If you are planning to study in the U.S., it is important to know if the school in which you plan to enroll is accredited. Accreditation helps to ensure that the school is of high quality and that you will receive the programs and services that the school describes in its promotional materials.
What is accreditation?

Accreditation is a process of external quality review. Accrediting agencies develop standards of excellence in areas such as faculty, curriculum, administration, and student services. Institutions and programs that meet the standards and that are granted accreditation continue on a path toward ongoing improvement.

What are the benefits of accreditation?

Through the public recognition that accreditation provides, students, sponsors, employers, and others can identify schools that meet the standards for educational quality. Employers often want to know that an employee graduated from an accredited school. Accreditation is also important in the transfer of credit from one school to another, and it can be a means for access to federal education funding. In addition, accreditation is a means for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to certify schools that are eligible to issue the necessary documents for international students to enter the country on a student visa.

Who are the accreditors?

Accreditation in the United States is carried out by private non-governmental organizations. These agencies set standards and establish policies and procedures for accreditation. There are two types of accreditation.

Institutional accreditation applies to entire institutions, such as 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities, both public and private, and single-purpose institutions such as private career institutions. Regional and national accrediting agencies carry out institutional accreditation. Six regional accrediting agencies operate within the U.S. Examples are the Middle States Association of Colleges and School and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. National accrediting agencies, such as the Distance Education and Training Council and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, accredit single-purpose institutions.

Programmatic accreditation focuses on programs that are part of an accredited institution. Such accreditation is carried out by specialized and professional accrediting bodies, which operate to ensure that students receive an education consistent with standards for entry into practice into their respective fields or disciplines. Examples of such agencies are the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

Specialized accrediting agencies may function as both institutional and programmatic agencies. The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) is an example of a specialized institutional and programmatic accrediting agency. CEA accredits both independent English language schools and intensive English programs in accredited universities and colleges. International students who want to study English in the United States can use CEA accreditation to identify accredited English language schools and intensive English programs in colleges and universities.

How does a program or school become accredited?

Institutions and programs go through a series of steps to obtain and maintain accredited status. They prepare an extensive self-study in which they respond to the agency’s standards, undergo a multiple-day site visit by a peer review team, are reviewed by a board or commission that makes the accreditation decision, and participate in annual reporting and re-accreditation on a set cycle. Throughout the process, there is improvement of the education program and services. Accreditation is an intensive process that involves faculty and staff, and even some students.

How do I know the accrediting agencies are reliable authorities on educational quality?

Accrediting agencies may go through a recognition process in which their standards, policies, and procedures are evaluated. Some agencies choose to apply for recognition by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). USDE recognizes accrediting agencies whose programs or institutions administer federal student aid funds or that have other links to federal government programs. The department’s regulations require accrediting agencies to establish standards in specific areas (curriculum, faculty, student achievement, fiscal and administrative capacity, student services, etc.) and to implement accepted accreditation policies and procedures. All accrediting agencies—regional, national, and specialized—that are recognized by the USDE as reliable authorities regarding the quality of the programs and schools they accredit are listed on the USDE website at

Another way for accrediting agencies to gain recognition is through the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a private organization that recognizes national, regional, and specialized accrediting agencies and is a voice for voluntary accreditation and quality assurance. Agencies that accredit institutions and programs that grant degrees are eligible to seek CHEA recognition; a list of these agencies is available at:

In addition, specialized and professional accrediting agencies can become members of the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA). ASPA’s mission is to represent its members on issues of education quality, while also advancing the knowledge, skills, good practices, and ethical commitments of accrediting agencies. More information can be found on the ASPA website at:

Accreditation is a very useful tool that international students can use to identify quality schools that meet their needs. The U.S. Department of Education, CHEA, and ASPA websites are useful tools that can lead prospective students to those institutions and programs that have met quality standards through the rigorous accreditation process.

Please contact the nearest EducationUSA advising center if you have questions about the U.S. accreditation system, and an adviser can guide you through the process.

Diploma Mills and Accreditation Mills

While there is no single definition of a diploma mill, these are generally illegal institutions that grant degrees in exchange for money, often without requiring students to show proof of course mastery or complete substantive coursework or testing. With the rapid spread of the Internet, diploma mills have been appearing more frequently and are increasingly difficult to track. At first glance, many diploma mills are difficult to distinguish from legitimate institutions of higher education, so it is important to check accreditation when choosing a program.

If you encounter a diploma mill, please report it to an appropriate authority (such as a local government education agency or the an EducationUSA advising center). Diploma mills not only harm their graduates by taking their money in exchange for bogus degrees; they also hurt society in general and damage the reputation of legitimate alternative and non-traditional education.

Helpful Links for Avoiding and Reporting Unaccredited Institutions and Diploma Mills

Diploma Mills and Accreditation: Resources and Publications: U.S. Department of Education Website

Postsecondary Educational Institutions and Programs Accredited by Accrediting Agencies and State Approval Agencies Recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education Accreditation website designed to help students avoid online diploma mills. Provides a searchable list of institutions accredited by federally approved organizations.

Avoid Fake-Degree Burns by Researching Academic Credentials
Report from the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal Trade Commission with guidelines on unaccredited degrees and tips for spotting diploma mills.
State of Oregon's Student Assistance Commission, Office of Degree Authorization: Includes information on accreditation, diploma mills and unaccredited institutions. Also provides a list of unaccredited institutions, some of which are diploma mills, whose degrees cannot be used in the State of Oregon.
Federal Trade Commission Scholarship Scams Website: Includes information on how to spot fraudulent scholarship organizations and a list of organizations that are currently defendants in scholarship fraud.