Online College Scams To Watch Out For

Online colleges are big business these days. In fact, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry!

And as with any big business, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. There are plenty of great online college options out there. Online colleges who truly care about their students. Who provide great course materials and instruction. And who offer degrees that are genuinely useful. 

But there are also a lot of scammers in the online college world. So when if you’re thinking about online college, it pays to be careful. Because the time and cost savings of an online college can actually turn into a huge loss if you end up getting scammed. 

In this article we share some online college scams so you can keep a wary eye out for them. We have listed some major red flags you need to take note of when you’re looking for the right online college. Check them out below. 

Online College Scams


One of the first things to look for in a college is their accreditation(s). In order to get an accreditation, a college has to demonstrate certain standards of quality. Having a legit accreditation means a college is the real deal and not some scammy diploma mill. 

How can you tell if an accreditation is legit or not? The agencies below are good accreditation agencies so if a school gets the blessing of one of them, that’s a good thing:

  • ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges)
  • ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training)
  • ACICS (Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools)
  • DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission)
  • CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation)

If a school claims accreditation from a fishy sounding list of accreditation agencies, watch out! You definitely need to do some more research to see if they are legit or not. 

Fast Track to Success

Another warning sign is online colleges that offer nearly instant results or a “fast track” to success. If the college claims you can complete your courses quickly and easily, be careful. Definitely use the “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” sniff test here. Even online colleges need comply with very specific ways for their students to earn credits. 

No Physical Address

Just because it’s an online college doesn’t mean that it is okay for it not to have a campus or at least business address listed. Go through their website and find a physical address for the campus. If there is only an email address or a P.O. box, that is a big old red flag.

Big Upfront Payments

Most online colleges offer payment plans to their students. Also, online colleges typically do not require a large upfront payment for a whole semester or year. They usually charge per credit or course. So if a college wants you to give them a big pile of cash up front, that is a huge red flag. 

Admissions Is A Joke

While it may not be as extensive as brick and mortar schools, online colleges still require students to go through an admissions process. If all a school wants is a letter from you and/or a check, be very careful.

Website layout

Spend some time looking through a college’s website. If something doesn’t look or feel right, then trust your gut instinct. Check for spelling errors, security risks, fake testimonials and more. Most legitimate online colleges have a .edu on their URL, so be sure to check that, too.

Aggressive Staff

If a salesperson or the financial aid staff insists on you enrolling and is overly aggressive, then that is another red flag. This is especially true if they pressure you to send money or take out a student loan.

More About Online Colleges

This article is part of our guide on how to be a successful online college student.

Check out the next topic in the series: Online College vs Traditional College