In general, it is very easy to get scammed by fake universities, especially in the days of the internet. Anyone can set up a website and add photos – it is a far cry from the days of expensive brochures which were used to market institutions. Anyone with an email account can demand money these days – and often force people to pay. Moreover, it is hard to tell who is behind something – people can hide by computer screens, meaning if you want to find out who runs an institution it is like the Wizard of Oz and you may never find out.
In the past people used to go to college campuses too get a sense of what it is like to apply somewhere – for example, if they wanted to get a masters in school counseling on campus – but nowadays, that possibility has been eradicated by COVID. People rarely visit institutions – which means it is all the easier for institutions to claim to be somewhere they are not. Indeed, COVID has moved classes online – because if one person in the class is infected, the whole class has to stay off – and this means that learning looks very different. Even if there is a vaccine, it is hard to see how everyone will go back into busy classes.
1. How to spot fake universities
Fake universities are extremely common these days – they offer all kinds of qualifications without any merit, but can make it very tempting to take their courses – saying that you have to have a teaching degree or a masters in school counseling to be let into a school. They might offer degrees for a good price – again something which can swindle even the worthiest of candidates because we all want to get value for our money and college tuition and university fees can be so expensive.
Sometimes they can try marketing their degrees with pictures of smiling students – the kind of thing which makes you want to go – because you see how happy their students look. You might be tempted by the influencer scam which has recently swept across many college campuses and been used by British universities: Instagram models sometimes claim to go to a certain university to get paid by that institution for attracting others to go there – even if they have never been near that university.
Often, universities will claim they are affiliated to a more prestigious institution – but this is not always the case. For example, many colleges and language schools are based in Oxford in the UK, and therefore claim to be affiliated with Oxford University – even though this is not the case. At other times, they may not even be based in the same city – but will simply say they are a sister university, and therefore attract students who want the prestige of the university in question.
2. What to do when you spot a scam course
When you think you spot a scam; the best idea is not to give in to the university’s immediate demands. If they say you have to send over lots of money to secure a place immediately, that is most probably incorrect. No-one will ask you to wire lots of money over without good reason or a good notice period. I can be a good idea to contact your bank if you are in doubt – but most of all, don’t jump to pass money on.
You should then contact your local body, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, and ask them what they recommend you do in the situation.
If it does not come down to the institution asking you to transfer lots of money, your best bet is to ask lots of questions about the course. How is it delivered – is it all online? If it is a masters in school counseling, for example, will you be able to get one to one tutorials and examples of the kinds of problems which can arise in a school setting? How are you assessed during the course – will there be an exam to gain a masters in school counseling?
It would be best if you asked lots of questions because it is your education at stake. Nothing is more important than you are getting value for money – and to do that you need to know that the course is reputable and will take you in the direction which you want. It is so key to understand what exactly you are getting for your money – will the degree actually help you with a job? Do schools look for a masters in school counseling? You have to grill the admissions tutors with lots of questions to ensure you are not being scammed.
You should also find out what is being provided with the course. Will there, for example, be textbooks provided by the course provider? These can be extremely expensive, so it is very important to check what options are available to you and whether such materials are compulsory to study. If textbooks are only provided by a company which is affiliated with the one which runs your course, then you are probably in a bit of trouble, and it might well be a scam.
Consider, for example, that you go on to study a masters in school counseling, and want to do background reading for a masters in school counseling, You should be able to find the material which you need online, or in local bookshops which specialize in education. Online retailers should, above all stock the books you need – as they can often be cheaper. And there should be ways of getting your books even cheaper than their recommended retail price online – for example through second-hand websites – many students trade their old books online for a bit of extra cash.
3. Forget the scam course – and look at a new course
The key thing about this part of the process is not blaming yourself for being scammed by another institution, nor letting it influence what you do next. Psychologically, it would be best if you acted as though what happened in the past did not happen, or as though it stays in the past. You must instead think about what you can practically do next – can you find a course which is like the one you were interested in before? Or would you do better to forget what you were looking at before, and think about the options now in front of you? It can be hard to know what to do, but no-one can make that decision for you.
This is all, of course, easier said than done. When we are scammed, it can leave us feeling very vulnerable and not too trusting of other institutions and other possibilities. We may not be so keen to think about the different possibilities on the horizon. But there is likely to be a course out there for you even if you haven’t considered it – if you wanted to get a teaching degree, have you considered you could do a masters in school counseling online, for example?
4. Consider a new course
The next step is to consider your other options. Even if the course and institution which seemed ideal for you have turned out to be a bit of a scam – that does not mean you will not be able to find something that suits you. It may be that you need to do a bit more research. Think what you want to end up doing – this might involve sitting down and creating a mind map or a vision board or something – although it sounds corny – which can help you visualize your plans.
Do you want to pursue your dream career of helping other people in the public sector even if it is not so well-paid? Or will you prize job security above all else – perhaps by pursuing a job in the private sector? If you want a job helping students in a school, do you want to be well-placed to help with their emotional and social development – in which case you may want to do a masters in school counseling – or do you not have any desire to do extra studies?
For example, many schools offer night courses, to cater for those who have to work all day and do not have time to study during the day time. Others offer online courses – a lot of people do this to get a masters in school counseling. It can be hard to decide what kind, of course, is best for you, which is why it can be helpful to get a push in the right direction from career guidance counselors and suchlike, who will be able to advise. Many people are convinced that they know themselves better than anyone else, but this is actually why it is helpful to get guidance from someone externally – they might be able to see your life objectively and give you a way of thinking that you haven’t before.
5. Work hard, and put in the extra hours
The thing that is most important to recognize is that success at your new course may not come overnight. It may involve a lot of extra work. Indeed, to make use of your course, you might need practical experience. But this can all be done with the right attitude. For example, if you are doing a masters in school counseling, consider speaking to your local school and asking if you can come into shadow staff and observe lessons. This will allow you to see what it is like in a school and put your qualification into practice. For example, a lot of people think they will be a certain kind of teacher – that they will be “bad cop” or able to manage a room full of children very easily – but it may not be how they thought.
Putting in the extra hours can be a really valuable way of getting extra credit, especially in times like these where there is a competitive job market out there, and it is hard to stand out. At first sight, you might look at your course and think you can do it all quite easily within the time needed. But it may work out that there are alternative ways to do even more – for example, you might be able to work during your lunch breaks, or on your commute back from college. If you look hard enough, you are likely to find pockets during the day where you can do some extra work.
A final word (or many words)
Finally, once you have your degree – from a real valid university under your belt – and not one from a scam institution – you can enter the job market. It is definitely more difficult in the time of COVID – many people with good degrees have been relegated to waiting on tables at their local diner, or simply cannot pursue the career they want. But perhaps by taking a course you will have delayed things, and enter the job market at a time when there is more available, and when the recession – which we are expecting as a result of COVID – is over. Now is the time to spend on getting a good degree, because we are sitting at home without much to do. You might as well use the time to study, rather than going out and partying!
If anything, COVID has reminded us that life is short and that at any moment, the people we love can be knocked down by something like a virus. It has shown us that we might lose our job anyway – so perhaps it is worth doing something we enjoy for a living because all we have is the present. If we want to do a masters in school counseling, perhaps we should go and pursue it, as long as it is from a legitimate provider – because who knows what tomorrow will bring!
It is so hard to make the leap sometimes and decide to study. But all the evidence is behind getting a good degree – statisticians are always talking about how much it boosts expected to pay, and it is not just about the result: Often we end up truly loving what we study – so make sure you get a degree that you will enjoy!