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Fake Degrees from Real Universities? How to Spot a Diploma Mill

Updated on July 9, 2012

Over the last decade, we have seen an online college explosion. Many of these programs are fully accredited and legitimate ways to earn your college degree. However, there are also several companies, operating under the guise of online colleges, peddling degrees that are not worth the parchment they are printed on. These companies are called diploma mills, and are fairly easy to identify, if you follow a few simple tips.

  • A diploma mill will usually operate exclusively online.
  • Many diploma mills offer degrees based solely on life experience, meaning you would not have to take any classes or examinations.
  • A diploma will sometimes claim that you can earn a graduate degree (Masters or PhD) in a very short time period, one year or less, usually only requiring one or two courses and that you write a thesis paper.
  • A diploma mill will claim to be accredited, however the agencies they claim to be accredited through are an extension of their company they have invented to provide their customers with the delusion of credibility.
  • A fully accredited college should be at least nationally accredited by ACCSCT or DETC, or regionally accredited through one of six agencies: The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Accreditation Commission, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
  • Before you enroll in an online college, it is always a good idea to do some research. Check the organization's accreditation. Find out if the the school also has a physical campus. If you are unsure about a schools validity, you can also visit This site contains a lengthy list of known diploma mills, and unaccredited institutions.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Now that you know what to look for, you can avoid being scammed by these online predators. Just remember to do your homework before enrolling in any online college!


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      6 years ago

      Great hub and good information. One comment: the accrediting agencies have long ago sold out to the almighty dollar and there are a good many "colleges" that have papers that state they are accredited, but whose outcomes are much more akin to the diploma mill outcomes than to the state university outcomes.

      Consumers of higher education need to stop looking for a single source to prove quality and do their own due diligence on any institution and/or program they are about to pay significnat dollars to for an education.

      There are a number of for-profit institutions of "higher education" that are officially accredited, but whose graduates are poorer for the experience: poorer financially, because they had to borrow large sums of money to pay the tuition, and because that "degree" may not be valued by employers as legitimate; poorer in knowledge because they wasted time and belief in an institution that was little more than a diploma mill with a phony front.

      I've said it before,..... caveat emptor!

    • profile image

      Nan Mynatt 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the information. You explained the paper mills so that we can check on them. I wonder why hasn't the government checked on them. I marked you up on this one.

    • dmop profile image


      6 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      Good hub, thanks for the heads up.

    • keithlipke profile image


      6 years ago from Fort Wayne, Indiana

      Great post!


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