As one college counselor put it, "I actually hate this question because I want to believe that good people are doing good work…" However, the sad reality is that college scholarship scams are real. This week, Samantha Davis of Queens, N.Y., asks:
What are the most common scholarship scams? How do I avoid them?
A: Scholarship offers shouldn't have fee strings attached.
Yolanda Watson Spiva, executive director, Project GRAD Atlanta
Scholarships are a source of free money to reward students who meet specific academic qualifications, are affiliated with certain religious, athletic, or cultural groups, or who currently engage in or plan to pursue certain academic subjects or social activities. Individuals and organizations that provide scholarships to students, understand that students need money and as such, they are not going to request that you provide unnecessary financial documentation, such as a credit card number or checking account number.
One major red flag that a scholarship offer is a scam is when the scholarship offer comes with payment or fee requirements, or requires that you send money in order to claim the scholarship.
Further, scholarship applications typically don't require that you provide sensitive personal information such as your social security number, at least not at the initial application phase. Be aware of requests for too much personal information. Scholarships are a gift to students, and while you will have to work hard to earn and retain the free funds, don't sell yourself short or provide information that in the end will make you the loser.
[Learn 4 do's and 1 don't for finding scholarships.]
A: Do not pay to play!
Scott Hamilton, founder, Future Stars College Counseling Center
The easiest way to spot a scam is if payment is required to either receive a list of scholarships or to apply for a specific scholarship. It can be beneficial to work with an experienced professional who assists students with understanding how to finance a college education, including accessing need-based and merit aid, while identifying the best match college. But never pay someone to simply generate a list of scholarships. There are several reputable scholarship search engines on the internet that provide the same information for free with just a few keystrokes.
[Explore the U.S. News guide to paying for college.]
A: You should never have to pay money to get money!
Deborah Shames, independent college search consultant and transfer admissions adviser, Kaplan Leadership Program
Any scholarship that promises that you are "eligible" to win by paying "X" fee should raise red flags. Just because you are "eligible" doesn't mean you will actually win the scholarships. You should never have to pay money to get legitimate scholarships. The best thing to do is to check out free scholarship search engines (many counselors, including me, have links to them on their websites), check with your guidance office for local scholarships and how to apply, and take the time to see what's out there.
And here's one more warning: If you might qualify for need-based aid at your colleges, winning outside scholarships may not be like winning anything at all; oftentimes the check will be written out directly to the college you will attend, and the college may very well choose to deduct that money from need-based grants they were going to give you. Ouch! Good luck!
A: Apply more, and share less.
Steve Loflin, founder and CEO, National Society of Collegiate Scholars
The quest for scholarships is greater than ever, and students are becoming very efficient at patching together a variety of them to make the numbers work for college. There are a number of scholarship scams that students should know about. Students should never have to pay for a scholarship or pay to apply for a scholarship.
You should also be suspicious if you are required to give a tremendous amount of information about yourself in the registration/application process. Name, address, E-mail address, and essays are pretty typical; more information than that may mean the company is gathering information for marketing purposes. Always read the fine print to make sure the company is not selling your information to marketing companies.
Thankfully, there are a ton of organizations out there helping to lighten the financial burden of attending college for many students. Be smart and creative when applying, take every application seriously, and you'll improve your chance of scholarship dollars coming your way!
[Read more about scholarship sources for international students.]
A: If it asks for money, it's probably a scam.
Anne Richardson, director of college counseling, international, and ESL programs, Kents Hill School
The most common scholarship/financial aid scams are those that ask you to pay for a search or services. You should never have to pay for a scholarship application or search, or for financial aid help. You can search for scholarships online and through your guidance/college counseling office. The office is a great resource, and counselors often know about local or school-specific scholarships that you might be eligible for that won't appear online. The bottom line: If it asks for money, it's probably a scam.
A: You should not pay to get scholarship information.
Francine Block, president, American College Admissions Consultants
All the information you will need about possible scholarships that you might qualify for is available free. A common scam is when you are notified that a company can guarantee you information about money you will qualify for and you must pay them for this information. The guaranteed money is usually the student and parent government loans that all students and families are entitled to receive. This information is available, free, in your guidance office and online at the government financial aid websites.
And when a company says they will refund your fee if you do not get scholarships, you have to show them proof that you have applied to all, possibly hundreds, of scholarships they suggested you apply to, many of which you do not qualify for, and then show them the rejection letters before they will refund your money.
Visit the Unigo Expert Network for more expert explanations about scholarship scams and to have your own questions answered.