Avoid these 6 scholarship scams that target new college students


First mistake when figuring out how to pay for college—not applying for scholarships! The second mistake? Falling for scams that take advantage of inexperienced young students.

Isn’t getting into college hard enough?

As you encourage your soon-to-be college student to apply for every scholarship possible, keep an eye out for these warning signs of a scam. College tuition costs are high enough. You don’t want to be paying more than you should.

1. Scholarship Fees

It’s true that most colleges and universities require an application fee. But scholarship fees? That’s typically a telltale sign that you’re about to lose money instead of earning it. Legitimate scholarships will not require a fee.

2. The Magic Words

Don’t be fooled by slick advertising. The Federal Trade Commission has seen it all before, and has a suggested list of words and phrases to avoid. Phrases like, “guaranteed or your money back” should raise your suspicions. Sound familiar?

Also, avoid “you’ve been selected” or “you’re a finalist.” A student might be thrilled at magically being selected for a scholarship they never applied for…make sure they know not to reply without a second opinion from mom or dad.

3. Totally Wasteful Seminars

Here’s another high-pressure sales tactic. Offers for a free seminar or financial aid advice are often the exact opposite. They sometimes turn out to be a trap for pricey student loans or scholarship matching services. Sure, there are some information sessions that are worthwhile, but be sure to properly research the company or organization that’s hosting and be wary of any charges.

4. First Come, First Served

Scholarships will absolutely have a deadline to adhere to, but a legitimate scholarship isn’t a race! Watch out for the “apply now or regret it later” mentality. A fair scholarship will have a set deadline that applies to all applicants.

5. No Focus

Do some additional research before applying for scholarships that are open to everyone. First of all, that’s a big group to be competing against. Private scholarship providers will more likely have set criteria based upon age, geography, GPA or extracurricular activities.

6. Sending Personal Information

What does your bank statement have to do with your child’s chance for a scholarship? Nothing! There is no reason to give your credit card information to a scholarship provider. And never provide personal information over the phone.

How To Safely Apply For Scholarships

  • Your school district likely has a list of reliable, local scholarships ready to go. Local business and city organizations want to provide scholarships to local students.
  • Check for a company’s address, website and phone number on the scholarship application. If any of those three key pieces are missing, more research is needed.
  • Know full-ride scholarships are extremely rare, so be cautious of bogus claims. There’s no harm in applying for safer, smaller scholarships. They add up quick!
  • Of course, you can never fully rely on scholarships to pay for college. Make sure to apply for financial aid early and honestly.

How To Report Scams

You’re asked to report all scams to the FTC, or to your state’s attorney general.

Now that you know what to look for, click for a list of scholarships your student can start applying for now! Plus these ten unusual scholarships you have to check out! You never know when a secret talent (like making a DIY prom dress) could earn a little extra cash.

About the Author

Emily Hanford-Ostmann

I have a background in newspaper and broadcast news writing. When I'm not informing others about what's happening in town...I enjoy running, a great workout class and finding my next favorite show on Netflix. I also find great joy in clearance shopping. Learn More.