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How Do I Know if an Online Degree Program is Legitimate?

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When you’re considering attending college through a distance learning program, finding a legitimate online degree can be challenging. While many accredited colleges and universities do offer online programs, there are also for profit institutions, or “diploma mills” that take the money of unsuspecting patrons in exchange for a meaningless “degree.” Fortunately, by doing your research it’s easy to tell whether the online degree program you’re looking at is legitimate. Read on for some guidelines to keep in mind.

Know What to Look For

Even if a school says they’re accredited by an official sounding organization, this so-called accreditation could be meaningless. You want to make sure that the program is accredited by an organization that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The latter provides a full list on its website.  Although programs may claim to be accredited by other bodies, these are typically not legitimate if not recognized by the government and CHEA.

Avoid Programs that Seem Too Good to Be True

Legitimate online programs have admissions and completion requirements that should be fairly similar to comparable traditional programs. If you can enter the school without an application process, if you’re given course credit for “life experience,” or if the school claims you can get a degree by mail in an incredibly short time, the program is typically not legitimate. Also avoid those that charge a flat fee rather than having you pay for course credits as you take classes–especially if the fee seems relatively low compared to the value of the degree you expect to receive.

What’s In a Name

For best results, look for online programs that are managed by reputable brick and mortar institutions. Existing colleges and universities offer many online programs that are comparable in scope and prestige to their traditional programs. Find the schools that are tops in the field you’re interested in studying, then do some research to find out which have online programs. Also look into schools that are touted by the relevant professional organizations in your field of study; for example, look for online dental programs that are recognized by the American Dental Association. Beware of programs with names or that tout accreditations that sound similar to those of legitimate programs, but are slightly different; bogus programs often use an incorrect spelling to fool unsuspecting students into enrolling.

As technology advances and the nation becomes increasingly more global, online programs are truly the wave of education future. Looking closely into these programs before signing up is an important part of the due diligence of the college application process. U.S. News and World Report is a good resource when you’re first starting to investigate potential programs. Although finding a legitimate online degree program can be daunting, by doing your research you will be able to enroll in a convenient, cost effective college or university online program that’s right for you.


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