With so many incoming and current college students applying for scholarships to supplement the high price tag of their college educations, information and opportunities for scholarship opportunities seem to be everywhere. Unfortunately, not all of these opportunities are legitimate. Scholarship scams can and do happen all too often, so it is imperative that students and their families remain vigilant to notice those red flags throughout their scholarship search process. As expected, the best and most obvious advice to follow when avoiding scams is that if something seems too good to be true, that is almost definitely the case. Additionally, it is important to note that if you are a victim of a scam, you should absolutely report it to prevent the same thing from happening to another innocent scholarship applicant.
Though avoiding scholarship scams often comes down to doing your research and using common sense, there are a number of common scholarship scams for you to be wary of. This list shares ten common scholarship scams that you should be sure to avoid.
SCHOLARSHIP MATCHING SERVICES WITH FEES
There are a number of very reputable free scholarship match tools that allow you to make an account that creates a personalized list of scholarships for which you are an eligible fit. Some of these reputable sites include Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and College Board’s bigfuture scholarship search tool. If a scholarship match program charges you money to create an account and find your matches, it is most likely a scam. Even if the resource promises a refund for a list of your matches, you will most likely never see that money again. With so many free resources to find scholarship matches, be sure to avoid those with fees.
SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATIONS WITH FEES
The entire point of a scholarship is for a foundation, non-profit organization, or corporation to provide sources of money to high achieving applicants that will help them to fund their college education. There is no reason for a scholarship competition to ask for a fee. Even if you would receive a scholarship from a competition that takes a fee from you, with the amount of applicants each scholarship gets, the company or scholarship funder is most likely making a significant profit rather than positively impacting someone in need of additional money for college. Avoid any scholarship application that might ask for a fee or for your credit card or checking account number.
SENDING MONEY TO CLAIM A SCHOLARSHIP
If you are notified that you received a scholarship but you have to send someone money in order to claim it, that is most definitely a scholarship scam. Much like you should never have to pay to enter a scholarship competition, you should never have to pay to receive any scholarship money you supposedly won.
STUDENT LOANS WITH ADVANCE FEES
Sometimes you may receive an offer for a low-interest student loan to supplement your college tuition costs that will ask you for a fee along with your loan application. This is a clear scam as a loan provider should never ask you for a fee in order for you to receive the loan. Advance fees may masquerade themselves in language such as “processing fees” or “application fees”, so be extremely observant of a supposed loan provider asking you for money up-front.
SCHOLARSHIPS THAT REQUIRE TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Another common scholarship scam is that a company will sell your personal information to marketing agencies. Avoid scholarship applications that ask you for more personal information rather than the standard name, address, email address, and phone number. Remember to never share your credit card or bank account information with a scholarship application, even if the company says that they just require that information to “hold” the scholarship for you. Be very aware of the kinds of questions and information scholarships require of you to make sure they are legitimate opportunities.
WINNING A SCHOLARSHIP YOU DID NOT ENTER
If you receive a call or an email saying that you won a scholarship that you did not even enter, it is almost definitely a scam. Unless it is someone reputable representing your high school or college and granting you with a scholarship award because of your achievements, be extremely cautious about believing that you won any sort of scholarship competition for which you didn’t even apply.
A GUARANTEE OF WINNING A SCHOLARSHIP
If a company or organization uses language that suggests that you are guaranteed to receive a scholarship, that is most certainly a scam. Reputable scholarship granters will never guarantee that applicants will win anything. Pay close attention to the words these companies use to recognize if they are making false promises.
A PROMISE TO APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP ON YOUR BEHALF
A common scholarship scam is that an individual or company will promise to complete scholarship applications for you. Though scholarship applications do take a significant amount of time and energy, you are the only person who can and should be completing your own applications. Anyone who promises to do the work for you is most likely scamming you to get your personal information.
LIMITED TIME SCHOLARSHIP OFFERS
Recognize that there is a difference between a scholarship deadline put in place by a reputable organization and the promise of a “limited time offer” for a scholarship opportunity that is almost definitely a scam. A real scholarship competition will not award prizes on a first-come, first-serve basis. Any pressure of time sensitivity other than a normal deadline for application is an obvious red flag.
FINANCIAL AID SEMINARS
Finally, a common scam is that of free seminars that promise to share useful information with you about the collegiate financial aid process. While sometimes colleges or reputable companies and organizations can host useful pre-college seminars, most of these other free financial aid seminars are scams to trick college students and their families into shelling out significant amounts of money on scholarship matching services or loans with incredibly high interest rates. Be aware of the potential for this scam when considering any similar seminars you may be invited to attend.