With college tuition on the rise, more people are looking to scholarships for financial help. But watch out: according to FinAid.org, thousands of people lose money in shady scholarship scams, totaling loses of more than $100 million every year. If a program sounds fishy or too good to be true, then chances are it is. But how can you tell?
If the money offer is high and all you have to do is submit your information, then the likelihood of getting that scholarship is very low. With programs like these, there is usually a loophole, such as referring several friends or signing up for a third party offer. Don’t sign up for every website that offers free money; instead, take the time to figure out exactly what the program is offering and what you are required to do.
Many scholarships and scholarship searches require a fee. You should never have to pay for information about scholarships. There are plenty of free scholarship search websites—such as FastWeb.com. However, a scholarship is not automatically a scam if there is a small fee attached. Due to the nature of some scholarships and contests, there may be a small reading fee included, but a huge submission fee should set off an alarm.
A guarantee of a scholarship or service should also raise suspicion. Most scholarships are like job interviews—many fill out applications and send in their resumes, and then the best candidate is picked based on their references, education, and ability. Just as winning a job interview cannot be guaranteed, neither can a scholarship. There are no secret scholarships and scholarship search engines. If a scholarship search engine charges money and has legitimate scholarships, the same information will be listed elsewhere for free.
While it may seem tempting to pay someone to fill out and submit a scholarship for you, this is also a scam. Not only is it considered plagiarism by the scholarship committees, but you are paying someone a large sum to fill out your basic information and submit an unoriginal essay. To better improve your chances of winning a scholarship, have a teacher or financial aid officer help you complete your essay and form.
There are also several online programs that charge you to fill out the FASFA. This can be considered a scam because the companies deceive you into thinking that you need them in order to get your money. The FASFA (along with many other government grant forms) is very simple to fill out, and only requires time.
Have you ever gotten an email claiming that you are the lucky winner of a scholarship, and wondered if you ever actually applied for that scholarship? These scholarship scams are probably the easiest to spot because it is impossible to win money that you never applied for. There have also been several seminars held to help students find free financial aid. These seminars, held at colleges, are very helpful and can point students in the right direction. But watch out—there are also free seminars that lure people in just so they can sell them a shady program in the end. Be wary of the programs that have official sounding names. Scam programs will often add words such as “foundation” to them to make them sound more credible.
When it comes to scholarship searching, use your head: if a scholarship sounds too easy, or if the award is too high, then it is most likely not a real scholarship. Real scholarships require you to work and show your abilities through forms, reference letters, and essays. With time and dedication, you can receive real money through real programs; just don’t be fooled by seemingly fast solutions.