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Search for Scholarships...But Don't Get Scammed

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Many high school and college students are highly motivated to search for scholarships, which is a good thing. Scholarship scams, however, are not. So before you dive into the scholarship search process, be sure you are aware of scholarship scams and how to avoid them.

When you think about scholarship scams, two types should come to mind. The first is scholarship programs that are fraudulent, meaning there are no scholarship awards being given out and students don't actually receive any funds. The second is less-than-reputable scholarship search services that take advantage of students while they are searching for scholarships. With both types of scams, there are certain warning signs that you should be aware of that indicate that the scholarship program or search service may not be what it appears to be.

Suspicious Scholarships
To avoid applying for scholarship programs that are scams, there are some red flags you should be looking for

  • Application fees - While there are a few legitimate scholarship programs that do require students to submit a small processing or application fee, most require no payment to apply. If you learn of a scholarship with a fee and you are concerned, contact the scholarship "provider" (i.e., the organization, company, or individual that is offering the scholarship) to find out exactly why there is a fee to apply and what happens with the "fees" collected from applicants.
  • Hard-to-reach scholarship provider - How easy is it to contact the scholarship provider? If you call and the phone is disconnected, or if you email and your email is bounced back, there is a good chance that no one is handling scholarship requests. A legitimate scholarship provider will give applicants access to a valid email address or phone number.
  • No recent winners - If you cannot find anything about prior winners, contact the scholarship provider to try to find some proof that previous scholarships were awarded. If it's a new scholarship program, be sure to find out the specifics of how and when the recipients will be chosen; well-managed scholarship programs should provide answers to your questions about the award winners and selection process.
  • Website Woes - Another possible warning sign of a questionable scholarship program is the quality (or lack thereof) of the scholarship provider's website. Does the website work? Is the scholarship information updated? Not all scholarship providers have enough time on their hands to make sure the website is in pristine condition, but websites should (at a minimum) list the current details about the scholarship.
Search Services of Which to Steer Clear
There are many scholarship search services out there to help students find scholarships; unfortunately, some may be more harmful to students than you know. Watch out for the services that claim to have or offer things that are just not possible:
  • "Secret" Scholarships - Services that promise to find scholarships for you that you can't find anywhere else are usually not legitimate. Scholarship search services have access to the same information students have access to, so don't let them fool you into thinking they have the inside track.
  • Guaranteed Scholarships - If any service insists that it can guarantee you a scholarship, run the other way. Yes, there are lots of scholarship dollars available, but the truth is that no one can secure a scholarship for you but you. Only the student can complete the application process.

Also, be aware of the quality of the service you are using. Protect yourself by avoiding scholarship search services that:

  • Inundate you with pop-ups - Don't use a scholarship search service if you spend more time closing pop-up windows than you do actually looking at your scholarship information.
  • Are overly "commercial" - If you are on the website to find scholarship information, you should not be interrupted time after time with advertisements for non-related items like cell phones, magazines, car insurance, etc.
  • Compromise your privacy - Look for a service that has a clearly stated and easy-to-understand privacy policy; you do not want your personal information sold or shared without giving your explicit permission to do so. The last thing you need is an inbox full of spam and a mailbox full of unwanted solicitations.

Although there are many questionable scholarship programs and scholarship search services out there, there are also trustworthy and reputable ones as well. These services can be invaluable in aiding students in scholarship searching and paying for college. A legitimate scholarship search service should save students time by providing them with customized lists of scholarships that are accurate and continually updated by a team of research specialists. For more information about scholarship scams and scholarship searches, be sure to visit the Federal Trade Commission's website.

Now that you know the difference between scholarship scams and legitimate scholarship programs and search services, you're ready to take the plunge and start searching for free money for college. Good luck!

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