There are many counseling programs and specialized counseling programs in America today. As we learn more about the developmental, emotional and psychological needs of people in every stage of their lives, we create counseling careers and specialized professions to accommodate and support those who may require assistance with certain tasks, or to pass certain personal, professional or academic milestones. The CACREP certification is a prestigious accreditation for counseling and specialized counseling programs, which is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Its merits are acknowledged by counseling programs at prestigious colleges and universities across the United States, as well as elsewhere throughout the rest of the world.
Its merits aside, however, how important is CACREP accreditation? Is it a vital point of recognition for any counseling program to be taken seriously — and is its absence, in itself, a red flag to potential students? Should it be?
What Does CACREP Do?
The role of certification in the world of accredited college programs is that of a standardizing body. CACREP sets the minimum standards that a counseling or specialized counseling program must meet, if it is to be considered "CACREP certified." The number of contact hours that students are required to obtain with clients (as well as, simultaneously, any limitation set on such) constitutes just one of the many standards defined by this particular accrediting body. A college program is not directly "in trouble" if they don't adhere to these standards; they simply won't qualify for certification. This, in itself, does present a problem. As a worldwide recognized standard for quality and excellence in academic achievement, recognition by CACREP is taken almost as a given by many prestigious universities and employers. Lack of this certification may lead some to wonder what standards the program was incapable of meeting, which other schools have met without difficulty.
How Important is Accreditation?
The entire academic industry is built on the concept of accreditation. A college degree is a recognized institution's assertion that you have received a quality education in a certain subject matter, and that you as such should be capable of functioning at a certain level of personal expertise. Accreditation can be seen, in many respects, as a degree program's "college degree." It assures that a wide range of basic standards of academic excellence are met. It also provides reassurance that, yes, quality education is being afforded with relevance to a particular subject matter.
Can I Become a Counselor Without a CACREP Certified Degree?
There are counseling programs in existence which benefit from broadly defined academic accreditations other than CACREP, which are typically levied at the parent institution. There are a wide range of reasons why an institution's programs in a given area might not carry the highest level of accreditation available to their area of study, and not all of those reasons are due to lax standards. Overall, it is possible to acquire a degree in counseling without CACREP certification, but doing so will make the pursuit of a career in counseling a more difficult prospect. Employers will give preferential choice to individuals with better accreditation, and going into business for yourself will be made more difficult by what financial institutions will see as underqualified professional training.
An accredited academic program, in counseling as in any field, improves your chances of finding employment after graduation. Should you seek to continue your education subsequently, it improves your chances of being accepted into the institution of your choice. It makes a range of professional prospects easier, such as finding loans and partners to open up an independent counseling practice. CACREP accreditation is not vital, but it is an important step in ensuring compliance with widely recognized standards. As such, it is a benefit to any counseling student's future career.