Distance learning provides a convenient method of taking classes and working towards a degree without the need to leave your home. However, not all online degree programs are reputable. Some of these universities, commonly referred to as diploma mills, offer little to no educational value. Checking the accreditation of the institution provides the best method for determining the legitimacy of any university. Additionally, look for several other warning signs of a potential scam.


When considering an online university, the first step is checking to see if the university holds proper accreditation. You do not have to take the university's word for it or trust an admissions representative who states that a foreign university can't receive accreditation in the United States. Beware of universities that claim accreditation, but aren't accredited by a legitimate organization; many diploma mills create their own accrediting agencies to falsely claim accreditation. Additionally, if the school in ineligible to participate in federal financial aid programs, chances are high their accreditation isn't legitimate. The proper accreditation of a university is verifiable through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.

Unaccredited Universities

Schools aren't required to pursue accreditation. Because of this, a school that offers reputable programs may not have accreditation. However, there are other ways to verify the authenticity of a school. Contacting the higher education agency in the school's state should be your first step. The agency has information on reputable schools and can tell you whether the school has any complaints or lacks a legitimate charter. While some new schools are in the process of seeking accreditation, earning a degree form a non-accredited university can prevent you from getting the proper credentials to work in some fields and may bar you from professional ,.

Admission Criteria

If the sole requirement to obtain a degree involves submitting a credit card and paying a fee, or if the school promises a diploma based on your "life experiences," the university is not reputable. While credit for work experience does exist at some legitimate colleges, experience alone never fulfills the requirements for a degree program. Accredited universities can grant honorary doctoral degrees for exemplary careers and work, but these are honorary awards and applicants don't apply or pay for the degree. Be wary of any school that grants diplomas 30 days or so after the receipt of payment and schools that aren't located within the United States.

School Criteria

Distance learning universities that don't have course catalogs, legitimate online courses and program catalogs are not reputable. You must complete courses with faculty that have at least a bachelor's degree and most reputable universities consider a master's degree the minimum qualification to teach. Don't trust universities that don't have a list of faculty or that provide falsified lists of faculty that don't actually work at the school. Universities also charge per credit or per course fees. If you are told you can get a degree for a flat rate, chances are you are dealing with an illegitimate school.

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