Online College
Accreditation Guide

Everything you need to know to make sure your medical and healthcare education meets high standards.

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Kathleen Curtis

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Kathleen Curtis is an American writer currently living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has developed content around education for more than a decade for both domestic and international clients.

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When researching and comparing colleges, it can be all too easy to focus on things like tuition cost and program length while overlooking other critical factors such as a school’s accreditation status. Accreditation acts as a seal of approval for colleges and their underlying degree programs. Whether the coursework is taught on-campus or online, accreditation is a surefire sign a school has achieved benchmark quality standards.

And while many schools now offer online medical and healthcare programs that match the quality of their campus offerings, prospective students may still second guess the legitimacy of online education. Ensuring a school holds proper accreditation can help eliminate any lingering doubts. Keep reading to learn why accreditation is so important to your academic and professional career, what types of accreditation are awarded to schools, who the main accreditors are in healthcare education, and how to confirm a school’s accreditation status step-by-step.

Why You Should Care About Accreditation

Lack of accreditation can cause significant problems for students, both while still enrolled and down the road once they graduate. Here are the four main reasons you should care about attending a properly accredited school.


Financial Aid Eligibility

According to the U.S. Department of Education, schools must meet accreditation standards in order for the federal government to provide financial aid. Students who fill out the FAFSA but attend an unaccredited program will not receive any funding. State governments may also refuse financial aid, meaning students can lose out on thousands of dollars per semester.


Credit Transfers

When you attend an unaccredited college, don’t be surprised if you run into issues transferring your existing credits to an accredited institution. Accredited schools go through rigorous processes to claim this distinction. Because of this, most are unwilling to accept hours from an institution that has not as it can be difficult to ascertain how effectively it prepared the student.


Employer Approval

When sorting through a large pile of resumes for potential job candidates, hiring managers are far more likely to hire a graduate who attended an accredited school. This is especially true in the medical and health fields, as many positions set strict training regulations.


Career Licensing and Certification Regulations

With so many careers in the medical and health field requiring state licensure to practice, students can jeopardize their chance of practicing in their field if they don’t choose a school that has the right accreditation. Many state boards of licensing and certification mandate that students graduate from an accredited school to even receive consideration.

What Are the Different Types of Accreditation for Online Colleges?

When determining whether a school maintains appropriate accreditation, remember that two main types exist: institutional and programmatic. The former takes a look at the school as a whole to ensure the campus-wide environment contributes to desired learning outcomes. According to the Higher Learning Commission, metrics measured may include academic programs, financial health, availability of resources, and success of governance and administration. Programmatic accreditation, conversely, looks at specific degree programs and academic departments to ascertain whether each meets set benchmarks for preparing students to find success – and obtain the necessary credentials – in particular career fields.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional accreditation breaks down into two categories: regional and national. Different types of institutions typically apply for different types of accreditation. When reviewing the sections below, remember that neither the US. Department of Education nor private organizations such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation actually accredit schools. Rather, they recognize agencies that provide accreditation.

Regional Accreditors

Regional accreditation is divided between eight agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education that cover different parts of the country. Given that schools seeking regional accreditation typically go through a far more rigorous process, this type is considered the more prestigious accreditor compared to national accrediting agencies. Four-year institutions typically seek regional accreditation and the process can take several years to move from start to finish.

See which regional accreditors oversee schools in specific states below.

National Accreditors

National accreditation exists for trade and vocational schools looking to signal to future students that they have gone through a voluntary process of evaluation by a third-party body. While typically not as thorough as regional accreditation, this is a good fit for schools that focus on preparing learners for specific careers, including those in medicine and health. While several national accreditation agencies exist, the two most relevant to the medical and healthcare fields are the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. The former focuses on medical and health degrees while the latter specializes in online degree paths.

See the full list of national accrediting agencies here to learn more.

Programmatic Accreditation

While institutional accreditation looks primarily at schools as a whole, programmatic accreditation drills down to specific departments and/or degrees to ensure the curriculum and faculty adequately prepare students for future work. When considering the impact of attending a school that receives programmatic accreditation versus one that doesn’t, put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager. If two candidates present themselves, one with a degree from a school that maintained programmatic accreditation and one with a degree from an unaccredited program, which are you more likely to hire?

Primary Accreditors for Online Medical and Health Programs

Because programmatic accreditation exists for specific disciplines and departments, many different agencies exist within the medical and health program space. Check below to find the main programmatic accreditor for some of the most popular medical and health academic fields.

Area of Study Primary Programmatic Accreditor
Dental Hygiene/Assisting
Massage Therapy
Medical Assistant
Medical Billing and Coding
Occupational Therapy
Paramedic Training
Pharmacy Tech
Physical Therapy
Physician Assistant
Radiologic Technology
Surgical Technology
Veterinary Technology

Accreditation Must-Haves for Online Colleges

  • Holds institutional accreditation from an organization that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Holds programmatic or institutional accreditation that satisfies any state licensing and professional certification requirements for your career field.

How Do I Check If an Online College Is Accredited?

Before going too far down the path of picking a college, check that the schools on your list maintain proper institutional and/or programmatic accreditation. You can follow this 3-step process to check a school’s accreditation status.

Step #1: Check the U.S. Department of Education Database

Prospective students can use the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) to search through thousands of colleges and universities. Learners who already have a list of schools can type each name in to get answers, while those who are early in their search can also check by city or state to determine which schools in their area maintain accreditation. Once a student finds a particular institution in the database, they can review the individual profile to learn about any institutional and programmatic accreditation the school holds.

Step #2: Check with individual accrediting agencies

Whether interested in institutionally or programmatically accredited schools, learners can visit the websites of specific accrediting agencies to get an up-to-date list of schools in their system. This is especially helpful for learners pursuing roles in medical and healthcare as they can check with specific accreditors for their intended discipline.

Step #3: Reach out to individual schools

As the U.S. Department of Education stipulates, sometimes schools fall through the cracks in DAPIP and do not show up through searches. If you’ve tried to locate accreditation information on a specific school through the methods listed above but failed, reach out to individual schools and ask about its accreditation status. If seeking details about programmatic accreditation, try to find the email address or phone number of the program director. If seeking info about institutional accreditation, check with the registrar’s office.


Diploma and Accreditation Mills: Know the Warning Signs

While many colleges and universities exist to provide quality educations to learners, others sadly try to fraudulently make money off over-trusting students. These schools, known as diploma mills, promise fast and cheap degrees but deliver worthless pieces of paper. Accreditation mills aid in these nefarious efforts by pretending to evaluate schools. If unsure whether you might be falling prey to one of these dishonest groups, review the warning signs in this section.

The school uses words that sound official

Many degree mills use impressive words such as “verified”, “recognized”, or “approved” that make students think they maintain accreditation without doing so. Ensure that any school uses the word “accredited” before ever filling out an application.

The school is accredited, but not by an approved agency

After ascertaining whether or not the institution/program has received accreditation, visit the U.S. Department of Education or Council on Higher Education Accreditation to ensure one of these agencies recognizes the accrediting body. Many accrediting mills possess important sounding names so students don’t question their validity.

Tuition exists in flat fee payments

If a school discusses degree programs in a transactional manner (e.g. “For just $3,000, you’ll receive a degree!”), be wary. The vast majority of universities charge tuition rates based on per-credit fees. Legitimate universities also view the conferrence of a degree as more than a simple transaction, so be careful when you see this type of language.

A lack of interest in previous education

If a school doesn’t ask any questions about schools you previously attended, classes taken, or GPA achieved, rethink your decision to move forward in the process. Schools concerned about integrity and rigor want to ensure that any student they accept possesses legitimate education credentials.

How Does an Online College Become Accredited?

Schools and programs must go through an extensive and rigorous process to receive accreditation. Here’s what the process typically entails:

1. Self-Evaluation

After familiarizing itself with accreditation standards, a school must evaluate its current offerings and procedures. Upon identifying any shortcomings, the school must work to fix any outstanding issues and implement required changes.

2. Apply for accreditation

Once a school is prepared for the review process, it should apply for accreditation to the institutional or programmatic agency that fits its goals. The application process requires an extensive package of supporting materials and paperwork, so this process can take some time.

3. Schedule an evaluation

After receiving and approving an application, the accrediting agency pulls together an unbiased team of evaluators who visit the school, meet with members of the learning community, and evaluate the current state of the institution. Visitors may also observe classes, ask for additional documentation, or seek further interviews.

4. Deliberation

After gathering the necessary information to make a decision, the team of evaluators reviews everything and makes a determination as to whether the school/program meets all requirements. If not, the panel sends a list of outstanding concerns and methods of handling them. If so, the panel makes a recommendation that the school be given accreditation by the agency.

5. Receive accreditation

After meeting all requirements, schools and programs receive recognition for adequately preparing students in the form of accreditation. Schools must participate in review sessions at appropriate times to maintain their accreditation. Most require reviews every 5-10 years.

Additional Resources on Accreditation


Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs: Students can go here to find the official list of institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.


Accreditation in the United States: This site provides a centralized listing of valuable, official accreditation resources straight from the U.S. Department of Education.


Diploma Mills and Accreditation: Students seeking more information about this deceitful practice can review the U.S. Department of Education’s webpage on how to identify and report diploma mills.


How Accreditation Affects Financial Aid: The Federal Student Aid Office supplies detailed information about the requirements a school must meet in order for attending students to receive financial aid. Review this information carefully before agreeing to attend any school.


12 Common Questions and Answers about Accreditation: Berkeley City College provides this informative resource for students who still have a few questions about the accreditation process.


Council for Higher Education Accreditation: Students can use the CHEA website to find a database of accredited institutions and programs, review publications and research, and learn more about the accreditation process.