Top Warning Signs of an Education Scam, Diploma Mill or Fake
Here is a checklist to allow you to quickly an easily check
whether a school and it's degree are real or fake. You've seen the ads and
received the spam for quick degree scams - "Get your degree in 30 days!" "No studying
required", "Turn your experience into a degree". They say they
are accredited and the degree is legal and meaningful. That's part of the scam.
Starting with the simplest, fastest ways to check, here is a checklist to help
you verify if a school you are interested in is real, and to spot the diploma
mills, and separate the scams schools from real educational institutions:
- Too Little Time Required
An accredited, genuine bachelor's (undergraduate) degree
takes 2 to 5 years to achieve. Anyone promising a BS, BA, MA, MS, MBA or PhD degree in days,
weeks or a few months is scamming you. Period.
- The school offers college credits
solely for lifetime or real world experience.
Sorry, there is no free lunch. This is quite simply, nonsense.
Degrees are not granted based upon the knowledge you already have, but rather
upon the successful completion of a process that includes training, interaction
with professors and a process of learning. Some legitimate institution offer
credit for life or work experiences and a combination of the following methods
to determine how much credit is given: standardized tests, prior learning
portfolio, oral exams, past college credit, and professional certification. The
amount of credit awarded will vary from institution to institution, but none
will give a degree for ONLY life or work experiences.
- Does the website have a .edu suffix?
All real schools have a domain that ends in .edu. A few scam schools
managed to sneak in, but aside from a couple of community colleges that are
still in the application process, if the school does not have a .edu extension,
- Are there many negative reports at the Better Business Bureau?
If the school is based in the United States or Canada, and someone has filed a
complaint about the school, there will be a report about it. A complaint by
itself does not mean the school is a scam; all schools receive some complaints.
But the BBB also balances those and provides their
own review and rating. On the other hand, if the school isn't in the BBB at
all, that does not mean anything: only that no one has yet filed a complaint
- Location - outside the US or in certain states
Some countries and U.S. states have lax standards that allow almost anyone
to operate a “college". You can pretty much forget any non-U.S. school
that contacts you. Reputable overseas schools don't recruit via email in
the U.S. Many diploma mills are located within the U.S.; in
states like Wyoming, Mississippi, and Alabama. Fraud laws and higher
education regulations are so flimsy in these areas that unaccredited and
low-quality colleges and universities may flourish. On the other hand,
Oregon has strong state laws that provide penalties for people operating degree
mills, so a school accredited in Oregon is probably ok.
- Tuition paid on a per-degree basis
Or discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Accredited
institutions charge by credit hours, course, or semester.
- School's Address/Phone and Other Basic Information is Missing
If the school does not have a clearly published physical address and contact
phone number and the only way to reach the school is through its website, this is
a clear indicator that the school is a scam diploma mill. At the very least, there
should be some sort of street address and telephone number. If the address
is a PO box numbers or a suite - that is a scams. That campus may very well be a
mail drop box or someone's attic. Similarly, the names and backgrounds of the
professors and schools deans and other leaders should be prominently posted. A
scam school will either no publish the names and information or steal names and
photos from other schools (a Google search on the names will turn that up).
- Names that are similar to well known reputable universities
Names that are clearly made up to sound like the name of a real university (but
aren't!): like the following fake names: "Oxford England University", "Hardvard
University", "University of Britain"
- Is the school REALLY accredited?
In some states, it can be illegal to use a degree
from an institution that is not accredited by a nationally recognized
accrediting agency, unless approved by the state licensing agency. It's
important to determine if a degree from an unaccredited institution will allow
you to achieve your career goals. To help you, take a look at a list of
questions about accreditation. How can you check the accreditation? If the school is trying to convince you that accreditation is optional or
that it is only needed to obtain federal financial aid, forget it. Of
course, accreditation is technically optional, but there are only a handful of
schools in the US that are not accredited and still have a decent reputation. To
check whether a U.S. institution of higher education and postsecondary career or
technical school is accredited, go to
Institutions and Programs.
Another newer website from the government is
the OPE.gov accreditation page.
- Unprofessional website?
Most diploma mills make dreadful looking websites . You can always check the
page source to see how they made the page (View > Page Source in your browser)
and look for Microsoft Word or Publisher as the editor name.
- A huge list of Degrees or Majors Offered?
Even large real, respected universities, with 20,000 students or more, like
the University of Virginia, Stanford or the University of Michigan may only
offer a total of 100 degrees. Some small schools have a number of degrees, like
Tulane. And many small, but respected schools, like Muhlenberg, only offer a
handful of degrees. But, for a small, unknown school to offer hundreds of
degrees can only mean a scam! Here are examples for
Muhlenberg, all reputable schools in their categories.
- Has it been identified on a list of scam schools?
Check this page
for a list of schools already identified as scams. Keep in mind that if you
do not find the school's name on the list, that does not mean it is NOT a scam;
it just may be too new to have made the list yet.
- No need to speak with a professor
Little or no interaction with professors is a sign of a scam. Even legitimate,
strictly online universities require mentoring and interaction with multiple
- Have you or anyone you know heard of the school?
Is it a well-known, reputable school? Is the school and its accreditor listed on
the Council on Higher Education
Accreditation's website CHEA is
the agency that accredits the school accreditors. The U.S.
Department of Education also accredits accreditors.