When I am recruiting new people, I frequently encounter candidates with degrees from schools I've never heard of. Or maybe the name sounds familiar, but I don't really know anything about whether the school is legit, a party-school, a diploma mill or completely made up.

Is there a decent resource available on the Internet to research colleges to make sure they have at least a somewhat rigorous program and aren't a flat out diploma mill?

  • 5
    Alternatively i strongly feel you shouldn't be judging potential hires on where they got their diploma, ask them questions relevant to their field, if they have the needed knowledge and work ethic then does it really matter if the diploma came from a 'diploma mill'?
    – user5305
    Jun 29 '13 at 11:34
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    Come on people. You really think I look at the education section and make a decision? It is a factor that weighs in with 100 other factors. Yeesh!
    – JohnFx
    Jun 29 '13 at 16:14
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    Actually, no. I don't care to elaborate. If you ever are in a situation where you are doing recruiting, feel free to do it however you like without any regard at all to my process.
    – JohnFx
    Jun 30 '13 at 2:21
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    On the other hand, choosing to get an education at a diploma mill over a "real" college or university does say something about what kind of choices the candidate makes.
    – Blrfl
    Jul 1 '13 at 14:10
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    Just to perhaps clarify a bit - the term 'diploma mill' is generally used to refer to an institution that takes money in exchange for a degree with NO teaching taking place. You don't have to do anything except write a check to get a degree. Having a degree from such a place means that you're happy to engage in fraud to get what you want, and that's something that one should know about potential future employees. Mar 21 '14 at 18:46

I think I may have found one answer on my own. This site (while riddled with obnoxious ad banners) has a place you can report online degree mills and search a list of schools suspected as being one to get their analysis of it.

Diploma Mill Police

Not sure how much I trust the site yet given how much advertising space they give to online universities, but I checked a few schools on their list that I was familiar with and it seemed reasonably accurate.


There are plenty of reputable college ranking sites out there, e.g.





chances are that whatever scores poorly on all of them is not a great school.

  • Those types of sites by major magazines always come up when I start googling colleges, but I've always been somewhat skeptical of them and their methods for ranking. Not saying it is rational skepticism, but something about them feels too much like marketing like "Best places to work" lists.
    – JohnFx
    Jun 28 '13 at 21:48
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    There's a big difference between "not a top ranked school" and "a diploma mill." My college (Queens College - part of the City University of NY) isn't on the lists at all. While most wouldn't argue it is one of the top X colleges in the country, it's a perfectly legitimate school Jun 28 '13 at 23:31
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    After the first few, many of these sites report "not ranked" or "rank not published" which is the lowest ranking. Some colleges that are definitely not 'diploma mills' are given those rankings. Jun 29 '13 at 17:44

Why not just call the college and ask them about graduation rates and careers that alumni pursue after graduation?

If college attended is low on your list of priorities to evaluate, you can save this task for after you've filtered out most of the applicants based on skills and abilities, then when you call to confirm their graduation at the campus, ask about the rate at which students graduate, the careers they pursue afterwards, and the specific academic cirriculum of your applicant.

It may take longer to call individual colleges, which is why you'd save this process for later in the review process, but it will give you an idea of what sort of person your applicant is by learning even more about what type of college they attended. You could even go the extra mile and ask for contact information from a few alumni to check on how their best students do after college.

The college ranking websites listed by Hilmar and yourself may help qualify certain colleges, but by checking them out on a more personal level, you get a better idea of what kind of employee you'll be hiring.


In all honesty, I'm not sure that your best bet is to simply try to weed out "diploma mills" with the definition being schools that are just interested in taking a student's money and giving a piece of paper. My thought is that even when a college is good at one area, it could be awful at something else, and so what you really want is two pools of schools:

1 - Great candidate sources

2 - Poor candidate sources

I suspect you've already found cases of "great candidate sources" - since that's not the focus of the question.

So moving on to "poor candidate sources"

Publicly accepted ratings:

Certainly a good one - if Princeton Review, Forbes, US News and the NY Times are all rating a school low, you probably have a pretty poor program - but do keep your research up to date, and check in on the low-rated schools from year to year. Things can change.

Social Networking

Linked in, for example, makes it pretty easy to see the resumes of others who have gone to the school and the program. If no one from this school has ever worked in the position you are recruiting for, you have reason to be dubious.

I've actually done this when there's a confusion of what type of "Institute of Technology" a person came from. As an example, there are two schools I'm familiar with:

  • Wentworth Institute of Technology - a perfectly solid vocational school. I believe it is accredited to give BAs or BSes, but the primary purpose of the school is to graduate people into vocational technical jobs - electricians, not electrical engineers. But it does have an EE program, and possibly a CE program.

  • Rochester Institute of Technology - my alumn. :) - a primarily 4 year school, with options for grad work, both MS, and PhD - that is quite strongly focused on engineering and science programs with a reputation for producing engineers who are ready and able to get to work in their fields. Produces degrees in various forms of mathematics, comp sci, electrical engineerring, computer engineering and many others. No degrees in electronics. It may have an associate's program, but that's not the primary focus.

Both are good schools - for their main focus. Both have very similar names. Both have been around for quite a while and have decent reputations. Interestingly, both may even use very similar language - "real world experience", "hands on skills", "ready to work after graduation", "high employment rate" are probably parts of the advertising of both schools.

But if you look at Linked in, or do other searches for graduates, you'll find a very different profile. Those who went to Wentworth worked in vocations, those who went to Rochester worked in engineering companies, academic research or other STEM type jobs.

Outcomes of Time with Candidates

In my opinion, probably the best way of finding out - a quick 30 minute phone screen asking the candidate about their program will give you an insider view that may actually be faster than a half hour of web crawling.

Most of the HR recruiters I've worked with as a hiring manager base their judgements on this part of the process. I've often said - why'd you reject that one? And the answer is - "I've talked to 3 people from that school recently, and they never did internships and they don't have the basic X background that we expect - and the last time we hired someone from there, they were fired in 6 months because they didn't get the work done well".

For me, that's the biggest reason to have a recruiter I work with - they have the time to figure out the knowledge.

Sorting the Stack

The approach I most endorse to a hiring process is to think of it as a pile, or as a series of piles that increase in size as you go along - much like working from the top of a pyramid to the bottom.

A bad school, or a bad resume (bad grades, poor work history, etc) - is not necessarily a reason to say "no", but it's a reason to put the resume at lower down in the pyramid. The top of the pyramid is those resumes that have the most markers of being good candidates - good schools, good grades, good experience, personal referrals, etc. From there, it's all down hill.

This approach puts all the resume from schools you've never heard of in the middle/bottom of the pile. The schools you know are good push the resume upward in the pile. The goal is really to have a starting layer of resumes that is most likely to yield a good result from the time spent interviewing.


Some 'universities' are diploma mills, and plenty of 'real' universities aren't doing any better. I live down the road from you (both of us are in Texas) and so you would recognize certain names in the area as being 'prestigious'. The company I worked for in 1999 hired a student that was one semester away from getting a Master's in Computer Science, and we discovered instantly that he didn't know how to program. One discovers a lot of MBAs are unemployable, the schools took their money, but if the students had nothing upstairs going in, they had no more after they graduated. Therefore, whether the school is 'fake' or not is a detail - although someone using one of these is probably not going to work out in any role that involves some responsibility.

There is a book floating around called 'How Do You Move Mt. Fuji'. It delves into how Microsoft goes about hiring developers. Hiring managers and existing team members ask questions like 'Describe a library', or 'How many places in the world can you go south one mile, east one mile, and north one mile, and end up at the same place?'. The idea is to figure out whether people can grasp the 'special cases' - situations that don't normally occur but have to be accounted for. Whether you have a degree or not will not, by itself, get you hired, what matters is whether it appears that you can figure out the realities in comparison to 'conventional wisdom'.

Focus on finding ways to pry out the inherent capacity of a candidate. Unless you're working for the government and degrees are required by law, you can probably set aside the degree questions completely.

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    I've read that book. I used to be real excited about those types of interviews too, but I came the same conclusion as Google has recently that they are fun, but useless. My new favorite interview question is "Tell me what you accomplished last week?"
    – JohnFx
    Jun 29 '13 at 2:53
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    Meredith, it sounds like you're projecting, to be honest. Jun 29 '13 at 11:39
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    Hopefully everyone involved in the field is aware that the trivia way from the referred book is considered one of the worst ways for interviews, and has a very high chance to alienate the best candidates
    – Balog Pal
    Jun 29 '13 at 14:03
  • Trivia questions as I provided in the example may be a bad idea. However, one has to pursue the substance of someone's background rather than credentials. I had a job test which was 'simple', write a dBase program to maintain and report on a table. There were 12 people in the room taking the same test. Ten stared into space or read manuals. Two of us were pounding code. When 5/6ths of the potential job candidates couldn't even start, one gets a feeling one should check in depth before deciding. Jun 29 '13 at 16:24
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    Interesting, but not really an answer to the question. Jun 29 '13 at 17:44

I've revised this answer.

The way how to look at colleges, is both off-line and on-line search.

On-line search reveals websites that sell certificates

When doing an on-line search, searching the name of the college, you would get websites that sell certificates in the name of that school, or direct ability to buy certificates in courses offered for that school, without having to attend college or tuition.

A dead giveaway is that college or university is a degree mill is number of google search results that give bad publicity to the school and law-enforcement done to shut-down them down.


University of Northern Virginia, Va. university chancellor resigns over ‘sex dungeon’ flap http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/va-university-chancellor-resigns-over-sex-dungeon-flap/2011/08/22/gIQAKEYDWJ_blog.html

Checking campus location

You can check Google Maps for the college address. You should see visually, a campus, various low-rise buildings, bus routes and highway exit routes leading to a campus or campuses.

A website which claims to be a college, would not have a huge campus, would keep their phone numbers and off-line address intentionally hidden or obscure.

Checking college website

If you are browsing the college's website, you would see course information posted publicly, how to enrol at that college, syllabus guide what you will learn, telephone number to contact admissions and student's websites, if available.

Is the syllabus guide detailed enough to give employers information about what the student studied during the time the student was there?

Is there a contact number an employer can contact admissions to check if that student enrolled or attended the courses?

A college degree mill, will focus on the certificate selling part, where you can order certificates of course completion along with attendance certificates. That would tell you that is unethical and put the certificates they sell at doubt.

Checking accreditation

The college website will have links or a page for which bodies they are accredit to, and how to transfer credits out or into their college.

For example, you studied at that college for a year, but wish to transfer out to another college to continue.

A college degree mill will offer no such ability to transfer or receive credits.

Off-line Checks

You can do social engineering - pretend to be a student who only wants to get a certificate without having to attend classes or pass exams.

Federal laws require that in order for a student aid, the college must be accredited or approved. If you inquire about federal aid, is that the college does have any provisions for federal financial aid. All fees must be paid upfront, or in full prior to attendance.

Colleges keeps student attendance records, student enrolment details, grades earned, coursework awarded in their computer systems.

A college degree mill, will allow students to falsify the date of attendances to anything they fancy, back-date it, or change it, as to reflect full attendance.

Social questions to holders of diploma mill certificates

Since the person asking the question is recruiting, you can the below questions as interview questions -

What is the name of the college professors who taught you, during that time?

Who were your 3 best friends you made during that time? Can I see their LinkedIn profile? (They should have attended the same college during that time)

What did you do during the college semester holidays?

Can you describe your final year thesis? What could you have done better?

Do you have a link to your college website and course syllabus for the Bachelor's degree so I can see what you studied?

Questions regarding profession

You can ask them about the line of work for which they have studied in.

You can often see incompetence or inexperience of the person, poor skill-sets or inexperience in the line of their profession.

Examples are:

a) Bachelor of Information Science, but has no knowledge of system analysis, inexperience with simple programming, not skilled in basic skills, unable to code or write PHP or C# or Java.

b) Bachelor in Human Resources, but have no knowledge of management, how to conduct interviews, how to do basic payroll, how to do assess others

c) Bachelor in Marketing, but have no knowledge about marketing, poor or hostile in meeting customers, unable to perform to expectations.

Direct Verification

You can do direct verification. For example, you might ask for consent to check their university's attendance or graduation records, other than photocopies of certificates they give to you.

Usually, no such person exists, or the person never graduated.

I've hired people who buy certificates from a degree mills. The above represents my experience with dealing with such people.

  • Dunno why you are down-voting this for. Has anyone on this site ever had the bad experience of hiring such people?
    – buttercup
    Mar 21 '14 at 18:35
  • A few reasons I can think of: 1) "Check Google" is rarely a helpful answer. 2) Checking for 'incompetency' should already be part of an interview/review process, so this doesn't add much either. 3) This is good advice, but largely deals with confirming that a person graduated at all, where the question is more focused on the quality of the certificate.
    – Zibbobz
    Mar 21 '14 at 18:49

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