National University

Online Education: Spotting a Diploma Mill

A diploma mill (also known as a degree mill) is an organization that awards academic degrees while requiring little or no academic study, and without being recognized by official accrediting bodies.

These organizations operate primarily to make money and prey on people who are often too busy to attend classes. Diploma mills used to be recognized easily because they were mail-order schools, but with the introduction of online education, more diploma mills are popping up, often right alongside legitimate online degree programs.

So how do you spot a diploma mill? Often the diploma mill will try to deceive you by naming itself something that sounds confusingly similar to prestigious, accredited academic institutions. In their marketing and advertising, diploma mills will often claim to be "accredited" when, in fact, they are endorsed by "dummy" accreditation boards set up by company affiliates.

Compared to legitimately accredited schools, diploma mills tend to have dramatically lower or non-existent requirements for coursework. Some allow their students to purchase credits rather than earn them, and others will claim to give you the majority of your credits based on life experience. Other times, students are required to purchase textbooks, take exams, and submit homework, but they are never really graded or even looked at.

Here are some basic tips for recognizing a diploma mill:

  • The school does not require homework, tests or essays.
  • The school boasts of accreditation, but has no legitimate accreditation.
  • The school offers you a large part of your credit based on "portfolio assessments" and "life experience."

If you have any doubts about an online program you're considering: