Common Signs That Your Candidate’s Diploma is Fake, Merry Schwartzmiller , Justifacts

When you perform a web search for “diploma mill”, “degree mill”, or “life experience degree”, a number of results will catch your eye.  Some of the websites, such as,, and, simply require a payment for receipt of a false diploma or degree.  Other websites are for “schools” that offer programs of dubious legitimacy.  For example, the State University of Sheffield, which sounds legitimate, offers high school diplomas, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorate degrees; all on-line, and all in just seven days!  Does that sound too good to be true?  That’s because it is.

Life Experience Degrees

Many on-line institutions offer life experience degrees; no education is necessary.  Just upload your resume, and you will receive a degree based on your industry experience!  While there are legitimate on-line universities and high schools, websites/schools that require you to take an evaluation and then issue a diploma are fraudulent.  There are no legitimate on-line programs for earning a GED.

Some tell-tale signs that a candidate has obtained his/her degree from a diploma mill include:

  • The degree is based solely on experience or resume review
  • The degree is available for purchase
  • The program does not provide any specific address or location information and only relies on a post office box.
  • The tuition costs are much higher or lower than the average charges from a legitimate institution. 
  • The institution’s/agency’s website includes numerous typographical and grammatical errors. 
  • The program does not list the names of faculty members or their qualifications.

Many education departments also create pages on their websites that inform visitors of the dangers of diploma mills and on-line programs.  Our favorites are Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, High Education-Maine Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Higher Education, and Oregon Student Assistance Office of Degree Authorization.  I recently discovered the State of Wisconsin Educational Improvement Board (  This website includes lists of questions to help consumers determine whether a school is a diploma/degree mill or whether it is endorsed by an accreditation mill (a term I only recently encountered).  As the site states, “identifying degree, diploma and accreditation mills is not easy. A number of the features of degree and diploma mills are similar to familiar higher education institutions. A number of the features of accreditation mills are similar to well-known accrediting organizations.”

Some other useful websites are those operated by the United States Department of Education and by recognized accrediting agencies.  Some of our favorites are the United States Office of Post Secondary Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.  The Department of Education’s website has a list of recognized accreditation agencies and information about how to contact them.  Each school, even if unaccredited, has an accreditation page on its website.  For more information regarding accreditation in the United States, visit

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