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What is a US Accredited College and Should I Care About It?

Updated: January 17, 2024 | Published: July 31, 2022

Updated: January 17, 2024

Published: July 31, 2022

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When shopping around for the higher education institution of your choice, there are some immediate aspects that often take priority. For example, you’ll quickly consider whether you want to attend an online or in-person college, the cost of tuition, the location, and the degrees offered. Perhaps the notion of accreditation hasn’t even made it on your list or it’s far down the list. Or, our mention of accreditation could have you now asking: “What is a U.S. accredited college?”

In this article, we will share the benefits of accreditation and why it’s so important when you are choosing the college you plan to attend.

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What is Accreditation?

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) defines accreditation as a “review of the quality of higher education institutions and programs.”

In essence, accreditation is a recognition from an approved accrediting agency, which results in the opinion that the academic institution meets a certain level of educational standards and is equipped to provide what they promise.

With accreditation in the United States, students, government officials, family members, and future employers know that the institution provides quality education. It’s basically a stamp of approval!

Why is Accreditation Important?

Accreditation has further implications than just knowing you’re receiving quality education (which, of course, is also of utmost importance in itself).

In America, accreditation can have an impact on your pockets, too. For example, some federal and state grants and loans are only eligible for universities or programs that are accredited.

Accreditation is also of high value because it:

  • It may be necessary to receive tuition assistance from employers
  • State governments may require a degree from an accredited institution to sit for professional and licensure exams

What’s the Difference Between Recognized vs. Unrecognized Accrediting Agencies?

For colleges to be accredited in the United States, there are a few accrediting agencies that are fit for the task.

These bodies are private educational associations and set their own standards. For this reason, some agencies are tailored to specific fields of study, like medical schools. It’s also possible that an institution can have some accredited programs, as opposed to all of them being accredited.

The United States Department of Education (DOE) recognizes some accrediting bodies. This is why they can be categorized into recognized versus unrecognized accreditation.

According to the DOE, some accrediting agencies have a regional scope, whereas others are recognized nationally. Regional bodies can accredit institutions within six geographic regions in America. National agencies have no limits.

CHEA and the DOE each have their own list of which agencies are recognized by them. Some of the agencies do overlap.

How Do Colleges Become Accredited?

By now, you’re probably wondering what a college has to do to be accredited versus one that does not get that seal of approval. It’s a great consideration because this can ultimately determine the difference between your choice to enroll versus not.

Although accreditation is of great value, it’s up to an institution to decide whether or not to apply to be accredited, so it’s voluntary. The process to become accredited varies based on the accrediting agency. In general, it involves the following steps and usually takes about one to two years:

1. Identify Accreditation Credential

An institution first chooses which accrediting agency and credential they wish to obtain between the DOE or CHEA lists.

2. Fulfill Requirements

Then, a school is considered to be in candidacy, which means that they are on its way to accreditation by meeting the requirements listed.

3. Upload Documentation

The school will be responsible for sharing documentation regarding its financial status, faculty, syllabi, graduation requirements, student work samples, and more.

4. Accrediting Evaluation

With the documents in hand, the accrediting body must review the school’s accomplishments and aspects to determine whether it is eligible to be accredited.

5. Decision Time

At the culmination of the process, the verdict is in! The school either becomes accredited or fails to do so. If it does, then it will have to renew its accreditation periodically to ensure that the school is keeping up with changes  that occur over time.

Is a U.S. Accredited College For You?

Attending college and earning your degree grants you greater career possibilities, transferable skills, and higher earning potential overall. When you choose to attend college in the United States, the option to attend an accredited college should be taken seriously because it can affect your financial aid, tuition assistance, and the overall quality of your degree.

Even if you wish to attend an online university, you can find accredited options. In fact, the University of the People is a fully online and tuition-free institution that is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Committee. This agency falls under the list of recognized accrediting bodies by the United States Department of Education (DOE) as well as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). As a result, you can rest assured knowing that the University of the People has met rigorous accreditation standards to receive this badge of approval.

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The Bottom Line

Now that you can answer, “What is a US accredited college?” you can decide whether it’s of high importance to you or not. From what we have shared, it’s clear to see the impact that accreditation can have on your financial aid and learning opportunities. This is why so many students do come to the conclusion that attending an accredited institution is a priority for them.

To find out if the institution you wish to attend is accredited, the first place to check is on the school’s official website. If you can’t find anything there, perform a simple Google search, check the DOE or CHEA lists, or reach out to the admissions office and ask directly.

Since the accreditation process is meticulous, most institutions that are accredited will proudly share this information. It is an accomplishment, and so, earning your degree from such a school is also a huge accomplishment!