How Can I Find Out If an Online College is Accredited?

Before applying to an online college or university, it is essential that students find out whether the online school has been properly accredited. Since accredited schools are required to follow meticulous standards to maintain their accreditation, students in these programs can rest assured that they are receiving a high-quality education. In addition, some types of financial aid, such as Pell Grants from the federal government, are not available unless the school of attendance is accredited. If the online college is accredited, there is also a higher likelihood that the credits will be transferable to other universities to further education. Even more important, employers give much more weight to degrees that have been earned from an accredited college. Therefore, it is critical to use the following guide to find out whether an online college is accredited by a recognized agency.

Search the U.S. Department of Education Database

Within the website for the United States Department of Education, there is a Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. The database is quite easy and convenient to search through the hundreds of institutions and find out if the desired online college has been properly accredited. Students can search by the name of the institution, city, state, address, or accrediting agency. If the specific school being searched for does not appear, it is recommended that the school name be entered in a different format. For instance, searching for UCLA may not return any results, but typing University of California-Los Angeles will be more successful.

Once results have been found, locate the college name that was intended and click to bring up its main profile page. The profile includes a verified address, phone number, identification number, and most importantly the agency of accreditation. Click on the name of the agency to discover a wealth of information about the accreditation, standards, and contact information for the agency president. Furthermore, the college profile page cites all specialized accreditations, as well as accredited internships or residency programs. Specialized, also called programmatic, accreditations are applied to the evaluation of a specific department, program, or school that is a recognized part of the overall institution.

Unfortunately, the United States Department of Education states in its disclaimer that all accredited colleges may not be included within the database. Information within the database can be incomplete, inaccurate, or dated because it takes time for it to be updated to reflect recent changes. Also, only accrediting agencies that are formally recognized by the Department of Education will be listed in this database, which may exclude some. If a college or university cannot be found in this database, it is recommended to not give up right away and to instead use one of the other methods for determining accreditation.

Check the Six Main Regional Accrediting Agencies

In this day and age, most accredited colleges and universities, either online or on-campus, have been evaluated by one of the six main regional accrediting agencies in the United States. All of the major accreditation associations are among the best in the world, acting as prestigious validation of a college’s academic excellence. These agencies include:
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia
Western Association of Schools and Colleges: California and Hawaii
New England Association of Colleges and Schools: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

If the school cannot be found within the U.S. Department of Education database, the next step should be to search through the directories on the websites of these agencies. Click on the link above for the accrediting agency that includes the region of the online college being searched for. Although online colleges are conducted mostly on the Internet, they do possess business addresses for their main headquarters that are usually listed on their site. Students can either search through the directory on their own, or contact the agency to inquire about the school. Going to the accrediting agency will ensure that the most current information is found.

For those that are planning to attend online schools that are based outside of the United States borders, some of these same regional accrediting agencies can provide information about their standards. For schools in Europe, Asia, Middle East, or Africa, check with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. For schools in Australia, Micronesia, Palau, or other Pacific Islands, contact the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges also accredits some programs based in South or Central America.

Contact the Online College or University Directly

If the solid supporting evidence cannot be located about the college in the other two methods, it is recommended that students contact the school directly. Use the phone number provided on the college’s website to contact admissions or a similar office to ask whether the institution has been formally accredited. However, it is important to never trust the school’s word for it because it could be the makings of a scam. Request that the office provide a copy of the documents that serve as proof of the accreditation from the agency through mail or email.

Take the opportunity to inquire about any other important information about its reputation as well, such as how long it has been serving online students. Remember that a school is required to be open for a minimum of two years before it can qualify for accreditation, so watch how the representative responds carefully. Make sure to keep all of this gathered evidence into account when making the final decision about whether the program is accredited.

Although more and more colleges and universities are offering students the unique chance to partake in a virtual classroom, all online degree programs are not created equal. Attending an online college that is not accredited will make the diploma much less valuable to prospective employers, other academic institutions, and government agencies that supply financial aid. Avoid wasting time, energy, and money on a non-accredited online education by following these quick methods to check up on the accreditation for a college or university. Then, it is guaranteed that the program will provide all of the necessary skills and opportunities to start a successful career, with an impressive accredited diploma in hand.