As online studies grow in popularity for earning a new degree or qualification, so does the risk of falling into an online studies trap. Don’t worry—with a few questions and some basic research you can filter fact from fiction and figure out which online programs are legit—and which aren’t.
Let’s consider five questions to ask to avoid an online scam:
What is the program’s accreditation status?
Step 1: it should be pretty easy to find out an online school’s accreditation status on their website. If you can’t easily figure out an online school’s accreditation within the first two minutes of looking at the website, then it’s probably not accredited.Step 2: if you can find the information, find out which accreditation the school has. Why? Not all accreditors are equal. Make sure the school is accredited by CHEA or the US Department of Education.
If you’re looking at an international online school, check out CHEA’s international directory.
Does the school advertise inexpensive degrees?
Beware the Diploma Mill. If you come across ads for online degrees like, “Get your degree for only $249!” chances are that you’re buying a worthless degree. There are hundreds of these “schools” that advertise on the internet—and they’re one of many problems that future students may find.
Here are a few more red flags: degrees given for life experience, prices for degrees as opposed to credits, and a mailing address of a P.O. Box or apartment building.
Your best resource? The CHEA directory.
Does the school offer you a very attractive scholarship?
Watch out for fake grants and scholarships. Some students at major universities with online programs are targets for “phishing emails.,” all of which are scams.
Emails may look like they come from a university’s finance department or scholarship office—even with the school’s logo. They will ask for personal account and banking information. Never do it!
If you suspect that you’ve received a “phishing email,” report it immediately, and contact your school’s financial services office.
Never divulge your personal information over email or from a link that doesn’t feel quite right.
What are the school’s admission criteria?
An accredited institution requires an admissions process—you should need to submit things like previous transcripts, grade point average, and test scores. If the only criteria are that you possess a valid credit card, then run away.
Does the name of the school seem vaguely familiar?
The school could be a fake if it sounds like the name of another school, but it isn’t.
In 2015, The New York Times published an article about a Pakistani company—Axact, a company that sells software applications. They also created a fake education empire.
In the article, a former quality control officer said, “Customers think it’s a university, but it’s not. It’s all about the money.”
Axact’s “universities” also called themselves familiar-sounding names: Barkley, Columbiana, and Mount Lincoln, among others.
Bottom line: if it sounds like the real thing, but is a little bit different, then it’s probably not legit. Stay away.
Your takeaway? If it sounds too good to be true, then it is. If it’s too easy, too short, or too inexpensive, then it’s not legit. Stay away. You have the tools to find something better.
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