What's the Difference Between Accredited & Non-Accredited Degree Programs?

Bob's College of Engineer Knowledge may lure you in with promises of chips and salsa in the study lounge, but will it get you a job at NASA? Probably not. NASA wants people who have graduated from an accredited engineering program because these programs had to prove their worth. Keep reading to learn the difference between accredited and non-accredited degree programs.

What Is Program Accreditation?

To become accredited, a program has to prove that it meets or exceeds the industry standard. For most fields, there are one or several organizations of seasoned professionals who create these quality measurements. For example, if you did want to study engineering, you'd want a program that was accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). This board examines not only the program curriculum, but also the quality of learning you'll receive in your course of study.

Downfalls of Non-Accredited Programs

Non-accredited programs might not help you meet your advanced education or career goals. Some graduate programs won't allow you to apply unless you have an associate's or bachelor's degree from an accredited program, so if you choose a non-accredited program for undergraduate studies, you'll have to start all over. Depending on your career choice and geographic area, you might need to prove that you graduated from an accredited program to apply for a license to work in your profession. The same is true for some certification programs.

How to Find Accredited Programs

You have a couple options when looking for program accreditation. You can find a school that interests you and search their website for accreditation info, but this may require patience. Some schools place all of their accreditations on a general page, while others list them under individual departments.

Another route is to locate the professional organizations that accredit programs you're interested in and see which schools have programs accredited by them. Many of these organizations also list programs that have applied and are being considered for accreditation, as well as those that have had their accreditation revoked or suspended. If you need to attend an accredited program, make sure the program you're interested in is accredited, not just the institution - although you may wish to check whether the institution is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized agency as well.

When Non-accredited Programs Can Help

If you are determined to get your bachelor's degree in an esoteric field like architectural gingerbread appreciation, you probably won't find a professional standards organization to accredit a program. Schools generally can't apply for program accreditation until at least one student has acquired a degree, so if you want to attend a school that's otherwise reputable and is beginning a new program, you can actually help them with the process. If you already have a career or don't need the degree for immediate career purposes, a non-accredited program can still be a personal educational experience.

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