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!

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
Sadie Hartmann

Sadie Hartmann

High School Class of 2021

I'm a senior in high school, and CollegeXpress has helped me in so many ways this year in trying to navigate the process of deciding and committing to a university. The COVID-19 Student Resource Center has helped me many times with the most up-to-date and accurate information, along with financial aid and student life [advice]. During these uncertain times, CollegeXpress has been a great recourse to relieve the stress as a senior. Along with the COVID-19 Student Resource Center, I'm constantly using the extremely helpful tools off the site to aid me during this stressful process. Tools like the lists and rankings of universities have been the most beneficial. I've also used the site to receive expert advice on topics like financial aid. Finally, CollegeXpress has helped me easily apply for several scholarships. I'm thankful to be given the chance to win a scholarship to lessen the burden of my college debt.



High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has provided me with tips that were for college students, but as a high school junior, they were still very useful. Not only that, it also gave me an idea of what to expect when it comes to going to college or already being in college. I want to say thank you to CollegeXpress, and I hope you continue the wonderful tips until I hopefully get into college and throughout my college journey.

Abhishek Kumar

Abhishek Kumar

High School Class of 2022

As a high schooler, I know how hard it is to plan for college. You have to consider a lot of factors: SAT/ACT scores, college searches, scholarships, and more. CollegeXpress has been a helpful resource that solves all these problems. One can easily create a free account and search away. They help you search for scholarships and colleges, they have graduate program search, they have lists and rankings, and so much more. CX also has a lot of articles and advice to read—whether it’s financial aid, test prep, campus visits, internships/careers, or anything. Not only that, CX gives out free scholarship money to students who sign up and create a free CX account. I love CX and will continue to use it! Thank you CollegeXpress for making my college journey easier!

Tariq Adam Khatib

Tariq Adam Khatib

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me a lot. I am a Tanzania boy who finished my high school studies in Tanzania. I never knew I could get an opportunity to get a scholarship to study abroad. I am happy that now I know how to find the school to study abroad through CollegeXpress.

Kyla McClain

Kyla McClain

High School Class of 2024

I found CollegeXpress when you partnered with for a scholarship. I found your website, put my information in, and got connected. I only wanted to stay in North Carolina [for college] and not move far from home, but you all opened a door up for me. I started researching colleges you suggested for me. On your social media platforms, you also give really good test-taking tips that I used and suggested others to do the same. It helped me a lot on my exams, so thank you.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Rider University

Lawrenceville, NJ

SUNY Oneonta

Oneonta, NY

Allegheny College

Meadville, PA