As with most things that involve finances, if you're searching for a college scholarship, you need to be careful: there are scammers out there trying to take advantage of students in need of college cash. The good news is there are plenty of legit scholarships out there, too, and most scams are fairly easy to spot.
Read on for some surefire signs that a potential scholarship might be nothing more than financial aid fraud.
1. A scholarship will NOT ask for your credit card.
Think about it: why would you pay money for the chance to earn money? No legitimate scholarship program will ask you for your bank account information or to pay some kind of application fee. The whole point of a scholarship is to help fund higher education, not to further deplete a prospective student's bank account.
The bottom line: If a scholarship asks you to pay an up-front fee to be considered, run the other way.
2. A scholarship will NOT guarantee that you will win.
It's along the same lines of a lottery or casino saying that everyone is a winner — it's just not true. A legit scholarship provider will be transparent about the number of winners that will be selected.
The bottom line: Look for the fine print that explains how many winners are chosen, when they are chosen, and how they are notified. If those details are missing, you could be dealing with a scam artist.
3. A scholarship will NOT contact you if you never applied.
With all of the mail, email, and even calls and texts college-bounders receive, you might be flattered to get a message stating that you've been selected to apply for a prestigious scholarship. If only it worked that way. The truth is, scholarship offers will not just show up unsolicited. You have to be the proactive one if you want to vie for scholarship money.
The bottom line: Scholarship programs will never reach out to you. The exception is if your high school counselor nominates you for an award, or if an institution you have already applied to offers you institutional scholarship dollars to attend.
4. A scholarship will NOT dodge your questions.
Organizations that provide scholarships are doing so to give back to their communities and help support students. Why on Earth would they avoid getting back to you if you have questions about the application process? Or, worse, not reveal where they are located or who is the actual sponsor of the award?
The bottom line: Look for thorough scholarship rules online, along with a contact person and headquarters in case you need to verify anything. If those details aren't available, you may be dealing with a scholarship scammer.
If a scholarship seems too good to be true, or if your gut tells you that something's not right, then consider it a red flag. Sometimes scammers will have official-sounding names and flashy websites, so look beneath the surface before you apply. When in doubt, do some vetting by talking with your school's college advisor, or conduct a quick Google search to see if anything has been written or reported about the award in question.
Ultimately, winning a scholarship starts with research. Once you have found a scholarship that's right for you, and verified that it is coming from a reputable source, you can move forward with confidence. Good luck!