What is accreditation and why does it matter?

Why Accreditation Matters

Many students are unsure about what accreditation means and why it is important. After all, as long as you learn the material, you should be able to walk away with an education that means something, right?

Not necessarily. While some unaccredited programs might offer valuable learning experiences, not all educational offerings are created equal. Attending an unaccredited program can mean that you will not be eligible for federal financial aid, you will not be able to transfer credits to another school, and you will not be able to obtain appropriate professional licensure in your field. Accreditation can make the difference between embarking on an exciting career path, or being saddled with debt.

What Does Accreditation Mean to You?

It may seem like accreditation has no importance to you as a student, but that could not be further from the truth. When you graduate and look for a job, employers take into consideration the school you attended and if it is accredited by a reliable agency. If your degree is from an institution that has questionable accreditation, employers will question the validity of your education and your potential as a good job candidate. Also, if you plan on transferring to another institution at any time in your academic career, no school will take transfer credits from an unaccredited university.

What is Accreditation?

Most define accreditation as a status which shows the public that a school has met and is maintaining a high level of standards set by an accrediting agency. However, the accreditation process can be confusing to many. Who are the accreditation agencies? How were they selected? What do they look for in a school? What is the difference between accreditation agencies and types of accreditation?

How Are Schools Accredited?

Accreditation agencies look for different attributes depending on the type of school and most specialize in certain kinds of learning institutions. A vocational cosmetology school, for example, will face different accreditation standards than a medical school residency program because of the very different fields. However, all schools are subject to some overarching principles of accreditation that span fields and form the foundation for the process. For instance, all accrediting institutions hold that schools must have a clearly defined mission that aims to better educate and serve the students. Further, all schools must demonstrate that the school has the resources to achieve its mission while showing evidence of the mission being achieved.

Additionally, almost all institutions must commit to periodic and unannounced external reviews as well as a rigorous internal review programs to ensure that accreditation standards are continually being met.

Who Accredits Schools?

The answer to this question is very important. You will need to make sure that your school is accredited by a reputable agency. The U.S. government does not regulate accreditation and instead, appoints other bodies to do the job. However, due to the large amount of fraudulent online schools, fake accrediting agencies have been popping up all over the Web. Do not fall into their trap. The U.S. Secretary of Education recognizes the agencies believed to be reliable authorities on accreditation and lists these agencies on the US Department of Education's website. Making sure the agency your school is accredited by is on this list is the easiest way to ensure the accreditation is legitimate.