UNITED STATES—Accreditation is the process by which an online college or university has gained certification to have met standards that are set out by a board of representatives chosen from peer institutions. If you want to study for an online degree, it is important to look out for accreditation since an accredited degree from a certified college of higher education will be accepted by both other schools, colleges and educational organizations along with prospective employers. The right accreditation for an online degree can be the difference between getting a degree that gets you into your chosen career and a certificate on a piece of paper that you can’t do anything with.

What Kind of Accreditation Is There?

There are two kinds of accreditation for online colleges and universities. These are institutional education and specialized or programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation is awarded to the school or college as a whole, but it does not mean that all the departments are the same quality. Specialized accreditation is awarded to different parts of the school. This could be awarded to something as large as a certain college or department within a university, or to something as small as a certain curriculum within one of the disciplines the school teaches.

The top level of accreditation is carried out by the US Department of Education, which uses a rigorous and strict process to assess both regional and national accrediting bodies. These accrediting bodies are then tasked with going out to assess colleges for both legitimacy and quality. Colleges and universities are required to pass accreditation checks at least once every five years.

Why is Accreditation Important?

Studying at an accredited online college gives you peace of mind that the learning materials you are given access to meet a strict set of educational standards. When preparing to study online, you may find that there are many colleges that are new and lesser-known compared to some of the big names. It is relatively easy for new colleges to set up and start offering online degree programs; however, the problem is that they do not need to be accredited to do this. Studying at a college that is not accredited for your online degree may be an ideal way to learn something new, but it is unlikely to lead to a degree qualification that you can use to study further or even get a job in the future.

Ways to Check the Accreditation Status of an Online College

There are several different things that you can do to check for the accreditation status of a college or an online degree program before you decide if it is the right option for you. These include:

·         Checking the College Website

The easiest way to check for accreditation is to search for it on the college’s website, since accredited colleges and universities will usually display it on the ‘About Us’ page or they will have a section dedicated to accreditation information. You will usually be able to find more information on the agency or accrediting body that has provided the accreditation. It’s also important for some students to make sure that the program they are interested in studying is accredited too. This is particularly necessary for certain programs such as nursing, which need to be accredited by an appropriate agency such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

·         The US Department of Education Accreditation Listings

You can also check the accreditation status of any online college or university using the US Department of Education’s website. There is also an accreditation database that you will be able to check. To do this, all you need to do is go to the college search page and enter the name of the online school that you are looking up, before hitting search. You will then be shown a school or several different schools that match your search criteria. Find the school that you are looking for and click on the link. Once you have done this, you should be taken to a page showing the school’s accreditation information. Double check the website and other contact information for the school to make sure that it is the one that you are looking for. On this page, you can view both institutional and specialized accreditation for the college. You will also be able to get more information on the accrediting agency, find out when the school was awarded the accreditation, the next review date, and the most recent accreditation action.

·         Council for Higher Education Accreditation Listings

Another way to find out more about a college’s accreditation status is through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s website. This works with a process that is very similar to the search process of the US Department of Education’s website. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the CHEA does provide less information when it comes to college accreditations.

Accreditation Doesn’t Always Mean Success

While studying at an accredited online school or college is important, you should also bear in mind that accreditation is not always a guarantee of success when choosing an online college. While it is more likely, accreditation does not always mean that your credit hours will be transferred to another institution or that employers will hire you as a graduate. Along with looking for accreditation information, it’s recommended by the Department of Education that students also take further steps to ensure that the school or college that they choose is going to meet their goals, including researching whether your credits can be transferred or speaking to potential future employers to make sure that a degree from the school is something that they are prepared to accept.

Whatever you want to study online, making sure that the college you choose is accredited is an important step. It is especially important to study at an accredited college if you want to study for a professional degree such as nursing since this will be an important part of finding employment in the future. There are several ways to check if a college is accredited, and students should also perform further checks to ensure it is the right choice for them.