Fake College Degrees | How To Know If It Is Real?

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Santiago Mallea

Santiago Mallea

Chief of Content At Gradehacker

Can You Avoid Being Scammed By A Fake Degree?

To avoid having this bad experience and know how to invest in your education, you can check on the following:

Learn how fake college degrees work with our YouTube video!

If you are a non-traditional student pursuing a better life, chances are you’ve already encountered fake college degrees. 

They promise you an actual diploma in a few weeks or months based on your experience rather than academics. And maybe you are thinking both you and hundreds of people would be able to recognize if these online schools are legitimate institutions or not.

It is important that you know how to detect any fake college, and we want to help you with that.

Here at Gradehacker, the non-traditional student #1 resource, we strive to help you improve your college experience. 

Since you must know how legit your university will be, we are sharing the 4 ways you can detect a fake college.

Let’s begin!

What Are Fake Colleges?

Fake colleges, also known as diploma mills or degree mills, are fraudulent “institutions” that sell phony diplomas and academic transcripts to anyone willing to pay their “fee.” 

In short words, they are a scam.

These fake colleges are highly impressive-looking and fool lots of people by promising bogus degrees in a short amount of time by validating the students’ work experience gathered throughout their lives.

Types of Fake Colleges

However, there are two types of fake schools:

Open Diploma Mills:

These colleges are transparent with their clients and don’t hide that they sell fake degrees for cash. The customer is aware that the degree is illegitimate, and the “institution” even makes custom-designed diplomas.

Instead of having a fake college name, clients can choose the institution they want.

These are websites like  DiplomasAndTranscripts,  PhonyDiplomas, and Cheaper Than Tuition. While all these companies clarify that their realistic fake university diplomas are not validated, nor should they be used as replacement documents, there is nothing stopping people from actually doing it.

Why would someone willingly buy a fake diploma? Well, to get hired in a position or earn a raise. Even though it’s not illegal to purchase a diploma mill, using it as an accredited diploma for personal gain is a crime in several jurisdictions.

Diploma Mills That Claim To Be Real Schools:

These are the fake institutions that trick students into unknowingly buying a fake school diploma. Overall, they’re advertised as real schools where their students do minimal work and earn their degree in a short time.

The danger is that many students get to “graduate” from these facilities and think they have actually earned an actual degree. However, they can get in legal trouble if caught using fake academic credentials while working.

These are the schools that you should avoid at all costs.

But how can you identify them? Keep reading!

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How to Recognize Fake Colleges

Accreditation Process

The first and most effective way to find out if an educational institution is legit is by checking if it’s approved by the Department of Education. Otherwise, it should be accredited by an agency recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

In order to trick more students, these fake institutions use official-sounding terms such as “licensed,” “authenticated,” and “internationally approved” throughout their websites and ads. Additionally, they have names similar to other well-known colleges.

The main problem is that many of these fake schools are accredited by phony agencies they have created themselves. These accreditation mills usually have well-sounding names, which assure you they are international agencies superior to the U.S. Department of Education.

The best way to check where these institutions are accredited is by searching in an online database GetEducated.com has one list for  Diploma Mills and another for Accreditation Mills, so you can find out whether your next school is legit or a fraud.

Fee and Admission Criteria

Another red flag you can pay attention to is how much they charge and what requirements you need to meet to enroll.

First of all, fake colleges charge one bill for the degree, ranging from $500 to $2000 for an undergraduate degree and over $3,000 for a graduate diploma.

It is way cheaper than an average real university, and legitimate institutions usually charge per course tuition or per credit hours.

Secondly, there are no admission criteria at all!

They don’t ask you to meet a certain GPA, pass an entry exam, or present previous academic credentials. You can access and start getting your “degree” by having a valid payment method.


A key aspect you need to consider is that fake online degrees only last a few weeks or one or two months, and this is because they don’t really have any learning experience to provide.

Some promise you a degree 30 days after you apply for it. How could anyone think a degree is possible in such a short amount of time?

Well, these phony schools target non-traditional students who already have working experience in one field and need to earn a new certificate to continue working or earn a better position.

And with so many work obligations and family responsibilities, and without wanting to get a student loan to pay for college’s high costs, the idea of having their experience recognized with a degree in only a few weeks is really a lifesaver for non-traditional students.

However, be aware that no accredited university in America can award a master’s or doctorate degree based only on a review of work or career experience.


The last way you can tell a school is fake is how they show themselves and what information they share.

Throughout their website and email spam, they focus heavily on the extreme promise of earning a degree in 30 days. Plus, as they aim to trick people, they also mention how their degree program centers around giving credit for your life experience.

Additionally, their website won’t have a .edu address, and they won’t share a phone number to get in touch with, only emails. Also, you should always check their address, as sometimes they are an apartment number, and in some cases, they are even located in another country, even though they claim to be for American students.

Fake College Degree Adult being scammed

What To Do If You've Been Scammed By One?

If you’ve fallen for their false advertising and you’ve enrolled in a fake college, the first thing you should do is ask for a refund. Send that “institution” an email explaining you’ve realized their scam, that the degree they are offering is not legit, in opposition to what they claim, and that because of this, you want a full refund.

To be honest, most likely, you won’t receive any refund, nor will they answer your email. Still, this step is very important because this documentation might be useful in the future, as it proves that you were initially unaware of the fake diploma and that the moment you noticed, you wanted to end it.

Then, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or with your state attorney general. You should also get in touch with the Better Business Bureau, where you can easily fill out their complaints form. This way, you can help other potential students avoid falling for diploma mill scams.

Fake College Degree Scam Alert

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Beware and Avoid Fake College Degrees!

The promise of a brand new college degree in only a few weeks sounds too good to be true. And it is!

Fake college degrees are well-prepared scams that trick non-traditional students into paying too much money for a phony degree and fake transcripts. They take advantage of some experienced non-traditional students’ need to earn a diploma, which could jeopardize their jobs and even put them in legal trouble.

So, if you are looking for a new college, you’ll know it is fake if it:

By following these red flags, it will be almost impossible not to recognize a fake school.

However, if you are a non-traditional student and you still haven’t found a school for you, check out our list of the best colleges for students like you! And if you then need help with your assignments, you can always get in touch with the Gradehacker team to aid you with essays and entire classes.

If you want to learn more tips that every college student should know, check out these articles: