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I'm wondering if it is possible to find out if someone is graduated from a University. Like, I could write on my CV that I graduated from Harvard, but then how can you prove it? Suppose I'm an excellent hacker, I could still fool people by doing clever tricks that make a counterfeit of a diploma or something. So I'm wondering if there is an official protected and verified database that records the information that a person is a graduate from a specific university?

Suppose that I'm an employer and I want to verify my candidate is a graduate of X university, how do I do that? What if the university is in Canada?

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Information on awarded degrees is considered publicly releasable directory information in the US. Dates of attendance, for those who did not complete a degree, as well as honors (which imply a certain class rank or GPA) can be released as well.

Most schools sell this information to an aggregator, the National Student Clearinghouse. For a fee you can verify a degree by providing the student's name, date of birth, and school.

Harvard, specifically their school of Arts and Sciences, directs third parties to this database.

Laws in Canada differ and require signed permission from the student. A similar aggregator, AuraData exists.

Otherwise, the student can have the school's registrar send a document, on security paper and sealed, listing awarded degrees to interested parties. This is called an official verification and is essentially a transcript that does not contain course or grade information.

Finally, if the person has a graduate degree that involved a thesis, one can check the school's online library catalog to see if one is listed.

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Harvard has these records, of course - they have the student's transcript, showing all courses taken, grades, degrees earned, etc. But they are confidential under US law and are released only with the student's permission.

The student can request that an official copy of the transcript be sent to anyone they choose. Traditionally, this is done by mail, on tamper-resistant paper with an embossed seal. Electronic solutions based on digital signatures are starting to appear but are not yet the norm.

So if you have a degree from Harvard, and you wish to prove it to some person X, you may ask Harvard to send a copy of your transcript to X.

If you are an employer, and you wish to verify that your employee has a degree from Harvard, you ask your employee to ask Harvard to send you a copy of the employee's transcript. You can make it a condition of their employment that they do so, so that if they refuse to request the transcript, you fire them.

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People lie about degrees all the time, and often only get caught years after, by coincidence. Once upon a time it was common to ask for the actual diploma, which while not unforgeable, is beyond the average liar's ability and/or motivation. These days, it's easier to just call the university and ask them to verify. But most companies don't even do that.

However, in practice it's not such a big loophole:

  • Many employers already ask for references. That's to get some second opinion on what sort of person you are, but it also demonstrates that you probably did go to that school.
  • Degrees themselves don't carry much weight. You will be asked about projects and internships. Those are verified in obvious ways and indirectly verify your education.
  • Companies will often employ some private agency to do background checks. This will easily reveal whether you actually attended a school. They can check both government databases as well as ask the university itself. They can also check social media which can often be revealing.
  • It's very risky to lie about degrees. You'd be living your life in fear of being discovered, and even if you go for decades before being caught, it could ruin your life and undo all the undeserved gains you accumulated up to then.
  • If a degree is required for a position, chances are you need the skills taught by that degree to function at work. Even if you lie and get hired, you will soon be in dire straits when you cannot keep up with the work. Maybe you are just a genius who can keep up - but if you are such a genius, how come you didn't just get the degree in the first place? Of course, sometimes exceptional circumstances can put people in weird situations, but typically "excellent hackers" will put two and two together and just enroll in a college so that they don't have to lie, don't have to worry about being caught, and also get all the various benefits provided by going to school.

Certain professions have professional associations, such as medical doctors, psychologists, teachers, accountants, lawyers and engineers. These tend to have a sophisticated certification board that goes to lengths to verify its licensees. For these professions, the degree itself is kind of irrelevant, because employers will instead ask for your license, which can be readily verified through the professional organization. The organization in turn will not be easily fooled, among other things they often have good connections to the universities themselves.

  • To extend on how you could get discovered by coincidence: The advisor is a key part of getting a PhD. A PhD students works with an advisor for 3, 4, 5, or more years. Each advisor has only a limited number of PhD students. It is quite common to ask "with whom did you do your PhD" as just small talk if you are somewhat familiar with some of the faculty. And if you give a name, and she knows that person and meets him or her later, than common small talk would be "I met one of your former PhD students", and if he or her does not remember that name than... – Maarten Buis May 8 at 7:36
  • @MaartenBuis For a PhD student, people would also look at papers published in that lab. Even if you are legitimately an alumnus of that lab, but don't have papers and/or recommendation from the PI, things will already be very difficult for you - no lying required. – Trusly May 9 at 1:13

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