Financial Aid, Tuition

How to Spot a Scholarship Scam

Whether you’re just beginning your scholarship search – or you’re knee-deep in applying – you need to be aware that there are scams out there waiting to take advantage of students. Reduce your risk of falling into a trap by knowing what to look for.



You’ve found the perfect scholarship, but when you read the fine print, you realize you’ll have to pay $50 (or any amount) to apply. Legitimate scholarships do not require an application fee, a processing fee, a loan fee, or any other type of fee. Never pay a fee to apply for a scholarship.

Promises, promises

If you’ve done any research, you’ve likely come across companies that promise students they’ll find them scholarship money. Guaranteed. But, there’s no guarantee when it comes to scholarships, so any company making such a promise is probably one you don’t want to deal with.

You’re a winner! You’ve won a free scholarship!

We’ve all received those envelopes announcing that we’ve just won a million dollars or telling us to call an 800-number to claim our free cruise. Unfortunately, you might receive a letter or an email claiming you’ve won scholarship money. Check that you applied for the scholarship first. If you haven’t, you should be very wary. How could you have won if you never applied?

Open eligibility

Be wary of those scholarships that allow anyone to apply. Most scholarships have some type of eligibility requirements: whether it’s a particular grade point average or a specified major.

Can we just get your bank, credit card and social security numbers?

Never give out your bank account, credit card or social security numbers to any scholarship sponsor. Period. In this age of identity theft, you can never be too careful with your personal information.

“We’re a new company,” but…

Any new company offering a scholarship should be vetted. Do your best to research the company to make sure they’re legitimate. Try to find out as much as you can about the company and, ideally, speak to references to determine if the company is, indeed, legitimate. Similarly, if a company has a name with “National” or “Federal” — something that seemingly links it to a legitimate organization — be sure to double check that’s actually the case, and that it’s more than just a name.

Become a BBB regular

If your financial aid advisor hasn’t heard of a scholarship’s sponsoring organization, contact the Better Business Bureau to see if they have. You can reach the BBB on the web at


Remember that old cliché: If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is? Same goes for scholarships. Trust your instincts.

Now that you know what to look for, you can better protect yourself from scams. The good news is that even though there are scams, there are still hundreds of legitimate scholarship sponsors offering money for deserving students like you.

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The Author

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.