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How to Avoid Fake Academic Credentials

As part of the hiring process, an important criterion to consider is what type of academic degrees they have and where they got them. While some people will only claim to have an undergraduate degree, others may claim to have one or more advanced degrees from an accredited academic institution, including Master’s degrees and Doctorates of Philosophy (PhDs). While all of these degrees may be impressive, not all of them (or, indeed, any of them) may be real.

What Are Diploma Mills?

A diploma mill is a company or organization that claims to be a higher education institution but provides illegitimate academic degrees and fake diplomas with few or no academic requirements. Keep reading to learn how to spot a diploma mill and how to confirm your suspicions.

How Fake Degrees Hurt Your Business

Fake academic credentials can hurt your business because they can mean your company employs someone who may not be trained, qualified, or otherwise knowledgeable about the job for which they’ve been hired. Fake degrees can even result in errors in judgment, costly business decisions, proper standards or practices not being followed, and — in the worst cases — even hazardous or dangerous conditions being created. All of these can create liabilities and risks for your business.

Bear in mind that schooling doesn’t just provide knowledge; in many cases, it assures a certain level of responsibility and maturity. It provides an environment where a person can learn to live and interact independently with their peers. In addition, the academic rigor required to attain a degree — especially an advanced one — is often a prerequisite for handling the kinds of situations and challenges that arise in many jobs. Fortunately, if you want to learn how to verify academic credentials are real, there are multiple steps you can take to do so.

Research the School

If you’ve never heard of a school or institution, the first step in how to check someone’s academic credentials is to find out if it exists. This can usually be done in a few seconds using the Internet. But pay close attention, and make sure that the name of the accredited academic institution an applicant provides is an exact match of the one that exists in real life. For instance, “Pennsylvania University” is not the same thing as “Eastern Pennsylvania University,” “The University of Pennsylvania,” or “Penn State.” Be suspicious if an applicant writes a school’s name in a way that most people don’t write it. For instance, “U of CA, Los Angeles” instead of “UCLA” or “The University of California at Los Angeles” is highly irregular. Be aware that even a school’s formal name may not be how most students or graduates refer to it, so Google and Wikipedia can help you here.

Contact the School

The second thing you can do if you want to verify academic credentials are  real is to contact the school. If a job applicant’s resumé doesn’t spell this information out, ask the applicant for the exact name of their degree or other program, when it was completed, and the degree or other credential earned. Then, you can contact the school, and ask if the applicant did, in fact, obtain the degree or credential listed. Very often, a school’s alumni or admissions department will have this information. Start with the institution of the highest or most advanced degree an applicant has listed. The reason for this is that an applicant won’t be accepted to a higher or advanced degree program without having earned their lower degree or degrees first; the school for their higher or advanced degree will have done some of the verification work for you when they accepted the applicant for the advanced program.

In rare cases, a school may no longer be in operation; it may have closed after an applicant attended or graduated. Some examples of high-profile schools that have closed include Barrington College and Daniel Webster College. In these cases, it may not be possible to contact the school, but you may have other options available to you (see below).

Ask the Applicant for Accreditation

If you’re unable to get a hold of anyone at the school, or they’re unable to confirm an applicant’s degree or other academic credential, you can ask to see the applicant’s degree or credential in question. If they don’t have it, you can ask to see academic transcripts or other records that show that the person attended or graduated from that institution. Many schools have official IDs and other paperwork they issue to all students. Sometimes, a student may be mentioned or photographed in a college’s yearbook or campus newspaper. In the case of advanced degrees, you could ask to see theses or dissertations that the applicant submitted or published in order to graduate.

Utilize a Screening Service

Another option that’s available to you is to check someone’s academic credentials using the National Student Clearinghouse at www.studentclearinghouse.org. Here, your company can sign up to check academic credentials on a regular basis.

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