How to Know if an Online Master's Program is Legitimate

Many people worry about the legitimacy of an online graduate degree, and its acceptability with potential employers. How will an online master's degree fare in job-market competition? These are valid concerns, but following this advice will help you guarantee the legitimacy of your online master's degree:

  • A recent survey done by Diverse Education reports that 62 percent of employers surveyed had a favorable attitude toward online instruction, and perceived the quality of online learning to have the same merit as classroom instruction.
  • In a survey conducted by Excelsior College and Zogby International and reported by CNN, 83 percent of CEOs and small business owners nationwide said they considered an online degree to be as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based program.
  • Although online education has come a long way in the last few years it is still important to watch out for online scams. The US Department of Education warns students about diploma mills - fraudulent online institutes that operate without supervision or accreditation. The fake diplomas and degrees sold by these companies are worthless on the job market. So how can you protect yourself from them?
  • One of the most important elements for determining online program legitimacy is accreditation. Accreditation is the official process of determining whether a school meets acceptable levels of quality, as set out by an official commission. The US Department of Education provides a database of all accredited institutes and programs. You should check this database before applying to any online school.
  • There are three types of accreditation: Regional, National, and Programmatic. Regional accrediting bodies accredit institutions in a specific geographic area of the States, and offer the most prestigious form of accreditation. National accrediting bodies accredit institutions across the States, mainly focusing on vocational schools. Programmatic accrediting bodies accredit specific programs rather than whole institutions, again right across the States.
  • Certain careers require you to have programmatic accreditation in addition to regional or national accreditation. For instance, you should check that your teaching degree is accredited by the National Council of Accreditation for Teacher Education, or that your master's in public administration is accredited through the Council on Education for Public Health.
  • Another important thing to check for is whether or not the school you are interested in offers government funding. If your school participates in the Federal Student Aid Programs, such as the Federal Pell Grant and the Stafford Loan, then this is a sign of recognition by the federal government, and hence legitimacy in the program.
  • The Better Business Bureau suggests that student watch for the following red flags when considering an online program: Master's degrees that take only a few months to complete; accrediting agencies not listed by the US Department of Education; tuition that is paid on a per-degree basis; names that are similar to well known reputable universities; and addresses that are box numbers or suites.
  • Finally, it's sensible to look at student reviews and online forums, since these provide first-hand experience from online graduates. Students Review and US News are two good places to browse.

Return to top