It’s no secret that college admission officers do their homework on prospective students before admitting them into the school. They’ll look at test scores, GPA, extracurriculars, your personality traits — you name it.
But let’s flip the scenario for a sec. When you’re researching schools, what do you take into consideration before you apply? The cost of attendance? College scholarships? The social experience?
What about accreditation?
If you’re not taking the time to verify a prospective school’s accreditation, you’re taking a huge risk. What is accreditation and why is it important? Tallo is here to give you the deets.
What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation in higher education is a quality assurance process that requires colleges, universities, vocational schools, and other educational programs to confirm that they meet a specific set of standards set forth by an external body. In the United States, that external body is not the government, but private, federally-recognized accrediting agencies known as accreditors. Accreditors are overseen by nonprofits such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), along with the U.S. Department of Education.
The quality assurance process usually occurs every three to 10 years to ensure that the institution or program is meeting educational standards that are consistent with CHEA requirements. If the school or program meets these standards, they earn accreditation.
Types of Accreditation
Colleges, trade schools and universities can be accredited by national or regional accreditation agencies. National accreditation agencies focus primarily on for-profit schools. These include career colleges that offer certifications and degrees, as well as vocational schools.
In contrast, most non-profit schools and state-owned institutions are regionally accredited. Regional accreditation agencies are older, more popular, and generally considered more prestigious.
Both regionally- and nationally-accredited schools have their merits. If you want to get an academic degree, a regionally-accredited school is probably the best way to go. If you’re more interested in a vocational program, a nationally-accredited school is a solid choice.
Weighing your options for higher education? Check out our post “What is a vocational school?” to see if the trade school path is right for you.
If you decide to attend a nationally-accredited school, be warned: Due to differences in courses of study, it’s virtually impossible to transfer credits from a nationally-accredited institution to a regionally-accredited institution.
Why Does Accreditation Matter?
Because you don’t want to get tricked! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled!
But in all seriousness, attending an unaccredited institution can be dangerous biz. Since accreditation is entirely voluntary, there is a very real possibility that you could end up spending thousands of dollars to get a degree that isn’t accepted by your employer.
In the United States, the term “college” or “university” is not legally protected on a national level. Basically, you could enroll in a school that sounds perfectly legit, only to have them pull a fast one on you.
Accreditation is especially important if you’re attending a specialized or vocational school that requires licensing. If you go to an unaccredited college, you could be prevented from taking licensing exams that you need to legally practice your profession.
Another reason why attending an accredited school matters comes down to financial aid. If you attend an unaccredited school, you won’t be eligible for federal student aid. And sure, you could always take out private student loans, but they tend to have less favorable terms and conditions compared to federal student loans.
How to Check for Accreditation
Choosing the right college is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. By attending an accredited school, you can rest easy knowing that your education meets certain academic standards and will be recognized by your employer.
If you’re interested in a program or school and can’t tell if it’s accredited or not, there’s an easy way to check. Just type the name of the school into the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOJ) accreditation database to see if it is recognized by accrediting agencies. It’s also not a bad idea to contact the appropriate accreditation agency to double-check that the DOJ’s information is current and accurate.
Doing Your Research Pays
Whether you’re attending community college, vocational school, or a four-year university, accreditation is something you shouldn’t overlook. Unfortunately, so-called “diploma mills” exist only to rob students of their money in exchange for a fraudulent degree. To keep your career path going strong, it’s essential that you do your research and take the time to verify your school’s accreditation. You’ll be glad you did!