The whole point of scholarships, grants, and financial aid is to get help paying for college tuition. Despite this fundamental concept, some people are pressured into paying large fees to private “aid consultants” in the hope that they’ll get their investment back and more. Chances are, these consultants will just take your money and give you information that could have been obtained directly from a free source.
Recognize the Signs of a Scholarship Scam: The Federal Trade Commission lists these signs and suggests that students beware when they hear the following claims:
- “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.” Some scholarships like the Bright Futures Scholarship are guaranteed for students who meet all of the required eligibility criteria, but there isn’t a fee. Real financial aid programs simply don’t cost money!
- “You can’t get this information anywhere else.” This just isn’t true. Trust me, it is almost definitely on Google, a scholarship search site, maybe even in your high school or college financial aid office.
- “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.” Don’t give away personally identifiable information. Any reputable award would be willing to write a check to the college or university; some might even send a check directly to the student. If they refuse to pay you without your banking info, forget it! This is a sure sign of a scammer who wants your money.
- “We’ll do all the work.” Even if its true its a dishonest way to chase tuition. You might be able to find someone willing to write your essays and applications, but how will they capture your unique voice? How will you handle the interview when you don’t know how you got there?
- “The scholarship will cost some money.” Scholarships cost time and work, but application fees should be a big warning flag. There are some cases where a small application fee is appropriate, but usually it is only standard for lengthier writing contests. For example, if you’re submitting a 20-page fiction sample or an act out of a screenplay, a $5-$10 fee is quite fair if they are returning a critique of the work even if you don’t win.
- “You’ve been selected by a ‘national foundation’ to receive a scholarship” or “You’re a finalist” in a contest you never entered. – This is usually the sales pitch that comes before an attempt to get your personal or financial data.
Search for Scholarships, free: Fastweb.com, ScholarshipExperts.com, and Scholarships.com all provide excellent information at not cost, and we’re working on our own free scholarship search as well. The key to success here is actually investing the time to use these tools, find the awards that most closely match the student’s personal characteristics, and writing out the applications with care and attention to detail. Its better to apply for a few awards specific to the student’s special skill or interest than it is to apply for every single sweepstakes and content you can find.