In this forum, there is the following question: How can I find out if someone really holds a doctoral degree?

This question is about verifying someone's degree. In the comments to the question, in chat, there is a comment by one Jeff$\varepsilon$ saying

Why don't you request the PHD title from the candidate — What's a "PhD title"? The only way I can prove to you that I have a PhD is by telling Berkeley to send you proof.

The idea that a university does not give out any form of certificate when someone earns a degree seems rather strange to me (but there are many things different cultures do that are strange to me, so I ask here).

Are there really universities in the world (nowadays) that do not hand out certificates for degrees? If yes, is then contacting the university really the only way to check the validy of the degree?

Edit: I see this question was poorly received. Could the downvoter please explain why so I can improve the question? I honestly don't see what is wrong. Just to clarify: I do not plan to forge any documents (if this is the downvoter's point).

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    I have a paper diploma for my BA. But what would you want me to do with it? Mail it to you? I'd be reluctant to do that. Lots of people probably don't even know where it is. Besides, it's not like it has any sort of anti-counterfeiting marks or anything. It would be pretty easy to fake, if one was so inclined. Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 17:14
  • Also, I added a more descriptive title to make your question easier to find. Please feel free to edit it if you don't like it. Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 17:15
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    I imagine that most (all?) universities still hand out paper diplomas, but if you don't trust the individual when they say they have a PhD, would you really trust them if they show you a piece of paper (or a scan of it)? Yes, that's usually enough verification for e.g. hiring purposes, but it doesn't prove it 100%.
    – Anyon
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 17:21
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    In fact, most US universities that hand out paper diplomas say that the paper diploma is not official proof of the degree - official proof of the degree comes from a certified transcript. The transcript has various protections against forgery; the diploma does not. Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 17:25
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    In many ways, the paper diploma is intended to show your mom as proof that you haven't wasted the past few years and to give her bragging rights with her friends. That duty fulfilled, hang it on your wall to impress students.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


In the US, in general, universities do offer the student a fancy paper diploma when they complete a degree. This is such a strong tradition that I would be pretty surprised if there are any universities that don't do it at all. I don't think that JeffE meant to imply that there were.

However, in this culture, this diploma is usually considered to be purely ceremonial in function, and isn't normally used as proof of the degree. For one thing, diplomas usually don't have meaningful anti-forgery security features.

And there are various circumstances in which a student who had completed a degree might not have a physical diploma. Maybe they didn't attend their graduation ceremony, and the university didn't have their current address to mail it; or maybe they used to have it but lost it at some point. Since it's a ceremonial document, some people might not go to the trouble to obtain or replace it.

As such, in the US, if Alice needs to prove to Bob that she holds a certain degree, the standard method is that Alice sends a request to the university that they send Bob a copy of her transcript, which not only records her degree but also her grades in all the courses she took. This will normally be printed on security paper, sealed with an official seal, and mailed directly from the University to Bob, so that Alice has no opportunity to tamper with it. (There could still be ways for Alice to have a fake transcript sent to Bob, but it's harder, and so this process is usually considered adequate.)

For privacy reasons, Alice's transcript can only be sent upon Alice's request (and she'll have to authenticate the request somehow, e.g. by giving her university student ID number which isn't normally known to anyone else). Bob can't get it without Alice's cooperation.

JeffE may have overstated the case when he said this was the only way to prove it, but it's by far the most common in the US higher education system, and other forms of proof are much less likely to be accepted by Bob.

(I think JeffE was also objecting to the term "PhD title" since this term isn't used in the US to refer to a physical document confirming a degree. So if you asked someone for their "PhD title", they would not know what you were talking about.)

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    US universities also emit certified notarized letters attesting the degrees obtained by a person. As for certified transcripts, these can be legalized with an Apostille for use in another country. In either case there is no need to have the document sent to a third party; tampering with a legalized document it is a felony in most jurisdictions. For what it is worth, an official diploma can also be legalized in this way and does have legal validity in some cases. (None of these documents have meaningful anti-forgery security features unless they are digitically signed ...)
    – Dan Fox
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 11:33
  • JeffE may have overstated the case when he said this was the only way to prove it — No, I don't think I overstated the case at all.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 16:53
  • Thank you for the answer! So people from the US do generally really not care about owning the official document? Wouldn't it be good to have one just in case the university does not exist in the future or if you need one because you apply in a different country? (The US culture must be really different from my European culture, where it is even recommended to keep all high school certificate the whole life!)
    – user97917
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 17:12
  • @JeffE: So you want to say there is no way to obtain an official copy? Do you (or anyone else) know the reason of Berkeley's policy on that? Surely people working in other countries where administrators are not flexible enough to ask Berkeley for a copy have a huge problem with this?
    – user97917
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 17:13
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    @user97917 Americans would not think to hold on to their physical diploma to apply to schools in Europe because the fact that European schools want to see your literal diploma is not a well-known fact. Lots of people do care about the physical diploma, others don't. You can usually order another diploma if you want, but it's much more expensive than ordering an official transcript ($70 vs $10) Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 17:54

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