California MFT program rankings: The best license exam preparation

The best MFT program on this measure isn’t one I expected.

Caldwell Rankings draft coverAs regular readers here are aware, a few weeks ago I released California Family Therapy Program Rankings, a guide to 34 of the state’s biggest and best MFT programs. The book includes top-10 rankings based on cost, graduates’ success on license exams, and research productivity.

A couple of weeks ago, I revealed the top-ranked MFT program based on cost. Today, I reveal who’s number one in MFT program rankings when it comes to success on California’s MFT license exams.

For this particular set of rankings, I looked at the most recent three years of available California MFT licensing exam data (2009-2011), and for each program, took their graduates’ pass rate among first-time test takers on the Standard Written Exam and averaged it with their graduates’ pass rate among first-time test takers on the Written Clinical Vignette.

As usual, a number of cautions here. The fact that the exam data is from 2009-2011, and would thus largely include people who graduated from their degree programs from about 2003-2010, means that there’s been some time in between for programs to get better or worse in quality. Almost every program has meaningfully changed their curriculum in the past couple of years, thanks to a state law that required all programs to provide at least 60 semester units of instruction (the prior minimum had been 48). Finally, while the school you attend does seem to impact your chances of success on MFT licensing exams, even as those exams take place years after graduation, the graduate program is certainly not the only thing that would have an impact on your passing or failing the exams.

Holding those cautions in mind, what do the numbers tell us?

  • The big winner here is Fuller Theological Seminary, which can claim an impressive 93% pass rate among graduates taking the state’s MFT licensing exams for the first time. That’s the best of all 34 reviewed programs, and actually a few solid percentage points above even the second-ranked program, which came in at 89%.

  • There is indeed a meaningful correlation between the program you graduate from and your chances of passing the licensing exams on the first try, or at least that’s the impression I get from eyeballing the data. Among the 34 programs reviewed, pass rates ranged from Fuller’s 93% pass rate all the way down to 56% at the lowest-performing school reviewed. Again, you can’t presume that pass rate equals instructional quality, so take all of these numbers with a grain of salt, and recognize that they are group numbers. They might help predict whether Joe or Jane Average would pass the licensing exams on their first try (and even that is debatable, since programs enroll different sets of students, creating what researchers call selection effects), but the numbers are certainly limited in terms of predicting whether you specifically would pass. After all, there’s a lot you can do to control that beyond just which school you choose to attend.