How to Spot a Diploma Mill 

While education may be an investment in your future, it doesn’t always come cheaply. Avoid wasting money on fake schools and degrees by following these guidelines.

What is a Diploma Mill?

In short, it’s a scam to steal your money in exchange for a fake degree. Often, diploma mills advertise degrees that you can earn with little effort; some even have no courses at all and give the degree out on a basis of “life experience.”

What happens if you earn a degree from a diploma mill? You definitely won’t experience the benefits that come with earning a legitimate degree; employers are unlikely to honor it, and you won’t be able to earn a higher degree at a reputable college. Furthermore, there’s even a chance that you could face civil or criminal prosecution for using one of these fake diplomas to gain employment.

How to Tell a Diploma Mill

There are several warning signs that you can use to tell if a school is legitimate or not. Here are some to keep in mind:

  • No or Fake Accreditation: Accreditation means that a third party organization has vetted a school’s teaching staff and curriculum, and decided that they meet the organization’s quality standards. Often times, diploma mills will have fake accreditation, or no accreditation at all. If a school has a very long and overly-impressive string of accreditations, this can also be a bad sign. Check the legitimacy of the accreditation agency here; you can also use the Department of Education’s database to search for properly accredited schools.
  • A Similar Name: One strategy of many fake schools is to pick a name that sounds very similar to that of a well-known legitimate school. For example, a fake school might advertise itself as “Havard College” instead of Harvard, or Stamford University instead of Stanford. This can often be a sign that the school is trying to fool prospective students.
  • Charging Per Degree & Degree “Sales”: Many diploma mills charge a flat fee for their degree programs, which is paid all at once or in monthly installments. Legitimate schools do not charge this way; they instead charge per credit hour, based on the number of course credits taken. Diploma mills also often advertise savings or deals that a student can get by enrolling in multiple degree programs.
  • No Homework & No Tests: If a degree program advertises zero work for earning the degree, that should be an immediate red flag. No legitimate school awards a college degree based totally on life experience.
  • Short Time Frame: Even if a college degree does have some course work, if it is still much quicker to earn than a traditional program, it might be fake. For example, it’s impossible to earn a bachelor’s degree in under a year, without prior school work.
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