November is National Scholarship Month, a time when various financial aid groups make a focused effort to inform upcoming college students and adult returning learners about their options for college financial aid. Whether in the form of grants or loans, financial aid is a murky area to some students, especially with the growing number of scams that have cropped up to bilk those in need out of their money.

One of the helpful tools to crop up in the digital age has been online scholarship search services. These services ask you to submit a profile about yourself, including where you’d like to go to school, your intended major, and even pertinent information about your family, and then use that data to help cross-reference the various scholarship opportunity databases in order to provide a list of the eligible scholarships that match your profile. By using information that might seem to be unrelated—such as asking if you have grandparents who immigrated from Italy, or a parent who served in the Knights of Columbus at your church—these services can even highlight obscure, smaller dollar amount scholarships that the user may otherwise never have known to apply for.

The problem is in the fees. Legitimate search services will never ask for a fee, since their sites are monetized on their advertising space. Any company that claims it has an administration fee, requests a credit card number, or even worse, asks for a bank account number is not to be trusted.

Another major red flag for scholarship scams is the word “guaranteed.” Any announcement for guaranteed financial aid should make the student suspicious; after all, the competition for trusted aid is just as fierce (if not more so) as the process of getting accepted into your top choice of colleges in the first place. You are one of many applicants who are all working towards the same goal, so any entity that makes promises of awards should make you wary.

The wording is important, too. Trusted scholarship sources rarely refer to their awards as “prizes” or “prize money,” yet a lot of sub-par advertisements use just those terms. A scholarship is a way to reward your hard work as an academically focused individual, and a way for an organization to help ensure that worthy students are not barred from higher education over something like their financial status. Think of a benevolent committee deciding to help a dedicated student afford college… the last thing they would call their generous, vital gift is “prize money.”

Finally, keep in mind that the process of looking for and applying for financial aid is not easy; it’s not impossible, but it definitely involves a lot of work on your part. Any company that promises you just have to submit some information on their website and let them do the rest of the leg work has an ulterior motive for wanting your personal data. The application process for scholarships and grants is somewhat arduous, but will be worth it in the end.

 

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