Getting a degree in psychology is quite an investment, involving years of study and potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars. If you're going to make this investment, you should be sure that the investment can pay off. You should start by ensuring that the program is accredited.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation means that a program has met quality standards imposed by an accrediting agency. This agency generally circulates standards for schools and periodically assesses programs to make sure that they are meeting these standards. Schools that pass this assessment receive a public certificate of accreditation, basically a "stamp of approval."
Why is it important?
In itself, accreditation provides some assurance of a program's quality. Just as important, though, is that in most cases, those who would like to be licensed to practice psychology are required to have attended an accredited program. Many jobs have the same requirement.
Who accredits graduate programs in psychology?
It is necessary to distinguish between institutional and program accreditation. Institutional accreditation is conferred upon a school in its entirety-not a single program-by one of six regional accreditation bodies: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; New England Association of Schools and Colleges; North Central Association of Schools and Colleges; Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; Western Association of Schools and Colleges; and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. These organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
A number of organizations accredit individual psychology graduate programs. The most reputable and relied upon is the American Psychological Association ("APA"), operating through its Commission on Accreditation. Another reputable organization is the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards ("ASPPB").
Neither the APA nor the ASPPB accredit non-doctoral programs. Other accrediting agencies do. These are the: Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs ("CACREP"), Council on Rehabilitation Education ("CORE"), Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education ("COAMFTE"), Masters in Psychology Accreditation Council ("MPAC"), and National Association of School Psychologists ("NASP").
How does a program obtain accreditation?
Both the APA and the ASPPB accredit doctoral programs in clinical, counseling and school psychology-programs generally leading to eligibility to practice psychology. Programs in other areas of psychology which generally do not lead to the practice of psychology - such as social or evolutionary psychology - are not and need not be accredited.