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Can You Earn a Legitimate Degree Online? Here’s How to be Sure!

Rachel NovotnyOct 1st, 2013

You’re sitting around the dining room table, bracing yourself. It’s Christmas Day, and as always, you know your extended family will be making unwelcome enquiries into your social activities, love life, and, of course, education.

As you begin filling Granny in on your college studies, how you’re pursuing them online instead of attending a college campus, Aunt Marge leans over the table, pats you on the elbow and asks: “But, Honey... are you sure you’re getting a real degree?”

You pause, push your peas around your plate and shoot your mom a look, begging her to jump in.

Silence.

Aunt Marge’s question is a good one: how do you know you are earning a legitimate degree?

The answer is accreditation.

Other than satisfying the curiosity of family members over Christmas dinner, accreditation proves your degree is being awarded by a quality academic institution, and will ensure both employers and grad school admissions offices of the quality of your education.

So what exactly is accreditation?

In short, accreditation is a “seal of approval” from a third party, assuring a school offers a quality academic experience.

While each school can be unique in requirements and teaching methods, accreditation strives to maintain a level of consistency in educational quality from school to school. In order to attain accreditation, schools must undergo a review process and meet a set of academic standards.

Why does accreditation matter to me?

You’ll spend a great deal of time and money earning your bachelor’s degree. You want to walk away with credentials that will open doors for you, right?

Accredited degrees are especially important when applying for jobs and higher education opportunities. When presenting a degree from an accredited institution, you prove to potential employers and admissions officers that your college education was legitimate.

If you earn an unaccredited bachelor’s degree, potential employers may not honor your degree and accredited schools may not allow you to apply to their graduate programs. Worst of all, any credits you might earn at an unaccredited school won’t transfer to an accredited one and you’ll have to do the work all over again.

What kind of accreditation does my school need?

Regional Accreditation is the most widely recognized form of accreditation and approves non-profit schools like Princeton, Yale, Liberty, and state schools (i.e., University of Alabama or Texas A&M).

National Accreditation exists for for-profit schools such as The Art Institute and Bryman College. This kind of accreditation for specialized schools accounts for less than 6% of all schools. Because the requirements for National Accreditation are less stringent than those for Regional Accreditation, credits earned from a Nationally accredited school may not transfer to a Regionally accredited college.

Read More: How to Make Sense of College Accreditation

A word of caution: Many “diploma mills” create their own accrediting programs so they can claim to be “fully accredited.” Before deciding on a school or program to pursue, find out who has accredited that school. Which leads us to the next question:

How do I know if my school is accredited?

It’s pretty simple. To find out if a school is accredited, visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website. Here you will find links to all 6 regional accreditation institutions and can discover if your school is accredited by one of the recognized accrediting agencies.


So, what does this all mean for you?

Other than no more ducking under the dinner table during family gatherings, you can remain confident that your online degree is worth the time and money you’re investing in it.

While online degrees are new to many, accreditation provides the backing needed to prove that your degree is legitimate. Potential employers and higher education institutions will recognize your degree (even if it still confuses Aunt Marge), and it will open doors for your future.

Rachel Novotny

Rachel Novotny is a Paleo foodie who's passionate about helping people achieve their potential. When she's not writing or adventuring, she's enjoying home life (and coffee) with her husband and their dogs.