Accredited vs. Unaccredited Schools

If you are thinking about getting your degree online, you have a daunting task in front of you. What's legit, what's a scam? You can find disgruntled former students complaining on discussion boards about every school, for every conceivable infraction. It's not easy, but there are ways to narrow your search. One important first step is to check the credentials of online degree programs.

Accredited Online Schools

Accreditation is a system of review of the educational practices and program quality of educational institutions and programs by a third party -- or, more succinctly, quality control. Many industries and employers only recognize accredited online degrees. Accrediting agencies also determine compliance with federal regulations regarding student access and safety. In most cases, online students are only eligible for federal and state financial aid if they are attending an accredited online school.

Many different types of accreditation agencies are recognized by the United States Department of Education --national, regional, programmatic, hybrid. A complete list of accredited online schools and accrediting agencies is available at the Department of Education's website.

Unaccredited Online Degrees

Not all online degree programs are accredited. There are a number of reasons a school might not maintain accreditation. Every school starts out unaccredited; even well-known accredited online schools started out having to prove themselves. A school might lose accreditation due to financial or quality issues. Some schools choose not to participate in the accreditation system for reasons of academic, religious, or political freedoms, or do not comply with federal regulations somehow. Although rare, other unaccredited online programs may be diploma mills, offering degrees of no educational value to the unsuspecting student.

While there may be worthwhile unaccredited programs, accreditation is the mark of credibility recognized by potential employers and peers alike. Accredited online schools come with a pedigree that can give you some confidence in the standards and quality of your future education.


Rory Dowd is a house-dad, stand-up poet, and freelance writer. His experience also includes mentorship, development, and advocacy with diverse target populations including at-risk-teens and young adults, the developmentally and physically disabled, and the homeless. Rory is currently a graduate student in Kaplan University's Online Master of Science in Higher Education program with a concentration in Student Affairs.

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