Diploma Mills: Beware of the Gimmick

Everything that sounds good isn’t necessarily in your best interest. The operation of diploma mills enforces the reason that doing your homework on prospective post-secondary schools is important. Take a look at some facts about these institutions and learn how you can avoid them.


1. What are diploma mills?

The United States Department of Education (USDE) describes diploma mills, or degree mills, as fraudulent degree-granting institutions that aren’t supervised by a state or professional organization. In other words, these are fake institutions that are more concerned with getting consumers’ money under the guise of offering credible education.

Diploma mills exist to feed on the vulnerabilities of consumers. They make lofty promises regarding the education they provide and often have lower enrollment standards than most legitimate institutions. As are a result, students are required to purchase textbooks and other relevant supplies, but engage in little to no study. Degrees from diploma mills are therefore not an acceptable demonstration of competency in any field of interest, and most employers consider graduates of these institutions unfit to be part of their organization.

2. How can you differentiate a diploma mill from an accredited institution?

False Claims of Accreditation

Diploma mills are licensed to be in operation but use their licensure as a means to convey proper accreditation. To make their claims believable, they inform the public that they’re recognized by fake accrediting agencies that possess names that are similar to reputable agencies.

Many of the made-up agency names are modeled after legitimate British agencies since the UK often provides quality education in several regions of the world. Diploma mills also frequently give themselves names that are similar to well-known institutions.

Unrealistic Time Frames for Degree Programs

Fraudulent institutions may boast that their degree programs take less time than those of other schools. Keep in mind that the time frame is usually grossly exaggerated. For example, if a certificate normally requires 1 year of full-time study at most institutions, diploma mills may offer the same program with an estimated time length of 3 to 6 months.

No Physical Location

Most diploma mills do not have a real headquarters or main building that they operate from. Instead, their website often provides a post office box number or suite number as the contact address.


Students that enroll in these kinds of institutions may have little or no interaction with faculty members or peers. While accredited online schools are attractive because of their web-based programs, most of them still require some form of human contact via email, tutorials, web conferences or phone calls.

Life Experience Degrees

Many diploma mills also offer degrees in life experience as well. Legitimate schools may list life or work experience as one of the requirements for enrolling in a program, but the fact is that schools which offer degrees solely for past experience are looking to take your tuition without providing anything valuable in exchange.

Cost Make-Up

Accredited institutions charge consumers on a per-course or per-credit basis, whereas unaccredited schools wrongfully charge students on a per-degree basis.

3. What are the legal repercussions surrounding diploma mills?

Unlike some countries, the U.S. doesn’t have a law that incriminates diploma mills. However, many states have passed bills that prohibit the use of illegitimate degrees from unaccredited schools. That said, graduates from these kinds of institutions are held accountable for their association with diploma mills. The biggest penalty, of course, comes when a potential employer compares your degree to another applicant’s degree from a properly accredited school.


United States Department of Education (USDE). (2011).

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