1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Fake College and Diploma Mills

Avoiding Fake Colleges and Other Scams


Over the years, state and federal agencies have attempted to thwart the growth of fake colleges and other slick operations that some people call diploma mills. These are organizations that offer worthless degrees and diplomas to unsuspecting students for little or no work. It is easy for students to get caught up in diploma mill scams because the offers always seem too good to pass up.

Diploma mill operators use the law to their advantage, by setting up hybrid organizations that exist somewhere between fake “schools” and shady, profit-driven businesses. Because the government generally takes a hands-off approach to regulating businesses, it faces real difficulty in shutting down diploma mills.

Still, the US Department of Education does offer a definition:

An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless. (DOE Web Site)

Traits of a College Scam

How many times have you heard the saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This advice stands when it comes to college offers. You can rest assured that you’re dealing with a college scam if the institution you’re considering does not require a transcript with the application and it has little to no requirements when it comes to finishing a degree program.

Diploma mills often choose names that closely resemble the names of prestigious universities around the world. For some reason, a British-sounding name lures trusting students in droves, which has led to such scams as “Shaftsbury University” and “University of Dunham.” They also insert the word “state” into the name of a faux-college to trick would-be students into believing the operation is legit.

More traits of a diploma mill:

  • Degrees programs that can be finished in less time than at an accredited postsecondary institution. For example, the ability to earn a bachelor's degree in a few months is a sure sign of a fake college.
  • Offers of college credits for lifetime or real world experience.
  • Tuition required on a per-degree basis (in normal schools tuition is due per semester).
  • Discounts offered for enrolling in multiple degree programs.
  • Little or no interaction with professors.
  • Names that are similar to well known reputable universities.
  • Addresses that are box numbers or suites. That campus may very well be a mail drop box or someone's attic.

Avoiding the Fake College Scam

It is important to understand the danger you face by falling for a diploma mill scam.

If you trust the wrong people, you can cause a long delay in your education because your life can be consumed with the process of untangling yourself from diploma mill clutches. You can end up signing a document that sinks you into costly legal obligations that last for years.

Don’t be too trusting. Don’t accept an organization’s claims of being accredited. There are fake accrediting bodies! A few things you should always do?

  • Check accreditation body to see if it is acknowledged by the Department of Education
  • Check out the physical address of a college if it names one.
  • Compare the cost of a potential college with the cost of a known reputable college in your state.
  • If it’s too easy, think again!

Remember: It might be a diploma mill if:

  • You can’t find a physical address
  • They offer credit for life experience
  • They charge by degree or program (not by semester hour)
  • You can’t find the names of faculty members or staff
  • The web site is fancy, but there are no links to departments
  • There are words misspelled
  • They promise a degree in less than two years
  • The accrediting agency is not listed as valid by the DOE
  • They advertise via spam
  • They don’t require official transcripts
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Homework/Study Tips
  4. Grades
  5. High School and Beyond
  6. Preparing for College
  7. How to Avoid a Fake College or Diploma Mill Scam

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.