Academic diplomas may be legitimately awarded without any study as a recognition of authority or experience.When given extraordinarily, such degrees are called honorary degrees or honoris causa degrees.These diploma and degree mills may further confuse matters by claiming to consider work history, professional education, and previous learning, and may even require the submission of a dissertation or thesis in order to give an added appearance of legitimacy.Promotional materials may use words denoting a legal status such as "licensed", "state authorized", or "state-approved" to suggest an equivalence to accreditation.The term may also be used pejoratively to describe an accredited institution with low academic admission standards and a low job placement rate.An individual may or may not be aware that the degree they have obtained is not wholly legitimate.To prevent misuse of their names in this way, some legitimate academic institutions have registered domains.Compared to legitimate institutions, diploma mills tend to have drastically lowered academic requirements, if any at all.
Diploma mills share a number of features that differentiate them from respected institutions, although some legitimate institutions may exhibit some of the same characteristics.
These degrees may claim to give credit for relevant life experience, but should not be confused with legitimate prior learning assessment programs.
They may also claim to evaluate work history or require submission of a thesis or dissertation for evaluation to give an appearance of authenticity.
Some advertise other indicators of authenticity that are not relevant to academic credentials.
For example, the University of Northern Washington advertises that its degrees are "attested and sealed for authenticity by a government appointed notary".