Top 5 Scholarship Scam Warning Signs to Look Out For

Don't shy away from applying for legitimate scholarships because you're worried about being scammed. Here are the top warning signs for fake scholarships.

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 students to become desperate. In your scholarship search, you may come across awards that seem too good to be true. But do not, under any circumstances, let the desperation get the better of you. There are plenty of legitimate ways for you to fund your education; you just need to do your research and brush up on your awareness of scholarship scams. The following are five tell-tale signs a prospective scholarship is less than reputable.

1. 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—it is most definitely some kind of scam. That's because you should never have to give money to get money for scholarships—never!

2. The scholarship is "guaranteed"

There are no guarantees in life except death and taxes—the realm of scholarships is not an exception to this rule. Be instantly suspicious if anyone tries to tell you that you’re guaranteed financial assistance if you pay them for their services (see above—you shouldn't have to pay anything to receive any scholarship!).

Related: 5 Common Tricks Fraudsters Are Using to Target Students

3. The “free seminar” scam

You may come across opportunities for “free” seminars providing scholarship information. They'll proclaim “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:

  1. You can always get the information somewhere else; the internet is a great resource for finding information about scholarships (as well as free search tools), 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 probably have scholarship information you'll find useful, especially about local opportunities. 
  2. It all goes back to the first point illustrated here: You should never have to pay to get the information when there are plenty of free resources out there.

4. “We’ll do the work for you”

Few people enjoy filling out applications and writing scholarship essays, 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!

5. 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. You can keep track of all the awards you apply for with a scholarship search spreadsheet.

Related: Scholarships 101: Getting Free Money for College

So what should you 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 The good news is your scholarship search is in your hands: You control what you search and apply for, and now that you know what to avoid, you can focus on legitimate scholarships that will pay you—not the other way around. Good luck!

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

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