online degree
What are the red flags to look out for when applying for an online degree? Source: Shutterstock

The growth of online programmes and MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) has changed the higher education landscape.

Now, earning a degree is more accessible than ever, and students can receive a qualification from virtually anywhere in the world, even the comfort of their home.

One of the greatest perks of online education lies in the fact that students can gain an education from a reputed international university, without having to set foot overseas.

But the popularity of online degree programmes has also driven the growth of illegitimate qualifications that students must look out for.

It can be difficult to discern which ones are fraudulent as their marketing tactics can be very persuasive. If you’re planning to apply for an online degree, here are some red flags to look out for:


You should only apply for an online degree at a university that is accredited. This means that the university has been validated by an agency or the Ministry of Education in that particular country.

The university will typically display or reference this accreditation on their website. You can also do a search on If you suspect the university is displaying fake accreditation, you can always call the agency and ask.

However, there are exceptions. According to US News, “With the growth of alternative credentials – such as badges and certificates – some training programs may not be accredited.

“Such options may include online coding boot camps or other skills-based training offered by a business.”

In this case, accreditation may not be necessary as the programmes are offered by a legitimate business. But for actual degree programmes, you should be sure they are accredited.

The Name

Often, fake online degree providers modify reputable universities’ names to trick people into thinking they are authentic or associated with that university.

For example, they might call themselves “Oxford Technological University” when such an institution doesn’t actually exist.

Be wary of websites that use these sorts of names, and if you suspect something is amiss, do more research to find out if they are the real deal.

Lack of contact and resource information

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Is it difficult to find a contact phone number or address on the website? Does the contact e-mail address look a bit suspect? What about resource information?

Not having proper contact information is another red flag, as reputable colleges and universities will have various ways to contact them if you’d like to request further information.

They should also have resources for students clearly displayed on the website. According to US News, “Legitimate online programs should have a host of resources available to students, including technology support, academic advising and library services, experts say.

“If prospective students don’t see evidence of those resources, or if they can’t speak to other staff members, then they should be suspicious.”

Admission and earning a degree seems too easy

If the admission requirements seem way too relaxed and they’re promising fast and easy ways to get accepted, chances are they’re not legit.

If they simply ask for a résumé or letter without asking for prior qualifications or exam results, you should be suspicious.

Since fake online degrees are just scams to get your money, the institution will try to persuade you that it’s easy to enrol and earn a degree so you will be tempted to apply and pay the fees.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

They ask for tuition fees upfront

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The university asking you to fork out for your entire tuition before you start is another major red flag. You should never be asked to pay the entire tuition fees upfront.

According to DistanceLearningPortal, “If the institution requires a lot of money upfront before you even know you were admitted, it is surely not a legit online programme.

“Universities don’t require to pay the entire tuition fee, that is strictly optional; usually, tuition fees are paid in installments, each year or each semester.”

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