Students pursuing degrees at colleges and universities should ensure that their colleges are accredited. The U.S. Department of Education posts a list of approved college accrediting agencies, and these private organizations investigate a school to determine whether it should be accredited. Students who graduate from unaccredited or partially accredited schools might have more difficulty getting into graduate school, finding jobs and getting their college credits to transfer.
General Accreditation Process
To become accredited, a school must contact a private accreditation organization that accredits similar schools. A Christian college, for example, might seek accreditation from an accrediting organization that accredits religious schools. Graduate and professional schools have to seek accreditation from professional organizations. For example, law schools must be accredited by the American Bar Association. The accrediting organization investigates the school's curriculum, professor credentials, student admissions requirements, school mission, graduation rate and numerous other academic factors, then determines whether to offer the school full accreditation. The organization might also offer provisional accreditation pending further review or partial accreditation for some academic programs.
Quality of Curriculum
Fully accredited schools have undergone a vetting process designed to ensure that their curriculum is sufficiently rigorous and that it prepares students for other educational institutions and for their post-college careers. A school that requires no homework and no tests and that gives A grades to all students, for example, would probably not become accredited. Similarly, a school with a very low-quality curriculum or underqualified professors might not become accredited. Full accreditation indicates that the school has competent professors and a course load that can prepare students for the next steps in their careers and education.
Financial Aid Access
Students who attend unaccredited schools might have more trouble getting financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education requires that students seeking student loans attend accredited schools, and private lenders may also require school accreditation. Students who attend unaccredited schools might have to rely on grants and scholarships from the school, limiting their access to money to pay for college.
Grades and classes from fully accredited schools are more likely to transfer to other schools and be accepted by graduate and professional schools. Many graduate schools will not accept applicants from unaccredited colleges and universities, and some employers require that job applicants attend accredited schools. Because the quality of the curriculum at an unaccredited school has not been vetted, students may find that they are ill-prepared for further education and for the working world.
- Peterson's: Understanding Accreditation of U.S. Colleges and Universities
- 50States.com: Accreditation
- American Bar Association: Accreditation Overview
- American Veterinary Medical Association: What Does "Fully Accredited" Mean?
- U.S. Department of Education: The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
- U.S. Department of Education: Financial Aid for Postsecondary Students
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.