The Complete Guide to Online College Accreditation

When searching for online schools to attend, you’ll want to check that your college is accredited, either regionally, nationally, or specialized. Accreditation guarantees the online college meets universal standards of educational quality. If you’re unsure whether or not the school is accredited, verify its accreditation legitimacy through recognized bodies like CHEA and USDE. Accredited colleges allow for easier credit transferability, future employment opportunities, and a respected education from a reputable school.

Here's our guide to accredited online colleges.

Source: Flickr user 42106306@N00 .

When you start looking into going to school online, there’s a common question people have. That is, “Is it accredited?” This is because the accreditation and accrediting body will tell you a great deal about the reputation of a college. It will also help you know what you can expect after completing your degree program.

To help make sense of it all, we’ve created a complete guide to help you understand online college accreditation better. This includes spotting red flags to watch out for and figuring out if a school is legitimate if you’re unsure.

What Is Accreditation?

Merriam-Webster defines “accredit” as:

  • To recognize or vouch for as conforming with a standard
  • To recognize (an educational institution) as maintaining standards that qualify the graduates for admission to higher or more specialized institutions or for professional practice
  • To consider or recognize as outstanding

In other words, when a school is accredited, it’s meeting a universal standard of educational quality. So, when other schools, employers, and organizations look at their accreditation, it gives credibility. Essentially, it says there is excellence and consistency in their education.

How Does a School Become Accredited?

Accreditation means that a college is reputable. And, in order for that to be true, the college must undergo a lengthy and rigorous evaluation. To become accredited, a college must go through several stages:

  1. The college reviews accreditation standards and prepares a written report.
  2. A peer review and site visit is conducted to assess if the college meets the accreditation criteria. (Both online and on-campus colleges must meet identical accreditation standards.)
  3. Based on the findings, the accrediting organization decides to grant, deny, or defer accreditation.
  4. If granted, the university must maintain standards and provide regular reports every few years.

Why Is It Important for My Online School To Be Accredited?

Accreditation ultimately leads to a better reputation. It can also significantly impact the way future employers or graduate programs view your degree. There are consequences of attending a non-accredited online college. So making sure your school is accredited is important for a few reasons:

Credit Transfers. Accreditation means your school’s courses and degrees are accepted by other accredited schools. This makes it easier to transfer credits or continue your education elsewhere.

Employment Opportunities. If your school is not recognized by an accrediting body, many employers will not accept your degree as much more than a very expensive piece of paper.

Financial Aid: College is expensive. In order to help make it affordable and receive financial aid, your school must be regionally or nationally accredited.

How Can I Verify That My School’s Accreditation Is Legitimate?

You can start with a simple Google search. Type “accreditation” followed by the name of the school to verify their status. It’ll often tell you what agency they are accredited by. You can research this accrediting body for further clarification.

It is important to note that these agencies are usually private. This means that theoretically anyone could create an organization and claim to be an accrediting body. Luckily, legitimate accrediting bodies are recognized and listed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and U.S. Department of Education (USDE).

If you can’t find the accrediting body of the institution you are looking into on one of these websites, you need to do more research into the institution. This will help you determine its reputation and credibility.

Regional vs. National Accreditation

Educational institutions can either be accredited nationally or regionally. Here’s a look at both:

Regional Accreditation

  • Regional accreditation agencies offer accreditation to colleges that are state-owned or non-profit. It is granted by one of the seven regional accrediting bodies in the United States.
  • This is considered to be the more prestigious and widely recognized type of accreditation.
  • It is commonly associated with traditional universities and colleges offering a wide range of academic programs. This includes bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
  • These agencies ensure that requirements are similar enough to one another. Therefore, transferring students aren’t heavily penalized.
  • They are able to keep track of the programs they accredit. This is because they have fewer institutions in their region than a national accrediting agency.
  • Credits are easily transferred to other regionally-accredited schools.
  • Regional accreditation is often seen as a stamp of approval for high-quality education.

National Accreditation

  • National accreditation is granted by accrediting agencies that operate on a nationwide basis.
  • These accrediting bodies generally offer accreditation to institutions specializing in specific fields across the country (e.g., nursing or technical programs).
  • These colleges accept credits from both regionally and nationally accredited schools. However, credits may not always transfer easily to regionally accredited online schools.
  • These schools may be less expensive than regionally accredited schools.

Specialized/Programmatic Accreditation

Some fields have unique standards that graduates must meet. Examples include nursing or law schools. So their programs often require “specialized” or “programmatic” accreditation. This type of accreditation ensures the programs meet the specific criteria necessary for success in those professions.

For example, many nursing programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). This is a national accrediting body specializing in nursing programs. Other examples include the American Bar Association (ABA) which accredits law programs. Also, the American Dental Association (ADA), which accredits dental programs.

Attending an online college with proper accreditation is like getting the stamp of approval that your college meets high-quality standards. This means you can feel confident that you are receiving a valuable education from a school that is recognized and respected. Furthermore, an accredited college opens doors to promising careers and future academic opportunities.

Are you interested in attending school online or transferring schools? Check out our FREE College Match tool to search for schools based on location, major, price, and more!

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