Accreditation & Diploma Mills

You wouldn't invest money in a new car before doing some research to make sure that it was safe and reliable. Likewise, you shouldn't jump into an online degree program before making sure that the university or program is properly accredited. If you're confused about what accreditation means and how it can affect you, keep reading.

The Basics

Accreditation is a type of quality control for certifications and colleges. Only schools that have demonstrated that they meet a certain standard of education will receive accreditation from reputable accreditation associations. Accreditation is also a simple way for you, the government, and your future employers to be sure that your degree is valuable and reflects a solid education. (

There are two types of accreditation: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation is awarded to an entire college or university and means that every department in that school has met a certain set of educational criteria. Six regional accrediting associations award institutional accreditation in different areas of the United States. (

Programmatic accreditation, on the other hand, is awarded to a specific program or curriculum within a university. Often times, professional organizations will certify certain programs in their field by awarding programmatic accreditation. For some fields, like nursing, programmatic accreditation is more important than institutional accreditation when job hunting. You can see if programmatic accreditation is important to your desired job by checking the Bureau of Labor Statistics web page.

What it means for you

Choosing an accredited school or program is important because it can mean better job prospects after you've earned your degree. Even if you feel that you've earned a quality degree, it can be hard to prove this to an employer on your own without accrediation. Having a degree from an accredited school means you won't have to defend the quality of your online degree. (

Furthermore, choosing an accredited school can be good for your wallet; the Department of Education won't award federal financial aid to students at unaccredited schools. (

Checking for Accreditation

Some unaccredited online schools -- otherwise known as "diploma mills" -- award useless degrees to unsuspecting students. You want to avoid these at all costs because they're a waste of your money and your time. There are easy ways to check if a program is accredited, however, and looking out for certain warning signs can help you spot diploma mills fast. (

The Department of Education's database of accredited schools is a fast way to check if a program you're interested in is legitimate. The Better Business Bureau website will tell you if the school has had any questionable business practices, as well.

Here are some warning signs that a program is a diploma mill: (

  • It awards credits for "life experience."
  • It charges by the degree, not the credit hour.
  • Programs take significantly less time than usual degrees.
  • It has a long, extremely impressive list of "accreditations."

A little research will go a long way in making sure you invest your money and time into an degree program that's going to change your future.

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