Enrolling in an online degree program has several benefits: convenience, flexibility, reduced costs. But there also some things to watch out for when you’re researching and applying for schools. The most dangerous of these is the diploma mill.
A diploma mill — also called a degree mill — isn’t a legitimate online college at all. Rather, it’s a business designed to make a profit off its “students” by simply taking their money and rewarding them with a degree that doesn’t have any real academic weight. Some prospective students are actually aware that the institutions are fradulent and use them just to build up their references, but most people who come in contact with diploma mills are honest students who become victimized by the phony companies.
In order to avoid losing your money to an online diploma mill, you’ll need to do a little research. First and foremost, check the accreditation. It’s important to remember that just as there are diploma mills, there are also accreditation mills, shady organizations set up to provide a sense of legitimacy to fake institutions. When checking accreditation of an online degree program, start by consulting the U.S. Department of Education to see if the school is legit. Additionally, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation lists more than 7,000 institutions and 18,000 programs that have been recognized by the CHEA, the U.S. Department of Education, or both. These are invaluable resources for avoiding diploma mills.
There are other areas to explore to avoid a diploma mill. For instance, how easy is it to contact the school or have them send you information? Diploma mills will do all they can to avoid interacting with you personally, but a real online degree program will let you speak with counselors, financial planners, and even professors as you prepare to enroll. If you can’t find any information about the faculty and their credentials, it’s a good bet you’re dealing with a diploma mill. Additionally, it’s a smart idea to contact the Better Business Bureau and see what they have to say about the institution, as well as any complaints that may have been filed against the program.
Finally, the best way to avoid online diploma mills is with common sense and some healthy skepticism. Online degree programs, though completed from the convenience of your own home, still require you to work for grades and diploma. Online diploma mills, though, promise easy programs that can be completed in weeks, something that a real degree-granting institution could never do. They’ll also try to entice potential victims with prices that apply to a full degree, whereas legitimate colleges and universities set their prices by the course or hour. The bottom line: If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. But with some smart preparations, you can avoid an online diploma mill and enjoy a rewarding education from a genuine university.