It seems every day a new scholarship opportunity pops up on the Internet or makes the rounds on social media. Although many of these programs are legitimate, there are some that merely use the lure of free college money to collect information and sell it to others. These programs typically offer students the chance to win money for doing very little or no work at all. Unfortunately, these types of ‘lead generator’ programs are very attractive to students who are tired of writing essays or filling out long application forms. I know that it can be frustrating, but most people won't give away thousands of dollars without knowing if the applicants will be willing to put in a little effort. Scholarship providers use essays, personal statements and application questions to find students who are likely to put the provider’s money to good use. If students are too lazy to write a 250 word essay, or complete a 2-page application, chances are they may become slackers in college, too. Besides the no work equals big reward ploy, here are some other red flags students should be aware of when researching scholarships.
1. No Provider Contact
Students should always check to see if the scholarship website or paper application lists the provider’s contact information. There should be a physical address, email and phone number available, just in case students have questions about the program or required documentation. If the email bounces or students cannot reach an actual person by telephone, the program may be a scam.
2. Application Fees
In most cases, free money should be free to receive. Some literary competitions may require a small fee, but these programs usually involve large manuscripts and the fees are used to pay for experts in the field to review and select winners. Whenever a provider requires a fee, students should ask what the fee covers. If the provider cannot give a reasonable explanation for the expense, students should refrain from applying to the scholarship. Another red flag is any provider that requires a credit card to process the application.
3. Wonky Website
Most scholarship programs are hosted on the provider’s website or through a scholarship management system. Students should be wary of any program that includes outdated information or resides on a website that has multiple typos. Websites that direct students to various broken links or are overrun with advertisements are another indication that the scholarship may be bogus. Legitimate programs will include current information on eligibility, rules, deadline dates and have a link to the application (online or paper). Students should not have to hunt for the information or jump through hoops to apply.
4. No Past Winners
If a scholarship has been offered for more than one year, the provider should include information on past recipients, or have an address (or email) listed where students can inquire about previous winners. Legitimate providers are always happy to share this information and promote past winners. Students should also inquire about the selection process, such as how winners will be chosen and when they will be notified. If a provider is unwilling to give this information, students should refrain from applying.
5. Guaranteed Scholarship
Any scholarship or college counseling service that guarantees students will win an award is not legitimate. The only ‘guaranteed’ scholarships available are offered when colleges give awards to students who meet specific criteria. These types of scholarships are typically merit-based (grades / test scores) or need-based (income), and are offered by very few schools.
I know most students have busy schedules and find it hard to spend time searching and applying for scholarships. They may even be tempted to pay someone to do the work for them, but this should be avoided. Most paid scholarship coaches simply scour the same books and free online resources that are available to everyone. They may also advertise that they know the secret to winning or have lists of secret scholarships that are not published, but these promises are simply false. Scholarships take time and effort, and those students who are willing to do the work themselves typically have the best results.
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