Choosing and enrolling in a college degree program, whether online or traditional, can be confusing. There is so much information out there that it can be hard for students and their families to know what information is relevant to them, much less to distinguish true information from misleading statements designed to trick students. Unfortunately, while there are many legitimate and accredited online college degree programs that can provide students with an excellent distance learning education, there are also diploma mills that charge students for a worthless degree without ever providing them with the knowledge and skills to achieve their goals. Don’t let the fear of being cheated by a diploma mill deter you from furthering your education online. Instead, know what a diploma mill does and how to make sure no one takes advantage of you.

Defining Diploma Mills

In the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the United States Department of Education considers diploma mills to be entities that meet two requirements: they charge money for a degree, certificate or diploma while requiring little or no study and they are not accredited by any established and recognized agency. Accreditation is one of the most important ways you can be sure an online degree program is legitimate. Essentially, consider any unaccredited school that puts a higher priority on getting money from you than on providing a quality education as a potential diploma mill or degree mill, and look elsewhere for your education.

Diploma Mills Cheat Students in More Ways than One

The money you pay to a degree mill has real value, but the certificate you get in exchange for it does not. It really is just a piece of paper. Without being held to the high standards that accredited schools must meet, the degree you receive from a diploma mill does not demonstrate any kind of proficiency. Employers and other, established schools typically will not recognize it. Such a degree is unlikely to help you begin a new career, secure a better job or stand out to earn a promotion.

There’s another way that diploma mills cheat students, too. Perhaps a potential employer won’t research the school and discover that it is not accredited, but while a degree from a diploma mill might help you find a job, it won’t help you excel at or keep that job. The degree may look good on your résumé, but it’s ultimately the knowledge and skills that you learn during your education that allow you to achieve success later in your career. You deserve a real education, not just a meaningless certificate.

Getting a degree without having to study may sound especially appealing to busy students struggling to balance work, family and other obligations. However, some opportunities simply are too good to be true. While getting an education from a legitimate, accredited school requires you to invest more money and time in your studies, it will also help you succeed in ways a degree from a diploma mill cannot.