By tamara Looking for scholarships has never been easier. Gone are the days of sifting through huge scholarship books and directories, trying to determine which scholarships are perfect for you. You can now access free online scholarship search services to help you quickly find scholarship programs and easily apply for them. Even with the help of these free tools, you may still spend many hours preparing scholarship applications and writing essays. And it can be annoying to spend valuable time submitting an application, only to find out the scholarship program is a scam. So, how can you tell if a scholarship program is legitimate? Follow these simple steps to ensure you don’t waste your time and energy applying to bogus scholarship contests. 1. Get to Know the Provider Scholarship programs will typically list the provider of the award. This information should include the name of the organization, mailing address, phone, and email. If you have any questions about the scholarship criteria or application process, there should also be a preferred contact method available. Providers may take several days to respond to your inquiry, but if you make several attempts and receive no reply, this may be an indication that the scholarship is not legitimate. It’s also a good idea to research the company on the Better Business Bureau website to see if there have been any complaints about the company or its programs. 2. Show Me The Money If a scholarship provider does not list a specific award amount, it’s a good idea to contact them to see what funding is available. Vague language, such as ‘several awards may be available’ is not always an indication that something may be suspicious, but a legitimate program should have an estimate of the number of awards available during the current scholarship season, as well as the maximum award amount available. If a provider refuses to release this information, or skirts the subject when asked directly, you may want to consider looking elsewhere for funding. 3. Past Winners Before submitting your scholarship application, check to see how long the program has been offering awards. If the program has existed two years or more, there should be a list of past winners available. Many providers now showcase this information on their websites, but you may have to request a written copy from others. If a provider is unwilling to share this information, it may be a red flag. 4. Free Money When researching scholarships, you may find some programs that require an application fee. In general, a legitimate scholarship program will usually not charge a fee for a student to apply. However, there are some performing arts competions and writing contests that may charge a small fee (usually $25 or less per entry) to cover the costs of reviewing submitted items. Whenever a fee is associated with a program, ask the provider to explain the reasoning for the fee. If it doesn’t sound reasonable or they get defensive, don’t waste your time. Another thing to be wary of when applying for scholarships is giving out your social security number. Unless you are applying for an institutional award or government program (state or federal), there should be no reason to give this information during the application process. Once you have been notified that you have won an award, however, you may be required to provide a photo, your social security number (for tax purposes), and proof of enrollment prior to receiving the money. Just remember, when searching for legitimate scholarship programs, the old adage ‘if it’s too good to be true’ definitely applies. Save yourself both time and frustration by using a reputable scholarship resource, such as ScholarshipExperts.com.