Despite the escalating costs of higher education, getting a master's degree is becoming more of a necessity in many career fields. Many people try to cut costs by getting their graduate degrees online. In some ways, this is great: convenient and less expensive. In other ways, the Internet graduate school explosion has led to a scam explosion. Don't be caught getting a grad degree from a "diploma mill." Look for an accredited graduate school. Here are some ways to find one.
- Ask Uncle Sam. Check out the Federal Trade Commission site. This site gives you the government's hints on looking for accredited schools. It also explains the pitfalls of non-accredited schools including how they con people. These are all good things to know as you look for a real graduate program, and certainly, before you pay anyone anything.
- Ask the Accreditors. Check EducationIndex for a list of links to the organizations which accredit graduate schools. These are the regional organizations that set and check standards and accredit graduate schools. There's also a great list of links to sites that will help you avoid being fooled by "schools" that create their own accrediting boards to make themselves look good. Stick to the pointers given on this site.
- Look for low standards. As many websites concerning diploma mills will tell you, there are certain signs to keep an eye out for if you wonder if your school's on the up and up. First, look at the time of study. I've never heard of a master's degree you can earn in one or two semesters. Second, look at the admissions standards. If anyone and everyone can get a master's degree at this college, forget it. Good graduate schools require students be serious and prepared before enrolling. This often means having good GRE scores, taking pre-requisite classes, having a good GPA as an undergraduate, and filling out a serious application. Certainly, some accredited grad schools are easier to get into than others and there will be variations in the numbers, classes, and application processes involved. But if your grad school looks simply too easy to be true, or if it seems to have NO standards, then you may be about to get a master's in losing money for a phony degree if you're not careful.
- Look at who teaches there. Grad schools are often where you find the most accomplished professors in a university or college. Even in lower-tier graduate schools, you will certainly find faculty with PhDs (or people with terminal degrees, like an MFA), faculty with published work, faculty in other words, who didn't just get their diploma yesterday from the mill trying to sell you one today. Your accredited grad school of choice may not have the world's best professors in your field, but they should be people who have serious credentials that you can ask about.
- Look at the reputation. If you're considering getting a graduate degree from any well-established four-year university, be it a state school, Ivy league university, or local private college, you have easy access to its reputation, history, and accreditation. Few people applying to grad school at any reasonably well-known college will even check accreditation because they know with whom they're dealing. If, on the other hand, you're applying to an online grad school, let's say, about whose reputation, history and general existence you know nothing, that's when it's time to dig for information or, in my opinion, go elsewhere. A school that just opened on the Internet two years ago: probably not the best place to go for that MBA.
- Look for transparency. People with nothing to hide often hide nothing. If you were to call your local four-year school and ask about faculty, financial aid, accreditation, courses, alumni, or anything else, they'll find someone to answer your questions. You can call them directly, look up information on their website, speak to whomever you want. There's no one evading you, obfuscating, or being vague.