How can you make sure the college or university in
which you are about to enroll is truly legitimate and not just
another diploma mill? Or, if you are an employer, how can you
ferret out applicants who bought their degrees instead of earned
them? One way is to check the college's or university's
accreditation--a certification by an independent, outside entity
that the school meets certain acceptable standards in its education
programs, services, and facilities--but there's nothing stopping
diploma mills from lying about their accreditation or, even more
insidiously, creating their own 'diploma mill accreditation
agencies' whose standards may not be all that strict.
While the United States government does *not* monitor the quality of
US colleges or universities--that job is left to six [or at least I
think it's six] regional accreditation agencies and a mess of single
mission, specialized, and professional accreditation agencies--the
government does offer a free, online database of approximately 6,900
postsecondary educational institutions and programs, each of which
is accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency
recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a "reliable
authority as to the quality of postsecondary education" within the
meaning of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended...
You can find the database at
There are a bunch of different search boxes on this page--so many,
in fact, that the page can be downright intimidating. Fortunately,
you don't have to fill in all of the boxes. In fact, I just did a
search by only typing "University of Alabama" in the Name of
institution box and was relieved to discover that my BA is legit. Bama
is accredited by SACS, so my thirteen years of undergraduate school
were not wasted. A similar search for Pepperdine University shows
that my MA is also well worth the paper on which its printed. Yay!
Unfortunately, Name of Institution searches are kind of hit or miss.
A search for "UCLA" doesn't list the Westwood campus, and a search
for "University of California Los Angeles" turns up NOTHING. Eeek! Does that mean that UCLA is a diploma mill? Hardly. In the
government's database, UCLA is listed as "University of
California-Los Angeles." Notice the dash? Leave out that dash and
the database gets totally confused.
So a better search may be to leave the Name of institution box blank
and instead search by the school's state and city. [You may need to
hit the shift key on your keyboard and the refresh button in your
web browser to clear the database's search form and start from
scratch.] That's how I eventually found UCLA, which is indeed
accredited [despite what the folks at cross-town rival USC might
If a school is in the government's database, it's a safe bet that
the school is legitimate [or at least accredited by an recognized,
reputable accrediting agency.] However, if a school is not on the
list, further investigation on your part is in order.