6 Problems You Might Face if You Attend an Unaccredited College

Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons
Updated September 20, 2023
Edited by
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If you’re attending or thinking of attending an unaccredited college, you may want to reconsider. The college accreditation process exists to ensure that colleges meet high-quality standards.

Colleges that have not been accredited by a legitimate accreditor — one recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) — are still considered unaccredited. Though they may market themselves as having “accreditation,” their students go unprotected from exploitation.

Attending an unaccredited college can negatively affect your future, impacting where you get hired and what degrees you can pursue later.

Here are six problems you might face if you decide to enroll at an unaccredited college.

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  1. 1

    Finding Employment

    You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy League college to get a job, but you usually need to graduate from an accredited college. Employers tend to trust degrees from accredited programs over unaccredited ones because they know the former have been evaluated and held to high standards.

    States have also taken measures to protect employees and the general public from predatory unaccredited colleges. For example, Oregon law says that a person cannot claim they have an academic degree to meet job requirements (e.g., saying you have a nursing degree to apply for an RN job) if the degree came from an unaccredited school.

  2. 2

    Qualifying for Professional Licenses

    If you’re planning to enter a career that requires a professional license, like engineering, nursing, or law, make sure your state’s licensing board will accept your college’s degree.

    Most professional licensing boards require students to have attended an accredited program to ensure they received a sufficient education.

    Why do states and professions do this? Some unaccredited programs covertly run diploma mills, putting the public at risk.

    For instance, three unaccredited nursing programs in Florida were recently closed after an investigation found that they sold almost 8,000 fake nursing diplomas. Students could use those fake diplomas to get nursing jobs across the United States.

  3. 3

    Attending Graduate School

    One way to stand out in a competitive job market is to get a graduate degree, like a master’s or doctorate. These programs, however, can be highly competitive.

    You’ll need an accredited undergraduate degree to get accepted into graduate school. Some institutions, like the University of Southern California, won’t even consider applications from students who did not attend an accredited program.

    It’s also best to avoid unaccredited graduate programs — you don’t want to risk not getting a job in your field or repeating your graduate program. For example, the American Library Association does not recognize graduate degrees in library sciences from unaccredited programs.

  4. 4

    Earning Federal Financial Aid

    A college degree is a great asset to have, but it doesn’t usually come cheap. The majority of full-time first-year students (85%) received some type of financial aid in the 2019-2020 school year. And almost half of all undergraduates received federal financial aid that same school year.

    Many unaccredited programs are not eligible for financial aid. The federal government is also cracking down on programs accredited by bodies other than those approved by ED or CHEA.

    For instance, ED recently announced that schools accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools — an agency that is not approved by ED — must complete additional requirements if they want to continue offering students federal financial aid.

  5. 5

    Transferring Credits to Another School

    If you’re currently studying at an unaccredited college and are considering transferring to an accredited one, know that your credits may not transfer with you.

    While it’s most likely the best choice to protect your future educational and professional opportunities, you might have to start from scratch.

    Each college has different policies for transfer credits. Some colleges may never accept transfer credits from unaccredited programs. Others put a cap on the number of hours you can transfer from an unaccredited program. Some schools do an audit of each course you’ve taken to see whether any credits will transfer.

  6. 6

    Exacerbating Wealth Disparities for Students of Color

    Beyond the financial and employment-related consequences of attending an unaccredited college, there’s also the issue that these programs disproportionately prey on students of color. Black and Latino/a students are already more likely to take on greater debts to pay for college.

    Predatory for-profit schools are accused of seeking to admit as many students of color as they can in order to get federal aid money, caring little for the actual educational value a diverse student body can provide.

    The Student Borrower Protection Center called these programs “wealth-stripping enterprises” because they further expand the wealth gap for communities of color.

    To learn which programs and colleges are currently accredited, start with ED’s database of accredited programs and CHEA’s database.

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