What is APA Accreditation?
When you invest in your education, you probably want it to pay off. That starts with choosing a reputable institution that can provide you quality education, esteemed faculty, and above all, a degree recognized by the field of psychology at the end of your program. But how can you tell if that’s the case?
You need to look for one critical component of quality higher education: accreditation.
Students pursuing a degree in psychology should seek out an APA-accredited program. This means that the specific program—doctoral internship, or postdoctoral residency—has been accredited by the American Psychological Association and will abide by the standards they’ve set forth. To help you make the best decision, we’ve put together this helpful guide regarding the ins and outs of APA-accredited doctoral degree programs and why it’s so important to choose one.
How Does a Psychology Program Become APA Accredited?
For a program to meet the APA standards of accreditation, it must pass several reviews of quality assurance. From the initial registration to the final accreditation approval, the process can be lengthy.
According to the APA itself, full accreditation involves registering online with the Commission of Accreditation (CoA) plus five essential steps:1
- A program submits a self-study
- The self-study is reviewed by the APA
- If approved, certified professionals conduct a site visit
- The site visit team writes a report on their findings
- The CoA committee reviews the report to ensure all standards are met, resulting in either accreditation or denial
So what happens during each step to ensure that the institution is of high quality and reputable status?
Step #1: Institutional Program Submits a Self-Study
A self-study is a comprehensive document that discusses all aspects of the specific program that the institution is submitting for consideration. The exact requirements will differ each year and between doctoral, internship, and post-doctoral residency programs.
For most programs seeking review in 2022, self-studies should include:2
- Program objectives
- Basic institutional policies and practices
- Resident, intern, or student statistics
- Program faculty or training supervisors
- Financial resources and allocation
- Educational and support services
- Required student competencies
- Student outcome data
These details help the APA assess a doctoral program’s readiness to meet the standards for accreditation.
Step #2: The APA Reviews the Self-Study
Once a program has submitted a self-study, it must wait for the APA to review the document.
Based on the Standards of Accreditation for Health Service Psychology, the APA is looking for proof that, among other things, the program:3
- Prepares students with “discipline-specific knowledge” and competencies required by the profession, using learning methods that relate to the program’s stated goals
- Evaluates students on all profession-specific and program-specific skills
- Employs a supportive, available faculty to assist students in their learning, and a stable, credentialed leadership team
- Accepts students based on prior achievements, industry interest, and relevant aptitudes that mirror the program’s stated aims
- Has a plan in place to maximize student success through program activities, concrete feedback, and student retention efforts
These major accreditation cornerstones are also features that most students will want in a doctoral degree program—this is yet another reason to seek out an APA-accredited institution and program.
Step #3: An On-Site Review Is Conducted
If the self-study is approved by the CoA, the APA will send a team of certified professionals to perform a more comprehensive on-site review. In-person site visits often span multiple days and can include:
- Meetings with administrators and faculty
- Interviews with current students
- Observations of the institution’s practices
This provides site visit teams with an in-depth look into how the program actually operates, in addition to the written statements provided during the self-study.
Step #4: The Review Team Compiles and Submits a Report
Within 30 days of a site visit, the observation team will write a comprehensive report about the program. This report is submitted to the CoA and the institution seeking accreditation.
The site team is not responsible for approving or denying a program’s accreditation; instead, they meticulously evaluate what they’ve seen against the APA’s Standards of Accreditation (SoA), using clear, evaluative metrics. They’ll answer any specific questions from the CoA and can choose to leave comments at their own discretion, to better inform the CoA’s subsequent review.
Step #5: The Committee Makes a Decision
Based on all this information, the CoA will decide whether or not the program will become or remain accredited—however, it’s a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no answer.
There are multiple different levels of accreditation, lack thereof, and intermediary status:4
- Fully accredited – The gold standard of accreditation, this means the program meets all SoA and will only need to be reviewed and re-accredited after up to 10 years.
- Accredited, on contingency – This status indicates full compliance with the SoA but a lack of required outcome data.
- Denial of accreditation or denial of accredited, on contingency – These actions refer to programs that wholly fail to meet the CoA’s SoA.
Beyond these three initial decisions, there are several other possible designations that the CoA can make:
- Accredited, inactive – A previously accredited program can request inactive status if they’re not accepting an incoming class of students.
- Accredited, on probation – A previously accredited program that fails to continuously uphold the APA’s standards will receive this adverse status, which it can challenge and reverse by showing compliance.
- Revocation of accreditation – This increasingly adverse status indicates that an “accredited, on probation” program failed to provide substantive, convincing evidence to support its re-accreditation.
Accreditation doesn’t last forever so even existing accredited programs must resubmit their information and go through the process every 3 to 10 years. As a student, you should feel comforted knowing that your program is under regular observation to ensure that it continues to meet APA standards.
How Does APA Accreditation Differ from Institutional Accreditation?
You may find an institution that claims they’re accredited. This might be true but it doesn’t mean that the specific psychology degree program you’re interested in is APA accredited.
Institutional and program accreditation are two different things:5
- Institutional accreditation – Regional and national accrediting bodies accredit entire institutions. These bodies certify that a higher education institution meets specific standards as set by the region. This accreditation doesn’t apply to specific programs within the institution, only the school itself.
- Program accreditation – Specific programs are accredited by specialized or professional accreditors. The APA is a professional accreditor for pre-doctoral internships, psychology graduate programs, and postdoctoral residency in the field of psychology. These accrediting bodies ensure specific programs meet current industry standards.
How Can You Verify a Program’s APA Accreditation?
The most accurate way to verify a program’s APA accreditation is to visit the APA’s website. The website has a search tool that you can use to filter accreditation results by:
- Specific degree program
It’s important to make sure that the specific program you’re interested in is APA accredited, as well as the institution itself. Sometimes, one or two programs at an institution might be accredited while others are not.
Why Is APA Accreditation Important?
Now that you know the answer to the question, what is APA accreditation, let’s examine why it matters. APA accreditation ensures that psychology degree programs are:7
- Meeting standards – The field of psychology is constantly changing. A program accredited by the APA is required to keep up with new information and evolving standards.
- Following best practices – The APA also advises institutions on the best practices in psychology. It ensures that the skills you learn give you the background you need to perform your job safely and effectively.
- Using industry experts to teach – Teachers in APA-accredited programs are professionals in the industry. You’ll be able to receive industry-specific supervised experience training and answers to your questions.
Accreditation is quality control for educational institutions. It ensures that you’re receiving a professional education that adheres to industry standards.
What Are the Benefits of Choosing an Accredited Program?
APA accreditation isn’t only important while you’re in school. Attending an accredited institution and degree program may have lasting positive impacts on your future psychology or psychopharmacology career. For example, you may graduate with:
- Relevant skills – Since you’re learning from leaders in your field, according to an approved curriculum and training modules, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to likely finish your degree with highly applicable and sought-after skills.
- Easier paths to licensure – Many states require graduation from an APA-accredited program as a part of the licensing process. Furthermore, students who graduate from an accredited institution may be better prepared to pass their professional licensure examinations.
- Exciting career options – A degree from an APA-accredited program may be enticing to some employers. For some, an APA accreditation is an indication of preparedness, professionalism, and industry-specific compliance.
Alliant International University: An APA-Accredited Institution for Psychology Degree Programs
The accreditation process acts as quality control for higher education institutions. To be accredited by the APA, schools must submit a self-study of their programs and pass an on-site institutional review. This ensures students receive instruction that meets industry standards. APA accreditation is also required for licensure by many states.
You can rest comfortably when you choose one of our nine advanced degrees in Clinical Psychology, all individually accredited by the APA. For exciting potential career opportunities and dedicated faculty, choose Alliant International University’s psychology program.
- “FAQs about Accreditation.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 2015. https://www.apa.org/support/accreditation. Accessed: December 30, 2021.
“Self-Study Information.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. https://www.accreditation.apa.org/accreditation-process/self-study. Accessed: December 30, 2021.
“Standards of Accreditation for Health Service Psychology and Accreditation Operating Procedures.” American Psychology Association, 2018.
“Standards of Accreditation for Health Service Psychology and Accreditation Operating Procedures.” American Psychology Association, 2018. https://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/about/policies/standards-of-accreditation.pdf. Accessed: December 30, 2021.
“FAQs about Accreditation.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 2015. https://www.apa.org/support/accreditation. Accessed: December 30, 2021.
“APA-Accredited Programs.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. https://www.accreditation.apa.org/accredited-programs. Accessed: December 30, 2021
“Why APA Accreditation Matters.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. https://accreditation.apa.org/why-accreditation-matters. Accessed: December 30, 2021.