Spending years studying for a master's degree could be in vain if students don't research accreditation of grad school programs before applying for and enrolling in classes. While accreditation at most levels of education and in most areas is voluntary, attending school at a higher education facility without accreditation could be a costly mistake. Not only does qualifying for and holding onto accreditation show a program is dedicated to quality, but it also affects scholarships, certifications, future schooling, licensing, and even financial aid.
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Types of Accreditation
There are many different types of accreditation in terms of post-secondary institutions. There is Regional Accreditation, which has the highest standards in the United States and applies to schools with undergraduate and graduate programs. There is also national accreditation, which doesn't apply to graduate schools because it's designed for non-traditional programs. There is also programmatic accreditation, which is very common in master-level programs because a professional association would oversee the credentialing of programs in a specialized area of study.
Accreditation Status and Financial Aid
Attending college is no cheap journey. Students who are pursuing a graduate degree have already spent 4 or more years of their life and a huge deal of money studying for their Bachelor's. Since graduate-level curriculum can be more intensive, it's not unusual for a Master's degree to cost more than a 4-year degree.
Researching the regional accreditation of grad school programs is a must for any student planning to apply for financial aid or any type of federal loans through the US Department of Education. In fact, any type of federal funding, whether it is grants or loans, is only available to students who are earning their credits at a regionally accredited school.
Accreditation and Licensing
Students don't have to be pursuing special professional licensing or certification in a field to earn their Master's, but it's not uncommon to spend the additional years in school for this reason. Students who are going to school to meet licensing educational requirements or to eventually get certified need to look up the requirements prior to selecting a school. Virtually all licensing boards and accrediting agencies will require the credits to be earned from an accredited graduate program or the credits won't be recognized.
Going Beyond a Master's
Anyone who wants to go beyond a Master's or wants to earn multiple graduate degrees in different areas could pay the price if they attend a program without the right accreditation to start. You must meet prerequisites to move on to the next-level program. The courses you have taken from a school that did not have accreditation while you were attending will not count towards the admission requirements. This means more money and more time in school making up for it.
There are different field-based and merit-based scholarships available to graduate students. Even the organizations offering these require that students be enrolled at an accredited university. It may take extra time to find the best schools with the best reputations, but it's critical that students never forget to research the accreditation of grad school programs since accreditation status matters so much.