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In a world where having a college degree is seen as an entry-level requirement for many jobs, many people without the time to attend a traditional university are turning to online study. In the past, some less-than-honorable universities have bilked their students out of their money. Beware of such frauds.

Diploma Mills

Even if an online college isn't an outright scam, it still might be what's known as a "diploma mill." These colleges offer college credit for life experiences and other "soft" training and education and have easier-than-normal requirements when it comes to earning a degree. Most of these operations are not accredited. Of the ones that are, many of them have received their accreditation from any one of a number of equally nefarious "accreditation mills."

Accreditation Mills

These entities have neither governmental authority nor recognition by the academic community to award accreditation to any institution of higher learning. They simple rubber stamp a diploma mill's qualifications and say, "This place is legit." In the most egregious cases, both the diploma mill and the accreditation mill are two shell corporations of the same entity.

Read: 50 Best Online Colleges and Universities

Lifelong Damage Potential

Just because you can string an impressive list of abbreviations an acronyms along as part of your curriculum vitae doesn't mean you will be set. In fact, any job recruiter worth his or her salt will investigate any and all degrees and awards you have on your resume. These recruiters will undoubtedly figure out that you're "shoveling hay," as it were, which could blacklist you from employment in your chosen field.

How Do You Know an Online College Is Real?

It won't be "too-good-to-be-true." It will have a reasonable tuition. It won't provide credit for life experience. You will have to do actual work, turn in actual papers, and interact with actual professors. The college's accreditation must come from one of the organizations listed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. If the accreditation comes from elsewhere, ignore that college no matter what discounts and promises it makes.

It pays great dividends to investigate the credentials of any online college in which you plan to enroll. It takes time, but it will save you money in the long run. First, you won't spend money needlessly on a trashy, worthless program that just exists to make money for itself. Second, you won't torpedo your own career by associating yourself with the veritable criminals who run these mills. Third, your education will have real value and will be a great basis for getting the right jobs in your life and maximizing your income potential.

Don't be fooled. Apply the critical thinking skills you've carefully cultivated throughout your life thus far. If you protect yourself this way, there's no reason you can't receive a top-flight education online and still have time for a great balance of work, school, and life.

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