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Do you love helping others and learning about what makes families tick? If you do, have you ever asked yourself what is an MFT therapist or  considered a career in marriage and family therapy. To become a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), you must complete the necessary behavioral science and educational requirements. 

A Marriage Family Therapy degree program can help prepare you for licensure as a marriage and family therapist. 

However, you won’t step out of the therapy education classroom and instantly be a qualified MFT—there are several other steps you’ll need to complete before you can begin working with clients. This handy guide walks you through the ins and outs of an MFT program and how to choose the best one for your MFT student  needs.

MFT Degree Programs 101: What You Can Expect

Before you fully commit to the decision to go back to school to become a licensed marriage and family therapist, it can be helpful to learn more about what to expect a family therapy graduate program. Will you as a MFT student  be in the classroom for several hours every day? How long will your family therapy graduate program last? What does licensing require?

First, let’s start with program admission requirements.

MFT Degree Program Admission Requirements

The specific requirements of an MFT graduate degree program might vary depending on the institution you apply to. However, some basic therapy program admission criteria typically involve:

  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of at least 3.0
  • Some coursework in psychology or social work
  • Test scores (GRE or other)
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Copy of your resume
  • Letter/s of recommendation

The materials you’ll need might vary based on both your experiences and the school you select.

Typical MFT Program Coursework

Each family therapy program has its nuances, but to meet COAMFTE accreditation standards effective as of 2018, your general coursework must cover:1

  • Basic theories and models of practice
  • Clinical treatment competencies
  • Treatment of diverse communities
  • Research skills
  • Legal and ethical responsibilities
  • Lifespan development
  • Mental health diagnosis and treatment

Along with courses covering these topics, your program may require electives in areas of specific interest to you, MFT vs MSW, this same rule applies. 

The classroom portion of an MFT degree can be expected to take about 2 years for most full-time students and more than 2 years for part-time attendees.

MFT Clinical Fieldwork

After you finish your classroom requirements, you must also complete clinical fieldwork. This can give you time to practice your skills with clients. The requirements for fieldwork vary by state and generally fall somewhere between 1,500 to 4,000 total hours of client contact2. Of this contact time, a specific amount must be supervised by a licensed, experienced MFT.

MFT Licensure

Typically, the final step to becoming an MFT is to meet the requirements for and pass the licensing exam. Each state has its own licensing board and requirements for licensure but all states require:3

  • Completion of a master’s or doctoral degree in the field
  • Supervised clinical experience

The exam you’ll take will evaluate your knowledge in several key areas, including:4

  • Maintaining legal and ethical standards of practice
  • Crisis management
  • Designing treatment plans
  • Conducting treatment
  • Evaluating treatment outcomes
  • Assessment
  • Practice of MFT

It’s important to note that there isn’t a consistent passing score for this exam. Instead, the scoring process accounts for variations in test questions and adjusts the passing score up or down as needed. 

Continuing Education Requirements

Once you receive your MFT license, you’ll need to keep your skills up-to-date by taking continuing education units (CEUs) and renewing your license. The specific requirements for CEUs and license renewal vary by state, but can be expected to include something similar to the following:5

  • Apply for renewal approximately every 2 years
  • Complete between 20 to 45 hours of CEUs during the 2-years between renewals
  • Pay a fee to renew the license
  • Attend workshops or conferences with other MFTs

Since the field of therapy is constantly changing, it’s critical to stay on top of the latest best practices for your clients.

Top Tips for Selecting the Best MFT Program for Your Needs

Now that you know what is MFT degree, you can sift through the many programs out there to find the best one for you. To make the process a little easier, we’ve put together the four C’s of choosing an MFT program:6

  • Check program accreditation
  • Compare program reputations and resources
  • Consider how you’d like to learn
  • Calculate the costs of attendance

Using these four metrics as your guide can help you make an informed decision about your education. Let’s explore each metric in more detail below. 

Tip #1: Check the Program’s Accreditation 

The first part of picking an MFT program should be to ensure that the program is accredited. A program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) meets the commission’s standards for:6

  • Educational outcomes
  • Commitment to diversity and inclusion
  • Resources and support for students
  • Curriculum contents and quality
  • Program effectiveness 

To meet these standards, the program must include several important components that directly impact you, the student:

  • Faculty must be licensed MFTs
  • Policies must be easily accessible and transparent
  • Diversity must be reflected in program composition
  • Programs must demonstrate evidence of graduate achievement

When you invest time and money into graduate school (or any education program) you want to be confident that it’s worthwhile. Accreditation acts as an insurance policy to protect student interests by ensuring programs deliver what they promise. 

You can check a program’s accreditation status by using the Directory of COAMFTE Accredited Programs.

Tip #2: Compare the Reputation and Resources of the Programs

After checking that the program you’re considering is accredited, you should take the time to do a little more research. Graduate programs usually aren’t a one-size-fits-all adventure, so what might be ideal for your friend might not work for you. 

One way to do this is to be a critical consumer by:

  • Visiting campus – Visiting campus (virtually or in-person) and speaking with current students about their experiences can help give you insight into what it’s like to study there. You can also speak with instructors and see if your goals are a good fit for the way they teach.
  • Speaking with potential employers – If a program is known for producing prepared graduates, others in the field will likely know about it. Ask around about the reputation of the program or programs you’re considering to get a feel for what other professionals think about the graduates.
  • Researching the school’s resources – Does the school have the resources you need to be successful? Whether this comes in the form of academic assistance, library access, or other services, you should confirm that you’ll be able to get what you need to succeed.

Tip #3: Consider How You’d Like to Learn

Generally speaking, students today have more options than past pupils. The advent of technology has allowed for more flexibility in learning programs that cater to:

  • How you like to learn
  • What best fits with your schedule and other responsibilities

This means that degree programs that may have been impossible for people with full-time jobs or families to consider in the past might now be possible. You can typically find MFT degree programs in different formats, including:

  • Online – Online degree programs might be a good choice if you don’t want to commit to going to a campus for your coursework. Instead, you can participate in class from anywhere through the use of a laptop or other device. If your school of choice isn’t geographically close to you, remote coursework can allow you to attend without traveling.
  • Face-to-face – Some students may prefer a traditional, face-to-face learning environment. When you have to be present in a classroom, you keep that part of your schedule clear from other commitments. Some students may also like the ability to speak with their instructors and classmates in person rather than remotely.
  • Hybrid – Hybrid learning models combine online and face-to-face learning. Some of your work will be completed remotely, and you’ll have regular in-person meetings. Hybrid learning can be a nice way to balance commitments if you have a busy schedule but want the opportunity to have some in-person classroom time.

Tip #4: Calculate the Costs

Graduate programs can be expensive. When you’re narrowing down your options, there are several factors to consider that may help you manage the costs, such as:

  • Can you apply for financial aid?
  • Does your employer offer tuition reimbursement?
  • Can you save money by completing the degree requirement more quickly?
  • Will an online program save money on transportation and housing costs?

Remember too that tuition and fees are only part of the cost of attending graduate school. You’ll also likely have to pay for books, supplies, and licensing fees. Understanding the full cost can help you make an informed decision about your education.

Consider an MFT Degree from Alliant

If you’re interested in becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist, an accredited program can help ensure you’re learning industry-standard material taught by qualified instructors. This, in turn, can help prepare you to take the licensing exams required by your state. 

If you want an accredited online program that allows for greater flexibility, Alliant MFT program might be a good fit. Explore our Marriage and Family Therapy Graduate Programs today to learn more.


  1. “Accreditation Standards.” Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education. January 2018.…. Accessed February 11, 2022.
  2. “State Licensure Comparison,” Associate of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Board. 2018. Accessed February 11, 2022.
  3. “MFT Licensing Boards.” American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.…. Accessed February 11, 2022.
  4. “Examination in Marriage and Family Therapy.” Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. 2017. Accessed February 11, 2022.
  5. “AMFTRB State Continuing Competency Chart.” Associate of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. Accessed February 11, 2022.
  6.  “Accreditation Standards.” Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education. January 2018.…. Accessed February 11, 2022.

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