8 Ways to Find Out If an Online Degree is a Scam or the Real Deal

With so many people today turning to online university degrees and distance learning programmes to improve their skills, almost all universities have started offering such courses.  

And it's no wonder online degrees are so popular!  They allow you to work at your own pace, set flexible schedules for study, and save money by eliminating all costs associated with staying on campus. 

Unfortunately, the popularity of online degrees has also led to a negative side effect. Some online degrees out there can actually be a scam. The so-called diploma mills are the most common type of internet education scam. By posing as a legitimate school, some websites are able to cheat you by providing essentially worthless online degrees at an apparent bargain.

Real online universities

Luckily, we can help you avoid that. First, here are some examples of accredited open and distance learning universities:

While we cannot give you an extensive list of legit universities offering online degrees (there are thousands of them), we can give also help you with 8 tips to avoid being tricked by an education scam.

Apply to online studies

1. Check the accreditation of online degrees

The best way is to be sure that any school or distance-learning programme that you choose is fully accredited. This means that the school or programme has been reviewed by its peers in the education field and validated or verified. Typically, an agency or the National Ministry of Education recognises online universities vouching they respect educational standards. If the university is accredited, you will find a reference to it on their website.

2. Avoid universities that copy the names of famous institutions

You might be scammed if the institution has a name that seems very familiar to a reputed, prestigious university, only it added something more to it. If you see a title like Oxford Technological Online University, this is a classic scam that would make you think the institution is a part of the prestigious Oxford University.

3. Beware of too good to be true admission criteria

If there are few admission criteria or very simple requirements, such as just a resume and a motivation letter, that should make you think something is not right. The only exception is if the institution is an open university - which typically has very few admission requirements.

4. Don’t pay the tuition upfront

If the institution requires a lot of money upfront before you even know you were admitted, it is surely not a legit online programme. Universities don’t require to pay the entire tuition fee, that is strictly optional; usually, tuition fees are paid in instalments, each year or each semester.

online universities and study scams

5. Be sceptical of earning a degree way too easily

If getting a degree seems too fast and easy, that should make you reconsider. Online degrees may be a little more flexible than the on-campus ones, but they still require the same amount of effort and coursework.

6. Check what resources online universities offer you

Accredited online universities have available resources on their websites related to student support services, or libraries. If you don’t find this information available, most likely, the institution is not valid.

Check out online programmes

7. Verify university contact details

When you search for more information, browse the website of the institution. If you don’t find any detail about their campus or business address, that is a hint you’re dealing with a scam. Sure, there are universities that are exclusively online and might not have a campus address, but they should still have some business contact details.

8. Check reviews from graduates on Google

A good way to get a real impression of how the university is like and the reliability of the programmes is to hear what other students have to say about it. Many students post reviews on uni pages but also on education-related websites such as our own Studyportals. If the students obtained a certified diploma and were happy with the course they will surely mention it. The same goes for the opposite.

Invest some time to secure a valuable education

All these may seem to be a lot of extra steps to have to go through, but doing so will help assure you that whatever distance learning degree programme you choose, it will be a wise investment for your future education and employment.

However, if you would like to skip some of them, you must at least stick with tip number 1.  Make sure the university has been validated by external bodies such as:

  • ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education)
  • EURASHE (European Association of Institutions in Higher Education)
  • ENIC Network (European Network of National Information Centres on academic recognition and mobility)
  • EABHES (European Accreditation Board of Higher Education Schools)
  • CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation)

These nongovernmental agencies research accreditation issues in the education field. To be sure that a particular distance learning school is legitimately accredited, visit their official website, enter the name of the educational institution, and find out if your online school is by a legitimate accreditation body.

Best of luck!

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