While online colleges have created a popular way to earn degrees online, fewer have ventured to earn their high school diploma online. Since the process isn’t as well known, it might be easier for high school students to fall into the trap of paying for a worthless diploma or GED® from an organization with no official accreditation.
Though some online high schools are fraudulent, there are ways to avoid these diploma mills. “Diploma mill” is a term coined by the U.S. Department of Education to describe phony online high schools that crank out illegitimate diplomas for cash. Don’t let yourself fall prey to a scam – read on to learn 5 ways to tell if an online high school diploma or GED ® is legitimate.
Thoroughly Check Accreditation
The number one way to determine whether an online high school is authentic is to ensure it has the right accreditation. Some schools claim to be accredited, but are not. An online high school diploma from an unaccredited school will be useless, and even illegal to use in some states. Others are accredited by legitimate agencies that do not have a good reputation in the academic and professional community. If your school is accredited by an agency with a poor reputation, your diploma may not be accepted as legitimate by colleges or businesses. Make sure you can trust a school by doing some research beforehand, both with its purported accrediting agency and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Regional accrediting agencies are affiliated with both campus-based and online schools, and are more commonly accepted than other accrediting agencies in the U.S. Many of these agencies’ sites include a search feature that allows you to type in the name of the school you’d like accreditation information on. The six agencies are:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC)
- North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA-CASI)
- Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
For information on additional legitimate accrediting agencies, check out your state’s official accreditation site. For example, you can find the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s list of accrediting agencies and accredited schools here
The BBB’s site will help determine if the online high school you are looking into has a good reputation with consumers. For example: Belford High School is not accredited with the BBB or any regional agency. Check out this school’s BBB report, describing the school as a diploma mill.
The GED® test is never available online
If you’ve been following the eCollegeFinder blog, then you’ve probably seen our recent article on the GED® Test that explains the test is never available online. If you plan to earn your GED®, be sure to take your test in person at a certified testing center. You can find out more about official test centers by visiting the official GED® Testing Service website. If an online high school suggests that it will grant you an online GED® instead of a diploma, it’s bogus!
Expect to work for your diploma
If a school seems too good to be true, it probably is. To earn your high school diploma, you’re going to have to work for it. Any school that offers you a diploma after a short and simple test probably isn’t legit. According to Scambook.com, many of these short tests will charge you* after you pass, while legitimate diploma granting sites will charge you up front (whether you pass or not). Check out what else Scambook has to say about earning your diploma online here.
*As a side note, you’ll find that some online high schools are free while others charge tuition. There are legitimate and illegitimate schools in both categories.
Thoroughly check out a school’s website
While a legitimate-looking website doesn’t always mean an online high school actually is legitimate, it doesn’t hurt the school’s case. Sites should have a clear outline of the school’s program, be professional looking and lack grammatical and spelling errors, list the school’s contact information, and list the school’s physical location. Be especially wary if the school is based outside of the U.S. or does not include a number for contact.
There are currently regulations in place that grant the use of .edu domains only to official educational institutions. With this in mind, a .edu domain is sometimes a good indicator of a legitimate school site. However, these domains can’t always be trusted. Some fraudulent .edu sites were created before these rules were established and may have slipped through the cracks.
Don’t fall for the “double-scam technique”
According to an article written by ABC News investigators, the common double-scam technique involves two online high school websites that claim to be the same organization. One looks unprofessional and is full of errors, while the other looks more professional and trustworthy. The sites are often created by the same illegitimate school to trick potential students into thinking that if an imposter site exists, the professional looking site must be legitimate. Don’t be fooled by this hoax, always check a school’s accreditation and reputation.
Are you looking to earn your high school diploma online? We hope these tips help you avoid scams and schemes. If you have any additional tips, let us know in the comment section below!