An accredited school is one that's met certain standards of quality in terms of academic rigor and student outcomes. In order for an international school to be accredited, an accrediting agency must holistically assess the school's operations and overall academic quality.
Attending an accredited school abroad is key to ensuring you receive a solid education. What's more, graduate schools and potential employers may check the accreditation status of your international school.
How Does International College Accreditation Work?
International college accreditation works similarly to U.S. accreditation.
The two main types of college accreditation in the U.S. are institutional and programmatic accreditation.
U.S. accrediting agencies must be recognized by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education (ED) — or both. Currently, CHEA and ED recognize nearly 100 accrediting agencies.
Outside the U.S., international colleges may be accredited by U.S. accrediting agencies, international accrediting agencies, and/or domestic accrediting agencies.
According to the International Education Accreditation Commision, international accreditation can be divided into institutional and special (or programmatic) accreditation — just like U.S. accreditation.
Other countries' domestic accreditation agencies may apply these same types of accreditation categories using different names.
For example, the National Accreditation Commission of Chile offers institutional and undergraduate or postgraduate accreditation. The Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities offers institutional and program accreditation.
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The Importance of Attending an Accredited International School
Directly enrolling in an international school can be enticing for American students due to lower tuition costs and a unique cultural experience.
While earning a degree from an international institution can be exciting, however, it's important that you confirm the accreditation status of prospective international schools and research the validity of the accrediting agencies.
Checking the accreditation status and the accrediting agencies of a potential school abroad is important to ensure that future employers and graduate schools recognize your degree.
If you plan to enroll at a U.S. grad school at some point, that institution will likely need to verify the accreditation of your international degree. Employers may do the same, often using a third-party verification provider.
The easiest way to know that your international degree will be readily recognized by U.S. schools and employers is to enroll in an international school accredited by a CHEA- or ED-approved agency.
Do Study Abroad Programs Need to Be Accredited?
If you want to study abroad, make sure your study abroad program is offered by an accredited institution. This way you can know for sure you'll receive credit for your international coursework.
Fortunately, accredited U.S. colleges typically only promote approved study abroad programs at accredited international schools. Study abroad programs not approved by a U.S. university may not be associated with an accredited international school.
According to the Council on International Educational Exchange, you may have to petition your participation in order to participate in a study abroad program not approved by your home university,
If you participate in an unapproved study abroad program, you may be considered a non-matriculating student. This means you may have to undergo a readmittance process to your home university after participating in the unapproved study abroad program.
Furthermore, you may have to undergo a petition process to receive course credit for the study abroad program.
How Do You Transfer College Credits Earned Abroad?
Accreditation plays an important role in transferring credits from one international institution to another. Some U.S. universities only accept transfer credits from schools accredited by certain accrediting agencies.
To transfer credits from an international school to a U.S. college, you must first check the accreditation status of the foreign institution.
Next, you must check what kind of institutional accreditation the university you're seeking to transfer to accepts.
For example, the University of Minnesota will generally allow the transfer of credits from international undergraduate programs if they're recognized by the "Ministry of Education, other appropriate ministry, or national government body in the country or have regional United States accreditation."
You would then begin the petition process to transfer your international credits.
What Are Some International Accreditors to Look For?
With the rise of diploma mills and fake accrediting agencies, it's important your international school receives accreditation from a reputable source. This will help ensure that U.S. institutions and potential employers recognize your degree.
Here are some prominent international school accreditors to look for:
- Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE)
- Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA)
- Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
- British Accreditation Council (BAC)
- Council of International Schools (CIS)
- Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS)
- International Accreditation Organization (IAO)
Although these are prominent international accreditors, it's important to note that none of the above are recognized as official accrediting bodies by CHEA or ED.
Attending an international institution that's not accredited by a CHEA- or ED-approved agency could mean your degree won't be readily recognized by U.S. institutions and employers and will have to undergo further evaluation.
If you want to work or study in the U.S., it will be easiest to attend an international school that's been accredited by a CHEA- or ED-recognized agency.
Here are some U.S. accreditors that provide accreditation to international schools:
- Accrediting Commission for Schools Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Middle States Commision on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commision on Higher Education (NECHE)
If you don't plan to work or study in the U.S. in the future, this is one less worry for you. You just have to make sure that your degree is recognized by a legitimate international or domestic accrediting agency in that country.