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
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!