How to Spot when an Online School is Actually a Scam

Online College ScamIt goes without saying that we’re huge proponents of the time-saving, cost-effective, resume-bulking online degree. That being said, as with anything, you have to do your research before you start sinking time and money into earning one. While the prevalence of online degree programs is beneficial, it also appeals to scammers as a way to make money – and for you, the student, earning a scam online degree will look worse than having no degree at all.

Don’t let all of that scare you away, though; it’s actually fairly easy to tell whether an online school is worth your time or not. You just have to know what to look for, and this post is here to equip you with that knowledge.

Is the school accredited? It should be easy to tell whether an online college is accredited or not. There are a lot of accrediting bodies that schools may use, but if a school is officially recognized by the CHEA (Council for Higher education Accreditation) or the US Education Department, then it’s a good, legitimate school.

Schools that are not accredited know that this is a bad thing, so they will likely provide vague information about accreditation. Keep in mind that if a school is accredited, they will be up-front and clear about it. There should be no murky, roundabout information on their accreditation page.

Does the school’s name sound kind of familiar? It’s not uncommon for schools that aren’t accredited to modify the name of an existing, well-respected school and use it for themselves. “Columbia Technical College,” for example, sounds prestigious because it’s associated with Columbia University, but that doesn’t mean the two are associated [and, in this case, that school name is made up]. Long story short, don’t base your opinion of a school solely on its name.

Does the degree program seem too good to be true? So you’ve been doing your research, and you’ve seen that most online programs for the degree you want to earn take two to three years. Then, you come across a school that says you’ll be finished in 18 months! Sounds awesome, right? Unfortunately, if a program seems too good to be true – whether it’s really fast, really inexpensive, or really easy – it probably is and this is a good sign that you should dig a little deeper.

Is it difficult to get in touch with student services? The fact of the matter is that enrolling in online degree programs, taking online classes, and accessing resources is a bit confusing at first for students. For that reason, all legitimate schools have a useful student services office. If it seems really difficult to get in touch with a student services office, or if the Student Services page of the website seems barren, this is a bad sign.

Does your contact/advisor put a lot of pressure on enrollment? Non-accredited schools exist for one sole purpose: to make money. For that reason, their advisors double as salespeople, and they put a lot of pressure on prospective students to enroll. You should always feel like you have a choice in the matter – not like you’re getting followed around by a used car salesman.

Is there a big up-front cost? All legitimate colleges want you to get an education and will do whatever they can to make that happen. Schools that just want to make money will have a big financial bar for entry. Be suspicious if there is a big up-front cost and little financial aid offered; registration fees are normal, but they should not exceed a few hundred dollars.