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THE USA: Destination Guides

How to avoid fake universities in the USA

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They’re known as ‘diploma mills’ in America. These fake colleges or universities that have a recognisable name, often including ‘state’ to snag hopeful international students interest. The imposters can be hard to spot for internationals as they can’t physically check, but there are other things to look for. Our student editor Ashley covers the signs of spotting a sham university.


How it works

It can happen to anyone, they receive an email, or see a post from a friend on social media about ‘so and so university’, how great it is, how they are looking for international students and offer just the program you’ve dreamed of. The entry requirements are simple enough and before one may know it, money is being sent off in hopes that higher education dreams come true. Except that’s not what happens. Either the money simply disappears and the university has vanished off the Internet, or worse, the student arrives in America to discover there is no university, no place to live and no degree in sight. Perhaps they have a visa, but under these circumstances they’re in danger of being deported and banned from the USA for five years.



The film industry in America is not a stranger to twisting the rules in order to create a blockbuster. With films such as Accepted, that has also been remade in India, American students without a university spot seek to create their own university to attend. A story like this works on screen but has serious repercussions if attempted in the real world. Janice Jacobs, the assistant secretary for consular affairs at the U.S. Department of State stated last week how, “a fake university based in California made headlines last spring for enrolling more than 1,500 Indian students and enabled them to obtain U.S. visas even though they weren’t studying there or even living nearby.” In 2011, consular officers from the United States Government, ‘handed out 910,00 exchange and vocational study visas...and more than 81 percent of applicants in those categories received visas – many of them within a few days’.


What to look out for

There are many things to look for in validating a university:

  • Degree courses should never be paid for up front; tuition is due during each term.
  • A College or University address never has a Post Office (P.O.) Box number. They also should have an easy to see physical address on their website.
  • They should be accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. Check with EducationUSA for validation or if you have any suspicions.
  • Compare with surrounding reputable universities: Are the degree courses shorter than normal? Is the cost significantly cheaper (almost too good to be true cost?)
  • International students will be required to present English speaking exam results, and previous education documents, if the university or college doesn’t request this information, check with EducationUSA and alert to a possible fake situation.

Bottom line: Always check with EducationUSA and the U.S. Department of Education if you have any doubts about any college or university.


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