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How to Spot a Diploma Mill

posted by Mark on June 12th, 2009

How to Spot a Diploma MillYou’ve probably seen ads online for quick and easy degrees and wondered what they’re all about. Chances are they’re diploma mills: bogus schools lacking official accreditation that award diplomas and degrees based on little or no academic merit. You might think you’re saving time and money taking advantage of promises that sound too good to be true (“Bachelor’s degrees in 10 days for $19.99!”), but when that diploma proves worthless during your job search, you’ll be out of money, time and luck.

Here are some tell-tale signs that an online school is in fact a diploma mill:

  • Questionable Accreditation: It’s not accredited, or it’s accredited by a bogus organization. (See below for resources for finding out if an organization is legitimate.) Even international schools should be accredited in the US. Not all unaccredited schools are technically “diploma mills,” but any degree from an unaccredited school will be of limited value when it comes time to search for a job or transfer credits to another school.
  • Fast Graduation: It promises a degree in an unreasonable amount of time. The standard time to earn an associate’s degree is two years, four years for a bachelor’s and two more years for a master’s. Some schools offer “accelerated programs” that might knock a few months off that rate (maybe a year off of the bachelor’s schedule), but be wary of any promises of substantially shorter times. No legitimate school will grant you a degree in 30 days.
  • Flat Fee: Legitimate schools typically charge per credit, per class or per semester, not a lump sum for the degree.
  • Degrees Based on “Life Experience”: Diploma mills sometimes promise degrees based on your “life experience,” with little to no need for taking tests, studying or attending classes. All that you need to do is fax them your resume. This should be a no-brainer warning sign.
  • New Schools: If a school is new, has recently changed its name or has recently changed its address, this might be a sign that it is hiding from a shady past.
  • No Prerequisites: If the only thing you need to get into the school is money — no high school diploma, no standardized test scores, no academic history, no recommendations, no essay, no transfer credits — be wary.
  • Tailor-Made Degrees: Diploma mills may allow you to dictate what you want on your diploma, regardless of what you studied (or didn’t study), including GPA, academic honors and a retroactive date.
  • Vague Details: Diploma mills typically won’t provide specific details on classes, degree requirements, faculty and location, and you probably won’t be able to talk to anyone other than your “admission counselor”.
  • Cheap, Sloppy Ads: Beware of schools that use gaudy, bright advertisements exclaiming “Buy Now!” or touting the quick turnaround time. Also, ads with misspellings and unsolicited “spam” advertisements are signs that the school could be a diploma mill.


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