Scholarship Scams: What to Look For

Don't shy away from applying for legitimate scholarships because you're worried about being scammed. Read our tips for how to spot a scholarship scam.

Let’s face it: the cost of living is on the rise. We’re paying more these days for just about everything, from food to utilities to clothing. Most everyone can agree on the importance of a college education, but funding it can often be tricky, prompting even the most level-headed student to become desperate. Do not, under any circumstances, let the desperation get the better of you, though. There are still plenty of legitimate ways for you to fund your education. You can search thousands of scholarships on sites like this one and, our sister site.

Of course, these sites aren’t the only places to find legitimate scholarships. Don’t be afraid to do all the research you can; just brush up on your awareness of scholarship scams. The following are some tell-tale signs a prospective scholarship is less than reputable.

Scholarship scams warning signs 

The scholarship requires an application fee

No matter how upstanding the organization awarding the scholarship appears at first glance, if they’re asking for money up front with your application, be wary. You should never have to give money to get money for scholarships.

Related: Scholarship FAQ: The Biggest Myths and Facts

The scholarship is "guaranteed"

There are no guarantees in life, and the realm of scholarships is no exception to this rule. Be instantly suspicious if anyone tries to tell you that you’re guaranteed financial assistance.

The “free seminar” scam

You may come across opportunities for “free” seminars providing scholarship information. They will proclaim that “you can’t get this information anywhere else” and will only provide it to you after you’ve paid a fee. There are two big problems with this situation. For one, you can always get the information somewhere else. The internet is a great resource for finding information about scholarships, and it can connect you with specific people who can answer your questions. Also, don’t underestimate the knowledge of your school counselor. They are there to help you and may have scholarship information you will find useful.

The second problem with this situation goes back to the first point illustrated here: you should not have to pay to get the information, when there are plenty of free resources out there.

Related: 5 Common Tricks Fraudsters Are Using to Target Students

“We’ll do the work for you”

Few people enjoy filling out scholarship applications and writing essays for them, but it’s a necessary evil. If anyone—an organization, consultant, individual, or other—offers to do the work for you, stay away. Nothing worthwhile in life comes without a little elbow grease on your part.

You’ve been selected as a finalist for a contest you never entered

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ignore any messages such as this. Always do your own scholarship search and complete your own applications.

Related: Scholarships 101: Getting Free Money for College

What to do if you suspect scholarship fraud

If you come across a scholarship you believe to be a scam, or you’re a victim of scholarship fraud, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FDC) or go to 

Want more content on the scholarship search? Find it in our Scholarships, Grants, and Loans section!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

College Matches