Accreditation: Everything Grad Students Need to Know
What is Accreditation? – When an aspiring grad student begins to research potential colleges for their master’s degree pursuit, one of the most important points to consider is accreditation. When a school earns accreditation, it means that institution has been evaluated by an independent accrediting body and found to meet the high standards of a rigorous education. Put another way, accreditation helps ensure master’s students’ hard work will not be in vain; their degree will be recognized as the high-quality education they deserve.
A college or university must go
through a lengthy, in-depth process in order to earn accreditation.
This can often take years to complete. Once accreditation is earned,
the school must follow the proper steps to keep their standards high
and maintain their accreditation status, with regular follow-up
checks by the accrediting body to ensure the college is meeting all
The following guide deep dives into
what accreditation means, the different types a school or program can
earn, how to determine whether an online master’s program or school
is accredited, and more.
Different Types of Accreditation
There are three types of accreditation available for schools across
the nation: Regional, national and programmatic.
When a student looks for
accreditation status of a school, regional accreditation is often
what they will find. As the most common type of accreditation,
regional accreditation is awarded by one of several independent
bodies responsible for colleges and universities within a certain
region. Over 85 percent of all colleges in the U.S. hold regional
accreditation through one of the following agencies:
Middle States Association of
Colleges and Schools (MSA)
New England Association of
Colleges and Schools (NEASC)
North Central Association of
Colleges and Schools (NCA)
Southern Association of
Colleges and Schools (SACS)
Western Association of Schools
and Colleges (WASC)
For some master’s students,
programmatic accreditation will matter just as much as regional
accreditation. Programmatic accreditation focuses on a particular
program offered through the school. The process of accreditation is
much the same, as the department that hosts that particular program
will have to meet certain guidelines, provide a variety of metrics on
their students and their educational success, and more. In some
cases, attending a program with programmatic accreditation is
absolutely essential for the graduate to later receive a
certification or other work-related credential. A few examples of
programmatic accrediting bodies include:
Accreditation Commission for
Education in Nursing (ACEN)
American Physical Therapy
Association, Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy
Association, Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA)
National Council for
Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
Teacher Education Accreditation
Accreditation Board for
Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET)
National accreditation covers higher
education institutions across the U.S. However, national
accreditation is more for schools that focus on career education,
such as vocational or technical schools, as well as schools that
focus on faith-based programs. Schools that obtain national
accreditation are often seen as providing a less rigorous education
than those that receive regional accreditation; therefore, it is
quite common that credits earned at nationally-accredited
institutions will not readily transfer to regionally-accredited
That doesn’t mean that nationally
accredited schools should be dismissed, however. Depending upon what
a master’s student is seeking in their educational experience, one
of these schools might be what they need. For instance, in many cases
a nationally accredited school doesn’t require the usual general
education courses that you will find in a more traditional school;
that means that if the grad student’s career goals are very
focused, they might be able to get to the finish line faster.
The following are national
Association for Biblical Higher
Education Commission (ABHE)
Association of Institutions of
Jewish Studies (AIJS)
Accrediting Bureau of Health
Education Schools (ABHES)
Accrediting Council for
Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
Distance Education Accrediting
National Accrediting Commission
of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)
How to Check for Accreditation
There are a few ways to find out if a school is accredited. Many
colleges are proud of their accreditation status and will have a page
on their website that points it out. Other schools will include it on
their “About Us” page.
Even if a school or program touts
their accreditation, master’s students should double-check the
accreditation before applying. This can be accomplished by reviewing
the college through the following places:
The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of accredited institutions. Grad students can browse through the list of use the search function to look up a specific school.
Prospective master’s students can
also call the school directly and ask for the information.
Top 4 Reasons Accreditation is Important to Master’s Degrees
Why does accreditation matter so much? Besides the points about it being vitally important to ensure a top-notch education, accreditation status means a great deal for the following reasons:
In the vast majority of cases, financial aid is only awarded to those who choose to attend an accredited institution. This gets a little trickier when it comes to nationally accredited schools, as some states might offer financial aid for those schools, but the federal government might not. Master’s students who do not attend an accredited institution will have to pay out of pocket or take out student loans.
If you intend to transfer from one college to another anytime in the future, it is important to ensure your undergraduate or graduate school is accredited. That’s because colleges will only accept credits from accredited colleges and universities; if the school is not accredited, the credits do not transfer. If a master’s student attends an unaccredited school (and in most cases, a nationally accredited school) for their online master’s program and later, wants to move to a Ph.D. program at a different school, they might not have enough credits to do so.
The above point is very important when it comes to earning certifications to teach, treat patients as a psychologist or nurse, or work in any other profession that requires proof of graduation from an accredited school. In this case, master’s students could pursue an online master’s degree only to discover that they can’t sit for the examination that will allow them to practice in your chosen field.
Even in a field where certification or licensing is not required, an employer might require that an applicant graduated from an accredited school before they will hire them. They want to ensure that the diploma the applicant earned prepared them well for the job, and no employer can be certain of that unless the degree came from an accredited school.
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