What is a For-Profit University?

So, there’s a school you would like to put at the top of your college list because it seems like it’s a perfect fit for you. While researching further, however, you learned that it’s a for-profit university. And now you may be wondering if you should forget about it and look for another college to consider as your top-choice school.

A for-profit university is a learning institution owned by a private company. It operates like a business, and a college degree is its product. But unlike diploma mills, it’s legit and accredited, although some for-profit schools are questionable. Like non-profit institutions, there are good and bad for-profit schools.

Don’t stop reading now if you are thinking about applying to a for-profit college.

In this post, just about everything you have to know about this kind of institution of higher education will be discussed. I will also mention some whose programs are ranked by US News. Once you are through reading this, hopefully, you will have a much better idea of what for-profit schools are and whether or not you should apply to one.

For-Profit vs. Non-Profit: What’s the Difference?

For-profit colleges and universities differ from their non-profit counterparts in many ways. They operate, first and foremost, to generate income, which is distributed among owners, shareholders and investors. And this can influence many things about these institutions, from the cost of attendance to the acceptance rate.

When individuals are asked about the difference between for-profit and non-profit institutions, chances are that many will agree that the former is less credible than the latter.

Although there is some truth to it, depending on the school, there are many other things that separate the two.

It’s important to know the key differences between for-profit colleges and non-profit ones. This is especially true if your college list consists of a mix of the two or only for-profit ones. It’s something that can also help you steer clear of unreliable for-profit schools, thus saving you from jeopardizing your future career.

Below, I will tell you some of the most important matters you need to know about both for-profit and non-profit institutions in terms of things that you might want to take note of before you build your college list:


Non-profit colleges and universities get their money in multiple ways. Some of them include tuition and fees, donations and endowments and, among public institutions, state funding.

On the other hand, for-profit schools obtain their funding from investors who, of course, want to get back their money with interest. And that is why these academies will do anything and everything just to make sure that they will rake in profits, even if it means cutting education-related costs.


Generally speaking, tuition and fees at for-profit schools are higher than those at public colleges and state universities. But in many instances, they have a slightly lower asking price than private institutions. And to make more money than their private rivals, one of the steps for-profit colleges take is to award fewer scholarships.

And it’s exactly for this reason why, according to a report by the Cornell Chronicle, which serves as the primary source of news about Cornell University, for-profit students tend to take on more debt and default at higher rates, too.


The vast majority of for-profit colleges and universities hold national accreditation. It has something to do with the types of programs they offer, which we will talk about in a few — so don’t stop reading now!

However, there are also for-profit institutions that are regionally accredited, which comes with various perks such as easier transfer of credits, better eligibility for financial aid and increased employability. But then there are also for-profit schools without any accreditation, which is a red flag for all degree-seeking students.

Read Also: What Happens If Your College Closes or Loses Accreditation


I mentioned earlier the fact that for-profit universities are out to rake in profit. As a result of this, most of them will accept each and every individual who applies regardless of the GPA, test scores, extracurriculars or state residency. So, in other words, many for-profit schools have 100% or very high acceptance rates.

It’s also not uncommon for most for-profit colleges and universities to have rolling admissions, which allows students to apply without beating any hard deadline as well as start classes at almost any point of the academic year.


Usually, trade-focused programs are the ones being offered at for-profit colleges. Some common examples include medical coding, automotive technology, cosmetology, culinary arts and engineering technology.

But there are also those that offer degree programs available at non-profit institutions, from private to public universities. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that vocational degrees for-profit schools offer are also available at community colleges and trade schools, but at a considerably lower price.

Are For-Profit Colleges Accredited?

Most for-profit colleges have national accreditation, although some have regional accreditation, which is considered more prestigious than the other kind of accreditation. Some for-profit schools have programmatic accreditation. But there are also those with accreditation from non-recognized agencies.

It’s no secret that most for-profit colleges and universities offer online programs. Although it’s important to note, too, that more and more non-profit institutions these days have online campuses.

Because of this, checking whether or not a for-profit school is accredited beforehand is a must.

Taking online classes at a non-accredited for-profit institution can keep you from being eligible for federal financial aid. It can also keep you from transferring earned credits to another school, online or physical. And then there’s also the fact that an online degree from a questionable for-profit online school might not be accepted by employers.

When checking if the for-profit academy you wish to add to your college list has the necessary accreditation, don’t just look at the name of the accrediting agency — see if it’s something that’s recognized by either the US Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or both.

It’s perfectly fine to enroll in a for-profit school, whether virtually or in person, that has national accreditation instead of the more prestigious regional accreditation.

However, you may have a hard time transferring credits should you decide to transfer soon.

Are All For-Profit Colleges Bad?

While it’s true that all for-profit colleges prioritize raking in profit over the academic needs of their students, some are better than most others. They tend to offer more quality education, provide their students with a nicer college experience and ask for a more reasonable price. A few of them are highly ranked, too.

You are here because you want to know whether or not attending a for-profit institution is worth both your time and money. And by now, we have already established the fact that many cons come with going to them.

However, it doesn’t mean that you should avoid these schools at all costs.

If there’s one that seems to tick all the boxes during the college list-building task, then it’s probably a good idea for you to attend it. You are more likely to enjoy academic success if you go to a school, even the for-profit variety, that’s a good fit for you academically, financially, socially, culturally and geographically.

Not all for-profit colleges and universities are cut from the same cloth — although there are bad ones, there are also a few good ones that can help degree-seeking students prepare for their dream careers.

Here are some of those that are ranked by US News:

Academy of Art University

  • #88 in Regional Universities West
  • #114 in Top Performers on Social Mobility

Berkeley College

  • #86 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #133 to 175 in Regional Universities North

Capella University

  • #267 in Best Public Affairs Programs
  • #296 in Social Work
  • #324 in Psychology

Read our review of Capella University.

Chamberlain University

  • #661 to 681 in Nursing

College of Westchester

  • #5 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #20 in Regional Colleges North

Colorado Technical University

  • #52 in Best Online Master’s in Computer Information Technology Programs
  • #61 in Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs
  • #90 in Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans
  • #119 in Best Online Master’s in Nursing Programs
  • #146 in Best Online Bachelor’s in Business Programs
  • #160 in Best Online Bachelor’s Programs

DeVry University

  • #127 to 166 in Regional Universities Midwest
  • #155 in Top Performers on Social Mobility

Read our Devry University review.

Grand Canyon University

  • #95 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #213 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs
  • #331 to 440 in National Universities
  • #610 in Nursing

Read our review of Grand Canyon University.

Monroe College

  • #2 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #7 in Best Value Schools
  • #46 in Best Colleges for Veterans
  • #54 in Regional Universities North

NewSchool of Architecture and Design

  • #90 to 117 in Regional Universities West
  • #116 in Top Performers on Social Mobility

Post University

  • #133 to 175 in Regional Universities North
  • #136 in Top Performers on Social Mobility

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design

  • #4 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #31 in Regional Colleges West

University of Phoenix

  • #160 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #331 to 440 in National Universities
  • #661 to 681 in Nursing

Read our University of Phoenix review.

Walden University

  • #170 in Public Health
  • #194 in Computer Science
  • #267 in Best Public Affairs Programs
  • #296 in Social Work
  • #327 in Psychology

Read our Walden University review.

Refrain from assuming that the for-profit college you are eying is not a good one simply because it’s not on the list above. Keep in mind that the only reason why the schools I mentioned are ranked by US News is that they were able to meet many of the various criteria used by the popular college ranking site when reviewing schools.

What’s not good enough for US News may be good enough for your preferences and needs.

Why Do People Still Think That Online Education is Not Good?

Giving online education a bad reputation is the existence of diploma mills that confer fake and completely worthless degrees. Many of the most heavily advertised online courses or programs come from for-profit colleges, which is why many assume that they are not as good as those from traditional schools.

Online education these days is as legit as it can be. As a matter of fact, all Ivy League schools offer online courses and programs. Many other prestigious public and private institutions have them, too.

Still, the fact remains that diploma mills are around, giving online learning a bad image.

Sometimes referred to as degree mills, diploma mills are basically fake colleges that sell fake diplomas. So, in other words, the degrees they confer are absolutely worthless — employers do not accept them and they cannot help job seekers get employed. Attending a diploma mill requires only a credit card and no hard work and perseverance.

Unlike accredited colleges and universities, including for-profit ones, diploma mills do not have accreditation. Well, some of them may claim that they’re accredited, but by a phony accrediting agency.

The problem with some for-profit schools is that they operate similarly to diploma mills — they confer degrees with low standards or, in some instances, without even requiring students to complete any coursework. And the way these institutions run is one of the reasons why many people stay away from online education.

Although many for-profit academies grant legit degrees, the fact remains that they are business-oriented and providing good quality education is not the top priority.

Can You Get a Job With an Online Degree?

Provided that the online degree is conferred by a college or university that’s fully accredited, the holder can find a job. This is true whether it’s from a for-profit or a non-profit private or public institution. The employment rate for those who study online depends on factors like their school and degree level.

Winding up jobless after graduation is a common fear among those who plan on enrolling online.

According to Southern Utah University, for the academic year 2018 to 2019, its online bachelor’s degree graduates saw a 75% employment rate. Meanwhile, its online master’s degree graduates enjoyed a 100% employment rate.

The public university located in Cedar City, Utah, which is #32 in Top Public Schools by US News, adds that the high employability of their online degrees is made possible by the fact that they have the very same accreditation as their on-campus counterparts. So, when it comes to choosing a legit online degree, the right accreditation is a must.

On the other hand, Western Governors University, which is an online institution based in Millcreek, Utah, says that 87% of its graduates report that they are employed in fields related to their earned degrees.

Liberty University, another well-known online school, says that as much as 94% of its graduates are employed. The school, which is ranked #3 in Best Online Colleges in America and #3 in Top Private Universities in Virginia by Niche, also takes pride in the fact that it is ranked fourth in the nation for government and public service employment.

Read also: Will For-Profit College on Resume Hurt or Help Find a Job?

Do Employers Respect Online Degrees?

Many people fear that an online degree will keep them from landing the job of their dreams. They assume that the available position will always be given to those with degrees earned in the traditional manner.

Here’s a fact: the diplomas of online learners do not mention that they studied via the web.

So, in other words, the diploma you will obtain after completing an online program will look like the diplomas of traditional students attending the very same school — it will seem that you were classmates. The only difference between you and them is that you have completed your studies through the internet either partially or wholly.

This is what’s very much likely to happen if you enroll in an online degree program of a college or university that has both a physical and virtual campus. More often than not, it uses the same curriculum for its on-campus and online students. And, most of the time, the same set of instructors is used, too!

It’s important to note, however, that there are a few employers who prefer traditional degrees.

According to research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), up to 92% of employers see online degrees from brick-and-mortar institutions as favorable. Meanwhile, only about 42% of employers consider a candidate with an online degree from a school that operates solely through the internet.

A CNN report, on the other hand, says that as many as 82% of surveyed executives agree that an online degree is just as credible as one that’s earned by means of a campus-based program.

They add that various things help make online degrees credible, and they include the:

  • Accreditation of the institution
  • Name of the institution
  • Quality of the institution’s graduates

Taking into account the things that make degrees earned online appear more credible to executives, therefore, is a good idea when shortlisting online schools, for-profit or otherwise, to increase your job prospects after graduation.

Indeed, attending a reputable and accredited college or university offering both online and on-campus degree programs is recommended. You might want to consider crossing out of your list the name of a school whose name many employers and hiring managers probably haven’t heard of.

Traditional programs have been around for centuries, but online ones came into being in the 1980s only.

And this is why, to easily win trust when it’s time to apply for a job, it’s suggested that you work on an online degree at an institution known to most as reputable and committed to providing high-quality education.

Read Also: Choosing Online College – Top 20 Online Schools List

Just Before You Apply to a For-Profit University

You can think of a for-profit school as a business that sells college degrees. But unlike diploma mills, you will have to complete the required coursework in order for you to graduate. Most for-profit universities operating as traditional institutions and/or online schools are legit, with recognized accreditations to boot.

Because many of them have a bad reputation, make sure that you thoroughly research the for-profit school you are interested in attending before you add it to your college list.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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