By Michael Ormsby
The Internet offers a lot of options. It offers convenience and personalization. But it's riddled with fraud: fake emails from banks or the IRS, pleas for international assistance promising wealth, and dishonest buyers and sellers on Ebay. Now, online education is blighted with its own scam artists: fake high schools or fake online GED® certificate mills. 39 million Americans need a high school diploma to get better jobs and higher education, and they are becoming victims of websites that prey on their needs.
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If you type "GED test" into Google, legitimate information resources come up, but the first things you see are probably paid advertisements from "high schools" offering the GED test online, an online GED certificate, or an online high school diploma. If you read the fine print, they don't actually offer a GED certificate (despite the ad's headline), because you can't take your GED test online. Taking the GED test online isn't allowed, because there would be no way to regulate who is taking the test or that test-taking procedures are followed. The real GED certificate is awarded for passing the GED test at one of the Official GED Testing Center™ locations, and usually requires GED test prep.
Preparing for and passing the GED test doesn't require a lot of time, money, or difficulty. But many legitimate-sounding high schools with professional-looking websites offer you an online diploma immediately, with almost no requirements, and claim that they're accredited.
The questions to ask are: What is a diploma? What is accreditation?
A diploma is simply a paper that says you accomplished a certain academic feat: graduating high school, passing the GED test, or graduating college. The value of a diploma depends on the academic requirements of the institution awarding it. If the academic requirements of an institution are simply answering a few questions online, a very low value is probably placed on that diploma by employers and colleges. There is no GED test online, and most online "high school" testing is basically worthless.
Accreditation is the other issue. Accreditation means that a school meets certain academic standards created by the educational body that is accrediting it. Again, you need to look at what academic standards are acceptable to the accrediting group. If simply answering a few questions online meets the academic standards of an accrediting group, then the accrediting group is probably not widely accepted by colleges and employers. Colleges and employers want to know that your high school or GED certificate means you proved your abilities. Most online "high schools" are accredited by fake accreditation agencies made up by the same companies!
Companies that provide an "online GED certificate" or "online high school diploma" for little or no work are called diploma mills, and their business is basically selling fake diplomas for cash, costing from $200 to upwards of $1,000. Defrauded students lose their money, and they could face serious consequences for using a fake diploma on a job application. William Hillman was lucky that the consequences from his experience weren't too severe. He spent $225 on a "life experience" diploma from an online service. "I got the diploma, only it turned out not to be a real one. And they checked up on the school at work, and well, I didn't get the job [I was trying to get]," he says. "I learned my lesson, if they promise a diploma online they're a fraud."
How do you know if an online high school or education service is legitimate? Here are a few simple facts:
- No legitimate high school diploma can be offered entirely through an online test based on "life experience."
- Real online high schools offer 1-year or 2-year programs, never a 1-week or 1-month delivery.
- Diploma mills usually advertise diploma verification services by phone or fax. Real educational services are more concerned with coursework than diploma verification.
- Online GED test programs can provide a diploma more quickly, but you must take the GED test administered by your state.
- You cannot take your GED test online. Taking the GED test online is not allowed by the ACE GED Testing Service® or any U.S. state or Canadian province.
Legitimate online high schools exist, but sometimes they're hard to distinguish from fraudulent ones. Ask yourself: Does this school require me to prove my abilities through academic coursework and testing? If I were hiring someone, would I be satisfied that this diploma proved their ability?
Michael Ormsby is the president of the GED Academy and oversees software and curriculum for adult learners and people with educational challenges. For more information, visit passGED.com. Michael can be contacted by telephone at 800-460-8150.