Why Attending an Accredited Psychology School Matters
Your education is a significant commitment and one of the biggest investments you’ll likely ever make, so if you’re enrolling in a psychology degree program—whether a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate—it’s important to feel confident and excited about the program you choose.
Having that confidence is even more important if you’re considering a graduate degree in psychology, especially if you want to eventually treat patients as a licensed psychologist. You may have compared programs by their courses, rankings, and cost—but have you checked whether each program is accredited?
A “stamp of approval” of a school’s program quality, accreditation should be a critical factor to consider when evaluating programs, since it could have a significant impact on your career path.
What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a form of quality assurance for your education that indicates whether an educational institution or program meets the minimum quality standards of the profession.
In order to be accredited, a school or program must be evaluated and meet specific criteria developed by an outside accrediting body. Accreditors look for things like faculty qualifications and course content, as well as the quality of student resources like libraries and computers. This helps ensure that students who attend accredited programs have the same base of knowledge when they graduate.
Why Accreditation Matters for Psychology Students
Attending an accredited program won’t guarantee you career success, but it can help give you an advantage in a number of ways.
Helps you avoid buyer’s remorse: Accreditation can give you a degree of assurance that you’ll receive a high-quality education. Because accredited programs are regularly reviewed and held accountable by an outside agency, the programs may be more likely to stay up-to-date on best practices in psychology education and professional standards in the field.
You’ll stand out in the job market: Many internships and employers prefer to hire students from accredited programs. In some cases, an accredited education is a requirement of job applicants. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, only hires individuals who have graduated from an accredited program. Having a degree from an accredited program helps reassure employers that you possess a certain level of skills and knowledge.
It can better prepare you for licensure: Accredited programs are often aligned with the requirements of most licensing boards. Many states require licensure candidates to have a degree from an accredited program or to demonstrate that their program offered a similar education. However, licensing requirements vary state by state, so an accredited program doesn’t automatically ensure you will be licensed, but it can certainly help.
“Essentially, it is a licensing and pedigree issue,” explains Christine Manley, PhD., a licensed clinical psychologist in Nashville, Tennessee. “Your academic pedigree opens doors and attracts professional prospects. Unaccredited schools are considered poor pedigrees. Second, it is much harder to get licensed if your academic institution is unaccredited.”
Accrediting Bodies: Who Gives Programs Accreditation?
There are several different types of accrediting agencies for psychology schools and programs, at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level. Some accrediting bodies function on a national level and accredit specific programs within an educational institution, while others are regional and accredit an entire school.
Regional accreditation applies to institutions that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while doctoral programs are accredited by national accrediting bodies such as the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). Doctoral programs that are accredited by the APA are required to reside within a school that’s also accredited by a regional accrediting body, so they have a double layer of accreditation at the school and program level.
National Accrediting Bodies
National accrediting bodies set educational guidelines that can help ease your way to licensure as a psychologist and help you in the job market.
The American Psychological Association (APA)
The APA is the only organization authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit doctoral-level professional psychology programs. APA accreditation is only for doctoral programs in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or school psychology, as well as doctoral internships and postdoctoral residencies in professional psychology. The APA does not accredit bachelor’s or master’s programs, and it doesn’t accredit other programs in the same department or university. Search the APA website to determine if the doctorate program you’re interested in is accredited.
Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)
If you are earning your education with the goal of becoming a licensed psychologist in Canada, look for programs accredited by the Canadian Psychological Association. The CPA accredits doctoral programs in Canada in professional psychology, including clinical psychology, clinical neuropsychology, counseling psychology, and school psychology. The CPA also accredits doctoral internship programs in clinical psychology, clinical neuropsychology, and counseling psychology. Similar to the APA, the CPA does not accredit master’s programs.
Regional Accrediting Bodies
The APA and CPA both offer national accreditation for psychology doctorate programs, but regional accreditation also plays an important role in a slightly different way. Regional accreditation applies to an institution as a whole rather than a specific program.
Regional accreditation is important for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in psychology in the U.S. Doctoral programs that are accredited by the APA are already required to be within a university that has regional accreditation, so if you are looking for an APA-accredited program, it should also have regional accreditation.
Bachelor’s and master’s programs, in contrast, do not have APA or CPA accreditation, but you can check to see whether the school offering the program is regionally accredited if it’s in the U.S. There is no regional accreditation system in Canada, however.
How to Find Out If a Psychology Program or School Is Accredited
The APA and CPA have directories of doctoral programs that are accredited.
In the U.S., there are six regional accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as reliable authorities for quality postsecondary education, including colleges and universities that offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in psychology.
You can use the chart below to see directories of schools that are regionally accredited and look up a school that offers bachelor’s or master’s programs in psychology to check its accreditation.
To access additional resources, you can also check out the Office of Precollege and Undergraduate Education at the APA for more information about psychology at the bachelor’s degree level or the APA Office of Graduate and Postgraduate Education and Training for information about psychology in graduate school.
What if the Program You Choose Is Not Accredited?
If you’re considering a non-accredited program, think about your career goals and take the time to understand the licensure laws in your state (you can get started with this helpful guide). Some states in the U.S. require students to have a degree from an APA-accredited program to become a licensed psychologist—credentials you typically need to start accepting patients as a psychologist in private practice—but licensure laws differ state by state.
In addition, keep in mind that some federal agencies exclusively hire graduates of APA-accredited programs as well.
Attending an accredited program can give you key advantages, but ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what program is best, depending on your personal and professional goals.
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