College Search Tips: The Importance of Choosing An Accredited College

passionate about helping veterans access quality higher education. A college’s accreditation is one important factor for prospective students to consider when evaluating educational programs. The following article is designed to help veterans understand why accreditation matters, and what types of accreditation to look for when comparing schools.

What is “Accreditation?”

Accreditation is a process created to ensure that a higher education institution has undergone an evaluation by a reputable review agency and meets certain quality standards. Accreditation can be granted by one of over 50 accrediting agencies in the USA, but there are six regional accrediting agencies that are the primary accreditation-granting agencies. The two types of accrediting agencies are “institutional” and “specialized.” Institutional agencies grant accreditation to an entire institution, while specialized agencies grant accreditation to a specific program or department of an institution, or a separate specialized institution.  Accreditation provides assistance in verifying an institution’s standards, helping students choose an acceptable institution and encouraging institutions to rise above weaker programs and raise their own standards. To maintain its accreditation, a college or university must continuously adhere to certain quality standards.

Types of Accreditation

The most widely accepted type of accreditation is “regional” accreditation. Generally, credits or degrees from a regionally accredited institution are accepted by other regionally accredited institutions. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation has a list online of the six regional accreditation agencies.

“Specialized” accreditation is a type of accreditation that is granted to a specific department of an institution or an entirely specialized institution. It is important for students and professionals seeking education in career fields such as medicine, dentistry, law or nursing to explore institutions with specialized accreditation. Each of these professions often has its own accrediting association. For example, the American Dental Association accredits dentistry programs and the American Bar Association accredits law school programs. A list of the specialized accrediting agencies can be found on the website for the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors.

While pursuing a degree, if you have a specific transfer, graduate institution or employer in mind, it can be useful to directly ask if the accreditation of your current or prospective school is accepted.

Non-accredited programs are generally not as widely accepted as accredited programs by employers or graduate programs. Each educational institution has its own policies and individually chooses which credits and degrees it accepts, so it is always important to individualize your search.

The Importance of Choosing An Accredited Institution

When seeking postsecondary education, choosing an accredited institution is important for many reasons. Choosing an accredited institution assists with:

  • Assuring you are receiving a quality education that meets specifically evaluated quality standards
  • Eligibility for receiving financial aid – Only accredited schools are eligible to offer federal and state financial aid to their students
  • Transferring credits – Credits earned from an accredited institution generally will transfer to another accredited institution
  • Graduate programs – Many graduate programs will only accept degrees from accredited institutions
  • Seeking a job post graduation, as most employers value a degree from accredited schools over a degree from a non-accredited institution or program
  • Avoiding illegitimate programs, or “diploma mills,” when choosing an online college program

By choosing a college or university that is either nationally or regionally accredited by a reputable source, you are ensuring that you will receive a quality education that will be more widely accepted by employers and other institutions.

Choosing a Reputable Accreditation Source

When deciphering the credibility of a postsecondary education’s accreditation, it is important to be sure you are dealing with a credible agency. “Nationally recognized” agencies are those recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and are considered reputable sources of accreditation. Schools that receive accreditation from nationally recognized agencies are considered quality education institutions.

One method to ensure that your prospective college, university or program possesses a legitimate accreditation is to check the institution’s name against the list of the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. The list includes thousands of institutions that currently possess accreditations from reputable agencies.

Seeking Online Education

When seeking education at a college or university, it is important to obtain a quality degree and avoid institutions that provide degrees without merit. Often, some online degree programs are referred to as “diploma mills” because they offer a degree without a quality education. If an online program features only post office addresses, no exams, a promise of earning a degree in just a few days or weeks, or the option of paying a flat fee for a degree (degrees should be pay-per-credit), you should remain cautious, double-check the accreditation of the online program and most likely choose another program.

Since all accrediting agencies keep the same standards of accreditation for online education programs as they do for traditional, non-online institutions, by ensuring the online school you choose is accredited by a major agency, you can avoid the “Diploma Mill” dilemma. However, beware that some colleges, especially for-profit institutions, are known for promoting accreditation by agencies with names that are similar, but not the same as those recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Accreditation for a Quality Education

Seeking an accredited institution is the best method to insure that the education you receive meets high quality academic standards. Accreditation also determines the school’s participation in financial aid programs and is an important criterion when considering transferring credits or applying for graduate school programs.

Overall, it is important to choose an accredited institution when searching for the right college or university to ensure that the school chosen has quality standards and that credits and/or a degree will be transferable to other schools or graduate programs upon graduation.