How to Check for Fake Degrees

Diploma mills are notorious for distributing fake degrees.
Diploma mills are notorious for distributing fake degrees. (Image: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Finding someone with the necessary education to perform a job properly requires time and resources, so you want to get it right the first time around. Since anyone can list a college degree on a resume, perform due diligence to ensure the academic credentials are as advertised. Knowing how to spot fake degrees or those generated by a diploma mill helps you avoid hiring someone who may turn into a liability for your business.

Start With the Basics

Verify the full name used when the applicant attended the schools listed. Find out the exact name of the degree he was awarded. Obtain the city and state of each school. Find out if the school has one more than one campus, and if so, ask the applicant which one he went to. Then call the college registrar to confirm the dates attended and graduation date. Another option is to request a copy of the candidate's college transcripts. The applicant will need to request them from his college and provide the results to you so you can verify the information.

Recognize the Signs

Keep an eye out for degrees awarded by non-accredited schools or diploma mills. One warning sign is when there appears to be a degree missing, such as when an applicant lists a graduate degree but no undergraduate information. Examine the years the degrees were earned, as a Bachelor’s degree generally takes at least four years to complete while a Master's degree takes a year or two to earn. If the degrees were earned in a shorter amount of time, this is a red flag.

If the applicant worked while attending school, confirm the school and job locations match. Mismatches may indicate the degree comes from a non-accredited college. Watch for names designed to fool an unsuspecting person, a common diploma mill strategy according to the Federal Trade Commission. For instance, a diploma mill might use College of Williams and Mary, when the rightful name is College of William and Mary.

Research the School’s Accreditation

Most legitimate colleges and universities are given regional accreditation. Determine if a school is accredited by visiting the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website at If an applicant claims she went to a nationally accredited school and then furthered her education by attending a regionally accredited university, research further. The degrees may be fake, since most regionally accredited schools won’t accept degrees or transfer courses from nationally accredited schools because regional accreditation is considered more prestigious.

Look at Printed Materials

If the applicant shows you a diploma voluntarily, or you request one as part of the degree verification process, examine it carefully. The diploma should have official seals. Gauge the weight of the paper. If the paper feels lightweight and is not the heavier paper real diplomas and certificates are printed on, it may have been printed by a diploma mill. Watch for pixilated signatures, since this may indicate the signature was scanned and added to the document at a later date, a sign of a fake.

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