diploma-millA diploma mill is a pejorative term for an institution of higher education that is not accredited by any pertinent governing bodies, but still charges a fee for diplomas without requiring applications, coursework, or other benchmarks of a worthwhile institution. This is considered a scam since the diplomas issued by these institutions are typically worthless. Read on to learn more about the warning signs of a this type of scam and how to avoid getting taken in by an illegitimate educational institution.

What Are the Warning Signs of Diploma Mills?

While many schools of this type are difficult to spot, knowing the warning signs and red flags can help you avoid wasting your money on a worthless diploma. If an online college offers to sell you a diploma based on your life experience, work experience, or other credentials without having you apply or set foot in a classroom, it is not a legitimate diploma. If the website lists no courses or faculty, or only faculty who are accredited by similar institutions, avoid giving them your money. It’s also a red flag if the “school” is located in a foreign country but only grants degrees in the U.S., or has only a post office box instead of a street address. According to the Better Business Bureau, a diploma mill may have a name that’s very similar to that of a legitimate institution. These schools typically charge a flat fee for your “degree” rather than bill on a per-credit basis for the coursework you actually complete.

How Do Diploma Mills Work?

To avoid detection, the purveyors of this type of scam change the name of the institution, move from state to state as well as to foreign countries, and exploit those areas with the weakest educational laws. They often have high-pressure salespeople on the team that prey on those who may not be familiar with the higher education landscape and can easily get taken in by this type of scam.

How Can You Spot Legitimate Online Colleges?

Many online colleges enjoy excellent, well-deserved reputations. First, make sure that the program that you’re interested in is accredited by the necessary governing body. This should be either the e Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education, or an entity recognized by one of these agencies. A list of these agencies is available online. When in doubt, stick to an online program that’s associated with a well-respected university that also has physical locations. While most legitimate colleges have a .edu address, this alone is not proof of legitimacy.

With the advent of the Internet and the poor state of the economy, diploma mills have been given opportunity to thrive in the United States. To learn more about diploma mills as well as what to do if you suspect or have been taken in by an educational scam, visit the U.S. Department of Education online.

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