How to Tell if an Online Program Is Accredited

Beware of accreditation mills, which provide a false sense of legitimacy.

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Students should also check the council's list to see whether reputable professional associations accredit their specific program, says Russell Poulin, deputy director of research and analysis for WCET, which advocates for effective technology use in higher education.

Industry groups such as the American Bar Association, the American Dental Association and others offer specialized accreditation for individual programs, he says.

If students don't check their programmatic accreditation, he says they run the risk of not getting hired after graduation.

Finally, online students should beware of schools touting "international accreditation," since the council and the federal government don't recognize any international accrediting bodies, Eaton says.

Schools often list accreditation on their websites. If they don't list their credentials, experts suggest students call and ask.

"I think the information is there, you just have to have the motivation to go find it and back yourself up," says Marrett, the University of Illinois—Springfield student. "You don't want to walk into a job interview and get laughed out of the room because you went to a joke of a school."

Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.