For-Profit Colleges: Know What You’re Getting Into Before Signing on the Dotted Line

BBB Consumer Alerts

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For-profit colleges have been taking the education industry by storm. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, enrollment in these institutions increased 225 percent during the past two decades. These colleges have become popular for a number of reasons, including specialized industry education and accelerated degree programs that can fast-track students towards the career of their choice.

But before you jump on the bandwagon, do a little bit of homework. Be sure to understand all the costs associated with enrollment in a for-profit college and the terms of repayment before signing any contract. According to the FTC, “For-profit colleges sometimes use overblown … promises to attract new students and their money. The FTC is ramping up its efforts to stop shady practices on campus… warning…that the FTC will not stand for unfair or deceptive practices.”

College is an important commitment, so choose wisely where you invest your time, energy and money. BBB suggests that before enrolling in a for-profit college; look out for the following red flags:

  • The recruiter uses high-pressure sales tactics. A reputable school will take the time to answer your questions, allow you to talk to a financial aid advisor and not push you into making a hasty decision.
  • The recruiter exaggerates potential income or guarantees a job. Beware of any school that guarantees you will get a job after completing their program. While a guaranteed job is possible, landing a job is rarely a sure thing, especially in this economy. Be skeptical of any such promise, and ask hard questions about any such guarantee.
  • The prices are inflated when compared to other options. A GAO investigation alleged price gouging at some for-profit schools. As an example, one school charged $14,000 for a certification in massage therapy while a similar certification at a local public college would have cost only $520. Before signing up with any for-profit school, do your research and compare costs against other for-profit schools and public colleges.
  • The school is not accredited. Accreditation is extremely important, but not always easy to confirm. Ask the school’s representative about national and regional accreditation and then confirm with the accrediting organization. You can check with the US Department of Education for more information.
  • The degree or program seems too easy to obtain. Diploma mills pose as online schools and often promise to give you a cheap and easy degree. Unfortunately, such diplomas aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on and won’t be recognized by the military, employers or other colleges.
  • The school does not disclose information as required. Some of the for-profit schools the GAO investigated “failed to provide clear information about the college’s program duration, costs, or graduation rate despite federal regulations requiring them to do so.” Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions when talking to recruiters and if you get the runaround instead of clear, concise answers, it’s a bad sign.
  • The recruiter encourages you to lie on financial aid forms. The GAO report also found that some recruiters encouraged students to lie on their financial aid applications in order to get more money from the government to pay for tuition. If you get caught lying on your financial aid forms, not only will you have to pay the government back the money you borrowed, you could be fined or criminally prosecuted.

Source:, GAO & FTC: United States Federal Trade Commission, – not subject to copyright protection. 17 U.S.C. 403.

Your education is important, so take the time to learn about any school you are thinking about attending — whether it is a for-profit school or a more traditional non-profit college or university.

If you’ve been the victim of a similar scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Your first-hand experience can help other consumers recognize scammers’ tactics before it’s too late. To find a business you can trust, check out

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