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What You Need to Know When Filling Out a CPE Application

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Completing a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) application can be a daunting task. These applications ask for a lot of information like a "reasonably full account of your life." What does that even mean?!?

Don't worry. This guide will help you navigate and complete a CPE application.

Where do I find a CPE program to apply to?

The first thing to know is that there are several accrediting bodies of CPE programs. I am an ACPE Certified Educator, so this guide is intended for anyone applying to an ACPE-accredited CPE program. Many students hear about CPE programs through their schools, classmates, or colleagues. However, it is good to know that there are over 200 programs in the U.S. You can find a complete list of ACPE-accredited programs here.

This directory allows you to customize your search by state, types of units offered, the type of Center, and so on. One way people use this directory is to search for CPE programs with online options. If you are interested in online CPE because you don't have a CPE program in your area or already have a chaplain job, and you don't want to quit to pursue more training, you can look for an online program using this directory. All you have to do is click on the "Units Offered" field, click "Online Options," then "Search." Viola! A list of ACPE-accredited programs with online options will appear.

Where do I find a CPE application?

Now that you know where you want to apply, it is time to fill out the application. The good thing about the application is that it is universal - all CPE programs accept it. Some may have additional questions, so be sure to check their websites for their specific requirements. Generally speaking, though, once you complete this application, you basically have everything ready to submit.

Follow these steps to locate the CPE application:

  1. Go to

  2. Hover your cursor over "Education" at the top of the page (don't click it; just hover)

  3. Click "CPE Application," and you will see the page below

  4. At the bottom of the page, in yellow, you will see three different applications. You should select either the first one (an M.S. Word or Docx file) or the second one (an Adobe PDF file.) I find the Word file easier to navigate, but you should choose whichever one you are most comfortable with.

  5. Once you click on the word "download" next to the first or second option, a file will download to your computer.

  6. Click on the downloaded file and open it.

A Few Guiding Principles to Keep In Mind Before You Fill Out the Application

Before you jump right into responding to the prompts, there are few things you should keep in mind.

  1. Read each prompt carefully and respond to what it is asking. Don't go off on unrelated tangents.

  2. Be reflective in your responses, highlighting self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.

  3. Don't try to impress the readers. Be real. Be yourself.

  4. Be vulnerable as you write your responses. You don't have to bleed all over the paper, but it is good to demonstrate that you know how to reveal parts of yourself.

  5. Answer all the questions. Do not skip anything.

How Do I Respond to the Prompts?

1. Please complete the attached form and mail to the Center to which you are applying. Read instructions carefully before submitting. International applicants have additional requirements and deadlines. You may want to make a copy of a blank form before entering any data.

Nothing to write for this prompt, but be sure to take in this information.

2. A reasonably full account of your life. Include, for example, significant and important persons and events, especially as they have impacted, or continue to impact, your personal growth and development. Describe your family of origin, current family relationships, and important and supportive social relationships.

This is where CPE educators want to read your story, what we often refer to as your personal history. You may write this one chronologically, but you don't have to. You may combine it with prompt #3 if your personal history and spiritual history are so intertwined that you'd prefer to integrate both into one response (that is what I did when I applied to my first CPE program). I like this essay to be between 500 and 2500 words.

Here is a structure you could use:

Family of origin: A great place to begin is with your family of origin. Include information about your relationships with your parents, siblings, and any other significant family members who contributed to your childhood development for good and for ill. Are your parents divorced or still married? Are they dead or alive? How many siblings do you have, and what is the birth order? Are you close to them or distant? Provide insight into your family dynamics. The ways we learn to relate in our families are often the ways we related in our social systems. Be reflective about your relational dynamics.

Current family relationships: How is your relationship with your family of origin today? Is there estrangement, enmeshment, healthy boundaries? Are you single, married, divorced? How have your romantic relationships influenced who you are and how you relate to others? Are you a parent? If so, how has parenthood shaped you?

Important and supportive relationships: Write about important non-family members. Recall mentors like youth ministers, rabbis, spiritual leaders, teachers, professors, and so on. Tell us about the college chaplain who had a significant impact on your life and helped you decide to pursue ministry, for example. What was it about that mentor that inspired you and contributed to your development? You could also write about best friends, romantic partners, bosses, co-workers, etc., who have helped you grow personally.

Cultural context: Be sure to include where you were born and raised. How did the culture of that time and place affect you? How did your socio-economic status influence your development and who you are today? What biases are you aware of? Have you traveled to other places and experienced different cultures than your own? What did you learn from getting outside of your own fishbowl and feeling like a fish out of water?

Significant events: Discuss major milestones in your life such as graduations, leaving home, accidents, deaths, and other turning points that have shaped you. Since you have already written above about life cycle events like getting married, getting divorced, giving birth, the death of a loved one use this as an opportunity to write about professional events like earning a degree, getting a job, getting a promotion, getting fired, changing careers, and so on. What major events have made you who you are today? What have you had to overcome to get to this point in your life? What good fortunes have befalling you that have helped you become who you are?

3. A description of your spiritual growth and development. Include, for example, the faith heritage into which you were born and describe and explain any subsequent personal conversions, your call to ministry, religious experiences, and significant persons and events that have impacted, or continue to impact, your spiritual growth and development.

This is the section of the application where we get to learn about your spiritual history. Again, you may combine it with the first essay. I prefer that this essay also be between 500 and 2500 words. Tell us if you were born into a religious or spiritual group and which one. If you converted to a religious or spiritual group at some point in your life, then we want to hear about that. Did you switch between two or more religious or spiritual groups at some point? Maybe you belong to more than one religious or spiritual group. This is the place to go into detail about any and all of these scenarios. What religious experiences have you had throughout your life? Do you feel "called" to ministry or to some type of service? If so, then what were the circumstances surrounding that experience? Who were the people in your life who encouraged or discouraged you from pursuing education for ministry/service? Tell us about those relationships and how those people impacted your journey.

4. A description of your work (vocational) history. Include a chronological list of jobs/positions/dates of employment and a brief statement about your current employment and work relationships.

At a minimum, provide your resume or curriculum vitae (CV). You may add commentary if you want to, but I don't find that necessary. I often send applicant's resumes around to other members of the department or hospital who may be involved with the interview, so make sure your resume is up to date and attractively formatted. Here is a helpful resume writing guide.

5. An account of a "helping incident" in which you were the person who provided the help. Include the nature and extent of the request, your assessment of the issue(s), problem(s), situation(s). Describe how you came to be involved and what you did. Give a brief, evaluative commentary on what you did and how you believe you were able to help. If you have had prior and recent CPE, please attach a copy of a recent verbatim as your' helping incident' and add to the verbatim your own notes on how and what you learned from sharing this verbatim with your supervisor and/or peers. If you have had CPE, but it was more than two years ago, include a recent account of a helping incident, written up in a verbatim format. If possible, include feedback from current pastoral colleagues and/or administrative supervisor. The "helping incident" is where we get to see how you provide care to others. Pick an incident in which you had a conversation with someone in crisis, a person who was grieving, or somebody who needed your counsel. Provide information about how you understood the problem, the key issues, and how you responded. It is best if you can provide a word-for-word account of the incident. It could look something like this: Careseeker: Do you have a few minutes? I am really struggling and need someone to talk to. You: Sure. Tell me what's going on. Careseeker: You know that my mother died recently. I've just been having such a hard time without her. There was so much I wished I had said to her. You: That sounds really hard. As the prompt says, if you have completed a unit of CPE, then you may submit a verbatim that you wrote during that program as long as it was less than two years ago. If you do submit verbatim from a prior unit of CPE, then be sure to add some comments about what you learned during the presentation. If your most recent unit of CPE was longer than two years ago, you should write a new verbatim. We want to see your current practice of ministry. Your "helping incident" should be 500 words to 2500 words. 6. Your impressions of Clinical Pastoral Education. Indicate, for example, what you believe or imagine CPE to be. Indicate if CPE is being required of you. Indicate any learning goals or issues of which you are aware and would like to address in CPE. Finally, indicate how CPE may be able to help you meet needs generated by your spiritual care practice or call to ministry. If you have had prior CPE, please indicate the most significant learning experience you had during CPE. State how you have continued to use the clinical method since your previous experience. Indicate strengths and weaknesses that you have as they relate to your ministry and your identity as a professional person. Indicate any personal and/or professional learning goals and issues that you have at this time and how you believe that CPE will help you to attain or address these learning goals and issues. We want to know what you have heard about CPE. What do you imagine you will experience and learn in CPE? Tell us if CPE is required of you or not, as this tells us something about your motivation for learning through the CPE method. What do you want to learn? Keep in mind that learning in CPE focuses on oneself and one's practice of ministry. Describe how you believe CPE will help you improve your ministry or spiritual care practice. If you have already completed a unit of more of CPE, then tell us about the most important lessons you learned. What difference did CPE make for you, and why do you want to do more of it? How did you use what you learned in CPE to help you keep growing after the unit ended? Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and tell us the learning goals you have for your next unit.

7. You are required to complete an admissions interview with an ACPE Certified Educator or a person approved by the Center to which you are applying, or at the Center to which you are applying. Contact the Center to check on their policy regarding admission interviews.

You are not guaranteed an interview. Once we receive a CPE application, we evaluate it for completeness and determine if we think you are ready for the intensity of CPE. If so, then we reach out to schedule an interview. For a really great post about CPE interviews, see Rev. Christine Davie's blog entry called How to Ace a CPE Interview. Each CPE program interviews its own way. You may be interviewed by one person or by a group of interviewers. You may be part of a group interview with several other applicants. Interviews can last anywhere between 30 minutes to 90 minutes. It is hard to know what to expect, but you may ask what to expect when you receive the invitation to interview. 8. CPE Centers often require an application fee. Please check this requirement in advance of submitting this application. If you are interviewing at a center other than the one to which you are applying, you may be required to pay an interview fee, usually due at the time of the interview. Application fees vary widely in CPE programs and range from $0 to $100. Some programs will not look at your application or consider it complete until you have paid this fee. If it is outside of your budget, then consider asking the program if they could waive it or cut it in half. 9. If you are an international applicant, you will have to obtain appropriate documentation from U.S. Immigration, which usually implies a visa and a U.S. Social Security Number. Therefore, international applicants should have such documentation approved at least six (6) months before the start of the program to which they are applying. If offered employment, can you submit verification of your legal right to work in the U.S.? Yes No The ACPE offers The International Student Visitor Program. More information about that may be found on the ACPE website. 10. An applicant with prior CPE should attach all previous self, and supervisory evaluations and your signature below indicates you give permission for your previous CPE centers to release your evaluations for purposes of this application process. If you have completed prior units of CPE, then you must provide BOTH your self-evaluations and your educator's evaluation. You should have copies of these already. If you do not, then you should get copies and supply them with your application. ACPE-accredited CPE programs are required to keep copies of your evaluations on file for 10 years. Reach out to the Center where you completed CPE to request copies if you don't have them yourself. Don't ask the CPE program to which you are applying to go find your CPE evaluations. 11. Retain your own copy of this completed application and bring it with you to any interview for CPE. Be sure to keep a copy of your CPE application. You have put all this work into it, so you don't want to lose it. Even though the prompt says to bring it with you, I never require that...nor do I want it. I prefer to receive all application materials electronically. You should check with the CPE program to which you are applying to see if they really want you to bring a copy with you. 12. Please attach a current resume. This is similar to #4. As I said above, attaching a copy of your current resume is really what I am looking for.

I know this is a lot of information (and this is a long post!), but the CPE application is long and intense. Put yourself into this application. Let the reviewers see you. That is the pathway to success!

A Video Introduction to CPE

Check out this excellent introductory CPE video from Penn Medicine. If you want another perspective on what needs to be in the CPE application, then fast forward to about 1:45 and listen to Keith Espenshade's advice. Excellent stuff there!

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