Don't Be a Victim! Here's how you Can Identify a Diploma Mill

Posted on March 21 2011

Success often comes using the right mixture - education, hard work and knowing where to find your opportunities. So, to increase your chances of success by building your academic credentials, you have decided to enrol in an online course to get a degree. Or, you have missed out and were not able to graduate from high school. Thus, you decided to play catch up by getting online high school classes.

You worked hard to go through the coursework and are excited to finally get your high school diploma, only to find out that it is not accepted anywhere. The university you are applying to won't recognize the credits you supposedly receive from the high school program or the diploma you have is not recognized by your employer. This means that the diploma you have in your hands is not even worth the paper it's printed on.

Although there are a lot of legitimate online high school programs and virtual colleges out there, there are also diploma mills. It is important to protect yourself (or your child) from these fraudulent entities to save yourself the time and expense, as well as the embarrassment of hearing a prospective employer say that your diploma is a fake. Or worse, you may find yourself out of a job because your employer discovered that your degree is from a diploma mill.

What are diploma mills?

Basically, these churn out diplomas and degrees which are actually not accepted by other schools and colleges, nor potential employers. These invariably do not truly evaluate the academic aspect of the student's performance. In short, they are selling diplomas or degree without the student having to do much by way of course work.

There are two kinds of diploma mills: one that sells degrees or diplomas openly - where the buyers know that the degree is in fact illegitimate; and one that purports to be a real college or university that offers a real degree when in fact the degree is considered bogus by other legitimate entities.

Identifying Diploma and Degree Mills

Here are warning signs you should look out for when considering a virtual high school or an online college:

  • You can get your diploma very quickly - in as little as 3 weeks. This unrealistic time frame allows you to get a high school diploma, a bachelor's degree or even a doctoral degree. They also don't require much by way of course work - no assignments, attendance, readings and exams.
  • You can opt to receive academic honors (i.e. magna cum laude or summa cum laude) if you're willing to pay for higher rates. You can also specify the grades you want at the time of purchase. The diploma or degree may also be priced on a per degree basis and not on a per course basis. Most legitimate online schools bill based on each class or credit hours (with packages offered for 1 semester's or 1 year's credits).
  • The school often takes on a name that is similar to well-known and respected schools. However, there is no named accrediting agency or the agency that supplied the accreditation is actually not approved and acknowledged by the Department of Education. The school may also present themselves as a religious organization. (Please note that not all unaccredited online schools are degree mills - they may just be on the process of getting accreditation or they really opted not to get accreditation. Do ask for their reason why they are unaccredited.)
  • There is no consistent address, with the address directed to a P.O Box or an apartment number or is changing from state to state. Be wary if you don't see a phone number that you can call.
  • The materials and even the website page have a lot of grammatical and spelling errors.
  • You can opt to backdate your diploma or your degree.
  • The online school does not ask for your previous academic records and do not have an admissions and selection process (where there are no prerequisite qualifications prior to getting a degree).
  • The degrees offered do not have a list of courses to be completed, the courses do not have well-defined descriptions and there are no required credit hours in order to complete the degree or program.
  • There is no real interaction between the student and the faculty or teachers. For instance, the student only receives two emails for the entire course.
  • The school promotes the concept of "credit for life experience" or credit based on your previous experiences and knowledge. Be wary of schools that offer you a degree based on your resume.

Don't be fooled by promises of a quick and easy degree. Usually, if it is too good to be true, it usually isn't. Before investing your money and time into an online school program, it is best to do your homework to avoid being scammed by a diploma or degree mill.

Work with a Legitimate and Accredited Online School

Online high schools are still a viable option, regardless of the fact that there are diploma mills around. One way to make sure that you are getting actual credits towards a diploma is to work with a reputable and accredited online school such as The American Academy. The American Academy is accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission.