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Warning Signs of and Protecting Yourself From Scholarship Scams

Getting a scholarship should be a joyous occasion. You’ve worked hard, you’ve taken your time on your application, and submitted it with care. You should just be able to cross your fingers and hope your best work puts you on the top of the submission pile.

… But unfortunately, the way the world works today, there is always someone out there looking to take advantage of another person’s good nature.

During your search for financial aid, you must be on the diligent look-out for scholarship scams. Many people who are the victims of scholarship scams are already on a tight budget as it is, so it’s crucial to be prepared and remain alert to the warning signs.

Fees to Apply

If you have to pay to apply for a scholarship, run away! You definitely haven’t found a legitimate scholarship. Many people fall into this trap, because it doesn’t seem so bad when a supposed scholarship requests a $2 or $3 application fee. But your odds of seeing any money in return are very slim...more commonly, you lose.

If it’s not a case of outright thievery, these programs are typically lottery-style awards, where just a few people actually recieve the “scholarship” and the rest are just out of luck. In short, they’re just not worth it.

scholarship scam warning signs

Fees to be “Matched” with Appropriate Scholarships

Another common sign of a scam a request for payment in order to be matched with scholarships that suit you. Paid matching services are just not necessary. Anyone can find out information about any scholarship with just a few clicks of the mouse. Don’t pay anyone to do this for you.


No legitimate scholarship has a guarantee. Supposed scholarship programs that are willing to make such strong promises are typically underhanded and insincere. You should never apply for a scholarship that guarantees you will win money.

Unnecessary Glitz and Glamour

If the scholarship application reads like an advertisement, don’t apply. A real scholarship will just present information to you in an upfront manner. After all, there’s no need to try and “sell” a scholarship opportunity to a student who dreams of an education.!

Offers to Apply For You

Some scams start by offering to apply to scholarships for you, in exchange for a small fee. This arrangement just does not work. It’s unrealistic, and it’s a lie. In order to be eligible for scholarships, you have to submit your own applications and write your own essays. You can’t get around this, even by paying money.

Requests For Too Much Information

Identity theft is a concern for everyone, and you have to be especially careful of scholarship scams that request too much personal information. Some scams may even solicit your bank account number on behalf of the scholarship, claiming they need it to deposit your winnings.They might also ask for your social security number to confirm your identity.

If you experience any of these problems, hang up immediately and report the company if you can.

Fake Federal

Many scams will use the word “Federal” or “Association” on their websites and other documents because it engenders a feeling of trust with potential applicants. Be careful, though. Check the URL of the website, and if something doesn’t quite seem right, verify with other federal websites that this organization or program actually exists.

Unprofessional Look

If you feel as though the scholarship application and accompanying materials were never proofread, it’s time to move on. Multiple spelling and grammatical errors show a lack of professionalism that is essential to a scholarship foundation’s success.

avoiding scholarship scams

False Endorsements

If the scholarship claims to be endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education or any other government group, do not apply. The U.S. Department of Education and other groups do not endorse private businesses.

Be sure to investigate any Better Business Bureau seals of approval as well, as it’s common for scams to claim their approval.

No Real Address

If the only address you can find for a scholarship is a P.O. Box address, make sure you feel comfortable submitting your information, and that you are not disclosing personal information. Also be wary of residential addresses as the company “headquarters.”

No Real Phone Number

If you can’t find a phone number for the scholarship sponsor, you’ve run into another definite warning sign. Don’t risk your private information for an award that might not even exist.

No Eligibility Requirements

If it appears that everyone is eligible for the scholarship, it is most likely a fake. Scholarship sponsors usually want to provide money for college students based on a specific reason, cause, or achievement criteria.

The requirements need not be prestigious, but there should be some requirements, otherwise you may be dealing with a scam.  Few legitimate scholarship programs are indiscriminately awarding students.

[Of course, we offer our own great exception to this rule, in the wonderful Abacus Scholarship - you need only be a rtegistered student to qualify. See? You already found a good scholarship option!]

Un-requested Offers

If you receive scholarship information in the mail one day when you did not request it, it is most likely a scam. You will usually only hear back from a scholarship organization if you have requested more information.

The “You Won” Phone Call

You will be notified of winning a scholarship by phone occasionally, but more typically it will happen by mail or email. Scholarship winning notifications that occur over the phone often sound much more like those “you’ve won a free cruise” offers than anything else, so listen for these kinds of messages. One good test, is think about whether or not you applied for this scholarship - for if not, why are they offering you something?

No History

Another way to tell if a scholarship is a scam is if you can’t find any documentation of previous winners or previous award amounts. Most scholarship organizations want to promote who their previous winners were, not hide that information from the public. If there is no way for you to know that any scholarship money has ever been awarded, do not apply.

The Mad Dash

If there is serious pressure to submit your application by an extremely close deadline, don’t apply. High pressure sales techniques just aren’t necessary for legitimate scholarship organizations. Also, be on the lookout for year-round awards. Most legitimate scholarship companies give out awards on a specific date during the year.

The Run Around

You should always be able to receive answers to all of your questions. If  a scholarship committee or provider is giving you anything less than that, move on.

In Summary: Approach Cautiously and Consider Many Verification Points

Scholarship scams are everywhere. However, you shouldn’t let this fact discourage you from applying for scholarships. Just follow these tips, and you should be on the road to a safe, lowered-risk scholarship search.There’s no reason to forgo the many valid scholarship opportunities simply to avoid the scholarship scams that also exist.

Remember that every scholarship offer might not be strong in one or more of these points and still be legitimate, but if numerous red flags from above are warning you to stay away, trust those instincts.