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The American College Counseling Association (ACCA) - Is It Worth Joining?

Joining professional organizations can significantly benefit counseling professionals at colleges and universities, offering a collective voice to promote inclusivity and equity within higher education counseling services, and ensuring that the diverse needs of students from varying backgrounds are met effectively. By participating in these communities, counseling professionals gain access to resources, training, and networking opportunities that empower them to develop culturally sensitive approaches to counseling and create inclusive environments where all students feel valued and supported.

Moreover, professional organizations serve as vital hubs for sharing best practices and staying updated on the latest research and strategies in mental health care. Collaborating with peers from different institutions allows counseling professionals to exchange insights and learn from diverse perspectives, ultimately enhancing their ability to address the multifaceted needs of college students. By joining professional organizations, counseling professionals not only enrich their own professional development but also contribute to the broader mission of advancing mental health and well-being in higher education.

In this blog, we’ll dive into one organization in particular — the American College Counseling Association — discussing its mission, membership, and resources. We’ll end with our review of the association, and whether it’s a good choice for you to join.

What is the American College Counseling Association?

The ACCA, or American College Counseling Association, is a national organization for counseling professionals working at colleges and universities in the United States. The Association endeavors to uphold ethical and responsible professional standards, facilitate communication among college counselors across various service areas and institutional contexts, and promote collaboration with other organizations in higher education and student development.

Focused on cultivating best practices in counseling through a community-based approach, the ACCA emphasizes diversity and social justice, with a focus on supporting students from marginalized groups and identities. In terms of specific efforts, the American College Counseling Association seeks to bring counseling professionals together, providing them with a platform to advocate for and support underrepresented students — such as transgender students and racial minorities — while addressing prevalent mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. 

A division of the American Counseling Association, the ACCA operates under the general mission of being “the interdisciplinary and inclusive professional home that supports emerging and state of the art knowledge and resources for counseling professionals in higher education.”

Who joins the American College Counseling Association? How can I become a member?

The American College Counseling Association has over 1,400 members across the country, with a variety of counseling backgrounds, primarily psychologists and licensed counselors, though graduate students and new professionals are also welcome. 

In order to become a member, you must hold one or more of these positions and work in a higher education setting. To meet the mission of the Association, you must also be committed to strengthening your skills in the area of student outreach, advocacy, diversity and inclusion.

The exact membership requirements are not publicly available, but you can access the application form here.

What conferences does the American College Counseling Association host? 

The ACCA hosts a yearly Conference, open to both ACCA members and college counselors outside of the organization. As a member, you’ll be eligible for reduced attendance rates. 

The American College Counseling Association Conference has five main features: Pre-Conference Sessions, Breakout Sessions, Keynote Speakers, Continuing Education, and Sponsor and Exhibitor opportunities. 

At Pre-Conference Sessions, you can get an early start on learning, with programs in Advanced Topics in College Counseling. This year’s offerings included Evolving Clinical Services in College Counseling, Clinical Supervision in College Counseling, and Preparing and Supporting Counselors-in-Training to Work with Suicidal Clients. Note that Pre-Conference Sessions have an additional fee beyond general conference attendance. 

In Breakout Sessions, you’ll work in small groups to collaborate on strategies to improve services in various counseling settings. Breakout Session topics include mitigating barriers to treatment and increasing accessibility, addressing the student mental health crisis, and innovative methods in counseling theory and practice. 

You’ll also get to attend two keynote speeches focused on student advocacy delivered by experienced college counseling professionals and earn Continuing Education credits on-site.

What other opportunities does American College Counseling Association membership offer? 

Beyond the yearly national conference, the American College Counseling Association hosts an array of benefits for its members. The primary components of the ACCA’s offerings include resources to connect with other college counselors, professional development and educational opportunities, awards and grants, and leadership opportunities. Let’s run through the main benefits you’ll have access to. 

Connecting with job offerings and other counselors 

As an American College Counseling Association member, you can stay connected around the clock with college counseling professionals worldwide via the ACCA Facebook page and member-exclusive association listserv, which provides regular updates from the ACCA Executive Council.

To improve accessibility of conference attendance, you’ll also be eligible for exclusive membership rates for annual conferences, offering valuable networking and learning opportunities.

Finally, the ACCA provides a regularly-updated job board for counselors, both to list and apply for jobs. Members are able to post positions for free, while non-members must pay a $50 fee.

Ongoing education

To continue learning about trends in supporting students throughout college and developing your skills, you can engage in ongoing professional development through American College Counseling Association-hosted webinars and convenient drop-in workshops. Due to high demand for experienced college counselors, proof of expertise is a great boost for your professional skill and reputation. Earning Continued Education (CE) credits is a great way to build your credibility, and ensure you’re offering the most high-quality support to your students. Note that these webinars are only available for psychologists and licensed counselors, so if you haven’t attained certification yet or have a different licensure, these classes won’t be available for you. 

Earning CE credits can be expensive, and it can be difficult to find the most valuable or well-recognized courses. So, a great benefit of the American College Counseling Association is that they provide up to 12 free CE courses a year, affiliated with well-respected organizations such as the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners, and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC).

Advocacy in college counseling

A major focus of the ACCA is improving social justice and equity within college counseling professionals, currently putting a major emphasis on supporting transgender students and students of color. 

Access a collection of advocacy materials provided by American College Counseling Association DEI resources and Professional Advocacy & Public Awareness (PAPA), including publications, podcasts, and organizations on cultural competence. You’ll also have access to the College Counseling & Psychological Services Knowledge Base, compiling research publications on counseling psychology in a college setting. These collected resources are tailored to help you effectively navigate the realm of college counseling and advocacy within the profession at your institution and beyond. 

As a member, you can also stay informed with national college counseling statistics through ACCA-sponsored surveys such as the College Counseling Survey, the Community College Survey, and the Center for Collegiate Mental Health Annual Report.

Grants and Awards

A strength of the ACCA’s member support is their grant opportunities to fund your work in supporting college mental health, including Emerging Leader and Research Grants available to master's and doctoral graduate students. Grants are provided in the form of American College Counseling Association or ACA Conference registration awards, or cash awards of $500 to $1,000 to help fund your research in the field of college mental health support.. 

Finally, you can earn national recognition for your achievements—and boost your credentials—in the field of college counseling through professional awards such as Counselor of the Year and Director of the Year, acknowledging significant contributions to the profession.

Leadership opportunities

Finally, as a member of the American College Counseling Association, you can cultivate leadership skills by actively participating in ACCA's various committees, contributing to the advancement and advocacy of college counseling. The ACCA’s committees include the Community College Counseling Committee for counselors at community or 2-year colleges, as well as support resources for Graduate Students & New Professionals, sponsoring committee membership and extra professional development opportunities.   

Our review

Joining the American College Counseling Association (ACCA) is highly recommended for counseling and mental healthcare professionals working in college settings. While your professional training may have been rigorous, counseling education might not always provide extensive training in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Staying updated on how to support transgender students and addressing issues of racism in higher education are increasingly crucial skills. With growing legislative efforts to limit recognition and support for transgender individuals, and racism persisting as a significant concern in academia, supporting students from marginalized communities is critical. These efforts align with ACCA's mission to foster students' development and promote ethical and responsible professional practice.

In today's environment, where student mental health is reaching crisis levels with high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, ongoing skill improvement is imperative for counselors. While there may be some reasons why formal membership in ACCA might not seem necessary, the benefits of being a member are substantial. While many resources and benefits are available to non-members, formal membership grants access to Continuing Education courses, participation in committees, and eligibility for grants and awards. Ultimately, becoming an official member of ACCA offers invaluable opportunities to advocate for students and navigate the challenges of college counseling effectively.

Through collective advocacy efforts, organizations like the American College Counseling Association can influence policy changes and allocate resources to improve mental health services on campuses, fostering environments where students can thrive academically, emotionally, and socially.

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Alexej is a graduate of Princeton University, where he studied Linguistics, Cognitive Science, and Humanities & Sciences. Alexej works in college admissions consulting, and is passionate about pursuing research at the intersection of humanities, linguistics, and psychology. He enjoys creative writing, hiking, and playing the piano.

Image Source: ACCA



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