Let’s talk! In the last decade, Master’s degrees in Counseling have evolved their schools of thought. Counseling and therapy have become recognized as not only a means to help the individual but, more broadly, as a means to bring about social change. But how do you go about finding the best online Master’s in Counseling programs?
A Master’s in Counseling provides a multitude of opportunities for graduates from life coaches, psychotherapists, career counselors, and school counselors who help their clients cope with serious mental health issues like chronic anxiety and depression, physical illness, and trauma. A counseling Master’s is a rewarding career path that can fetch a healthy salary, as well. However, there are great variations depending on which geographical area you work in and the type of institution you work for.
Although students with bachelor’s degrees will be able to attain entry-level counseling and social work positions, to qualify for a state license, they must complete graduate training. The best online Master’s in Counseling programs offer advanced training in areas such as psychotherapy and treatment of trauma disorders without the student having to adjust their living location to attend their dream school. Here, we outline the 20 best online Master’s in Counseling programs, so you can get started on your career from the comfort of your own home.
Related Resource: 10 Best Clinical Research Masters Online
What is a Master’s in Counseling Degree?
A Master’s in Counseling degree can either fall under a Master’s of Science or a Master’s of Art, depending on the institution. At some schools, students are required to choose a specialization such as a School Counseling or Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Some Universities allow dual specializations, and there is usually some crossover with the course credits.
The average amount of credit hours is 60, with courses ranging from Sociocultural Considerations in Counseling to courses on Autism and Grief and Loss. Students are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, but some universities will consider applicants with relevant real-world experience in counseling.
The average required GPA for undergraduate admissions is 3.0, but some schools will consider those with lower scores if they submit a writing sample and have some prior experience in counseling. Master’s in Counseling graduates usually go on to take state licensure exams to fetch jobs with higher salary potentials.
In this case, potential students may favor schools that have accreditation, the most common being the CACREP: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, which aids students in meeting the requirements to gain licensure after graduation.
Careers for Master’s in Counseling
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for trained clinical mental health counselors have a growth projection of 20% from 2016 to 2026, which will create 51,600 jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor projects a 22% growth for mental health counselors through 2028, which is above average for all job fields.
Insurance companies are offering more and more coverage for mental health services, and therefore, the federal government, and community clinics and hospitals are hiring more mental health counseling staff to respond to this increase in demand.
Careers for Master’s in Counseling graduates are diverse and range from Substance Abuse, Behavioural Disorder, and Mental Health Counseling, to School Counseling and Art Therapy. Most jobs will require graduates to obtain licensure and complete additional clinical fieldwork hours.
Online Master’s in Counseling Salary Potential
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics and Payscale, the earning potential for a Master’s in Counseling varies based on career choice. A licensed professional counselor can earn between $35,000 to $64,000, with an average salary of $47,000. For mental health counselors, salaries range between $28,000 and $73,000, with an average income of $45,000. Marriage and family therapists can earn up to $73,000, with an entry-level salary of $28,000. School and career counselors can earn up to $92,000, with an average of $56,000 and an entry-level salary of $34,000.
After getting your Master’s, you are required to obtain a license before beginning to practice therapy for some job positions. For example, two standard licenses are Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT). Some students even obtain dual licensure as an LPC and LMFT. Most state licensing boards require a Master’s degree, testing, and some also require additional post-graduate course work requirements.
Certifications in various counseling modalities such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), can help graduates expand their counseling abilities. The more skills a graduate has, the more jobs he/she will be well-suited for. There are several different certifications similar to EMDR, which involve a specific approach to therapy.
What are the 20 Best Online Master’s in Counseling Programs?
We know that you have educational goals that you’re itching to pursue, but you may not know where to start. The editors of College Rank utilize a unique ranking methodology based on the following three aspects:
- 40% Potential Salary After Graduation: Average mid-career salary of school alumni
- 30% Institutional Accreditation: Regional and national accreditation for the 2019-2020 school year
- 30% Overall Degree Affordability: Average cost of undergraduate and graduate tuition per school
At College Rank, we strive to do our best to guide you and your family toward a fruitful academic career. The pursuit of knowledge is a noble one, and we want to help you reach your goals. Please feel free to visit our dedicated methodology page for a step-by-step breakdown. For questions, comments, badge downloads, or data corrections, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Average Net Price
Wake Forest University offers two focused online Master’s in Counseling programs–in Clinical Health, and in School Counseling. With the Online Master’s in Counseling Clinical Mental Health program, students learn the skills to work with individuals who are experiencing mental health issues from substance abuse to family issues. Through the development of therapeutic relationships and learning clinical skills, students are prepared to drive positive change on both a personal and community level. The focus here is learning how to create therapeutic relationships and specialized clinical skills.
If a student chooses to take the School Counseling Master’s route, they are prepared to provide support for the most vulnerable groups–children and their families. The program helps students develop the skills necessary to collaborate with educators in order to provide the best care for school children, improve their quality of life at home and in school, and boost their academic success.
Both of the Master’s paths at Wake Forest are CACREP-accredited, and graduates have a history of high acceptance rates in reputable doctorate programs. The 60-hour online programs also offer clinical instruction, as well as internship and practicum opportunities. Offering teachings from nationally renowned leaders in counseling, Wake Forest is committed to providing students with the highest quality education, and their graduates have a 95% pass rate on the national counselor exam.
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Founded in 1861 in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University has consistently been one of the highest-ranked private research and teaching institutions in the US, coming in above Brown and Cornell on U.S. News and World report’s 2019 list of top national universities.
The counseling program at Northwestern is delivered through The Family Institute, which has been focused on providing behavioral health services to children, adults, and families for nearly 50 years. TFI, in partnership with Northwestern University, offers a Master of Arts in Counseling Program on campus as well as online. Their CACREP-accredited Master’s programs can be completed on an accelerated, traditional, or part-time schedule.
Their Standard Program is comprised of 24 graduate-level courses, a practicum, and finally, and internship. Students are eligible to apply if they have an undergraduate degree in a related field, but are also eligible with volunteer or paid experience in psychology, counseling, or a related setting.
Students who have little or no experience in the field can apply to their Bridge to Counseling Program, which helps students to become acquainted with the foundation of counseling required to grasp graduate-level courses. This program includes the same 24 courses as the Standard Program with an additional introductory three courses that help to introduce students to the key concepts and theories in the field.
Seton Hall University
South Orange, New Jersey
Average Net Price
Seton Hall University offers a Master’s of Arts in Counseling through a 48 credit program, culminating in a school counselor internship. The school is nationally accredited by the APA, COAMFTE, and CAEP. No prerequisites are required for admission; students with no experience in the field will be considered, but they need to have an undergraduate degree with a 3.0 GPA.
The Master’s program is comprised of eight semesters completed in two or two-and-a-half years. Students join a learning team and progress through the program as a cohort. This learning team approach is a unique aspect of this online degree, which helps aid in student success.
The University requires students to attend two four-day face-to-face residencies in South Orange, New Jersey. This experience occurs at the start of the program and then again the following curriculum year. The costs of transportation and all expenses related to this residency are included in the tuition costs and are seen as essential for educational success in this online Master’s degree.
New York University
New York City, New York
Average Net Price
Taught by the renowned NYU faculty, the online Mental Health and School Counseling Program at New York University takes as few as 21 and 18 months, respectively, to complete. The school is accepting applications year-round and offers start dates in January, June, and September. Full-time and part-time options are available for both the Master’s in School Counseling and the Master’s in Mental Health Counseling.
With 60 graduate courses on offer, a 100-hour practicum, and a 600-hour internship, NYU’s Mental Health and School Counseling Programs provide students with a serious amount of experience for entering the work-field. The programs also offer in-person collaboration with faculty and fellow students on their New York City campus for networking and intensive training. Live classes and interactive course work are what make this online Master’s program stand out. Students interact with each other online while acting out client-therapist scenarios, helping to prepare them for their practicum placements.
GRE scores are not required for admission, and the online Counseling Master’s program at NYU is accredited by the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) under the Master’s in Counseling Accreditation Committee (MCAC) standards.
Average Net Price
Established in 1897, Bradley University prides itself on the knowledge that many potential graduates may not be able to pursue traditional campus-based learning. They understand those busy professionals need a convenient and flexible way to delve into their passion for helping people and seek a Master’s degree in Counseling on their own schedule.
Bradley boasts a cutting-edge approach with regularly updated online course work to keep up with the rapidly changing needs of clients. They take a groundbreaking approach called Neurocounseling, which explores how counseling can directly affect brain function. Learning these innovative Neurocounseling techniques and neuroscientific methods of treatment gives Bradley graduates a fresh perspective on transforming the futures of their clients, but starts with the students themselves.
Bradley’s online Master’s in Counseling program also encourages student collaboration in a dynamic learning environment. Students benefit from their CACREP-accredited curriculum, which can be completed in one of two specialty tracks; Clinical Mental Health Counseling or Professional School Counseling, both with 60 credit hours of coursework, one practicum, two internships, and two, one-week long campus-based residencies in Peoria, Illinois.
Average Net Price
Liberty University offers an online Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that can be completed in an average of two-and-a-half years. They allow up to 50% of the degree in transfer credits, and the program prepares students to gain state licensure. Liberty focuses on a holistic approach through field-tested techniques for promoting overall wellness in diverse communities.
The university also requires that students attend two on-campus intensives in Central Virginia. Students will also have the opportunity to observe working professional counselors and their own practices and begin to develop their own counseling approaches throughout a two-semester internship, both of which can be arranged around each individual’s schedule.
Liberty’s program has been identified as one of the most affordable online Master’s programs (SR Education Group 2018), and their award-winning online curriculum, including the practicum, is 100% flexible for students with restrictive schedules. This provides students with the necessary state-reported hours for valuable field experience and licensure without compromising their personal life commitments.
AffordableColleges.com has named Liberty the Best Value Online for a Master’s in Counseling in 2019 and is CACREP accredited. This non-profit university ranked in the top 1% of more than 2100 online programs for academic quality, accessibility, and affordability.
Nova Southeastern University
Average Net Price
Nova Southeastern University offers an online academic program designed for the working professional who may already be involved in or who is interested in entering the field of counseling. NSU has more specializations in counseling than most other programs, including mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and education, applied behavior analysis, and advanced applied behavior analysis. These programs are designed to train individuals who are looking for advanced training but who cannot afford to interrupt their own demanding schedules.
With five unique concentrations in counseling, NSU provides a wide range of specializations where students can place focus on the area of their interest. These include; Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration (60 credit hours), School Counseling concentration (48 credit hours); Substance Abuse Counseling concentration (48 credit hours); Substance Abuse Counseling and Education (60 credit hours); and Applied Behavior Analysis concentration (51 credit hours).
Dual concentrations are also allowed. Generally, courses are asynchronous, which means that the student has the flexibility to self-pace their work.
Occasionally, live class meetings are arranged between the instructor and the class, and it should be noted that the Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration requires a three-day face-to-face residency to be completed at either the Orlando or Fort Lauderdale-Davie campuses.
In 2018, NSU applied for CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) certification, and the application is still in process.
Palo Alto University
Palo Alto, California
Average Net Price
Palo Alto University is a private, nonprofit university with a focus on psychology and counseling. The department of counseling at PAU offers a Master’s of Arts with an emphasis in either Marriage, Family, and Child (CACREP-accredited) or Clinical Mental Health (CACREP-accredited). California graduates of this program are given the opportunity to pursue the Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) as well as Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) licenses.
PAU’s program online format includes two to three classes per semester in their interactive, online synchronous classroom, all of which are offered in the evenings for students with professional work schedules.
The program takes two years, nine months to complete. Palo Alto University’s MA in counseling program “is 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; and providing services to the local, national and international community informed by science and scholarship.”
Graduates of Palo Alto’s MA in counseling are thoroughly prepared to become a licensed and qualified clinician.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Average Net Price
Regent University is a Chrisitan school that offers an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. This CACREP-accredited Master’s degree combines techniques of counseling with biblical principles. The Master’s program at RU integrates principles of science and faith to approach counseling with a Christian worldview.
With 60 total credit hours, this CACREP-accredited curriculum offers an intimate learning environment with a small group of fellow students and professors. Hands-on experience through their internship program allows students to be placed at clinics in their area. Career opportunities for graduates include licensed clinical counseling in outpatient care centers, family service centers, hospitals, and private practice. Related programs include an MA in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling, and an MA in Human Services.
With an 88% post-graduation job placement rate, this school offers students an excellent opportunity to work in the field. Regent ranked number four on the list of the best online graduate education programs in Virginia by U.S. News and World Report in 2019 and is currently one of the fastest-growing schools in the nation with a 14% growth rate in the past two years.
Regent University is one of only a few Christian institutions to offer programs accredited by both the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
The University of Alabama
Average Net Price
The University of Alabama offers a Master’s of Art in Rehabilitation Counseling, focusing on providing quality counseling services for people with disabilities and their families. Their online program provides an active learning environment, and the curriculum includes live lectures and clinical experiences.
With 60 credit hours and CACREP accreditation, graduate students become well versed in providing clients with the necessary tools to re-enter their community and reach individual quality-of-life goals. As a rehabilitation counselor, graduates will be able to provide individual and group counseling, vocational assessment, consultation services, case management, advocacy, and assistive technology for those with mental and physical disabilities.
They have three admission dates: October 15 for spring admission, March 15 for summer admission, and May 15 for fall admission. Full-time course work involves enrolling in 9 credit hours for the fall and spring and six credit hours in the summer. However, some students will enroll in 12 credit hours in the fall and spring. A part-time program is also available and is typically six credit hours for both the fall and spring and three credit hours in the summer. Full-time students are capable of completing the program in two academic years.
Average Net Price
Messiah college is a nationally ranked school that integrates scholarly academics and the Christian faith, with a commitment to the integration of faith and learning as it relates to issues of justice, reconciliation, and human dignity. Their online Christian Counseling Master’s program from Messiah college allows students to have a work-life balance without sacrificing the intimate class sizes and personalized attention from professors. While the majority of courses are available online, there is a week-long intensive course at their Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania campus.
With three areas of concentration, including Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling, and School Counseling, Messiah covers all the bases. Their program completion time frames range from two to six years and are flexible, affordable, and convenient. Their programs are designed to prepare graduates for their professional counseling licensure exam (LPC), family therapy licensure exam (LMFT), or to become a certified school counselor in Pennsylvania.
Messiah College offers rolling admission, allowing students to enter the program at multiple times during the year. There is also no-fee tuition, where the cost per credit is all you will pay for this Master’s program, with no extra costs for labs, materials, services, or technology. In 2019, Best value schools named Messiah College number four on the list of Top 15 Most Affordable Online Master’s Degree in Counseling Programs.
California Institute of Integral Studies
San Francisco, California
Average Net Price
Expressive Arts Therapy is the approach of the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), where their MA weaves the arts into counseling, psychotherapy, and social change. With three years of course work and a formal year-long practicum, this program integrates a wide range of art modalities in their therapeutic approach. Their Expressive Arts Therapy (EXA) concentration in counseling psychology uses creative, competency-based learning approaches.
The CIIS’s state of California approved 60 credit curriculum prepares students for licensure as either a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) or a 68 credit licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). At the start of each semester, there is an immersive, arts-based residential seminar where students will complete one-third of their semester’s course material.
CIIS’s total integration of multimodal arts approaches in teaching and learning sets this program apart from the rest. The program starts each fall semester and offers graduates the chance to integrate a plethora of creative arts into their counseling approach, including visual and fine arts, digital arts, the spoken word, movement, dance, and drama. Students from around the world enroll in this unique and exciting program with a fresh take on counseling and therapy. Graduates work in a range of psychotherapeutic environments, including private clinical practice, expressive arts consulting education, expressive arts coaching, and community and social justice.
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Eastern University is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA that “integrates faith with reason and justice for its 3,300 students.” Their MA in Clinical Counseling can be completed in full, 100% online, in three (full-time) or four (part-time) years with start dates in January or August. Students may also choose a blended route, with a combination of asynchronous online classes and evening seminars at their campus in the Philadelphia suburb of St. Davids. Their curriculum meets the educational requirements for Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) in the state of Pennsylvania.
With concentrations in Trauma Studies or Applied Behavior Analysis Certification and a wide range of electives such as Substance Abuse Counseling, Grief and Loss, and Autism, EU offers their students a diverse education that gives them a variety of rich learning experiences.
EU’s MA in Clinical Counseling is accredited by the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) and therefore places a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary education in the counseling field. Each student is assigned an academic advisor who can help with course selection and ensuring that student reaches their educational goals. EU has also been named a Military Friendly School and is a participant in the Yellow Ribbon Rehabilitation Program (YRRP).
Average Net Price
The Christian Polytechnic University, LeTourneau, approaches their teaching with a faith-focus and commitment to the community. They have a 93% post-graduate job placement rate, and they encourage graduates to claim every workplace as their mission field. LeTourneau teaches the dynamic and interpersonal aspects of theodicy and spiritual direction, so its students learn to approach counseling through the lens of a Christian Worldview, and address spirituality in their practice.
The core curriculum runs at 45 hours, with six hours of clinical theology coursework and 15 hours dedicated to specialization–a total of 66 credit hours to achieve an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Students graduate with the coursework required to take the state licensure exams, and graduates go on to pursue rewarding careers as Mental Health Counselors, School Counselors, Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT). Some students even obtain dual licensure as an LPC and LMFT. LeTourneau University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award Master’s degrees.
University of Louisiana at Monroe
Average Net Price
At ULM Online, students have the opportunity to earn a Master’s of Science in Counseling (MS), 100% online. Their program is designed to train professional counselors at the graduate level with two options for degree concentration: Clinical Mental Health Counseling (Child, Adolescent, Adult) or School Counseling (Elementary, Secondary). Students also have the option of training in both specializations. ULM’s MS in Counseling is CACREP-accredited, and while they make clear that graduating from this program does not guarantee to secure a job or licensure, their graduates are well equipped to do so.
Sixty semester hours are required, and there are plenty of student resources and a sense of community for online students. The Best Schools named ULM online #1 in The Best Online Colleges in Louisiana and hit #7 on the pyschdegrees.org 10 Most Affordable Master’s in Counseling Online 2020.
The ULM Online office has actively been working on initiatives like the Open Educational Resource and the Affordable Educational Resource in order to lower the prices of textbooks and overall costs for their students. Their motto is “The Best is in the Bayou,” and they might just be right!
University of Massachusetts, Boston
Average Net Price
UMass Boston’s Mental Health Master’s of Science (MS) provides a challenging academic program to prepare their graduates for a rewarding career as a mental health practitioner. The program begins with a two-week in-person study at the Boston campus, where students will complete two courses (6 credits) of their Master’s degree. Students will have completed all of the clinical fieldwork hours necessary to gain state licensure after graduation.
UMass Boston is regionally accredited through NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges). Their online program is modeled after the campus program, with many of the same instructors to ensure a quality program on par with the one on-campus, with no third-party providers. Part-time and full-time fast-tracked programs are available depending on the student’s preference.
Among the lowest tuition rates for an accredited university, UMass Boston is a solid choice for a Master’s in Counseling degree. Their graduates have been mostly successful with obtaining state licensure and go on to pursue rewarding careers in the professional counseling field.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Average Net Price
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, offers a Master of Mental Health Counseling program, which is 60-credit hours and meets the requirements for licensure in Massachusetts as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. The school has received numerous awards for its excellence in its online programs, including awards from U.S. World Reports and Sloan-C.
Although the majority of the course is completed online, there are two weeks of in-person training that are required to complete the program. Once a student has graduated, there are three post-graduate clinical experience requirements to receive licensure. After completing the program and obtaining licensure, graduates will be prepared to take on roles in numerous settings such as schools, clinics, treatment facilities as well as rehab centers, just to name a few.
To be accepted into the program, students must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 with specific course requirements in the social sciences. Also, at least one year in a mental health setting, either paid or volunteer, is strongly recommended. A letter of intent should also be sent with the application. If an applicant holds a Master’s degree, she/he will not need to take the GRE; however, a GRE test is required otherwise.
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, New York
Average Net Price
The University at Buffalo’s Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling is fully accredited by the New York State Education Department and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which allows you to move on to become a nationally-certified rehabilitation counselor. Also, it is the most affordable CACREP-accredited school located in all of Western New York, with tuition coming in at $11,090 for in-state students and $22,650 for out of state.
The application process includes supplying references, transcripts of your bachelor’s degree, as well as in the interview, and $50 application fee. The program itself is 48 hours, and most people complete the program in four to six semesters. Within the program, students will receive 750 hours of experiential contact.
Graduates will have career opportunities in research as well as working with people who suffer from physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. They will be prepared to work in numerous settings, including, but not limited to, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, penal centers, government agencies, as well as veteran hospitals. Impressively, The University at Buffalo boasts a 95% employment rate for graduates of this program.
George Washington University
Average Net Price
This 48-hour Master’s of Art in Rehabilitation Counseling from George Washington University is geared toward training its graduates to work with persons with disabilities and vulnerable populations. Career outlooks include working with people with HIV/AIDS, drug and alcohol substance use disorders, or those with developmental disabilities. The program is GSEHD- accredited.
The program itself consists of 48-credit hours and usually takes three years to complete. Impressively, the school states a 100% retention rate of students enrolled in the program and a 100% passing rate. In terms of cost, the program tuition is $30,730.
The courses focus on both the theories of rehabilitation counseling as well as some aspects of research. The classes are scheduled once per week in the evenings, which suits the schedule of professionals who work during the day. Plus, students have the opportunity to learn from professors who have experience in the field as well as in research, which makes their education a multidimensional.
Average Net Price
Capella University also takes the Master of Science route with their Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Online Degree. Their CACREP-accredited program is flexible for students who are continuing to work full time during their schooling. This MS degree is designed specifically to help graduates prepare for their state licensure exams and ensures that they are fully eligible to do so upon graduation.
Capella University’s curriculum covers topics such as addiction and addictive behavior, human sexuality, and ethical and legal issues related to the field of counseling. They offer seven specialization courses, two residencies, two internships, and a practicum to thoroughly prepare their graduates to enter the counseling workforce. Individuals with an undergraduate GPA of 2.7 will be admitted, which is lower than most universities will consider for a Master’s in Counseling.
On top of a curriculum that exceeds today’s industry standards, each student is guided by a faculty advisor through their “GuidedPath” program. This program boasts combining the flexibility of an online degree with an applied clinical and residency experience in order to help students prepare for working face-to-face with clients and fellow professionals.
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