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Vetting a For-Profit Online College

If you’ve been thinking about non-traditional education options like getting a degree online, you may be familiar with the term “for-profit colleges.” For-profit colleges differ from traditional brick-and-mortar schools or even traditional school’s online programs. They are businesses that sell education, and the money you pay to go there goes towards their profits.

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With that in mine, you should approach for-profit college options with a heavy dose of scrutiny.

Accreditation

Most colleges, universities and other post-secondary institutions in the United States are regionally accredited. Regionally accredited schools have met acceptable levels of quality in accordance with accrediting agencies and the U.S. Department of Education. For-profit colleges are often nationally accredited rather than regionally accredited. Because of this, the credits you earn at for-profit schools are less likely to be accepted when transferring to a non-profit institution or possibly even to another for-profit school, for that matter. If you are currently attending or are considering enrolling at a for-profit school but are ultimately intending to transfer, make sure you research how the school is accredited and by what organization.

Convenience vs Price

There’s no denying that for-profit colleges fill a gap in the higher education system. They offer accessible, career-focused degree programs for busy students, professionals seeking advancement in employment and others. Many for-profit colleges have open admissions, meaning they admit all who apply who meet the bare requirements (typically having a high school diploma or GED). Being able to attend school online can be a game changer for certain students, and these programs usually allow you to set your own pace, so school doesn’t compete with family life or work.

The counterpoint to this flexibility is the price. For-profit schools are often more expensive than non-profit institutions. These schools can charge almost double the tuition rates of traditional colleges and universities. On top of this, only accredited intuitions can receive federal grants and funding, so students at for-profit schools often have to take out more student loans and owe more money over time. And most scholarships you’ll find in our database won’t permit you to use their awards towards tuition at for-profit colleges.

Avoid Degree Mills

Beware of easy outs into getting a degree. Degree Mills aren’t schools – they’re businesses that specialize in making fake credentials for anyone with the money to spare. If the path to a degree seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Consider Your Options

Online degree programs from for-profit schools are not the only option for students looking for non-traditional post-secondary education. More and more non-profit colleges and universities offer their own online degree programs and continuing education tracks. Community colleges and part-time programs offer flexibility for students who need more schooling while also needing to hold down a job. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the competitiveness of applying for schools and consider for-profit college to be a safety option, our scholarship search can help you identify suitable opportunities for financial aid at accredited institutions.

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Last Reviewed: December 2021