It’s no secret that the university you attend is crucial to your professional future. But not in the way most people think. When choosing which college or university to attend, the name typically stands out because some are viewed as more prestigious than others. Harvard, Columbia, and other Ivy League schools are typically seen as the most distinguished institutions. But what if I told you that going to an Ivy League school won’t matter in the long run?    

It’s true that for most people, attending an Ivy League school is irrelevant to their career success. Think about it: when was the last time you heard a professional mention their alma mater at networking events? Chances are, that part of the conversation is not at the forefront of introductions. That’s because Ivy League schools have the same credibility as many other institutions. The trick is knowing how to tell which will help you in your career and whether your credits will be transferable.   

When was the last time you heard a professional mention their alma mater at networking events?

The first assessment of credibility for a university is accreditation, though not all accreditation organizations are created equal. The reason accreditation is so important is the process legitimizes an educational institution or program. It also confirms that the assessed body meets curriculum, faculty, and support-based requirements.   

Regional Accreditation   

The first and most credible form of accreditation is regional. There are six regional accreditation organizations recognized by the US Department of Education, which are the MSCHENEASCNWCCUHLCSACS, and WASC (or WSCUC). Feel free to click each one to learn more about them including which region they support. If you’d rather read the short version, here are the key takeaways: each of the six represent a geographical portion of the United States and all six have the same credibility in the eyes of the US Department of Education.    

Regional accreditation is considered the highest form of accreditation because institutions that are regionally accredited are the most widely accepted. Regional accreditation is typically awarded to what we consider to be traditional universities. When you graduate, Employers need to accept your degree as legitimate for you to land a new position. If you attend multiple universities and colleges, your ability to transfer credits will depend on accreditation as well. A regionally accredited institution means your credits are transferable and nearly all employers will recognize your credits and/or degree as legitimate.   

National Accreditation   

National accreditation is also recognized by the Department of Education, though national accrediting organizations do not typically engage with the same institutions regional accreditors do. This type of accreditation is typically awarded to for-profit and vocational schools. These tend to focus on vocational, career, and technical certifications. Those that offer religious education programs are also often nationally accredited.    

Regionally and nationally accredited institutions rarely accept transfer credits from an organization holding a different type of accreditation. For example, If you attend a technical school for a year and then decide you’d like to work on a different type of technology or earn a bachelor’s degree instead of a certificate, it’s likely your technical school credits will not transfer to a traditional university. However, there are cases in which institutions will accept credit transfers from institutions with different accreditation. So, ensure the programs you’re considering have the transfer ability you need.  

Programmatic Accreditation   

There is one other type of accreditation that applies to select programs, aptly named programmatic accreditation. This type is typically linked to programs within larger universities, and covers programs wherein students pursue licensure. Programmatic accreditation organizations are specifically tailored to one area of expertise such as business or law. This allows them to delve into each relevant program to ensure students achieve specific learning objectives for licensure or for practical application.   

One example of this is the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). This organization offers accreditation for all levels of collegiate business educational degree programs. They adhere to the standards set by the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence (click here to learn more). This ensures that business programs meet standards in specific curriculum, faculty qualifications, and educational support.   

Programmatic accreditation usually accompanies another type of accreditation. For example, California Southern University is regionally accredited by WASC and has a programmatic accreditation for their Master’s in Business Administration and their Doctorate in Business Administration from ACBSP. That means that not only does the university as a whole meet requirements for things like student support systems and faculty qualifications, the business school is specifically equipped to prepare learners for professional advancement.   

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The goal of these accreditation labels is to ensure schools deliver specific results in student experience and program credibility. They work to mitigate gaps between students’ professional needs and university educational objectives. They also work to ensure students have access to appropriate support systems. These factors dramatically alter graduation rates as well as a student’s post-graduate success.   

Schools at all different levels of esteem hold the same type of accreditation. The UC system, state schools, Ivy League schools, and many others are all regionally accredited. So even though Ivy League schools are often held in the highest esteem compared to other institutions, other universities can provide an education just as valuable (and more affordable). Accreditation organizations bring this fact to light because they hold each institution to the same standards. This makes decision-making much easier because students can see each institution’s overall merit rather than university name recognition.   

Costs continue to pose barriers between prospective students and educational opportunity. Accreditation gives a productive framework to the search for affordable and practical education. Click To Tweet

Choosing a school to attend is a life changing decision, and accrediting organizations make that decision easier by categorizing institutions as well as specific programs within them. Without these systems, finding a university to match your professional needs would be extremely time consuming. Additionally, costs continue to pose barriers between prospective students and educational opportunity. Accreditation gives a productive framework to the search for affordable and practical education. It allows students to weigh the practical benefits of a program and its accreditation over the social prestige of Ivy League schools. 

What do you think? Do you agree that accreditation is more important than institutional reputation? What other factors do you consider when thinking about going back to school? 


About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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