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).
- Narrow the list again by ranking programs using the following criteria:
- Annual Graduate Tuition:
- Under $20,000: 5 points
- Under $30,000: 4 points
- Under $40,000: 3 points
- Under $50,000: 2 points
- Under $60,000: 1 point
- Annual Percentage of 20-Year Net Return on Investment (ROI):
- 9% and above: 5 points
- 7%-8%: 4 points
- 5%-6%: 3 points
- 3%-4%: 2 points
- 1%-2%:1 point
- U.S. News & World Report Ranking of the Best Psychology Schools
- Top 5: 5 points
- Top 10: 4 points
- Top 20: 3 points
- Top 30: 2 points
- Top 50: 1 point
- Student-to-Faculty Ratio:
- 10:1 and better: 5 points
- 12:1 and better: 4 points
- 15:1 and better: 3 points
- 17:1 and better: 2 points
- 20:1 and better: 1 point
- Annual Graduate Tuition:
Below are the top 10 schools with masters in family and marriage therapy programs as ranked using this methodology. These are online MFT programs with a substantial portion of the curriculum available either synchronously, asynchronously, or both in a digital classroom.
10. Friends University – Wichita, Kansas
Master of Science in Family Therapy
Student to Faculty Ratio: 12:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $11,448/year
Friends University features a master’s in marriage and family therapy that prepares students to help families through personal and relationship struggles. Students gain real world knowledge in a supportive learning environment. Students can attend face-to-face classes in Wichita or Kansas City. The curriculum includes 60 credit hours of required coursework within a 16-month continuous supervised clinical internship. Students can complete the program in as few as 24 months. There is no need to worry about finding a job after graduation. Wichita MFT grads have had a 100% job placement rate since 2013-2014.
9. Colorado State University – Fort Collins, Colorado
Marriage and Family Therapy Program
Student to Faculty Ratio: 16:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $10,520/year in-state and $25,791/year out-of-state
The College of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State University offers an inexpensive master’s in marriage and family therapy. The program embraces a relational-systemic philosophy that promotes ethical competency. Students will gain the skills needed to be multiculturally-informed MFT professionals. The curriculum includes over 500 client contact hours and 200 supervision hours while working in meaningful on-campus outreach programs. For the last 10 years, 100% of CSU MFT graduates have passed the national licensing exam.
8. Oklahoma State University – Stillwater, Oklahoma
Marriage and Family Therapy
Student to Faculty Ratio: 20:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $5,531/year in-state and $21,034/year out-of-state
Oklahoma State University is the only institution in the state to offer a COAMFTE accredited master’s in marriage and family therapy. Their 60-credit hour program includes a thesis and non-thesis option. Coursework covers a variety of areas including:
- professionalism and ethics
- research and statistics
- marriage and family therapy
Only full-time students may be admitted to the program due to the intense nature of the program. Students can complete their degree in two-and-a-half-years.
7. Texas Woman’s University – Denton, Texas
MS in Marriage and Family Therapy
Student to Faculty Ratio: 17:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $5,053/year in-state and $12,415/year out-of-state
Texas Woman’s University features a budget friendly master’s in marriage and family therapy that fulfills the course requirements set by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists needed to sit for the national licensure exam. Real world experience through internships and practicum experience makes students “work ready” upon completion of the program. Courses cover areas like:
- play therapy
- addiction counseling
- group counseling procedures
Students planning to pursue doctoral study or those with an interest in research can take advantage of the opportunity to complete a thesis.
6. Appalacian State University – Boone, North Carolina
Marriage and Family Therapy: Master of Arts
Student to Faculty Ratio: 17:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $4,829/year in-state and $18,271/year out-of-state
Appalachian State University offers a low-cost marriage and family therapy master’s program. It leads to professional certification as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. This thesis optional clinical program includes a year-long 500-clock hour internship under an AAMFT approved supervisor. Students completing their internship in rural Appalachian communities are eligible for a fully funded internship stipend. Full-time students can complete their degree in just two years. Graduates can apply their skills in a variety of settings including private practice and community mental health agencies.
5. East Carolina University – Greenville, North Carolina
MS in Marriage and Family Therapy
Student to Faculty Ratio: 19:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $4,749/year in-state and $17,898/year out-of-state
The low-cost master’s in marriage and family therapy at East Carolina University is the first program in North Carolina to earn COAMFTE accreditation. The program is offered on-campus in a face-to-face format that allows students to earn their degree in two years. Course offerings include:
- Family Theories and Issues
- Assessment and Treatment Planning in Family Therapy
- Critical Issues in Family and Cultural Diversity
Clinical training is completed at the ECU Family Therapy Clinic and other locations located in the community. Students planning to pursue doctoral study can pursue a thesis, although it is not a program requirement.
4. Seattle University – Seattle, Washington
Master of Arts in Couples and Family Therapy
Student to Faculty Ratio: 11:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $13,500/year
The School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University features an affordable master’s in couples and family therapy. This 79-credit program takes about two-and-a-half years to complete. Courses synthesize a variety of areas including:
- systems theory
- clinical intervention
- social justice
- self-of-therapist reflection
While students spend their first year in the program on coursework, they begin the 18-month clinical sequence in the second year. This experience gives students valuable hands-on training in couples and family therapy. Graduates are prepared to sit for the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulation Board Exam. 100% of graduates who took the exam passed it on their first try.
3. Converse College – Spartanburg, South Carolina
Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (MMFT)
Student to Faculty Ratio: 9:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $8,736/year
Converse College offers the only accredited marriage and family therapy master’s degree program in South Carolina. Students can complete courses at either the Spartanburg campus or the Greenville site at University Center Greenville. This 63-credit hour program includes a 15-credit hour practicum that merges clinical and academic experiences. Clinical training takes place at the EMERGE Family Therapy Center where students provide mental health services to a variety of individuals, couples and families. Full-time students can earn their degree in two years while part-time students can take up to five.
2. Southern Connecticut State University – New Haven, Connecticut
Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s Program
Student to Faculty Ratio: 12:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $7,865/year in-state and $20,044/year out-of-state
Southern Connecticut State University offers a high value marriage and family therapy master’s program. It can be completed in two or three years. Both the two- and three-year program begin with dyadic coursework. The program embraces a unique self-of-the-therapist focus while offering a rigorous academic program and comprehensive clinical training. Courses include:
- Diversity and Multicultural Practice in MFT
- Family Systems Theory
- Professional, Legal, and Ethical Issues in MFT
Once completed, students begin seeing clients in the campus-based Family Clinic. Students complete a yearlong internship at an off-campus clinical placement site.
1. Central Connecticut State University – New Britain, Connecticut
Master’s Program in Marriage and Family Therapy
Student to Faculty Ratio: 14:1
Average Graduate Tuition Rate: $7,674/year in-state and $19,768/year out-of-state
Our top master’s in marriage and family therapy is offered by Central Connecticut State University. This flexible program has both full and part-time program options and is COAMFTE accredited. The flexible evening track allows students to complete their degree during the traditional work week. This unique schedule attracts students of diverse backgrounds who might be unable to otherwise earn their MFT master’s degree. The 63-credit hour curriculum meets the academic requirements for Connecticut Licensure for Marital and Family Therapists and for AAMFT Clinical Membership. New students are admitted during the fall semester.
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.