Searching for a Scholarship? Don’t Get Scammed

Loans, Student Loans
Searching for Scholarships? Don't Get Scammed

More so than ever, a college education is becoming essential to having a good job. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree are now expected to earn $1.2 million more than a high school graduate, over a lifetime. As more students apply to college, the number of students seeking college scholarships has also skyrocketed over the past decade. A weak economy has left many parents with less funds available to pay for college, and budget crunches in both private and public institutions have reduced the amount of money schools are available to give. So there is understandably a lot of competition for scholarships. Unfortunately, that also means that there are lots of crooks out there willing to scam and spam families looking for scholarships. Keep a few basic principles in mind, however, and you should have no problem separating the wheat from the chaff.

  • Protect your personal information
  • Do not spend money to search for money
  • Use common sense

There are several indicators that a scholarship search or a scholarship application might be spammy, or even a scam. Most scholarship search sites will ask for an email address, which they may also sell to third parties. The most legitimate scholarship aggregator sites clearly allow users to opt-out of having their information shared with third parties, but not all sites are that transparent. Alas, reading every single site’s privacy policy is not a viable option for students and their parents, so creating a dedicated email address for scholarship searching is a good way to protect your personal email address from being sold and spammed with messages. As far as personally identifiable information goes, you shouldn’t have to enter more than your date of birth and zip code, as many scholarships have age or location limits. If you’re asked to enter any more information, such as your social security, passport, driver’s license or bank account number, you could become the victim of a scam, or even identity theft.

You should also be wary of spending money on help finding scholarships or applying to them. Scholarship matching services have you pay a fee in order to unearth exclusive or lesser known opportunities. The truth of the matter is that the database of publicly searchable scholarships is vast and comprehensive, and paying money won’t help you gain access to anything you can’t already find. If you do find secret scholarships, they’re most likely fake or scams, included just so you think you’re getting your money’s worth. Additionally, there are people whom you can hire in order to help you fill out the FAFSA, and both find scholarships and apply for them. These can be legitimate services, but are largely unnecessary. After all, if you’re trying to find money to pay for college, do you really want to pay somebody for something you can do on your own? If your family has a complicated financial situation it might be worth it, but if this is your first year in the process you should make a go of it before hiring somebody to help.

Other indicators of spammy or scammy scholarships are just common sense, that I hope you’re already following in all of your internet browsing. If you see any of the following, avoid, avoid, avoid!
– Spelling Errors
– Requiring money up front
– Exaggerated claims of success
– Winning scholarships you never applied for

Lastly, there are several claims floating around that millions – even billions – of dollars of student aid goes unclaimed every year. According to finaid.org, this is based on a 30 year old study revealing unused funds from employer tuition assistance programs. But because these programs are specific to employers, most people couldn’t apply for them even if they wanted to. But remember: scholarships aren’t your only option! You may also be eligible for grants, work-study, and federally subsidized loans.  With research, determination, and common sense, you’ll have a bevy of options. Good luck!