Any guide you read about getting a college education is likely to encourage you to attend an accredited degree program, regardless of what field of study you intend to enter. With so much emphasis on accreditation, you may wonder what it means for a program to be accredited and why it matters. Accreditation is especially important for students of online college degree programs.

Accreditation and Why It Matters

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education identifies the purpose of accreditation as a method to “ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.” In other words, accrediting agencies, which are neither a part of the government nor of particular colleges, develop criteria that schools seeking accreditation must meet. Often, this accreditation revolves around curriculum guidelines. Typically, accreditation includes a peer review process, in which colleges help rank each other. Accreditation exists on both regional and national levels and applies to programs at both traditional and online colleges.

If you choose to transfer to another school later in your academic path, you may be unpleasantly surprised to find that an accredited school may not accept credits, courses or semester hours completed at the unaccredited institution. The same is true if you earn an associate’s degree at an unaccredited college with the intention of completing a bachelor’s degree at a different, accredited institution.

The Importance of Accreditation in Online Programs

Whether or not you earn your college degree through an accredited program makes a major difference in whether a degree earned online is worth your time, expense and hard work. If you choose to attend an unaccredited program, your college degree may be a piece of paper with little objective value.

Most careers that require professionals to be licensed also require them to hold a degree from an accredited program. Employers are less likely to respect a degree earned through an unaccredited program, because they have no way of knowing the program’s standards or whether or not you, the student, actually learned the skills and knowledge you will need for career success by completing that coursework. Unfortunately, some institutions posing as online colleges are really just diploma mills, where students pay for the degree but actually learn little or no information. Employers and licensing agencies have no way of knowing if an unaccredited degree program provides students with a legitimate education, or if it is just another diploma mill.

As an online student, it’s essential that you make sure your college and degree program are accredited by a relevant agency, like ABET. Even if an unaccredited program costs less, promises that you will earn a degree more quickly or appears to require less work than an accredited program, you stand to lose a lot more than you gain by choosing an unaccredited school. You’re putting your time and effort into earning that degree, so shouldn’t it be a respected degree that comes with a high-quality education?