Five ways to spot a diploma mill

Adult students have a rich array of schools to choose from when selecting online or distance learning programs. Unfortunately, reputable degree programs stand alongside unaccredited diploma mills — fake schools that exist solely to make money and fleece busy adult students. On the Internet, it’s hard to tell a legitimate institution from a fake one.

Here are just a few warning signs that a school is not worth your time or money.

  1. Its site lists no names and little or no contact information. At the bare minimum, a legitimate school will list a phone number and physical address on its website. Be wary of “schools” that list only an apartment or a P.O. box. In the same vein, a legitimate school will list the names and contact information of faculty members, deans, and other officials, while a diploma mill will not (usually because they have no teaching faculty whatsoever).
  2. A school claims to be small, yet offers a large number of majors. This is a good indication that a school has no teaching faculty, requires little to no work from its students, and is simply trying to net as many victims as possible.
  3. The school is vague or ambiguous when speaking about its accreditation, or attempts to downplay the importance of being accredited. The bottom line is that a school needs to be properly accredited if you want your degree to be recognized by employers. Therefore, if a school downplays the importance of being accredited, they are more interested in your money than in supplying quality education. Similarly, don’t take a school at face value if they claim to be “fully,” “nationally,” or “globally” accredited – anyone can claim to be accredited, and anyone can claim to be an accrediting agency. To snare unsuspecting students, some diploma mills even set up fake websites for an accrediting agency. To be absolutely sure a school is properly accredited, check it against a list of known diploma mills (, and research the school’s accreditation using the database of the U.S. Department of Education (
  4. The school makes outrageous promises. Only a diploma mill will brag that they don’t require studying, essay-writing, or test-taking. Similarly, steer clear if a school claims to award degrees on the sole basis of portfolio assessments of life experience. Though some legitimate schools allow students to earn some credit through portfolio assessments or passing tests based on life experience, they are picky about what they accept and allow students to earn only a limited number of credits amassed using the portfolio system. Lastly, avoid schools that claim to award degrees in mere weeks or months.
  5. The school offers degrees for a flat fee, rather than by course or credit hour. This is a good sign that the “school” requires little to no work and is not interested in teaching students anything.

When researching online or distance learning programs, don’t fall for the slick, official-looking websites that diploma mills use to lure students. A little independent research and skepticism can steer you away from diploma mills and toward a reputable program that can help you achieve your goals. 

Related posts:

  1. 5 tips for selecting an online university
  2. Traditional colleges vs. Online colleges
  3. 2 reasons to consider attending an online college in your own state
  4. What jobs best suit your personality? Take an assessment quiz!
  5. Care to test drive an online course?
  6. Why you should consider taking online classes
  7. Is online learning right for you?
  8. Importance of online college accreditation
  9. How online degrees affect your financial aid eligibility

Author: Marianne Madden; visit for more information about diploma mills.


Top Online College Degree Programs

Walden University - Bachelor's, Master's, & Doctorate Degrees. Walden University is dedicated in ensuring students receive the education they need to advance in their careers. Their programs are convenient and effective, providing working students with the flexibility they need.
Capella University - Capella University is an accredited college that offers online Bachelor's, master's, Doctoral, and Certificate programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession. Our competency-based curriculum delivers both foundational knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you're learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals.
Kaplan University - Associate's, Bachelor's, & Master's Degrees. Considered a top online college, Kaplan University offers students affordable and convenient online classes. Kaplan University is an accredited university that provides students the education to become successful professionals upon graduation.
American InterContinental University - Associate's , Bachelor's & Master's Degrees. With campuses located around the world, American InterContinental University has been educating students for over 35 years. AIU offers flexible and interactive programs that assist the students in graduating at their own pace.
Colorado Technical University - Associate's, Bachelor's, & Master's Degrees. By designing their programs to meet the changing needs of today's world, Colorado Technical University prepares students for a career in the most competitive industries. Additionally, they offer accelerated and flexible programs to allow students to enter the professional world sooner than traditional programs.
Liberty University - Associate's, Bachelor's & Master's Degrees. Pioneering distance education since 1985, Liberty University now enrolls more than 90,000 students from around the world in its thriving online program. With more than 230 fully accredited programs of study, Liberty University Online offers degrees from the certificate to the postgraduate level.
Post University - Associate's, Bachelor's & Master's Degrees. Post University is a premiere destination for students in obtaining their college degree online. Post University offers a dynamic curriculum to every student and are taught by the very best professors in their field of study.