Navigating the world of postgraduate counseling programs can feel daunting, especially when trying to find the accredited counseling program that best fits your career goals. For many prospective students, one significant marker of a quality counseling program is its accreditation status, specifically, whether it’s accredited by a reputable organization, such as the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the specifics of CACREP-accredited online counseling programs, the importance of such accreditation, and how to find CACREP accredited schools.
Overview of CACREP Accredited Counseling Degree Programs
CACREP-accredited programs uphold high educational standards that ensure students receive the training and skills necessary to become competent counseling professionals. CACREP accredits hundreds of programs at the master’s and doctorate levels. No matter what level of counseling education you’re working to achieve, you’ll be able to find a CACREP-accredited online counseling degree program to meet your needs.
However, before choosing a program, it’s essential to consider factors such as your career aspirations, available time commitment, and preferred learning style. For many students, online programs offer increased flexibility, allowing them to balance their studies with other personal or professional responsibilities.
What Is CACREP?
CACREP is an independent agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) that accredits counseling and counseling-related programs. It has been in operation since 1981 and aims to promote the advancement of quality educational programs in counseling.
What Does CACREP Stand For?
CACREP stands for Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Is CACREP Accreditation Important?
CACREP accreditation is important for a few reasons. CACREP accredited schools are vetted for offering students a high-quality counseling education. Completing one of the many CACREP accredited programs in order to earn your counseling degree can make it easier to gain state licensure to work as a practicing counselor, rather than completing a program that is not CACREP accredited.
When you apply to counseling jobs after you complete your degree, employers and clients will know that you completed a rigorous, reliable counseling program that provided you with the real-world experience you need to support the mental health of the clients in your care.
Standards Reviewed During Accreditation Process
During the accreditation process, CACREP reviews several crucial elements to ensure that the program provides a comprehensive, high-quality education in counseling.
Here’s a look at some of the key standards reviewed by CACREP to determine whether a graduate program is worthy of accreditation:
- Curriculum Standards: The program’s curriculum must adhere to specific educational criteria defined by CACREP. These include the coverage of eight common core areas such as professional counseling orientation and ethical practice, social and cultural diversity, human growth and development, career development, counseling and helping relationships, group counseling and group work, assessment and testing, and research and program evaluation.
- Faculty Standards: Faculty qualifications are evaluated to ensure that instructors hold appropriate credentials and experience in their areas of teaching. This includes examining the faculty’s education, licensure or certification, professional experience, and ongoing professional development.
- Student Standards: Standards related to student treatment and outcomes are assessed. This includes policies for student selection, remediation, retention, and dismissal, as well as standards for student advising and support.
- Program Mission and Objectives: CACREP reviews the mission statement and objectives of the program to ensure that they align with CACREP’s mission and standards and that they guide the program’s operations and continuous improvement efforts.
- Practicum and Internship Standards: The program must provide adequate clinical training opportunities for students, including practicum and internship experiences. These experiences must meet specific hour requirements, supervision standards, and learning outcomes.
- Program Evaluation: CACREP reviews the program’s evaluation and improvement processes, including its system for gathering and using data about program operations, student learning outcomes, and graduate success.
- Student Support and Resources: The program must provide adequate resources and support services to students, including academic advising, accessibility services, and resources for online students, if applicable.
The comprehensive nature of the CACREP accreditation process means that accredited programs have been thoroughly vetted and meet high standards of quality, thus providing students with confidence in the value and rigor of their counseling education.
CACREP Accredited Online Counseling Program Curriculum
The curriculums of CACREP online counseling programs encompass a robust blend of theory, research, and practical applications.
While specific courses may vary between institutions and areas of specialty, all programs cover eight essential core areas set by CACREP. Below is a closer look at these core areas and the kind of topics you can expect to study:
- Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice: Courses in this area introduce students to the history and philosophy of the counseling profession, professional roles, ethical and legal considerations, and professional organizations.
- Social and Cultural Diversity: Courses focus on issues and trends related to social and cultural diversity, promoting the understanding and respect for cultural differences, social biases, and the influence of such factors on the counseling process.
- Human Growth and Development: Students learn about theories of human development across the lifespan, including physical, cognitive, and social aspects. Courses might cover theories of personality, human behavior, and learning.
- Career Development: This area covers the theories and models of career development, decision-making, and planning. It includes understanding work-related issues, career assessment, and career counseling strategies.
- Counseling and Helping Relationships: Students learn about the counseling relationship, counseling theories, counseling techniques, and counselor characteristics that contribute to effective helping relationships.
- Group Counseling and Group Work: These courses focus on theories and methods of group counseling, including the dynamics of group process, group leadership styles, and ethical considerations in group work.
- Assessment and Testing: Students are introduced to principles of assessment, tests and measurements used in counseling, and ethical and cultural considerations in assessment.
- Research and Program Evaluation: Courses in this area aim to help students understand the importance of research in advancing the counseling profession. Topics include research methods, statistical analysis, and program evaluation.
Aside from these core areas, most online counseling programs also require students to complete a practicum and an internship to gain hands-on experience in a supervised clinical setting.
It’s important to note that while all CACREP-accredited programs cover these core areas, each program may offer further areas of specialization, such as school counseling, marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, and others. These specializations will have additional coursework tailored to those specific areas of counseling.
Therefore, when exploring CACREP-accredited online counseling programs, you should also consider your areas of interest and career goals to select a program that offers relevant specializations.
If you’re not sure what type of specialization is the right fit for you, it may be helpful to take elective courses within your counseling program to learn more about the type of work that different specializations entail. This will provide you with the specific knowledge and skills required to succeed in your chosen counseling domain.
How Do You Find CACREP Accredited Counseling Programs?
To find CACREP-accredited programs, you can utilize the directory provided on the CACREP website. This tool allows you to search by institution, state, or program area, making it easier to find a program that fits your specific needs and interests.
Is CACREP Accredited Important for Counseling Programs?
Yes, the importance of choosing a CACREP-accredited counseling program cannot be understated, whether it’s an online or in-person program. Here are several key reasons why it’s important:
- High Educational Standards: CACREP accreditation ensures that the counseling program meets or exceeds the high educational standards set by the profession. These programs offer a curriculum based on a set of core areas defined by CACREP, which are designed to provide comprehensive knowledge and skills required for effective counseling practice.
- Promotion of Best Practices: Accredited programs promote best practices in counseling through their curriculum and training experiences. They align their teaching and practical experiences with current trends, research, and developments in the field.
- Greater Career Opportunities: Many employers, particularly in the public sector, favor graduates from CACREP-accredited programs because they are assured of the program’s quality. Graduates of these programs are also more competitive when applying for jobs.
- Licensure Requirements: In many states, graduation from a CACREP-accredited program is a requirement for licensure as a professional counselor. Even if it’s not mandatory in your state, it can simplify the licensure process as it ensures you’ve met certain educational requirements.
- Preparation for Doctoral Programs: If you plan on pursuing a doctoral degree in counseling in the future, a master’s degree from a CACREP-accredited program will generally be looked upon favorably by doctoral admissions committees.
- Assurance of Quality Education: When a program is CACREP accredited, it assures students that they will receive a quality education that meets the standards set by the counseling profession. This peace of mind can be vital when investing time, money, and effort into a counseling degree.
- Transferability of Credits: If you decide to transfer to another program or pursue further education, credits from a CACREP-accredited program are more likely to be accepted.
Choosing a CACREP-accredited program demonstrates a commitment to quality education and professional excellence. By doing so, prospective counselors set themselves up for success, ensuring they have the requisite knowledge and skills to thrive in diverse counseling settings. In many states, it’s also easier to earn your professional counseling license after completing a CACREP accredited graduate program.
How Do Online Counseling Degrees Become CACREP Accredited?
The process by which online counseling degrees become CACREP accredited involves several stages. These stages ensure that the program adheres to the highest standards of counselor education and that students are prepared for professional practice upon graduation. Here’s a detailed look at the process:
- Self-Study and Application: The process begins with the program conducting a comprehensive self-study. This involves reviewing all aspects of the program, including curriculum, faculty qualifications, student outcomes, and support services, among others. The purpose is to assess how well the program aligns with CACREP’s standards. After the self-study, the program applies for accreditation, along with a report documenting the results of the self-study.
- Review by CACREP: Once the application is received, CACREP conducts a detailed review of the self-study report. They assess the program’s alignment with its standards and identify any areas that require further information or clarification.
- Site Visit: After the review of the self-study report, a team of reviewers from CACREP visits the institution (this can be done virtually for online programs). During this visit, the team meets with faculty, students, and administrators; reviews additional documents; and observes classes (if possible) to validate the information in the self-study report.
- Review Team’s Report: Following the site visit, the review team prepares a report that includes their observations, findings, and recommendations. This report is submitted to CACREP.
- CACREP Board Review and Decision: The CACREP Board of Directors reviews the site visit report along with the program’s self-study report. The Board then makes a decision regarding the accreditation status of the program. If the program meets all the standards, it becomes CACREP accredited.
- Ongoing Review and Reaccreditation: Once a program is CACREP accredited, it is subject to ongoing review to ensure it continues to meet the standards. Typically, reaccreditation occurs every eight years, and the program must undergo a similar process as the initial accreditation.
Accreditation by CACREP is a rigorous process that assures the program’s commitment to maintaining the highest standards in counselor education. For students, it provides confidence that the program provides quality education and prepares them for professional practice.
How Long Does CACREP Accreditation Last?
Once a program receives CACREP accreditation, the accreditation lasts for eight years.
During this period, the program must continue to meet CACREP’s standards and demonstrate continuous improvement. As the accreditation term nears its end, the program must undergo the accreditation process again to maintain its accredited status.
Is CACREP Accreditation Required for Licensure?
While licensure requirements vary by state, many state licensing boards require or strongly prefer applicants to have graduated from a CACREP-accredited program. Therefore, attending a CACREP-accredited program can increase your eligibility for licensure and make the licensure process smoother.
If you’re not sure whether your state prefers that you complete a CACREP-accredited program before applying for your counseling license, be sure to learn more about what you’ll need to do in order to practice legally.
Some non-CACREP-accredited programs are accepted at the state level, but you’ll likely be required to go through additional supervision hours in order to gain licensure if you choose a program that has not been vetted by CACREP.
Additionally, if you intend to move between states in the future, having a degree from a CACREP-accredited program can make it easier to meet the licensure requirements in your new state, as CACREP accreditation is widely recognized across the country.
Finding Your CACREP Accredited Institution
As mentioned above, CACREP accredits hundreds of graduate schools. Using the CACREP site directory mentioned above can help you learn more about whether the program you’re considering is accredited or is in the process of becoming accredited.
No matter what your higher education needs, you have options if you’re searching for CACREP accredited programs. Since the pandemic, CACREP accredited online counseling programs have become more common. There are also hundreds of traditional CACREP accredited programs if you prefer an in-classroom experience.
Choosing to pursue a CACREP-accredited online counseling program is a significant decision that can positively influence your career trajectory in counseling. These programs meet rigorous standards, ensuring you receive a high-quality education that prepares you for the challenges and rewards of a career in counseling.
Whether you’re looking to work in schools, mental health centers, private practice, or another setting, a CACREP online counseling program can provide the solid foundation needed to succeed in the field of counseling. Remember, however, to thoroughly research and consider multiple programs before deciding on the one that aligns best with your career goals, state licensure requirements, and personal circumstances.