A “diploma mill” or “degree mill” is generally defined as a substandard or fraudulent college that provides degrees to students who do little or no college-level work. Some diploma mills are outright frauds, sending a diploma to any applicant who pays a fee. Others may require applicants to take a few classes or document their work or life experience for credit.
Spotting diploma mills can be difficult. Below are 10 warning signs. If you see two or more of these warning signs, you may be dealing with a diploma mill.
If you have concerns about a particular college, we encourage you to do your homework before you send money or enroll.
Step 1: Determine if the college is operating legally in Washington. The Council has prepared a list of accrediting associations recognized by the agency and the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education reviews some accrediting organizations and maintains a list of those it recognizes. To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of Education website.
Step 2: Determine if the college is “accredited” by a recognized accrediting association. First, ask if the college is “accredited” and if so, the name of the accrediting association. Second, determine if the accrediting association is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Finally, confirm with the accrediting association that the college is accredited as claimed. A college may be a diploma mill if it is not accredited or if it is accredited by an association that is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Review the U.S. Department of Education’s lists of recognized accrediting associations.
Step 3: Talk with working professionals. Contact professionals working in your chosen field to see how they would view a degree from the college you are considering.
Step 4: Call or email us. If the college claims to operate in Washington State, please contact the Washington Student Achievement Council by email or at (360) 753-7869.
If the college is operating outside Washington, contact the Better Business Bureau and the higher education agency or attorney general’s office in the state where it is located. Check to make sure that the college is operating legally and ask if anyone has filed a complaint.
No, not all unaccredited colleges are diploma mills. Some unaccredited colleges require legitimate academic work. In general, colleges must operate for at least two years before they can apply for accreditation. Learn more about accreditation.
For more information,
Phone: 360.753.7869 or
E-mail: Degree Authorization staff
Washington Student Achievement Council