Imagine one day you open your mailbox and find a letter from a very official-sounding organization offering a personalized analysis of your financial aid opportunities along with expert recommendations of scholarships that will be perfect for you—all for the low cost of a few hundred dollars. You may think that is not much, considering that the cost of your education could run into six digits. That's exactly what these companies want you to think. The truth is that the information they provide is free public information (like descriptions of various loan programs) and none of it is truly personalized—unless you call typing your name on top of a photocopy "personalized".
The key to avoiding any scholarship scam is to understand the motivation of the people behind them. Those who operate financial aid rip-offs know that paying for college is something that makes you extremely nervous. They also know that most people don't have extensive experience when it comes to scholarships and may therefore believe that there are such things as "hidden" or "unclaimed" scholarships. These charlatans take advantage of your fears by offering an easy answer with a price tag that seems small compared to the promised benefits.
To avoid falling prey to one of these scams, follow the steps in this guide. When it comes to paying for college, you can't afford to lose money to a scam artist.
Would you pay for something that is free? Most people would say "absolutely not!" Yet each year, thousands of people pay to have someone complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a total waste of time! The whole point of the FAFSA is that it is a free application. Once a family has completed their tax forms for the year, it's a simple matter of copying the numbers from the various lines on the 1040 to the FAFSA. But what about the "personal guidance" some services promise? You can get that free too! Call any college financial aid office and you can speak to a counselor who will answer your questions and even walk you through the FAFSA. Plus, most high schools offer financial aid nights (often in January or February) where you can speak to experts from a college and have all your questions answered. So don't pay for something that by its very name is free!
Here's the pitch: "Pay us $$$ and we will create a personalized financial aid plan for your child. We have a library of hundreds of resources that we will use to create an individualized financial aid plan for you."
What they don't tell you is that the resources they use can easily be found for free on the Internet or in your library. In fact, the "resources" provided may even include materials copied from websites like this one—which are free. Save yourself hundreds of dollars and find the scholarships yourself. Plus, you'll be more thorough in searching scholarship opportunities and you will find awards that you can actually win.
The pitch: "Pay us $$$ and we will research and identify the 20 scholarships that fit you best. Why spend weeks researching scholarships when our specialized researchers can do it for you? We have scholarship sources that no one else does. Plus, you are guaranteed to win at least one."
What you get: You will receive a list of 20 scholarships you could have found on your own for free. Plus, any scholarship that is a "guaranteed" win is a scam as we'll explain later.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The goal of The Ultimate Scholarship Book is simple: To help you find free money. Inside you'll find the most up-to-date and comprehensive listing of more than 1.5 million awards. An easy-to-use index makes finding the right scholarships ridiculously quick. And it wouldn't be the Ultimate book without a section of little known insider tips and strategies that show you how to actually win the scholarships you find!
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
Need money for college? Stressed over how to pay the next tuition bill? Searching for a way to get a degree without going broke? Whether you need a full-tuition scholarship or a little extra cash to make ends meet, 1001 Ways to Pay for College provides students and parents with the answers.