Interested in a psychology degree? Then you may have heard of APA-accredited programs or NASP-accredited programs.
Psychology programs can hold accreditation from several specialized accreditors. But with so many accreditors, it's easy to get confused.
Attending an unaccredited psychology program can hurt the quality of your education — not to mention how it can harm your career prospects. So how does psychology accreditation work? And why does it matter?
How Psychology Accreditation Works
In the U.S., the accreditation process ensures that students receive a high-quality education.
But how does accreditation work exactly? Independent, nonprofit accrediting agencies evaluate degree-granting programs and institutions.
In psychology, accreditors measure graduate-level programs based on field-specific standards. These agencies review course materials, faculty qualifications, and student outcomes. They also look at practicum and clinical experience requirements.
The two major accreditors of psychology programs are:
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
Accreditation validates the quality of your degree to your employers. In fields that require a professional license (like psychology), institutional and programmatic accreditation are crucial to qualifying for licensure.
Without a doctorate from an accredited program, psychologists in many states can't earn a license.
In many states, psychologists must graduate from an APA-accredited program to qualify for a license. In other states, you may just need to earn a psychology doctorate from a regionally accredited university — not necessarily from an APA- or NASP-accredited program.
Before applying to psychology doctoral programs, check the requirements for your state. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards lists psychology licensing requirements by state.
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Accreditation From the American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association (APA) is the leading professional association for psychologists and psychology students.
APA also accredits doctoral programs in psychology through its Commission on Accreditation. Programs with APA accreditation meet high standards of academic quality.
APA accreditation emphasizes outcomes. In other words, graduates from APA-accredited programs receive training in scientific psychology that is necessary to practice professionally.
Doctoral psychology programs can choose to pursue APA accreditation. The process includes a comprehensive self-study, a site visit, and regular reviews. Programs can lose APA accreditation if they fail to meet standards.
APA's standards of accreditation review psychology programs based on the following:
Program Structure and Requirements
To get APA accreditation, doctoral programs must require at least three academic years of graduate study and a yearlong full-time internship (or its equivalent). Students must also complete their internship training through a high-quality program.
APA looks for evidence that the program prepares graduates for professional practice. As a result, the accreditation process evaluates data on job placement and licensure rates two years and five years post-graduation. APA also looks at data on attrition and time to degree.
Psychology program faculty must meet academic and applied experience requirements. APA sets guidelines about faculty supervision of doctoral students, scholarly activities, and professional licensure to ensure the program can effectively educate and mentor students.
The goal of APA accreditation is to promote academic quality and continuous improvement in doctoral psychology programs.
Did You Know...
Today, APA accredits over 400 doctoral programs, more than 650 psychology internship programs, and over 170 postdoctoral residency programs.
Additional Psychology Accreditation Bodies
Because APA accreditation only applies to doctoral programs, psychology programs may seek accreditation from other specialized accreditors.
For example, NASP accredits programs specializing in school psychology. Unlike APA, several of these psychology accreditors evaluate master's programs.
National Association of School Psychologists
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is a professional association for school psychologists. NASP also grants accreditation to graduate school psychology programs, including master's, education specialist, and doctoral programs.
NASP works closely with the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, which specializes in teacher and educator preparation programs.
NASP-accredited programs meet the following professional standards for educating school psychologists:
NASP requires a minimum amount of coursework depending on the degree level. For example, specialist programs must include at least 60 credits. Programs must also demonstrate a maximum faculty-to-student ratio of 1 to 12.
In order to receive NASP accreditation, school psychology programs must meet field experience standards. For example, graduate students must complete clinical field experience in which they apply evidence-based practices.
Programs need procedures to evaluate student learning and progress. For instance, programs should have a formal process to evaluate candidates after a practicum or field experience. Other metrics include licensing and certification pass rates.
On its site, NASP emphasizes the benefits of accreditation for graduate students, including "assurance that the program's quality has been evaluated and has met national standards established by the profession."
Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council
The Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) accredits master's-level psychology and counseling programs.
The organization started evaluating psychology master's programs in 1995. In 2011, MPCAC also began granting accreditation to counseling programs. As of 2023, MPCAC accredits more than 60 master's programs.
Programs must meet MPCAC standards to receive accreditation. Those standards include a 60-credit minimum for master's programs and at least 600 hours of supervised experience. Check MPCAC's list of accredited programs to learn more.
If you're interested in counseling psychology, you might come across accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP evaluates master's and doctoral programs for counselors; however, it does not accredit psychology programs.
Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System
The Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) dates back to 2007 when it began accrediting psychology doctoral programs with an emphasis on the clinical science training model. Currently, 46 doctoral programs hold PCSAS accreditation.
In terms of accreditation standards, PSCAS requires training for clinical practice, including applied clinical training through practicums. Programs must demonstrate that their graduates master the empirically-based assessment and treatment methods necessary for clinical psychology careers.
Graduates from PSCAS-accredited programs pass the national licensing exam at a 98% rate, compared to 81% for all clinical psychology graduates.
Did You Know...
Psychology accreditors like APA and NASP only evaluate graduate programs. While there are no programmatic accreditors for undergraduate psychology programs, these programs are often part of accredited institutions.
Accreditation for Undergraduate Psychology Programs
Specialized psychology accreditors like APA and NASP only evaluate graduate-level programs. This means there are no programmatic accreditors for undergraduate psychology programs.
Simply put, you won't find any APA-accredited programs for a bachelor's in psychology.
That said, you should still look for undergraduate programs at accredited institutions, ideally regionally accredited schools. Historically, regional accreditors have held colleges and universities to higher standards than national accreditors.
Like specialized psychology accreditors, institutional accreditors evaluate student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation rates. Unlike psychology accreditors, institutional accreditors evaluate the entire school, including its academic mission and financial transparency.
If you're considering a graduate degree in psychology, it's a good idea to get your bachelor's from a regionally accredited institution. Many psychology graduate programs require applicants to have a degree from a regionally accredited school.
Choosing an Accredited Psychology Program
Whether you're earning a bachelor's in psychology, a master's in psychology, or a doctorate in psychology, make sure you choose an accredited school. For aspiring graduate students, you'll need to take the extra step of looking for accredited programs.
You'll want to look for different psychology accreditors depending on your degree.
At the doctoral level, it's a good idea to target APA-accredited programs. If you're considering a master's degree or a specialized program like an education specialist degree in school psychology, prioritize programs accredited by NASP, MPCAC, or PCSAS.
Before applying to any psychology programs that lead to licensure, be sure to check:
- Whether the program qualifies for licensure in your state
- Whether the program holds the right accreditation for licensure
Attending an unaccredited psychology program can lead to limited job opportunities after graduation.
Accreditation allows the best programs to stand out to prospective students, employers, and licensing boards. No matter what degree you want or what type of psychology you're studying, always check for accreditation.