You usually have little to worry about with well-known state and Ivy League colleges and universities in regards to their accreditations. But if you are looking into private or online colleges, then you really need a buyer beware attitude. Accredited colleges and universities will benefit you in starting or advancing a career. But a diploma from an unaccredited college may not be worth more than the piece of paper it’s printed on, despite the time and fees you put into getting that diploma.  You don’t want to skip checking the accreditation of colleges and universities that interest you when deciding how to pick a college that’s right for you.

How are Collegaccreditation of collegesCredit: Bigstockphotoes Accredited?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “The United States has no federal Ministry of Education or other centralized authority exercising single national control over postsecondary educational institutions in this country.” Instead, accreditation of colleges and universities is done by private associations, many of which have gained respect and authority in the university system and by the U.S. Department of Education. To gain accreditation by such an association, schools will have had their curriculum, facilities, funding, graduation requirements, and other aspects closely inspected and evaluated to determine that they all meets the association’s standards.

Importance of University and College Accreditation

Having accreditation for any school, from elementary to colleges to technical schools and online universities demonstrates the quality and validity of that school and the degrees it offers. Whether or not a college or university is accredited will directly affect you.

Getting an education from an accredited college will positively affect your future education and job prospects. At least some, if not all, of the courses you took will be transferable to other colleges. With this, you can build on your education to earn higher-level degrees. Employers checking your qualifications will see that you have a valid degree or college courses and consider that when choosing who to hire.

Getting an education from an unaccredited college can cost you. You will have paid tuition for a degree that is often not considered valid. In such cases, your courses will not transfer to any accredited college or university and employers will not view your degree as legitimate, putting you at the same level as candidates that have no college education. For positions that require a degree, such as with many government positions, you will not be qualified to apply. Listing college courses or a degree from unaccredited schools on your resume may even cause an employer to not consider you for a position because it can make you look questionable overall.

Finding What Colleges are Accredited

As of 2011, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes 18 accrediting associations for college level schools including the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, the New York State Board of Regents, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The U.S. Department of Education also recognizes over 40 associations as specialized accrediting agencies, which includes the National Association of Schools of Dance, American Dental Association, Midwifery Education Accreditation Council, and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. This means there is no shortage of accredited colleges and universities. There are even reputable online colleges that are accredited. But you do have to do the research yourself to confirm a college’s reputation.

To find out what colleges are accredited or check the status of a particular institute of higher learning, start by searching the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. This will give you a list of accredited colleges within your search parameters. You can also check the college’s website and then check the accrediting association’s website to confirm a college’s statement of accreditation.

Although each of these directories is intended to be kept up to date, searches can incorrectly tell you that a college is not in the accreditation database. If this happens and the college’s website states it is accredited, then do a more general search for all colleges accredited in that state on the U.S. Department of Education’s website and/or the accrediting association’s website. Your college of interested may be listed there. When in doubt, contact the accrediting association directly to confirm a college’s statements of accreditation.

Understanding the accreditation of colleges and universities and the time spend researching this when picking a college will save you money and time in the long run.