Making Sure Your Degree Is Accredited

Posted July 09, 2013 by
A bachelor's degree in education with a grad hat

A bachelor’s degree in education with a grad hat. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

As prospective students search college databases and educational websites, they will notice a term that gets used quite a lot: accreditation. Accreditation agencies (or simply, accreditors) work to evaluate a college degree program and make sure it meets certain standards. These organizations help students identify legitimate, well-respected schools and avoid scams.

Before an accreditation agency recognizes a specific school or degree program, the academic institution must go through a strict evaluation process. This includes meeting agency standards and passing a series of on-site evaluations (as well as future assessments). Most college programs must be accredited by certain agencies or employers will not take them seriously. Make sure you’re getting a reputable degree by researching accreditation before applying to college. Below are some of the most important accreditors for different academic fields.


The American Bar Association (ABA) grants accreditation to law schools nationally, and it has approved 202 institutions offering Juris Doctor degrees in the United States. The ABA publishes an annual guide that details the accreditation process for students applying to ABA-approved law schools. Law schools must pass a rigorous background check, complete a site review, and obtain provisional approval for at least three years before being considered for full ABA approval.

California is the exception to the norm, allowing law schools to pursue accreditation from the ABA or the California Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE). This state-run accreditation agency authorizes law schools to operate within California and administers the state bar exam. Law schools in California may still apply for ABA approval, but they are not required to do so.


There are three accreditation agencies that award approval for business degrees on a national level. They are the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE).

The ACBSP emphasizes teaching and research institutions, granting accreditation to undergraduate and advanced degree programs in accounting and business. An entire college can seek institutional accreditation or pursue specialized accreditation from the ACBSP, which covers specific degree programs and courses.

The AACSB operates on a general level, awarding accreditation to educational institutions that offer degrees in business, management, and accounting. There are 672 schools in more than 50 countries approved by the AACSB.

The IACBE is based in the U.S. and awards accreditation for associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs globally. By 2011, the IACBE had accredited more than 800 business programs worldwide.


There is only one agency for architecture degree accreditation recognized throughout the United States: the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). This agency is dedicated to setting educational standards for architecture students and making sure that schools remain accountable to these guidelines. There are 154 programs approved by NAAB, ranging from the bachelor’s level up to the Doctor of Architecture degree.


The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) sets program guidelines and approves engineering programs worldwide. Engineering is not the only field this agency monitors: ABET provides accreditation for 3,100 degree programs in computing, applied science, and engineering technology. Qualified programs must pass an 18-month accreditation process, including a self-study report, readiness questionnaire, on-site visit, and panel review. Colleges in 24 different countries have received accreditation from ABET.


The U.S. Secretary of Education has endorsed the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) as an authority for nursing degree accreditation. The CCNE provides standard guidelines for undergraduate- and graduate-level degree programs; nurse residency programs are also regulated by this agency. Academic institutions applying for CCNE accreditation must provide a self-study document on offered degree programs and third-party comments from degree program constituents vouching for the institution’s educational quality. The CCNE also conducts an on-site evaluation and submits all application materials to an evaluation panel for final approval.

Non-traditional schools and formats

Distance learning, online schools, vocational programs, and for-profit universities are subject to different accreditation processes than traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is a non-profit organization that grants national accreditation to distance learning programs, such as correspondence schools and online degree programs.

The Council on Occupational Education (COE) grants accreditation to vocational programs and occupational institutions that provide students with diplomas, certificates, or associate-level degrees. Approved institutions must renew their accreditation status two to six years after they are initially recognized by the COE.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and has conferred accreditation to over 900 national for-profit colleges. These institutions may apply to three different types of accreditation: regional, national, or program-specific.

Accreditation is typically a long process; thorough assessment is required to ensure educational institutions are providing quality programs and degrees to their students. Prospective students should consider the field and educational format they will be pursuing, and then find a program that maintains accreditation from a reputable accrediting agency. Otherwise, they may invest a good deal of time, energy, and money only to learn their degree is not as respected or recognized as they were led to believe.

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