The practice of handing out fake diplomas and degrees to people is far from new. In fact, the earliest known diploma mill was exposed in the late 19th century – almost 140 years ago. But it’s not surprising that it’s easier to get tricked into paying for a fake education certificate now than ever before. Not only has the internet made these scams easier, higher education is also more important. You hear everywhere that the bachelor’s degree is the new diploma, and that it’s becoming impossible to get hired at even a semi-decent job without one. And yet, according to the New York Times, the average American household income fell 7 percent in the last decade while the cost of college rose 18 percent. Everywhere, people are looking for online colleges as alternatives to spending four years and thousands upon thousands of dollars to get a degree. But how do you know if the degree is worthless?
1. Research Accreditation
It used to be that you could spot a diploma mill scam simply by finding out the online school you’re applying to is not accredited. But now, so-called “accreditation mills” have become the norm, where a fake school advertises being accredited by a completely fake agency that they made up themselves. Even if the school claims to be international, you should never give money to any educational organization that is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. International schools can be accredited, so don’t let them tell you any differently. Another way to spot phony schools is to check the faculty listings, because sometimes the teachers are listed as having attended bogus schools, too.
2. Remember Life Experience Degrees are Scams
If you hear someone on Facebook bragging about how his online college took an assessment of work experience, military training, and classes he was good at in high school and awarded him a “life experience” degree for a lump sum – this person has been scammed. There is no accredited college, online or offline, who will award you a legitimate degree without you earning credits the old fashioned way. Yes, there are a few select universities where you may be able to prove you have enough prior learning to test out of certain classes. But even that won’t earn you a finished degree, especially not for a flat rate of a few thousand dollars. This kind of diploma mill scam goes right after those “school of life” people who resent the need for college in today’s market.
3. Stick to Schools Where You Can Be Turned Down
No matter how bad your grades were in high school, online colleges that assure you nobody will be turned away are probably scams. Especially if you find out you don’t have to submit anything – besides money – to get started. A real school will want your transcripts and test scores, even if they’re a for-profit school that typically accepts almost all applicants. And make sure there is a time commitment involved in getting your degree. If it’s 30 days or less, they’re simply printing out a piece of paper with your name on it. Online colleges pride themselves on getting students to finish their programs quickly, often in two years instead of four. But that still means classes should be of a certain length and effort should be required.
No matter how nice it would be to avoid the high price tag of college, the truth is there are no shortcuts. And taking the time to research legitimate education options before giving away your hard-earned money for a useless piece of paper is really important in this day and age. Don’t be fooled by these mysterious international institutions where you can’t walk into an actual building. Get serious about your future instead.
Writer Brett Harris is an avid education blogger. Check out his most recent writing on the best non profit online schools.