Online Education: What are Diploma Mills?

Lesson 1: What are Diploma Mills?

What are diploma mills?

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Advancing in a career without a degree can be challenging at the least or even impossible, depending on the career. Having the right degree can lead to higher-paying jobs among other things, but pursuing higher education can be a significant financial investment. Not all degrees are created equal, however, and the sale of fake online degrees has become big business. If you’re thinking about getting your degree online, it’s important to understand what you’re paying for.

What is a diploma mill?

Diploma mills, also known as degree mills, are essentially phony colleges that sell fake diplomas and other educational credentials. Some of these institutions promising fast, easy online degrees are actually sophisticated Internet scams. Others appear more vague in terms of their legitimacy, offering short-term degrees in exchange for some form of academic work, such as a thesis or dissertation.

But rather than offering a real educational experience, diploma mills exist solely to crank out worthless degrees. These organizations prey on consumers who have not adequately researched a learning institution, or who have neglected to look into the so-called college’s accreditation or licensing before handing over their hard-earned money.

How to identify a diploma mill

While many online schools and distant learning programs are legitimate, when it comes to identifying a diploma mill there are a few red flags to look for:

Lack of legitimate accreditation:

Diploma mills intentionally give themselves names that are similar to those of legitimate institutions. They will claim to be accredited, and the accrediting agencies may even sound similar to legitimate ones as well. However, these accrediting agencies are just as phony as the schools they claim to accredit.

Legitimate colleges and universities are accredited by national or regional accrediting organizations, providing a measure of outside and independent oversight of the learning institution. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes seven accrediting organizations, as well as the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.

If you’re unsure whether the degree program you’re considering is a diploma mill, check the Diploma Mill Police site from for a list of phony degree programs.

Admission criteria unrelated to academics:

Traditional colleges and universities require things like standardized test scores, school transcripts, and other criteria. When it comes to diploma mills, these things are irrelevant. As long as you pay the lump-sum “tuition," a diploma mill will send their phony degree without any evidence of academic qualifications.

Unprofessional or questionable recruitment tactics:

Aggressive and pushy recruitment tactics are one warning sign of a diploma mill. Recruiters may claim that you can earn your degree for one flat fee, or that you can earn your degree in a just days or weeks, while pressuring you to make a decision on the spot.

Similarly, be wary of recruiters who make seemingly fantastic claims, like one that guarantees graduates will make six-figure salaries or offers enrollment incentives like a laptop or gift cards.

Possible consequences of purchasing a fake degree

If the idea of obtaining a degree for minimal work is still enticing, be sure to take into consideration the long-term consequences before writing any checks. Legal issues can arise if unsubstantiated qualifications are used on resumes. Not having the right degree may cost you the job of the moment, but losing your job for providing a fake degree could cost you your career.

Many people have earned legitimate degrees with online college courses. If earning your degree online is the best fit for you, be sure to do your research on the institution you're considering, and make sure the degree you're working toward is worth your time, as well as your money.