How to make sure your online degree is legit
An important concern a lot of prospective students have — especially those online — is if their school is a diploma mill. There have been plenty of news stories talking about those schools where “students” simply swap checks for degrees, but when it comes to getting a job, you’ll need to make sure your degree is from a real school. What separates legitimate, quality schools from diploma mills is accreditation.
Accreditation is something schools do voluntarily. An independent organization — one approved by the U.S. Department of Education — evaluates the school or program in question on a list of standards, much like a quality assurance process. Accreditation is important for a number of reasons. First, it tells you that your program is a quality one and that you’ll learn what veterans of your industry think is important to know before you graduate. Second, you need to receive a degree from an accredited school if you ever want to pursue an advanced degree. Third, if you’re planning on entering a field that requires licensure, such as architecture, nursing or education, it won’t happen unless your degree is from an accredited program.
Schools and programs that are accredited demonstrate their commitment to high academic standards and integrity. Because accreditation is on-going, meaning schools must reapply regularly, it shows dedication to their students and to upholding educational and industry standards.
There are a number of accrediting agencies out there, but it’s the US Department of Education that decides which ones are valid. The US Secretary of Education is responsible for determining which accrediting agencies are authorities on education and training. When checking for accreditation, you’ll want to be sure the school you want to attend is accredited by an organization approved by the Department of Education, all of which can be found in their searchable database.
It’s important to know that colleges as a whole must be accredited separately from the programs that require their own accreditation. Colleges and universities typically receive regional accreditation from one of six associations:
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools
- North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges