In our modern age of online education, there are hundreds of qualified, credentialed programs available to students looking to earn a degree with a bit more flexibility than sitting down most of the day in a traditional college classroom. Right along with these online extensions of real college programs came the diploma mills.

A diploma mill is a “school” that doesn’t give you a chance to earn a degree – it simply sells the degree to you. Of course some school programs are better than others, but the diploma mill is at the absolute bottom of the barrel. In fact, it’s not a school at all.

Are you being taken for a ride? Here are ten ways to tell.

Overly aggressive marketing.

If you’re a senior in high school with high SAT scores, you can expect to get quite a few flyers in the mail. If you’re a regular adult working online bombarded with emails and banners telling you how authentic and notarized a particular college is there is room for doubt. There is a huge amount of concern if colleges start calling you up on a Tuesday afternoon without any requests from you.

Light to no academic work or interaction.

A diploma mill isn’t exactly an academic powerhouse. In fact, there isn’t really any academics at all. If you’re earning course credit without doing any course work, there is a serious problem with the quality of your “education.”

Unlimited enrollment based on ability to pay.

If all it takes is a working credit card to sign up for the “school”, you’re not in school. You’re in a business. And a shady one at that.

Degrees based on work experiences and resumes.

While it would be nice to earn a degree from the school of Hard Knocks, in reality it takes more than seven years of showing up on time to a minimum-wage job to actually earn a bachelor’s degree. Likewise, doing a few years of data entry won’t earn you a master’s degree – no matter how nicely you write it up on your resume.

Almost instant degree.

If the college advertises that you can earn a four year degree in just 30 days you’re not looking at a real degree program. It is possible to earn a bachelor’s degree in less than four years, but that requires a tremendous amount of work year-round – not signing the credit card receipt.

Flat fee payments for degrees.

If a school offers you a degree program guaranteed to earn you a bachelors for $499 you’re living in a pipe dream. While some schools may give you an estimated payment for a full degree, a real college charges tuition based on credit hours and semesters – not bulk degree pricing.

Complaints galore.

There is a huge, glowing, neon sign if there are hundreds or thousands of complaints online about diploma mills. If others are telling you to stay away. Stay away!

No faculty are listed on the website.

Colleges are proud of their faculty. After all, these are institutions that sell knowledge and credentials. The better the faculty, the better the knowledge! If there is no faculty roster or list, raise an eyebrow. If there are fake degrees paired with faculty names, run away.

The college is located in a foreign country but offers degrees only to American citizens.

A college located in Mexico would first serve the population of Mexico. Likewise a school in France would serve the population of France. Any college that exists overseas but only is available to residents of the United States is not just strange, it’s unheard of.

The admissions people explain how overseas schools are never accredited in the United States.

To get around the pesky overseas-only-for-US issues in #9, some colleges try to tell Americans that foreign universities can’t be accredited in the United States. This is 100% false. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation exists for this very reason. When a school lies to you to get your money – it’s absolutely a diploma mill.


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