Avoiding Education Scams

Education is full of new tech, so it pays to know if some of these “new” things are legit or taking advantage of people. In this post, I’ll show you the 4 most common edu-scams and how to avoid them.


The High School Diploma Scam

Signs from the Federal Trade Commission that you could fall for a diploma scam:

  • You can get a diploma from home, ASAP

No classes? No in-person test? All online? That’s a scam. Legitimate programs with classes for credit mean you’ll invest weeks or months of time. And real high school equivalency tests are offered at specific days and times, not on-demand. Most people don’t pass without really studying.

  • You have to pay for a diploma

No legitimate high school equivalency program lets you take a test or classes for free, then charges you for the diploma. You might pay for classes or testing, but you shouldn’t have to pay for the diploma itself.

  • They claim to be affiliated with the federal government

The federal government doesn’t offer programs for earning high school diplomas. Legitimate tests or programs are approved by your state.

Legitimate High School Diploma

Homeschools that are operating lawfully can issue a legitimate high school diploma to their children. If you need help with legal questions, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association can help you understand your state’s laws and graduation requirements.

If your teen is older or you want them to earn an equivalency diploma, four tests approved by at least one state (as of May 2016) are the GED, HiSET, TASC, and CHSPE. The CHSPE is offered in California only. California employers are required to accept it as the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Legitimate high school equivalency tests are:

  • administered in-person
  • proctored
  • closed-book
  • scheduled for specific dates and times

These tests also will require an authentication process to make sure the test taker is the person who signed up for the test. Costs range from $50-$100.  (FTC, 2019)

P.S.  did you know you can get college credit for a high GED score?


The Scholarship Scam

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, unscrupulous companies guarantee or promise scholarships, grants, or fantastic financial aid packages. Many use high-pressure sales pitches at seminars where you’re required to pay immediately or risk losing out on the “opportunity.”

Some unscrupulous companies guarantee that they can get scholarships on behalf of students or award them “scholarships” in exchange for an advance fee. Most offer a “money-back guarantee” – but attach conditions that make it impossible to get a refund. Others provide nothing for the student’s advance fee – not even a list of potential sources; still, others tell students they’ve been selected as “finalists” for awards that require an up-front fee. Sometimes, these companies ask for a student’s checking account to “confirm eligibility,” then debit the account without the student’s consent. Other companies quote only a relatively small “monthly” or “weekly” fee and then ask for authorization to debit your checking account – for an undetermined length of time.

Legitimate Scholarships

A good rule of thumb is that your teen will have to apply for their award (being contacted without applying is a huge red flag) and if the reward is legitimate, it will be delivered to your teen’s college account directly.   Never provide any kind of banking or financial information for the purpose of “receiving” an award.

Colleges all offer scholarships, so the best place to start looking for a legitimate scholarship is your college’s website. Colleges also sometimes provide links to external scholarships, especially those in certain occupations.

Legitimate scholarship websites are those who source and distribute information for you to follow up on; and they don’t collect a fee. HS4CC also has a tab at the top of this website that allows you to browse legitimate scholarship lists.


The Diploma Mill Scam

Federal Trade Commission offers these signs of a diploma mill:

  • No Studies, No Exams, No Interaction

If you’re getting a degree without doing any work, chances are you’re dealing with a diploma mill. Legitimate colleges or universities — including online schools — require substantial course work and interaction with professors.

  • “Get a Degree for Your Experience!”

Diploma mills grant degrees for “work or life experience” alone. Accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience relevant to a degree program, but not an entire degree.

  • Flat Fee

Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Legitimate colleges charge by the credit, course, or semester — not a flat fee for an entire degree.

  • No Waiting

Though there are schools that offer accelerated degrees in-person or online, earning a degree still takes some time. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree in a few days, weeks, or even months, it’s probably a diploma mill.

  • Pushy Advertising Tactics

Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales tactics. Legitimate institutions, including distance learning programs, won’t advertise through spam or pop-ups. They won’t use high-pressure telemarketing calls, either.

Legitimate Degrees

Homeschooling for College Credit suggests pursuing degrees only from regionally accredited colleges and universities. Your state’s public community colleges and universities are all going to hold regional accreditation, but not all private colleges do. It’s important to check accreditation, even if you “recognized” the name because many fraudulent colleges use names that sound like the name of a legitimate college.

There are a small number of legitimate institutions that have not pursued accreditation- but because of the complexities of assessing verification are not recommended.


The Credit Laundering

This isn’t so much a scam as it is a mistake parents can make – but it happens enough that you need to be aware of it.

The idea starts like this: College A has a fantastic CLEP policy so I use them to house my accumulated credit, and then when I’m ready, I’ll simply send my transcript to the college I really want to attend, College B, and voila!  Transfer credit.  Zonk!

Legitimate Credit Transfer

Colleges are highly predictable in how they transfer credit and, as you can guess, it’s not the first time they encounter a student attempting to launder credit. As such, all credit is evaluated via the original source. This means that no matter how many colleges accept your credit and place it on a transcript, each college will do an independent evaluation of the credit from its original source.

CLEP/AP/DSST:  Use the policy of the college that will award the degree, not the intermediary school your teen attends for dual enrollment or for an associate degree. The exception is if the college that awards the degree will accept an associate degree as a “bundle” and not unpack the credits. This is usually part of an articulation agreement / aka transfer agreement and will be in writing. Be sure to understand this well before proceeding.

Dual Enrollment:  Use the policy of the college that will award the degree, not the intermediary school your teen attends for dual enrollment. If your student is taking a dual enrollment course through a regionally accredited college, the likelihood of transfer is excellent. Note that non-college programs have a very low (almost zero %)  likelihood of transfer into a college that doesn’t already have an agreement in place.

ACE / NCCRS Credit:  Use the policy of the college that will award the degree, not the intermediary school your teen attends for dual enrollment or for an associate degree.

Legitimate Options that Save Money 

There are REAL ways to save money on REAL degrees!  That’s one of the things we love to share here, and one of the ways you can cut your teen’s degree cost by tens of thousands of dollars. To help show you real numbers, I’ll use my state of North Carolina to pull some numbers and show you how real families are saving real money.

  1.  Free Dual Enrollment?  Did you know your teen may have access to free tuition in high school? This is a BIG deal and parents don’t always know about it. Homeschooling for College Credit families use dual enrollment and save thousands. If your teen’s university charges $1500 for English 101 but your teen can take it for free in 12th grade, this is a huge savings! Some states allow teens to finish up to two years of college for free this way. At the University of North Carolina, students who took advantage of North Carolina’s free dual enrollment have saved $40,000 more than those students who didn’t know about free dual enrollment or opted not to take advantage!
  2. Transfer, transfer, transfer!  Transfer credit can be an excellent way to reduce cost in a big way.  In most states, transfer from the community college to a university is a well-understood process and designed to save the student time and money. It’s written down, and easy to follow with a little planning. If taking a course through your community college costs $300, and that same course at your university costs about $1500, you can see that every course you take through the community college saves your family about $1,200. If you take the maximum transfer allowed, you can save tens of thousands of dollars!
  3. Credit by Exam.  Credit by exam allows you to study independently using your own resources and “test out” of a college course.  There are many standardized programs in place that allow you to do this. Several popular brands are CLEP, DSST, and Advanced Placement.  More than half the colleges in the country allow you to use credit by exam and, for every course you test out of, that’s one less course to pay for – buy books for- and one class closer to graduation.

Other posts you might like:

Scholarships to Apply for NOW

Accreditation Database: Bookmark This

Does Walmart Really Pay for College?

College Board Opportunity Scholarships


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit

2 thoughts on “Avoiding Education Scams

  1. What do you think of the NICHE scholarships? I heard that they’re a scam but then I see them listed on the JLV site all the time? Thanks for the post!

    1. The NICHE site curates a lot of legitimate scholarships, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were duds in there too. Sometimes these are nothing more than opportunities to get your name inside a sales funnel. If the scholarship feels scammy or too good to be true, it probably is. Great question, thanks Karyn!

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