All about diploma mills

Institutions that issue diplomas - usually college diplomas - without accreditation are known as diploma mills. These outfits charge good money for a sometimes nonexistent education. As with most things in life, offers that sound too good to be true, usually are. These days, when there are many legitimate institutions offering college diplomas for online education, it can be hard to tell the frauds from the real thing. They know you want to believe that you can earn your college degree in a short amount of time, without attending classes, and that you will pay them good money for the privilege.

Diploma mills also will try to convince you that, for the right amount of money, you can use your life experience to gain an advanced buy diploma. Although there are some legitimate programs that give credits for life experience - usually after extensive testing or the presentation of a portfolio - you cannot earn a doctorate, for example, without doing some actual course work.

Many companies do not check your credentials when they hire you. They may only verify the existence of an institution, if they don't recognize the name. Similarly, some companies may require employees to gain an advanced degree in order to qualify for promotion, and will simply accept a diploma for their files as proof. That's why some diplomas maintain snazzy Web sites. They may even feature pictures of impressive-looking buildings with ivy-covered walls. In reality, their only "campus" may be someone's basement or spare bedroom. Diploma mills also get away with it because of wishful thinking on the part of students who want to believe that filling out a questionnaire or writing an essay can help them avoid taking classes.

How to identify diploma mills

The first thing to check if you suspect a school is actually a diploma mill is their accreditation. There are relatively few accrediting agencies, which can be found on the U.S. Department of Education Web site, Any other "accreditation," no matter how good it may sound, is useless.

Diploma mills can be hard to reach. A real school will have not only an email address but phone numbers for several contact people. Similarly, legitimate institutions boast of their faculties and list many professors' names on their Web sites. Those names generally show up in other Web searches with links to academic organizations or publications. A lack of verifiable faculty names is a good clue to a diploma accreditation.

Diploma mills like to use names that sound like well-known schools. Legitimate institutions, on the other hand, do not want to be confused with other schools. Genuine institutions of higher education charge by the course, credit, or semester. One flat fee for the entire degree is an indication that you are buying a diploma, not an education.