Accredited Colleges

If you're applying to study in the U.S., it's important to understand what it means for a college or university to be accredited.

Accreditation (or Accredited)

The definition of accredited is to be officially authorized or approved, and is usually associated with educational institutions.

Accreditation in a stamp of approval from a college or university for meeting basic educational standards. Most people don't realize that unlike other countries, the U.S. federal government does not directly accredit schools.  Instead, accreditation is handled by a middle layer of associations and organizations.

Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
New England Association of Schools and Colleges
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes valid accrediting agencies.  So does the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

There are also national accrediting agencies, and accrediting agencies that specialize in specific programs within universities, professional or vocational schools.

CHEA has a list of all recognized accrediting agencies, which includes those recognized by CHEA or the Department of Education. The Department of Education also has a list of the agencies, too.

To get an idea of how many organizations are not recognized by CHEA or the U.S. Department of Education, check out this Wikipedia list of unrecognized accreditation organizations. You might be surprised at the number of colleges, universities, institutions, agencies, commissions, associations, organizations, boards and assessors that claim to be accredited but are not. These are the institutions to avoid. 

As an international applicant, how do you sift through all the colleges and universities to find out which are properly accredited?

Start at EducationUSA, the counseling and advising centers operated by the U.S. Department of State at 430 embassies and agencies at 175 countries and territories around the world, and only work with students who are applying to accredited schools.

For students applying to professional or vocational schools, for-profit universities, and schools that operated only online before the COVID-19 pandemic, check carefully for accreditation. CHEA suggests a list of questions you should ask to look further into its accreditation status.

Make sure they have an .edu web address.

The .edu addresses are provided only to accredited colleges and institutions. The .edu address is not a 100% guarantee, as any institution that launched a website before these requirements went into effect might still be using an old .edu address.  But the website address is definitely an easy indicator to look for.

They are accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies (and their various subdivisions) OR by another accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or CHEA. Both CHEA and the Department of Education have searchable databases of accredited colleges and universities.

See a list here

Thanks for all your word submissions so far! Don't forget to check the Glossary of Confusing Words to see more confusing words you may encounter as you apply to study in the U.S. And keep the submissions coming by suggesting a word in the comments or by using the form below.