Should I Seek Regional or National Accreditation? 

College accreditation is an important aspect of choosing a quality degree program. Accreditation is a general term for the validating of a college's credentials, by a nonpartisan organization. Called an accrediting body, this organization evaluates the school's education standards and methods, to provide a non-partial review of its quality.

Institutional Accreditation Overview

Institutional accreditation is the type of accreditation that is important for all types of degrees and college majors, no matter what the field. It is called "institutional" accreditation, because in this process the entire educational institution is evaluated; the accrediting body looks at the school's teaching staff, curriculum guidelines, and graduation requirements to decide if the program meets the accrediting agency's standards.

In the U.S., institutional accreditation is voluntary for colleges and universities, and no school is required to apply for and possess institutional accreditation. However, attending an unaccredited program can cause problems for graduates in a number of areas. You wouldn't be able to apply for federal or state financial aid, your college credits would not be recognized by most other colleges, and many private employers will not consider applicants with unaccredited degrees.

Regional Versus National Accreditation

There are two types of institutional accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is given out by six agencies based in different geographical regions throughout the U.S.; regional accreditation is awarded to schools only in the agency's geographical jurisdiction. National accreditation is given out by national accrediting agencies to online programs and schools located anywhere in the U.S.

It's less important to worry if your school has regional or national accreditation, than to ensure that it has accreditation from a recognized agency. The Department of Education has a list of regional and national accrediting agencies that it recognizes here. Recognition by one of these agencies will mean you'll be eligible for government financial aid, and that your degree will be recognized by other educational institutions.

However, while the Department of Education and other schools recognize college degrees with a valid national accreditation, some private employers prefer to hire graduates of programs with regional accreditation by one of the six original agencies. Regional accreditation is an older and more established practice, and some employers prefer to stick with the guidelines they are familiar with. If you're considering a degree that only has national accreditation, do some research to see how widely regarded the agency is. See how past graduates have fared in the job hunt, and if their degree's accreditation has impacted their job opportunities. (