How to Identify a Diploma Mill

By: Christine Conte

Diploma mills are schools that offer degrees and certificates for a simple fee. The catch is that the degrees and certificates are fake and will do you no good in pursuing a meaningful career or continuing your education.

How to Identify a Diploma Mill

Recognizing a Diploma Mill

A “diploma mill” or “degree mill” is defined as a fraudulent school which will grant a diploma (that is, a certificate that states you have graduated from a program of study) or college degree to anyone who pays a fee, yet requires little or no actual school work or study.

There are two basic types of diploma mills:

  1. A school that offers low-quality “degree programs” that require minimal effort to pass.
  2. A school that will sell you a certificate with your name on it.

Certain states (such as California, Utah, Hawaii and Louisiana) have less stringent laws regarding schools; diploma mills tend to be located in such states. Also, many diploma mills are affiliated with churches or other religious organizations, taking advantage of tax benefits, as well as the government’s reluctance to interfere with the activities of churches.

Diploma mills also sometimes offer college credit for “life experience”, but this practice is often questionable. Many legitimate colleges will also give such “life experience” credit, but this does not replace academic work. Passing a series of legitimate tests, such as the CLEP (College-Level Examination Program), can also allow a student to bypass elementary coursework and count the test towards a degree.

Does a Fake Diploma Have Any Value?

With all the importance placed on college degrees in the job market, the lure of an “instant degree” can seem like the ideal shortcut to a better job. Desperation can cause many people to grasp for hope. Diploma mills sell hope.

In many cases, though, the diploma mill “graduate” has simply bought a piece of paper that has no real value. If it comes to an employer’s attention that an employee has obtained his or her job by presenting a fraudulent degree, that could most likely be grounds for dismissal! Worst of all, unfortunately, job loss is likely the least of your worries if you use a fake degree: it is actually illegal in some places to pass a fake degree off as an accredited one for personal gain (jobs, raises, etc).

In Summary

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

GET YOUR BACHELOR DEGREE IN 9 WEEKS!” the ads scream. Sounds good, but here’s a reality check: A Bachelor’s degree typically takes four years of study to complete. There are individual exceptions to that, but do the school’s claims sound realistic? What is the school promising? What must you do to earn your degree? Even if the school professes to require textbooks, homework, and exams, a diploma mill may still have a policy of graduating everyone.

Do a little research to find out if the school is legitimate. Is the school accredited by an authentic agency? Anyone can claim an official-sounding accreditation, but ask yourself if it is real! The United States Department of Education publishes a list of trustworthy accrediting agencies. Check with them to find out if the school is legitimate.

By Christine Conte, a writer at