How to Tell if an Online School Is Legitimate?

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Finding an online college or university can be a difficult task, especially if you do not know what to look for. In today's world of online higher education, the number of schools offering online degrees is increasing significantly. Students planning to take online classes and possibly obtain their entire degree through online classes must take care to choose a school that is legitimate.

  • Distinguish between online colleges and colleges offering classes online. There are many established universities and colleges moving toward online degree programs where students can obtain their degree, but actually never have to set foot in the classroom. If you are considering an online route to your degree, you may want to narrow the field of potential schools by eliminating schools that are established only for the sake of providing distance education courses and degrees. Many of the established universities offering online degrees are a safer choice and give you the peace of mind that your degree is recognized by employers. Top universities providing online degrees now include the likes of Penn State University, East Carolina University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Wyoming.

  • Determine if the school is regionally or nationally accredited. There are two basic types of accreditation available to colleges, regional and national. Of the two, regional accreditation is considered to be the most legitimate and desired in the world of higher education. Although regional accreditation is not necessarily "better" than national accreditation, the vast majority of colleges and universities nationwide are regionally accredited rather than nationally accredited. The advantage to regional accreditation is that regional accrediting agencies tend to set higher standards for qualification. These higher standards can increase the quality of education since schools are forced to increase standards in order to qualify. Regional accrediting agencies include the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  • Look for fake accrediting agencies and diploma mills. Many online colleges tout their accreditation as the key to their legitimacy as an institution of higher learning, but in reality many of these schools can be "diploma mills" that simply sell degrees, award them based on life experience, or actually offer classes and degrees that are essentially worthless. When looking for an online college's accreditation, you should make sure that the accrediting agency is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. Geteducated.com lists about 30 of the most common fake accrediting agencies such as the Council of Online Higher Education which, on the surface may sound legitimate, but in reality has no authority whatsoever.

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