’s degree is accredited by the International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education (IACSTE). This organization oversees the quality of programming and training for system therapy education in collegiate programs around the world.

6. Abilene Christian University – Abilene, Texas

Master of Marriage and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: You can choose among four marriage and family-related concentrations to specialize your training.
  • Program Format: Online
  • Credits: 60 semester credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $14,382
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 3%
  • Job Placement Rate: 100%
  • Licensure Rate: N/A*
  • Points: 10

*The current online cohort is in progress, and no data is available.

Program Website

This 60-credit program includes coursework and clinical training in couples therapy, family and child therapy, and substance abuse and addiction issues. You’ll also learn how to treat common mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. The program additionally focuses on psychological assessments and diagnosis. Some of the core coursework speaks to these topics:

  • Systemic Diagnosis & Assessment
  • Cultural Diversity in Family Therapy
  • Family Theory
  • Addictive Disorders
  • Couples Therapy

Abilene Christian offers four concentrations that allow you to specialize your area of expertise. For example, you can concentrate on Child and Adolescent Therapy or Treatment of Trauma. Other options include General Marriage and Family Therapy or Therapy With Military Families.

Each concentration requires completing at least 33 months of coursework and a 12-month internship. The internship – which you can complete in your hometown – requires 500 hours of practice, including 100 or more hours of supervision. As a result of your studies and clinical experiences, you will be thoroughly prepared to take the Marriage and Family Therapy National Examination. That examination is offered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).

7. Loma Linda University – Loma Linda, California

Master of Science in Marital and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: This is the only COAMFTE-accredited program in California’s Inland Empire.
  • Program Format: Online
  • Credits: 90 quarter credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $24,861
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 75%
  • Job Placement Rate: 89%
  • Licensure Rate: 83%
  • Points: 10

Program Website

This MS in Marital and Family Therapy offers you the flexibility of online learning, either full-time or part-time. You can complete the program in just 2.5 years as a full-time student. During that time, you’ll complete a one-year sequence of generalist courses that give you a solid foundation of knowledge for a career as a therapist. The courses you take are diverse and include studies in the following:

  • Crisis Intervention Counseling
  • Psychopathology and Diagnostic Procedures
  • Culture, Socioeconomic Status in Therapy
  • Family Systems Theory
  • Cognitive Behavioral Couples Therapy

These courses are mostly synchronous with specific dates and times for online meetings. Some courses are asynchronous, though, and offer more flexibility for completing your studies.

You must complete a clinical training period as well. The clinical practice specialization begins at the start of your second year in the program and proceeds until the program’s conclusion. The clinical practice specialization involves online coursework and in-person field experiences. Unlike the generalist courses discussed above, the clinical practice courses are primarily asynchronous.

The field experiences during this portion of the program are primarily done within the Loma Linda University Health System. However, you can also explore internship opportunities in the community. In both instances, you will have opportunities to gain experience working with individuals, couples, and families in a supervised environment. By completing these program activities, you will be eligible for licensure as a California Marriage and Family Therapist.

8. Northwestern University – Evanston, Illinois

Master of Science Marriage and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: Faculty members from Northwestern have developed a therapeutic approach called Integrative System Therapy (IST) which emphasizes the client’s role in planning therapeutic activities.
  • Program Format: Online
  • Credits: 90 quarter credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $86,200
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 96.77%
  • Job Placement Rate: 86.67%
  • Licensure Rate: 86.67%
  • Points: 10

Program Website

Northwestern University’s online Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy is a new program that was launched in 2021. However, the on-campus program has been COAMFTE-accredited since 1995. The program is also accredited by AAMFT.

This program is designed to be completed in as little as 21 months of full-time study (36 months if studying part-time). Just like the on-campus program, the online program is offered by The Family Institute at Northwestern University. You’ll take courses with experienced marriage and family therapy professors who have real-world experience working directly with clients. Some of these courses include Intimate Relationships, Family Therapy with Children and Adolescents, and Basic Concepts of Systems Therapy.

In addition to 26 credits of coursework, you’ll have clinical experiences, including the following:

  • An in-person immersion
  • 250 hours of group and individual supervision
  • A 500-hour clinical practicum

As a result of these experiences, you will develop insights into critical marriage and family issues, including social justice, interpersonal relationships, and client participation in the therapeutic relationship.

9. Touro University Worldwide – Los Alamitos, California

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: This program offers three different tracks: Clinical, Non-Clinical, or Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling (LPCC).
  • Program Format: Online
  • Credits: 54-82 semester credits, depending on the track you choose
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $13,500 for the Non-Clinical Track (two years), $12,000 for the Clinical Track (three years), $13,667 for the LPCC Track (three years)
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 61.66%
  • Job Placement Rate: 87.5%
  • Licensure Rate: N/A*
  • Points: 8

*The current online cohort is in progress, and no data is available.

Program Website

As noted above, you can choose from three distinct programs of study as part of this M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy. The shortest option is to complete the 54-credit Non-Clinical Track. This option involves online coursework only – there are no practicum or clinical training requirements. As such, this option does not lead to licensure as a marriage and family therapist.

If you wish to get clinical training, you can choose the Clinical Track or the LPCC Track. The Clinical Track is a 72-credit program that includes 54 credits of online coursework and 18 credits of practicum experiences. During the practicum, you will complete at least 300 hours of client contact hours in a supervised clinical setting. The LPCC Track is an 82-credit program that combines the coursework and field experiences necessary for the Clinical Track with four LPCC courses. These LPCC courses are meet COAMFTE standards for preparation as an LPCC.

No matter which track you choose, you’ll take high-level courses that prepare you to study and explain human behavior. Sample courses include the following:

  • Group Counseling
  • Substance Abuse and Recovery
  • Foundations of Psychopathology
  • Studies in Human Communication
  • Treatment of Trauma in Families

This program also focuses on developing relevant research skills. A Research Methodology course helps you acquire those skills, which you can use to further your study of marriage and family topics within this program or in your future career.

10. Alliant International University – Irvine, California

Master of Arts in Couple and Family Therapy

  • Unique Feature: This program offers a chemical dependency specialization track accredited by the California Association for Alcohol/Drug Educators.
  • Program Format: Online
  • Credits: 60 semester credits
  • Estimated Annual Graduate Tuition: $31,560
  • Graduation Rate in Advertised Time: 52%
  • Job Placement Rate: 86%
  • Licensure Rate: 69%
  • Points: 8

Program Website

This online program helps you build skills in two distinct areas: mental health counseling and behavioral science. You’ll focus on interaction patterns and relationships and integrate your understanding of these concepts with multicultural, ethical practice. With an increased level of knowledge of counseling techniques and the underlying causes of behavior, you can more effectively help couples and families identify and work through issues causing dysfunction.

The curriculum is divided into six semesters. During that time, you’ll complete 57 core credits and 3 elective credits. The core coursework you complete will include studies in the following areas:

  • Individual and Family Life Cycle
  • Introduction to Psychopathology
  • Preparing for Community Practice
  • Trauma and Crisis Intervention
  • Sex Therapy in Marriage and Family Therapy

You must also complete a field-based practicum in a clinical setting. A total of 300 hours of direct client contact time is required. Of those, 150 must be in the context of couples or family therapy. You will also participate in 100 hours of supervision, which will occur in one-on-one and group settings. Of the 100 supervised hours, at least 50 must be in direct observation or include a review of video or audio recordings of sessions. At least 100 hours of professional development training are required as well. You can use these practicum hours toward a California Marriage and Family Therapist license.

A comprehensive examination is required for this degree, too. Full-time students take the exam in June of the second year of studies. If you study part-time, you’ll take the exam during your final year in the program.

See also: 5 Important Characteristics of Marriage and Family Therapists

Frequently Asked Questions

What are My Career Options for a Graduate Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy?

A graduate degree in marriage and family therapy qualifies you for many top-level positions. But, your eligibility depends on other factors like the city and state of employment as well as the type of employer. Four of the most common career pathways in marriage and family therapy include the following:

Marriage and Family Therapist: Broadly speaking, the marriage and family therapy industry is dedicated to helping clients overcome behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders. Marriage and family therapists typically serve clients in a group-based setting involving children, a spouse, or other close relatives.
Mental Health Counselor: As a licensed marriage and family therapist, you can work as a mental health counselor. In addition to providing couples and family-based treatments, you can also provide one-on-one counseling and interventions, such as psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and solution-focused therapy.
Rehabilitation Counselor: A rehabilitation counselor specializes in helping clients with emotional, cognitive, and physical disabilities that interfere with their clients’ independent living (and their impact on couples and family relationships). Areas in which rehabilitation counselors may help include applying for federal and state disability benefits, obtaining an education, and applying to and interviewing for jobs.
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor: Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help clients overcome addictions to prescription medications, drugs, and other potentially harmful substances. They also work with clients with addictions to sex or gambling. They typically help clients identify emotional triggers or patterns that usually accompany addictive behaviors, such as substance abuse. They may also assist them during the recovery and rehabilitation stages and provide counseling and care for spouses and family members.

How Much Can You Earn in This Field?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for marriage and family therapists was $56,570 per year, or $27.20 per hour, in 2022. The highest 10 percent of employed marriage and family therapists earned more than $98,700, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,840.

The average salary for this field can be divided into several top-paying industries, including:

• State government, excluding hospitals and education: $77,000
• Outpatient care centers: $59,870
• Offices of other health practitioners: $50,920
• Individual and family services: $50,370

The BLS indicates that employment of licensed marriage and family therapists is expected to grow 15 percent from 2022 to 20312. This is much faster than the nation’s average for all occupations. This growth can be attributed to the increasing use of integrated care, or treating multiple problems at the same time by a group of therapists or specialists.

Are There Any Professional Organizations for Marriage and Family Therapists?

Learning about different approaches to marriage and family counseling and making professional connections within the industry are crucial to your success. Joining a professional organization enables you to do both. Likewise, a professional affiliation gives you access to many benefits, including active job boards, online training, and continuing education opportunities. Likewise, professional organizations often have networking events and offer mental health services for career-ready graduates, too.

The following are some of the most prestigious professional organizations for marriage and family therapy:

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists: The AAMFT is the leading professional organization for therapists specializing in marriage and family counseling. The organization represents more than 50,000 licensed counselors across the globe and features:a virtual networking center, an online information library, licensure links, and a job board.
International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors: The IAMFC was founded in 1989 and now represents a network of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, and other professionals in the marriage and family therapy field. Members have access to The Family Digest and The Family Journal as well as to an extensive job directory and information about credentialing and certification.
American Counseling Association: The ACA was founded in 1952 and, with more than 52,000 members, is the world’s largest organization for professional counselors. The ACA website features a virtual knowledge center that contains information about ethics, diagnostics, licensure requirements, and other important areas within the field of marriage and family therapy. An online job board, journal publications, and continuing education opportunities are also available.

Where Do Marriage and Family Therapists Work?

As noted in the introduction, MFT graduates have many employment opportunities. You might practice in a hospital, go into private practice, or seek a position in another medical setting. With experience, you might move away from providing counseling to areas of marriage and family research. Working in academics as a college professor is another professional route you might take.

The MFT programs online ranked earlier will help you develop the skills to work with a number of populations and problems, too. It’s most common for professionals in this field to work with couples and families. You’ll likely also provide counseling to individual members of the family. For example, assume you’re working with a family that’s struggling because of the husband’s infidelity. In this situation, you will likely work one-on-one with the husband to explore his behavior. You’re also likely to work with both parents together, say, to rebuild the trust that was lost as a result of the infidelity. You would work with the entire family unit as well – perhaps on trust-building and improving communication.

This is just one example, of course. The specific issues and populations you work with might vary depending on where you’re employed. But by and large, you can expect to provide services to children, teens, and adults in individual and group settings, no matter your employment situation.

See also: