If you’re here, you are probably genuinely thinking about taking the next step in your education with a Master’s degree abroad. At the same time, you've also heard that some universities are not quite, you know… real universities.
There are various education scams out there, aka (also known as) diploma mills, and you want to make sure you choose a study programme that is legitimate and delivers what it promises. As your trusty sidekick in your study abroad adventure, we have put together an easy-to-read guide on diploma mills and how you can detect them early on.
What exactly is a diploma mill?
A diploma mill (or ‘degree mill’) is an internationally accepted term for any type of person or organisation that sells diplomas and academic degrees purely to make a profit and without requiring any serious academic achievement or study. The term is recognised by the US Centre for Information on Diploma Mills (CIDM).
According to 2017 statistics from WES, an educational counselling company, there are approximately 2,615 diploma mills worldwide, over 1,000 of them located in the USA.
These fake degrees undermine the value of real degrees. As a graduate, you potentially compete with people who have not actually studied but simply bought the same type of degrees. Employers make hiring decisions based on degrees and qualifications, but they might never find out if an applicant illegally obtained his or her degree.
The academic community differentiates between two types of diploma mills:
- Diploma mills that simply sell degrees for cash: In this case, both the diploma mill and the recipient know that the degree is not legitimate.
- Diploma mills that pretend to be real schools: Those diploma mills pretend that they offer real degrees.
How do you recognise a diploma mill and avoid being scammed?
The CIDM claims that there are several characteristics which can be considered as an indicator or a warning signal for diploma mills. If you pay attention to these details, you can avoid becoming a victim of a diploma mill.
- The address of the university is a post office box, a suite number or a mail drop.
- The phone number puts you through to a call centre, an answering machine or a mobile phone.
- A sample copy of the degree is shown on the website.
- Diploma mills tend to be more common in distance learning degrees.
- Accreditation is claimed to come from weird: small island state in the Pacific or the Caribbean (e.g. St Kitts and Nevis), or from countries such as Liberia, where there is little or no government control in higher education.
- The website offers no information about faculties, staff, study programmes, etc.
- Your diploma can be tailor-made to your own requirements, may be back-dated, and may be awarded the grade point average and distinction (e.g. cum laude) of your choice.
- Credit card logos and other payment options are shown on the website.
- The name of the awarding “institution” strongly resembles that of a well-known, bona fide university, such as Columbia State University (as opposed to the real Columbia University Cambridge International University (as opposed to the real University of Cambridge) and Trinity College and University (as opposed to the real Trinity College).
These are some of the red flags you should pay attention to when looking for study programmes abroad, especially in the United States, but not only.
After seeing some of these red flags on the websites of unis you check out, the fastest way to clear your doubts is to run the name of the university through the site of a national or international accreditation body. Their sites will immediately tell you if the uni is legit or not.