I recently applied to graduate school and got a lot of rejections from my top choice schools. I did get accepted into one program; however, this particular program is so new that it has not yet been accredited. Would I be better off in the long run to hold off and re-apply to accredited programs next year, or should I go ahead and accept the offer from the non-accredited program this year?

--Acceptable Accreditation

Dear Acceptable Accreditation,

This is especially important because you will be investing much time, money, and energy into your graduate degree, and you want to make sure those investments pay off when you receive your diploma!

Accreditation is one indicator that you can use to determine whether an institution meets high standards based on its curriculum, training opportunities, caliber of faculty members, and admission requirements. If an institution is not accredited, either because it is below standards or because it is too new, this may be a red flag that the institution will not be a good investment for your future. This is the case for several reasons. First, accreditation is not just an indicator for you, but for potential faculty members as well. High quality faculty members are going to flock to accredited programs that offer resources, credentials, financial incentives, and high quality students. The quality of faculty members at your institution will largely determine the quality of education you receive. This is ultimately the most important aspect of graduate school. When you graduate, you want to feel comfortable and equal working alongside graduates from high quality institutions. If you have mastered the art of being competitive in your field by the time you graduate, you will be in good shape for finding a job that you love.

However, your skills as a doctorate may not be the deciding factor for employers in your field, especially if you are considering a career in academia. There is a heuristic in academia that graduates are not likely to be hired at institutions of much higher caliber than the institution attended as a graduate student. Thus, if employers see that your educational background is from a non-accredited institution, they may be unlikely to hire you, regardless of your strengths as an academic. The same is often true for careers in the private sector. The caliber of your graduate institution is an indicator to employers regarding the quality of your education, and therefore, your abilities as a professional. In the current job market, employers must often sift through dozens of applications and resumes. Any indication that an applicant may not be as strong as others is a good enough reason to move that application to the bottom of the stack. Thus, attending an accredited institution places you on the same initial level as other applicants and allows your accomplishments to speak for themselves without being overshadowed by the name of your institution.

The final reason to consider attending an accredited institution regards the financial investment you will be making in your education and future. Graduate school can cost students hundreds of thousands of dollars if no funding is made available. Many accredited institutions will offer stipends or work-study programs, and some may even cover the cost of tuition. These financial incentives can greatly offset the cost of graduate school. This funding is often possible because accredited institutions have funding from the state and federal governments as well as from the private industry. However, non-accredited institutions may not be in a position to offer funding opportunities to students. Furthermore, many scholarships and student loans are only offered to students attending accredited institutions. Thus, when considering which institution to attend, it is important to consider all of the resources you will be investing in the institution and whether this investment will be worth it when you graduate.

--René Paulson, PhD

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