Help Desk FAQ



How do I know if an online school is legitimate?

Online schools can be attractive for many reasons, but prospective students have to be careful to choose a school that is both legitimate and respected. The popularity of online education has encouraged scammers to set up schools that charge hundreds or thousands of dollars but do not provide an education that is useful in the real world. Protect yourself and get the best education you can by looking for the following in any school you consider:

  • Valid contact information. Any school should provide a working phone number and a physical address. Call the number to make sure it’s valid and that you can reach a live person or get a prompt call back. If possible, visit the physical address.
  • Accreditation. The school should be accredited by a legitimate agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Visit the Department of Education online to find out if the school you’re considering is on their list. Also, visit your state’s department of education (search online for key words “state department of education” plus the name of your state). Do not rely solely on a link to an accreditation agency website from the school’s site—scammers have been known to build impressive-looking bogus sites to support their claims.
  • Longevity and a favorable complaint history. A school that has been around for some years is less likely to close up shop tomorrow and take your money. But make sure that those years have not been marred by numerous complaints. Contact the Better Business Bureau, the state consumer protection office, and the state department of education in both your own state and the state where the school is established (if they’re different) to investigate the school’s complaint record.
  • Qualified teachers. Degrees, relevant work experience and teaching experience are all important. Don’t just believe the teacher bios on the school’s website. Do an online search for the names of a few of the instructors and even the principal. You should find at least some corroborating information about them on other sites.
  • Hiring success. If you’re studying to get a certificate in, say, medical transcription, dental assisting, computer repair or any other non-degree profession, ask for the names of specific local businesses that have hired graduates recently. Contact those and other businesses in the industry to find out how a certificate from the particular school you’re considering is perceived and how helpful it will be in getting you the job you want.
  • Reasonable claims. Be wary of any school that says you can graduate very quickly or that you can get your diploma, degree or certificate easily and with little work. Too-good-to-be-true claims should be a red flag.

Learn more in Consumer Action's "A Guide to Finding the Right Job Training School."




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