how to identify and protect yourself from a diploma mill

Posted : March 4, 2009
Last Updated : December 7, 2016

how to identify and protect yourself from a diploma mill

A diploma mill is an organization that makes a profit by awarding degrees and diplomas to students (who are unaware they are enrolling at a degree mill) or buyers (who know they are committing fraud but want to build their credentials quickly) while requiring little or no academic study. These organizations are not recognized by official educational accrediting agencies, but they claim accreditation by unapproved accrediting agencies in order to look legit. Because most of these organizations do claim accreditation, you may fall victim to these scams if you are a student looking for an honest education. Get familiar with these tips on identifying and protecting yourself from a diploma mill.

Telltale Signs of a Diploma Mill
Diploma mills come in two forms. The first type of diploma mill is one where very minimal effort and course work is required for graduation. The second type of diploma mill is one that will just sell a student a certificate with his or her name on it.  A "school" might be a diploma mill if it:

  • Has a name similar to reputable universities but fails to mention an accrediting agency or names a fake accrediting agency.
  • Lacks state and/or federal authority to operate.
  • Changes addresses frequently.
  • Guarantees a degree in a very short time period (usually less than a month).
  • Offers very little or no interaction with professors or faculty.
  • Requires no admissions information such as transcripts, GPA, or standardized test scores.
  • Has numerous spelling and grammatical errors on website, written material, or even diploma.
  • Gives vague degree requirements (e.g. no class descriptions).
  • Requires no visits to the school for face-to-face meetings with personnel.
  • Requires that tuition and fees be paid on a per-degree basis instead of a per-semester, per-quarter, or per-course basis.
  • Advertises through spam emails or Internet pop-up ads.

Be wary of diploma mill sales pitches such as:

  • "You can receive a degree from our university based on your life experience. No classes necessary!"
  • "Get your bachelor's degree in five weeks!"
  • "You will receive your diploma within days."
  • "With an additional payment of $100 in tuition, you will earn Summa Cum Laude."
  • "Get your bachelor's degree AND a master's degree today for $1,500."

Protect Yourself from Diploma Mill Fraud
If you want to enroll in a degree program, you must thoroughly research the school (especially online degree-granting institutions) to ensure the organization is legitimate. If you have any doubts, follow these procedures to avoid fraud:

  • Check for accreditation. Use the U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs as one source to check for accreditation. This list is not all-inclusive, so additional database sources should be used as well.
  • Get in touch with licensing boards and professional associations and inquire about the school's programs and training.
  • Contact your Better Business Bureau or state Attorney General to inquire about the legitimacy of the school and to see if a complaint has been filed.
  • Ask the organization lots of questions. What are the admissions requirements? Who teaches the courses and what degrees do they have? Where can I find course descriptions? What are the requirements for graduation?

The degrees offered by diploma mills are not recognized in the job market, so don't risk your future by obtaining one of these fake degrees. Do your research to make sure you don't fall victim to these clever scams. For more information about diploma mills, visit the U.S. Department of Education website.


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