Choosing a college or university can be one of the biggest decisions of your life. Your education, employment prospects and financial future all depend upon making the choice that is right for you. Unfortunately, while there are thousands of accredited schools to choose from, there are also many schools who are not accredited by any educational governing bodies at the university, state or federal levels. These schools (also known as degree or diploma mills) often offer diplomas that are not accepted by employers or other universities.

What are Degree Mills?

There are literally hundreds of non-accredited (or non-recognized) schools across the United States and around the world. These institutions offer degree programs that can be completed in an irregular period of time (some in only days) or with little or no academic work being done by the student. These degree mills offer their diplomas in exchange for up-front tuition or a flat fee. They typically have no admission standards such as standardized testing grades, referrals, endorsements, application essays or transcripts such as traditional, accredited universities require.

Some schools do not offer accredited diplomas.
••• Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Online Degrees

The rise of online degree programs by recognized universities has also seen an increase in unaccredited universities throughout the online world. While many online universities are fully-accredited and require students to apply and submit work as they would at a traditional brick and mortar university, there are also numerous degree mills online that offer degrees in exchange for tuition.

Research online universities before choosing one.
••• Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Mail Order Degrees

Many non-accredited institutions still rely upon the older scam of offering mail order degrees. For a set amount of money or tuition fee, students can send away for a diploma and receive one in the mail from that organization. These institutions are not recognized by any higher education governing bodies. Although many of them straddle the line of legality (some require a 5 or 10 page dissertation before "awarding" a degree) they are primarily money-making operations.

Mail order degrees are typically unaccredited.
••• Jupiterimages/ Images

Finding a List of Unaccredited Schools

The federal government, many states, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation all offer lists of universities that they do not recognize. The state of Michigan was one of the first to do so and has an extensive list. Texas, Maine and Hawaii also offer lists of unaccredited schools. Many states create their own guidelines or rely upon guidelines from the Council on Higher Education Accreditation and from the US Department of Education. The surest way to find out whether a school is recognized and accredited is to look for that school in a state Department of Education accreditation list. You can also search the US Department of Education's database of accredited schools or the Council of Higher Education's database.

Many organizations offer lists of recognized universities.
••• Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images

Related Articles