This page details the ranking methodology for our top value counseling master’s degree rankings for each state and the District of Columbia.
Disclaimer: Although this methodology relied heavily on data that was in part provided by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs (CACREP), this ranking and topcounselingschools.org is NOT affiliated with that agency, nor are the results of our ranking to be considered an endorsement by CACREP. The organization is clear that it provides this data as a source of information only and that students should do their own research to find the degree program that fits them the best. We agree that there is not one “best” school for everyone, and we used CACREP Outcome Reports primarily as a means to obtain quantitative data that would allow us to objectively compare programs.
To find the schools in each state that offer graduate degrees in counseling, we went right to the source: the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. Using their online directory, we were able to acquire lists of the accredited counseling degrees available in each state. CACREP accredits both master’s and doctoral degree programs, so we included both in our rankings. In most cases, there is only one ranking for each state that includes both types of programs; however, there were occasionally enough eligible Ph.D. programs within a state to warrant two separate lists — one for master’s degrees and one for doctoral degrees in counseling. Please also note that CACREP only accredits counseling programs in these specialties: Addiction; Career; Clinical Mental Health; Marriage, Couple, and Family; School; and Student Affairs. This list is fairly comprehensive, although it specifically excludes programs in rehabilitation counseling, which are accredited by a different agency altogether (the Council on Rehabilitation Education).
By using the CACREP database as our source of schools, we were able to confirm that all of the schools represented in our counseling master’s degree rankings offer accredited curricula that meet rigorous national standards. As part of the requirement for maintaining CACREP accreditation, counseling degree programs are required to collect annual data on a number of metrics, including:
Therefore, these three data points formed the basis of our ranking system. We collected data from each school for all of their eligible programs (because CACREP accredits individual programs, not entire departments, schools must report separate data sets for each degree type) and awarded points to each college based on their performance in these categories.
In addition to the three metrics already mentioned, we collected program data on:
Accreditation length simply refers to the number of years that a school has successfully maintained curriculum approval. It takes a consistent, targeted effort to maintain accreditation status for several years; schools must continually review and revise their programs, and they are required to update their methods as CACREP updates its standards.
To assess each school’s research productivity, we turned to the Thomson Reuters “Essential Science Indicators” citation database. This database provides citation information for colleges and universities all across the country. We used the search parameters to specifically target American schools conducting research in psychiatry/psychology and recorded each college’s “Cites per Paper” numeric indicator. This number represents the average number of citations per paper published by psychiatry/psychology faculty members at that institution, which is one method of quantifying research productivity. This data was not available for all schools, so we gave the points in this category about half the weight of the other indicators when calculating final scores.
Lastly, for the tuition and fees, we considered each school’s annual cost in assessing the value of their degree programs. This was a straightforward process — using the most recent information available on College Navigator (an educational database), we calculated each institution’s total yearly cost as the sum of published tuition rates and fees. For public schools, we used the average of in-state and out-of-state rates. As would be expected, lower tuition rates earned more points.
After all this collecting, combining, counting, and calculating, we determined each school’s total points. Finally, we curved the point scale, shifting the total scores upward so that the #1 ranked school in the state earned 100 out of 100 possible points. Note that no school ever earned 100/100 points without the curve and that this curving process only improved the total scores, but never lowered them. To implement a cutoff point, we used a score of 50 as our eligibility threshold. In other words, we only included schools that earned 50 or more points out of 100 on the final “top value” counseling degrees rankings.
For schools that have more than one accredited counseling degree, we scored them according to their average performance based in the program completion, job placement, exam pass rate, and accreditation length categories. For example, if a school offers three master’s degrees in counseling and last year the licensing exam pass rates for each were 80%, 95%, and 90%, we would use an average pass rate of 88.3% when calculating its ranking.
When schools displayed multiple years of data for a single degree program, we recorded the average of all years for each category.
If a school only offered a single set of data for its programs and did not specify that the figures represented a particular counseling track, we used those numbers for all of its accredited counseling degrees.
If we could not find the desired statistics on a school’s website, we recorded the data as “Not Available,” which garnered zero points.**
If a school only included the absolute number of students who completed a particular degree program, but did not also include the total number of students who originally entered the program (thus allowing us to calculate a percentage), we recorded the data as “Not Available,” which was equivalent to a 0% completion rate according to our ranking scheme.**
For states that have fewer than five schools with graduate-level counseling programs, we included all of them in the ranking. We still ranked them according to the data available and organized them in the article in appropriate order, but refrained from including numeric scores due to the small sampling.
*By and large, measures of research productivity are more relevant for Ph.D. programs than master’s degrees. Therefore, for the minority of states that received separate master’s and Ph.D. counseling degree rankings, we only included Thomson Reuters data for the latter. By the same token, we noted that licensing exam pass rates are mainly applicable to the former, so we only used this metric in the master’s degree rankings (again, this distinction only applied to states with split lists).
**This may sound harsh, but CACREP clearly states in Section 4, Article D of the 2016 CACREP Standards (Section Title: Evaluation of the Program) that program faculty must disseminate an annual report that includes a summary of the evaluation results, and that the report be published “on the program website in an easily accessible location.” The online directory includes links to each degree program’s outcome report, and we primarily used these to access the data. In cases when these links were not available, we independently searched the schools’ websites for the required statistics. If we exhausted those measures and still could not find the information, we determined that the school would not receive any points in those categories. Not only is transparency a requirement for CACREP accreditation, but it is an important issue in all areas of higher education, and we believe that programs should be held accountable for providing honest, relevant, factual and accessible information to their students.