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Diploma Mills - How to Spot Them


Any post-secondary educational institute will give you a well-recognized degree or diploma, right? Wrong. There are institutions that will actually sell you a degree or require very little work to obtain one. How do you spot these institutions? Some can be spotted a mile away and others are more subtle in their approach.

Webster's 3rd New World Dictionary defines a diploma mill as:

"An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless."

While some diploma mills, also known as degree mills, will sell fake or "replacement" diplomas, degrees, and transcripts from legitimate institutions, others will lure prospective students into enrolling in programs of study leading to a totally worthless and unaccredited degree.

One way to recognize a diploma mill is if they claim you will obtain your diploma in a very short amount of time, even as little as a few days. Some require little or no work to "earn" the diploma. Other diploma mills will award a degree or diploma based on the life experience of the applicant. While legitimate institutions will also consider a mature applicant's life experience, they require solid proof of that experience.

So how can you tell if the institution you're thinking about is legitimate? The Federal Trade Commission provides some tell-tale signs of a diploma mill:

  • No Studies, No Exams -- Get a Degree for Your Experience. Diploma mills grant degrees for "work or life experience" alone. Accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience pertinent to a degree program, but not an entire degree.

  • No Attendance -- Legitimate colleges or universities, including online schools, require substantial course work.

  • Flat Fee -- Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Legitimate colleges charge by the credit, course, or semester, not a flat fee for an entire degree.

  • No Waiting -- Operations that guarantee a degree in a few days, weeks, or even months aren't legitimate. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree very quickly, it's probably a diploma mill.

  • Click Here To Order Now! -- Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales tactics. Accredited colleges don't use spam or high-pressure telemarketing to market themselves. Some diploma mills also advertise in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web.

  • Advertising through spam or pop-ups -- If the school caught your attention through an unsolicited email or pop-up ad, it may be a diploma mill. Legitimate institutions, including distance learning programs, won't advertise through spam or pop-ups.

There are a number of questions one should ask of an institution to determine its legitimacy. Prospective students should ask if the diploma could be bought. Red flags should go up if there is a very short timeline to "earn" a diploma or if minimal attendance is required and there are few requirements for graduation. There is also likely to be a problem if the institution will not provide a faculty list, information about a campus business location or address, or if it bears a name similar to another well-known college or university.

Do not assume that an institution is legitimate just because they claim to be accredited! Although many diploma mills claim to be "accredited," their accreditation is often from a bogus, but official-sounding agency that they created themselves. DO NOT give out any personal banking or credit card information until you are certain of the institution's accreditation status.

Always verify accreditation status yourself. Is the accrediting agency recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or the the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)? If the answer is no, do not apply to this institution!

It is a world of "buyer beware", so do your homework!

 
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