If you're ever tempted by an e-mail or ad claiming you can "earn a degree based on life experience," don't fall for it. Any company that offers degrees for a flat fee and requires little course work is a diploma mill. If your school is not recognized as an accredited institution by the Secretary of Education, you may not be able to receive financial aid and employers won't recognize it. You can check on a school's accreditation by contacting the Department of Education or search the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's database.
Beware: Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams
Scholarships and financial aid do not require upfront fees. While there are legitimate companies who will help guide you through the financial aid and college application process for a fee, disreputable companies may ask you for money up-front and provide nothing in return. Red flags to watch out for include the following:
- A "money-back guarantee" to secure a scholarship. Don't believe it. Unscrupulous companies attach conditions that make it impossible to get the refund.
- "Secret scholarships." If a company claims to have inside knowledge of scholarship money, they're lying. Information on scholarships is available freely to the public. Ask you librarian or school counselor.
- Telling students they've been selected as "finalists" for awards. If they ask for an up-front fee, head for the nearest exit.
- Asking for a student's checking account to "confirm eligibility." If they want bank account information or your credit card number to confirm or reserve a scholarship, it's a scam.
- Quoting a relatively small "monthly" or "weekly" fee. Then asking for authorization to debit your checking account for an unspecified length of time. Ongoing fees are a sure sign of a scam.
- Unsolicited offers. Whether it's an e-mail, phone call, or it arrived in your mailbox, if you didn't request the information, ignore the offer.