Knowledge is power, and education is the secret to success—so if you’re pursuing a degree, you have made a very wise decision. Getting an online education is even smarter, considering the bad economy and your need to keep working while you study. Or it just might be the worst decision of your life. Not every online education venue is a branch on the tree of knowledge. So here are 8 signs that your online college is just another extension of the School of Hard Knocks handing out Masters Degrees in Gullibility.
- The application asked for more financial information than background information.
A legitimate school—online or on-site—will care about the quality of students entering its programs. A real school won’t just collect your money, they’ll invest their time and resources into your education. If you’re not serious about an education, or if you don’t have what it takes to succeed in college, no real school will agree to admit you. So if the admission process looks too easy, the whole school is probably too easy. And that leads to red flag number two . . .
- The lady on the radio promised there would be no studying required.
A school that promises no studying is either lying about the demands of the coursework or completely bogus. Either way, you don’t want that school’s name on your degree—in fact, they’d probably spell your name wrong anyway. If your current classes involve clicking “OK” repeatedly, you may want to ditch that diploma mill and find a real school. It’s time to consult this list of top online schools.
- It’s can’t-miss approach to learning has been seen on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and USA Today.
Yeah, during an infomercial at two in the morning or a black-and-white ad on page D12. The standard promo used by 30 million different scammers to establish credibility should be an immediate warning to run away. Trust us: the liberal media elite don’t want you to get rich quick, find an easy education, or get rewarded for your work experience. Which reminds us . . .
- You earned 30 credits in “life experience.”
Experience may very well be the best teacher, but if your school’s admissions counselor agrees with you, congrats—you’re one third of the way to a fake diploma! Ask any college student, and they’ll tell you that transferring legitimate, accredited college credits is like pulling teeth. If they give you credits for your time at a job just because it involved “sitting at a desk, which is almost the same thing as school,” you’re being robbed. And you probably will be—while earning credits for your work outside of school might not cost you any time, it will probably cost you several thousand dollars. Not worth it.
- The school’s address is a P.O. Box.
An online college doesn’t need to have a traditional campus. But it does need some physical presence to operate. Administrators, professors, and clerical staff do need somewhere to work. Online doesn’t mean imaginary—or at least it shouldn’t. If your school doesn’t have an office in the real world, you’re taking courses from a school in Make Believe 2.0. Beta. Before you commit to spending your time and money on a degree, make sure the school actually, you know, exists.
- The student registration form asks if you’ve been spayed or neutered.
You’ve heard the horror stories of online diploma mills that unwittingly awarded degrees to pets. Make sure this isn’t your school. If you can apply without being a real person—if you don’t need a legitimate social security number, citizenship, or opposable thumbs to be admitted, the only thing the school wants is your money. Of course, if you’re interested only in giving your money away, you’re at the right school. Enjoy not going to class!
- The accreditation web site calls you “dude,” and says your school “is totally legitimate for giving out degrees and sh*t.”
Even fake schools are accredited. Unlike their students, the people who run these schools do their homework. But they don’t always do it thoroughly. Con artists will set up false accreditation agencies and identities for the purpose of adding credibility to their sham universities. But if you take the time to investigate the agency, you’ll notice that they lack the polish of modern academia in their web sites. If the accreditation agency’s descriptions sound too stupid to be true, they probably are. Don’t join them.
- You hear more often from your school’s promotions office than you do from your professors.
Any legitimate distance education involves some amount of give and take with an instructor of some kind. Whether it’s an online blackboard exchange, email, or even written communication, someone responsible for teaching and monitoring your experience will be in touch with you from time to time. Hearing from actual human students in some way is also a good sign. If, as far as you know, you’re the only one taking the course, there’s probably a reason for that.
Fake schools, however, will offer you plenty of opportunities to give them more money. They might offer you a class ring, framing services for your worthless diploma, or other school swag to show how proud you are to have not really attended Phonies University.
Online education is a great way to advance your career and boost your salary. But it isn’t easy. The old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, still applies. If you’re in the middle of getting scammed, find a way out and fast. If you’re weighing your options, check out our trusted guide for all areas of online education and online training.