COAMFTE vs CACREP Accreditation: What’s the Difference?

Jessica White

Written by Jessica White

Community Mental Health Worker & Case Manager

Updated & Fact Checked: 01/31/24

In this article, we are going to discuss and compare COAMFTE and CACREP: two organizations that accredit marriage and family therapy (MFT) and/or other types of counseling master’s degree programs across the United States. Becoming familiar with what accreditation is, its importance, and the difference between accrediting organizations may be helpful when determining where to earn a higher education as a therapist or counselor. Programs that are accredited by one or the other can even make a difference in things like how easy it is to move states, how long you are in school, and how prepared you are to take the licensing exam. Ultimately, though, COAMFTE and CACREP aren’t too different at the surface, so diving into their individual benefits can help you decide which accreditation to look for when figuring out which program to attend.

Why is accreditation important?

Enrolling in an accredited master’s program is an important decision for your academic and professional career. In order to earn a MFT or other license, state licensing boards typically require an applicant to have earned their degree from an accredited program. Many state boards prefer the COAMFTE as the accrediting organization of the educational institution where their employee attended. However, 27 states also accept CACREP accreditation, as it meets the same qualifications as COAMFTE in the eyes of those states. 

Accreditation is important because it encourages schools to meet certain quality standards within their specific programs, so that students graduate adequately prepared for their career. Accrediting organizations work to improve the quality of their programs. For COAMFTE and CACREP, this means marriage and family therapy or counseling programs. The goals of a high quality program should be one that prepares you not just for your exam, but also for your future career. There are many individuals involved within each organization that work to make that happen, including figuring out what “good quality” looks like in the classroom and how it applies post graduation for future generations. 

Another reason to attend an accredited program is for future employment. Many organizations may mandate that applicants have graduated from one of the accredited programs, and some even specify which one they require. This is due to a lot of reasons, but it can be summed up as the organization feels that accreditation provides the most adequate and quality education.

What is COAMFTE?

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), established in 1974, is one of the main accrediting agencies for marriage and family therapy educational and training programs. The organization accredits masters and doctoral degree programs, as well as clinical training programs for post-graduates. The goal of the COAMFTE, per their website, is to “promote best practices for MFT educational programs through the establishment, review, and revision of accreditation standards and policies, and the accreditation of graduate and post-graduate educational programs”. The Council on Higher Education (CHEA) recognizes the COAMFTE as the only agency responsible for accrediting MFT programs in Canada and the United States. The COAMFTE works with the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA). ASPA is a non-profit that is also dedicated to promoting high-quality education, and as such, ensures that the COAMFTE works using innovative best practices when going through the process of accrediting educational institutions and developing the criteria.

Benefits of COAMFTE

Attending a COAMFTE-accredited school is worth the investment if you want to become a marriage and family therapist, both while you are in school and once you have entered your profession. 

You can feel assured that you are receiving a high-quality education while preparing for a rewarding but potentially demanding career, and receive said education from instructors who are dedicated to and familiar with the field. The requirements implemented into MFT programs are the most highly accepted in the US, so it allows a student to transfer their license between states more easily. The same requirements help you prepare for your licensing exam. COAMFTE is a recognizable accreditation that may be helpful when trying to obtain employment as an MFT. Another benefit is that the National Health Corps Service (NHSC) offers the chance for student loan reimbursement for those who qualify and commit to serving two years at a NHSC-approved site. Another main benefit of attending a COAMFTE-accredited program is that you will be able to apply for and grow within jobs in veteran’s association organizations. Even though CACREP is trying to change this, only therapists who have attended COAMFTE-accredited programs are eligible to climb the ladder, and is strongly preferred for employment as well. 

Once you are a marriage and family therapist, there are benefits to joining the membership offered by the organization. This includes things like member discounts, insurance, news subscriptions and journals, and more, depending on qualifications.

Master’s Programs accredited by COAMFTE

The COAMFTE website has a directory of accredited programs across the US. The programs may be offered online or in-person. Each of them offer a master of arts (MA), master of science (MS), or PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. 

To be admitted into a COAMFTE- accredited marriage and family therapy program, you may have to submit different items that are dependent on the school. However, they frequently include: 

  • Having earned at least a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate studies and/or the GRE
  • A bachelor’s degree from a regionally-accredited institution
  • Transcripts from all schools attended 
  • An application fee
  • A statement of interest/goals
  • Letters of recommendations (two to four, usually, depending on the school)
  • Resume of professional or academic experience 

Below is an example of COAMFTE-accredited programs.

Alliant International University – California (Irvine, Los Angelos, San DIego, or Sacramento)

  • Program: Master of Arts (MA) in Marital and Family Therapy
  • Offered online
  • 60 credits over six semesters (two years)
  • Chemical Dependency specialization track
  • Cost: $1,355 per credit for on-campus format and $1,052 per credit for on-campus format

Texas Wesleyan University – Fort Worth, Texas

Nova Southeastern University – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Antioch University – Seattle, Washington

  • Program: Master of Arts in Couple and Family Therapy
  • Offered in a blended/hybrid format
  • Requires the completion of 77 quarter credits 
  • Can be completed in 3.5 years on average, as few as 2.25 years, and six years maximum
  • Cost: $834 per credit

What is CACREP?

The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), founded in 1960, works to develop and maintain standards for counseling programs across the United States. The goal of CACREP, like the COAMFTE, promotes innovation and excellence in educational programs for counseling. The organization is made up of leaders and experts who are passionate about the field and want to make it better for their communities and those who are enrolled in higher education. CACREP strives to make their education programs help prepare students to become independent and professional counselors who follow a code of ethics. This assessment of quality is done through a peer-reviewed system, where programs submit a study they did of themselves, which is then assessed by professionals in the field like counselors and counselor educators. The ultimate goal of CACREP, along with promoting the development and improvement of counseling programs, is to help prepare professionals who understand human development to the highest ideal. 

The kinds of counseling programs that CACREP accredits include:

  • School counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Clinical mental health counseling 
  • And more

Benefits of CACREP

CACREP-accredited organizations are considered institutional. As a result, they are required to address issues at the institutional level. This means that the program focuses on issues such as how affordable a program is, financial aid, and student resources. This can provide many benefits to students. Additionally, if a program seeks CACREP accreditation, they are stating that they want to be held accountable for the education they are providing and are focused on accomplishing their mission. Students can be assured that they will be prepared for their exam and their careers in counseling. Upon graduation, students will have a wide variety of employment opportunities.

Master’s Programs accredited by CACREP

The CACREP website offers a directory to those who are interested in looking into accredited schools. It offers information on programs that are currently and were previously accredited and schools that are in process. 

The requirements to qualify for a CACREP-accredited counseling program may differ between states and universities, but if you want to apply for one, you might expect the following:

  • To have earned a bachelor’s degree, ideally in something related to counseling like psychology, sociology, or social work.
  • Have a good GPA of at least 3.0 in your undergraduate work.
  • Fill out the application for the school.
  • Submit transcripts
  • Submit a resume with educational and professional experience. 
  • Submit letters of recommendation (usually two to four depending on the school). 

Below is an example of some CACREP-accredited schools offering different kinds of counseling programs.

Appalachian State University – Boone, North Carolina

Barry University – Miami Shores, Florida

California State University, Sacramento – Sacramento, California

  • Program: Master of Science in Career Counseling
  • Offered on campus
  • 60 units that can be completed in three years of full time enrollment 
  • Career Counseling concentration 
  • Cost: $12,602 per year

Walden University – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Summary: COAMFTE vs CACREP

You have now learned about the importance of accreditation in receiving a quality education, as well as the difference between the two important accrediting organizations: COAMFTE and CACREP. With this information, you can choose a program that is best suited to your future career goals. One of the biggest differences between the two, besides the ability to move states, is the number of hours with clients that students are required to complete in their practicum. COAMFTE requires more hours, which can on occasion cause some difficulty for some students and can lead to a higher tuition cost, as it takes longer to graduate. However, it does allow students to gain more experience under the supervision of a licensed professional and receive feedback before graduating. 

Below is a summary of other differences between the two organizations for future reference.

  • COAMFTE accredits marriage and family therapy programs only, while CACREP accredits a wide variety of counseling programs.
  • Both organizations have a review process to ensure the quality of various counseling programs across the US. 
  • Both organizations require counseling or therapy programs to prove that they are meeting certain standards of education so their students will be prepared for their exams and career. 
  • While many states accept either accreditation, it is important to check your state’s licensure requirements to ensure that the program you want to attend will prepare you for licensure down the road.  
  • COAMFTE accreditation matters the most if you think you will move states at some point and want to ensure you continue to have a license. If you feel that you will live in the same state for a long time, it might not matter as long as your state board accepts CACREP accredited education when applying for licensure. 
  • COAMFTE instructors have professional experience as marriage and family therapists, while CACREP instructors tend to be professional counselors. 
  • Organizations accredited by either organization have similar admission requirements, such as a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, the submission of a resume, transcript, and letters of recommendation. 
  • CACREP and COAMFTE ensure quality of education for similar types of careers: marriage and family therapy, and counseling. Review the individual careers to consider the main differences and which path might be right for you.