Accreditation 101

Accreditation is a voluntary process that provides quality assurance to ensure educational programs meet or exceed threshold standards. Accreditation in the United States consists of nongovernmental peer evaluation of educational institutions and programs. Colleges and universities are subject to institutional accreditation, which reviews all components of the institution. Educational programs in a specific discipline such as veterinary medical education undergo programmatic accreditation, which focuses on the educational program, not the institution.  Veterinary medical educational programs are required to have institutional accreditation.

The AVMA Council on Education (COE) is the United States Department of Education (USDE)-recognized accrediting body for veterinary medical education programs. The COE also is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as a programmatic accrediting organization. Other recognized programmatic accreditors, of the many in the healthcare field include the American Dental Association Commission Dental Accreditation, the American Optometric Association Accreditation Council on Optometric Education, American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, and the Commission on Accreditation of the American Psychological Association.

What does accreditation mean?

According to the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA), “Higher education in America is unique in the world because of its reliance on accreditation to ensure quality and to foster a culture of continued improvement.” In the case of veterinary medical schools, accreditation means that schools have voluntarily submitted their programs for evaluation against a set of educational standards defined by the AVMA Council on Education. These standards are developed with input from the profession, educators, and the public. The accreditation process involves a self-evaluation by college officials, one or more site visits by trained site visitors, a written report of the site team’s findings, and review of the site visit report(s) by the full council. Accredited colleges continue to be monitored at minimum on an annual basis through reports which must demonstrate continued compliance with the educational standards, must respond to any concerns of the COE, and must report to the COE any changes or any planned changes within the college.

The accreditation process benefits everyone from veterinarians and veterinary schools to animal owners. Different groups benefit in different ways. What does accreditation mean…

To schools?

For veterinary medical educational programs, accreditation means that they provide contemporary high quality education as defined by national standards.

To students?

For veterinary students, attending and graduating from an accredited school means that they meet a competency threshold for entry into veterinary practice, as well as eligibility for professional credentialing and licensing.

To practitioners?

For employers, accreditation assures that the veterinarians they hire are competent and prepared to begin practice.

To the public?

For animal owners and the public, accreditation assures the continued quality of veterinary medicine to protect animal health and welfare.

Accreditation classifications

Accreditation isn’t quite an all or none proposition. The AVMA Council on Education assures that minimum standards in veterinary medical education are met by all AVMA COE-accredited colleges, and that students enrolled in those colleges receive an education that prepares them for entry-level veterinary positions. But different classifications of accreditation do exist and reflect a school’s compliance with the COE Standards of Accreditation.


Accredited status is granted to a school that has met the standards used by the Council to evaluate veterinary medical programs.

The following classifications apply only to developing institutions in the United States and Canada:

Reasonable assurance

A Letter of Reasonable Assurance is granted developing schools that have provided the COE with a detailed, realistic plan that demonstrates that if the school is established according to the plan provided, there is reasonable assurance that the school could achieve accreditation. Reasonable Assurance is not a pre-accreditation status and does not award a college accreditation.

Provisional accreditation

Is a classification that may be granted to a developing program that has a current Letter of Reasonable Assurance, has provided the COE with evidence of continued progress to comply with the Standards, and the school has admitted its first class of students. This is considered a pre-accreditation status. Schools may remain on Provisional Accreditation for up to five years.

There are other classifications as well. For more detail, read about the different types of accreditation classifications.

The accreditation process

Accreditation is voluntary; the COE does not solicit applications. To initiate the accreditation process, the COE must receive a written request from the dean of the veterinary school and the president/provost of the institution.

The following chart from ASPA provides an overview of the accreditation process. Our Pathways to Accreditation chart provides more specific information regarding veterinary program accreditation.