Online master’s degree programs are perfect for people who are unable to live by a school of their choice or already work full-time. It’s an opportunity to move forward in your career by taking a route that’s time and cost efficient. But like with any traditional degree program, you want to ensure that your education is 100 percent up to standard so that your time and money are well-spent. Becoming more knowledgeable and better trained in your field of work is your first priority.

Only accredited programs should be sought out by prospective master’s degree students. Accreditation is a minimum standard of quality set by an individual agency. Specific evaluation criteria and peer reviews are used by these agencies during the process of deciding whether or not a program or college is providing a good education. Evaluations must be voluntarily requested and each agency’s standards may vary. If a school has not earned accreditation, they either never requested to be evaluated or failed to meet the minimum standards required. Accrediting agencies are private and cover either a specific region or the entire country. The government provides a list of agencies it recognizes: the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator has a database that’s useful to consult when searching for a quality master’s degree program.

For graduate schools, there are often additional accreditation agencies for advanced disciplines. For example, if you’re pursuing your Master of Psychology, you should make sure the programs in which you are interested are accredited by the American Psychological Association. If you want to attain a Master of Library Science, you should check which programs that are recognized by the American Library Association.

It’s important that prospective students avoid diploma mills. These unaccredited colleges and programs offer an education that is less than what you would expect after giving your time and money. Diploma mills care little about the quality of education they provide; their main objective is to make a profit. The unfortunate students who enroll in diploma mill master’s programs are not required to complete much work, and consequently, they don’t learn efficiently. Degrees from diploma mills are rejected by employers because the students who earned them are not properly trained. Prospective students should also be wary of accreditation mills that aren’t officially recognized and serve to “accredit” substandard programs and colleges.

Hard work should be rewarded. Ensure that your dedication isn’t unrewarded after achieving a master’s degree. There are numerous accredited online master’s programs that have trained competent workers in your field. Be sure to enroll in the right one so that you gain the best possible education.