How can you spot a diploma mill? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is the school accredited? Accreditation proves that a school meets minimum standards. An unaccredited or falsely accredited school is the classic red flag of a diploma mill. Want to know if a traditional or online school is accredited? The Department of Education doesn’t accredit schools, but it does maintain a database of reputable accrediting organizations.
2. Where is the school located? It’s not necessary for a school to have a big physical campus. Virtual campuses can be excellent too, if they’re managed correctly. But if the only address you can find is a P.O. Box or an office suite, you may have stumbled onto a diploma mill.
3. Is the school making claims that seem too good to be true? Is a school promising to give you most of the required credits for “life experience?” Is it saying you don’t have to take exams or complete coursework, or that you can earn an advanced degree in a few months? Did it have few or no admission criteria? According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, these are the warning signs of a diploma mill. Legitimate degrees require time and hard work.
4. What about the faculty? You should be able to verify basic faculty credentials through an internet search. Likewise, the school’s materials should make it clear that you’ll have plenty of access to faculty, whether by telephone, online, or in person. Lack of access to quality faculty is a classic sign of a diploma mill.
5. How is tuition charged? If a school says it can give you a money-back guarantee in the form of a “scholarship”, or if it charges “by the degree” instead of per credit hour, you might be dealing with a diploma mill.
6. What is the school’s internet address? The U.S. Department of Commerce manages the .edu domain, and in 2001 it awarded a contract to EDUCAUSE to enforce strict requirements to protect the .edu designation. Chances are that if a college or university has a domain name ending in .edu, it’s probably not a diploma mill. However, some unscrupulous people opened up schools under the .edu domain before the 2001 changes, so you still need to look for red flags.
7. What is the school’s name? According to the Federal Trade Commission, if a school has a name that sounds like a famous or elite university, it might be a diploma mill trying to profit from the confusion.
8. How does the school advertise? Beware of a school that advertises through pop-up windows in your internet browser, or sends you unsolicited e-mail. Legitimate schools don’t advertise themselves that way.