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How to know if a college is accredited

One lesson from the recent Trump University settlement may be that the word "university" doesn't always mean what you think it means. 

For students - and their parents - considering investing in higher education, it's important to make sure the investment is well spent. Accreditation is one way to gauge the quality of a college or university. It's also a gateway to federal financial aid.

Accreditation basics

The U.S. accreditation system involves both governmental and non-governmental agencies. The federal Department of Education works with a number of private accreditation agencies, who do the work of evaluating institutions and programs that seek accreditation.

Accreditation and financial aid

If you're interested in financial aid from the federal government, it's especially important to make sure your program is accredited. Accreditation alone doesn't guarantee federal financial aid - the school must also be authorized by the state and approved by the Department of Education - but you can't get federal aid without it.

How to check for accreditation

The Department of Education website has an easy-to-use online database at http://www.ed.gov/accreditation. You can look up a school by its name or search for all accredited institutions in a city or state. Within each institution, you can check specific programs for accreditation as well.

Accreditation is only a baseline measure of quality, of course, and you should do further research to make sure a program or school is a good investment for your future.

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