What is the purpose of accreditation?

Accreditation is a process that assures the educational community and the general public that an institution or a program has clearly defined and appropriate objectives and maintains conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected. It encourages improvement through continuous self-study and review. It fosters excellence in postsecondary education through the development of principles and guidelines for assessing educational effectiveness.

What is accreditation?

Accreditation is both a status and a process. As a status, accreditation provides public notification that an institution or program meets standards of quality set forth by an accrediting agency. As a process, accreditation reflects the fact that in achieving recognition by the accrediting agency, the institution or program is committed to self-study and external review by one's peers in seeking not only to meet standards but to continuously seek ways in which to enhance the quality of education and training provided.

Psychology's accrediting body, the Commission on Accreditation (CoA), publishes guidelines and procedures by which its accreditation process is carried out. It also publishes a list of accredited programs annually in the December edition of the American Psychologist.

What is the difference between APA accreditation and institutional accreditation?

The APA Commission on Accreditation is a specialized/professional accreditor. This means that APA accreditation only extends to specific doctoral graduate programs, predoctoral internships and postdoctoral residencies in professional psychology. The accredited status of one specific program does not extend to other programs in the same department or institution.

Regional accreditation covers entire institutions. There are six regional accrediting bodies in the United States, and each is authorized to accredit institutions in specific states, divided by geographic region.  APA-accredited doctoral graduate programs must be housed in an institution that has regional accreditation. However, an institution may hold regional accreditation and not have any APA-accredited programs.

For more information on regional accrediting bodies, please visit their websites:

National accreditation also covers entire institutions, and national accrediting agencies operate across the entire United States. Many of their accredited institutions are single-purpose (such as for education in technology) or faith-based.

Prospective students are encouraged to inquire of programs directly what type of accreditation they, or the institutions in which they are housed, hold. Such status can be confirmed with the appropriate regional, national or specialized/professional accrediting body.

Why are “degree mills” and “accreditation mills” harmful?

Degree mills (also known as diploma mills) are institutions that award academic degrees and diplomas with substandard or no academic study. Sometimes such institutions claim to be accredited by an accreditation mill — agencies that claim to be providers of accreditation and quality assurance without a proper basis (recognition by an external agency such as the U.S. Department of Education or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation). Both degree and accreditation mills mislead students and have harmful consequences. In the United States, such degrees may not be acknowledged by other institutions, employers, licensing boards, credentialing agencies and other groups. A program or institution’s “accreditation” from an accreditation mill can mislead students and the public about the quality of that program/institution. Thus, students may spend money and not receive a proper credential or a useable credential. More information about degree and accreditation mills can be found on the Council of Higher Education Accreditation website.

What kinds of programs are accredited?

Doctoral graduate programs in:

  • Clinical psychology.

  • Counseling psychology.

  • School psychology.

  • Combinations of two or three of those areas.

Predoctoral internships in the above areas may be accredited.

Postdoctoral residencies in traditional (clinical, counseling, school) or specialty areas of professional psychology are also accredited.

The CoA does not accredit master's level or undergraduate level programs in psychology.

What is the purpose of accreditation?

Accreditation is a process that assures the educational community and the general public that an institution or a program has clearly defined and appropriate objectives and maintains conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected. It encourages improvement through continuous self-study and review. It fosters excellence in postsecondary education through the development of principles and guidelines for assessing educational effectiveness.

Why is accreditation important?

Although graduating from an accredited program does not guarantee jobs or licensure for individuals, it may facilitate such achievement. It reflects the quality by which an educational institution or a program conducts its business. It speaks to a sense of public trust, as well as to professional quality.

As a student: Accreditation provides assurance that the program in which you are enrolled or are considering enrolling is engaged in continuous review and improvement of its quality, that it meets nationally endorsed standards in the profession, and that it is accountable for achieving what it sets out to do.

As a faculty member: Accreditation provides a formal process for ongoing evaluation and improvement of your program and faculty development outcomes, a process by which faculty, students, and administration can work together in advancing the educational institution's mission.

As a psychologist: Accreditation provides a forum in which educators and practitioners of psychology can exchange ideas on future needs of the profession and ways in which to best address these needs in professional education and training.

As a member of the public: Accreditation ensures public accountability of a program or an institution -- that it has the means and demonstrates the outcomes for its educational process that are consistent with its goals and objectives; in other words, that there is 'truth in advertising.'

What are the different statuses of accreditation and what do they mean?

The following decisions are available to the Commission on Accreditation (CoA) with respect to the accredited status of a program:

For All Programs
  1. Accredited” designates a program, which, in the professional judgment of the CoA, is consistent, substantively and procedurally, with the Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology (G&P) (PDF, 460KB). The CoA grants accreditation for 3-7 years from the last date of the site visit. The number of years granted is based on the professional judgment of the CoA consistent with the following guideline: 
  • 7 Year Guideline: Compliance or substantial compliance with all domains of the Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation (G&P). No serious deficiencies.
  • 5 Year Guideline: Multiple minor deficiencies exist and/or deficiencies have been recently corrected.
  • 3 Year Guideline: Program resource concerns, instability and/or serious deficiencies remain, but can be corrected in the near future (minor deficiencies typically addressed in the next self-study.)
  1. Accredited, inactive” differs by program type. 

  • Doctoral programs: This status designates a doctoral program that has not admitted students for two successive years or has provided the CoA with notice that it had decided to phase out and close the program. Requests for inactive status are granted for one year at a time. Request for renewal of inactive status must be done on an annual basis. Programs not granted renewal of inactive status may be placed on probation.
  • Internship and Postdoctoral Residency programs: This status designates a one-year internship or postdoctoral residency program that will not be accepting funded interns/residents for a given training year. In the case of an internship or postdoctoral residency program that takes 2 years to complete, the program may be designated as “accredited, inactive” if the program undergoes a period of 2 successive years with no funded interns/residents.
  1. Accredited, on probation” is considered by the CoA to be an adverse action. Although it is an accredited status, it is considered by the CoA to be an adverse action that serves as notice to the program, its students/interns/residents and the public that in the professional judgment of the CoA, the accredited program is not consistent with the G&P and may have its accreditation revoked. Prior to this designation, a program is provided an opportunity to show cause why it should not be placed on probation by providing a written response to the issues of concern. This status is appealable within 30 days of receipt of written notice of the CoA decision. The timeframe for a program to come into compliance differs by program type:

  • Doctoral programs: A program not coming into compliance within four (4) CoA meetings after the show cause notice is assigned “accredited, on probation” status.
  • Internship and Postdoctoral Residency programs: A program not coming into compliance within two (2) CoA meetings after the show cause notice is assigned “accredited, on probation” status. In the case of a school psychology internship program that is 10 months in length, the program must provide a response within one (1) CoA meeting after the probation decision was reached.
  1. Revocation of accreditation” is considered by the CoA to be an adverse action. It designates a program that has previously been on "accredited, on probation" status for which the CoA has evidence that the program continues to be inconsistent with the G&P. This decision reflects the CoA's determination that the program will not become consistent with the G&P within a foreseeable time.

  2. Denial of accreditation” is considered by the CoA to be an adverse action. It designates an applicant program for which the CoA has evidence that the program is inconsistent with the G&P.

  3. Denial of a site visit” is considered by the CoA to be an adverse action. It designates and applicant program which, in the professional judgment of the CoA, is not ready for a site visit.

For Internship and Postdoctoral Residency Programs:
  1. Accredited, on contingency” designates an internship/residency program that, in the professional judgment of the CoA, is consistent, substantively and procedurally, with the G&P with the exception of the provision of adequate and appropriate proximal and distal outcome data. A program that is “accredited, on contingency” must provide outcome data for trainees in the program and program graduates by the time two cohorts have completed the program. At a maximum this will be 2 years for full-time internships and 4 years for full-time residency programs that are more than 1 year in duration. Failure to do so will lead to a loss of accreditation following completion of the program by the interns/residents currently on-site at the program. Programs that are “accredited, on contingency” may be eligible for a second term of “accredited, on contingency” only under extenuating circumstances. The maximum amount of time a program can be “accredited, on contingency” is 4 years in total. Please note that programs are not required to apply for “accredited, on contingency” prior to applying for full accreditation.

  2. Denial of accredited, on contingency” is considered by the CoA to be an adverse action. It designates an applicant program that, in the professional judgment of the CoA, is substantively inconsistent with the G&P. Prior to this decision, the program is given an opportunity to show cause why it should not be denied accreditation through a written response to the issues of concern.