Questions to Ask About Accreditation


Institutional Accreditation

Is the institution accredited? Are there programs that are accredited?

Institutional accreditation means the college or university meets broad organizational quality standards.  Institutional accreditation alone will often not be adequate to ensure that you can get a job - as programmatic accreditation may be required.  In many professions—from nursing to engineering—state laws and employer preferences may require you to obtain your degree from a program with specialized accreditation.


Programmatic Accreditation

What programs at the institution have specialized or professional accreditation? Which accreditation is available by program? Will having accreditation or not having it for a program impact my outcomes for employment?

Specialized or professional (also called programmatic) accreditation means an academic program at the college or university meets quality educational standards for that profession. For some programs, more than one programmatic accreditation is available, i.e., Business. Be certain the institution is transparent about the type of accreditation available.


For Jobs Requiring Licensure

Will the credential I receive enable me to work in this or any other state after I graduate?

You should check the individual state requirements for where you want to work in the profession you are considering.

Is there an exam or certification required to work in this field? If so, does graduating from your program mean I can take that exam or be eligible for certification? 

You should check to see if the institution assists in preparation for the exam, if there are additional charges to take the exam, and where it can be completed.

If the program requires a licensure or state/national exam at the end, how many other students have successfully passed?

Institutions are required to provide this information so you can easily review the information.

Why Is Accreditation Important If I Want to Transfer?

Most colleges and universities require that the credits they accept in transfer be earned at an accredited institution. This is one of many requirements that an institution may have regarding transfer.  Students looking to transfer should find out about the transfer policies of the college or university to which they are interested in transferring.


If I want to leave my program mid-way through, how likely are my credits to transfer to a new school?

If you are thinking about transferring to a new school, you will need to ask questions about that new school’s transfer credit policies. The new school will examine the credits you have already earned and determine whether those credits will count toward a degree, and if they count as general education credits or degree major credits required for graduation. You should receive this information before enrolling at the institution so you can make an informed decision.  Many institutions will only accept transfer credits if they have been earned at an accredited institution.

In some cases, they will only take credits from certain accreditors, although HLC encourages flexible transfer options to accommodate students. The decision is ultimately that of the transfer institution. Note that accreditors do not determine transfer policies; it is the purview of each individual institution as to which credits they will accept.


How is financial aid impacted by accreditation? Does the programmatic or institutional accreditation make me eligible for federal student aid?

The federal government has a distinct interest in the role of accreditation in assuring quality in higher education for the students who benefit from federal financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) recognizes accreditors, like HLC, as a gatekeeper agency, when determining eligibility for student aid.

Sources and Information

U.S. Department of Education: College Accreditation in the United States

Association of Specialist and Professional Accreditors

Council on Higher Education Accreditation

Transparency and Integrity

Colleges and universities are required to portray clearly and accurately to the public its current status with accreditors, like the Higher Learning Commission, as well as with any other institutional, specialized, and professional accreditation agencies.

HLC Assumed Practice A.7


Buyer Beware

Make sure the college specifies whether it has institutional or programmatic accreditation, or both—you can then go to the accreditors’ websites to verify this information.  For example, colleges and universities accredited by HLC post a “mark of accreditation” on their website. Students should check whether the institution is on any kind of sanction with an accreditor, and the plan to remedy any concerns. Finally, make sure the accreditor is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.