Accreditation can be one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a college or university. Higher education accreditation demonstrates to potential students and governing bodies that the college or university has met strict requirements for the quality of its faculty and programs. In essence, it is a college's certification that it is legitimate and that it follows generally accepted practices.
The question whether a school is accredited or not is important because many factors are tied to a school's accreditation status. The availability of some types of financial aid are dependent on whether a college is accredited. Without the proper accreditation, students may not be able to get certain types of financial support they might otherwise receive at an accredited school. A student's ability to receive certification in their field following graduation may also be affected by a university's accreditation. This is particularly true in health-related fields like nursing and counseling.
So how do you know if a school is accredited? Colleges and universities are required by federal regulations to clearly post on their websites if they are accredited and to list the name of the accrediting body if they are. Many colleges also provide a link to the accrediting body's site for verification. Be sure to do your own independent research on the accrediting body's website to be sure the school really is accredited with that particular group. Some less-than-honest colleges have been known to fabricate their higher education accreditation to entice more students.
Knowing whether or not a college is accredited is only the first step to determining whether the accreditation meets your needs. You should also do some research into the body that accredited the school. There are hundreds of accrediting bodies in the United States and abroad and they all use different standards in the accreditation process. Some are more legitimate than others, so doing some research into the standards will give you a better idea of how rigorous the process was. The most respected higher education accrediting body in the United States is the Higher Learning Commission. This group is the largest accrediting body in the country and has a thorough process to ensure HLC-accredited schools earn their certification.
States also accredit higher education institutions on a local level. When considering a college, you should also determine whether that school is accredited by the state in which it is located. If it is not, there may very well be a reason the state accreditation was not granted. Additionally, in many states a higher education institution cannot operate without being accredited by the state. Attending one of these schools is risky for students because the college is in danger of being shut down by the state education department at any time with no guarantee students will be refunded any tuition they have paid upfront.
Online schools can also receive accreditation. Even if you plan to complete an online degree, you should still check to be sure the school you plan to attend has an accreditation from an agency like the Distance Education Training Council. It is difficult for many online schools to obtain an accreditation, but the DETC is considered the trusted accrediting agency for online-only colleges that cannot obtain accreditation through the traditional route.
Accreditation status is one of the main characteristics a student should consider when choosing a college or university. While it may be fun to go to the "party" school, other considerations should be made regarding the quality of the education you will received. A college education is a significant investment and a big part of your future reputation. Protect that investment and reputation by doing some thorough research before choosing a school.