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What to Do If You're Enrolled in a Diploma Mill

Feb 17, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

You’ve probably seen ads for schools that offer a full Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D with no studying required—or credit for “life experience.” You know these degrees are a sham. But some fake degree programs are a little harder to judge than that—they may require some studying, make you pass a test, or put you through coursework for a few months (fir a degree it’s supposed to take years to earn). 

There are several tip-offs that should alert you to the fact that you’re enrolled in a diploma mill instead of a legitimate online college. First, check the college’s accreditation against our list of legitimate and non-legitimate accreditors. If the accrediting agency isn’t on the list of real accreditors—or is obviously on the false accreditor list—you’ve been had.

In addition, if the school offers you a difficult degree that it should take two, four or more years to earn in several months, asks you to write dissertation papers that are ten pages long instead of dozens of pages, and makes it very difficult to fail out or score badly on a test, you’re probably in a diploma mill.

Watch credit for life experience as well. While some legitimate degree programs do offer credit for life experience, the requirements are exhaustive—you have to prove your life experience by handing in portfolios and essays, undergoing an interview process, or taking a difficult test—usually more than one of these things. If the school easily gives you credit for life experience after simply glancing at your resume, it’s likely it’s not legitimate.

But maybe you didn’t spot these signs up front—for whatever reason—and you’ve been fooled by a diploma mill into parting with your money. While it’s not likely you’ll get your money back, there are a few things you can do.

Cap and Diploma

First: stop giving them your money

If you’re involved in paying tuition with the school, stop paying immediately.

Do not, under any circumstance, list the degree on your resume

List an unaccredited degree on your resume and you not only risk your reputation—you risk your job. It’s better not to have a degree at all than to have a degree from a diploma mill—and companies do check these credentials, sometimes years after the person has been hired.

Ask for a refund in writing

If you’re sure you’re enrolled in a diploma mill, send a letter immediately requesting a refund of all tuition money you’ve paid. Send it by registered mail, explain why you want the refund, and make a copy for your own records. It’s doubtful that the diploma mill will send back your money, but it’s worth a shot—and the letter may be useful if you want to take your complaint to court.

Notify the authorities

Tell your state’s attorney general office what’s happened—there should be a way to file complaints on the attorney general’s website. It’s possible that the attorney general’s office will choose to go after the diploma mill.

Report to the Better Business Bureau

Reporting to the Better Business Bureau is a good move because it will serve to warn other potential students about the school. The reporting process only takes a few minutes and can be done entirely online, and the Bureau may be able to help you resolve the complaint.

If you’ve been had by a diploma mill, you don’t have a lot of options. But you can go public with your grievance and it’s possible law enforcement will decide to go after the school. Tell your attorney general and notify the Better Business Bureau. Stop doing assignments and paying tuition to the school. Send a registered letter outlining the reason why you want a refund, but don’t count on getting your money back. Don’t list your unaccredited degree on your resume or try to let your employer think your degree is real. If you do, you could experience some negative repercussions.


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