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How to Avoid Scholarship Scams

By Will Geiger

Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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Updated: February 7th, 2024
How to Avoid Scholarship Scams

As you find and apply for scholarships and learn more about financial aid, you may come across some unsavory websites and scholarships that are scams. If you aren’t careful, these “too good to be true” scholarship opportunities will cheat you out of money and time. 

According to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), students who come across a possible scholarship scam should report them to the FTC or to their state Attorney General’s office. 

Scholarship scams may look “official” and attempt to imitate the government or legitimate organizations. Other scholarship scams may offer to help students get money through the FAFSA or other legit financial aid applications.

However, there are some telltale signs that can help you avoid these scholarship scams.

Here are the biggest red flags that you should be aware of:

  • Application fees
  • Paying for “special” access
  • Applications that ask for personal financial information
  • “Guaranteed” scholarships

Keep on reading to learn more about these warning signs so you can tell whether a scholarship is legit or not!

Application fees

If a scholarship application requires you to send in an “application fee” or a “processing fee”, this is a major red flag. Legitimate scholarships will never ask you to send in any money! Scholarships that require an application fee will rake in tons of money and then only give a small percentage back in the form of a “scholarship.”

Related: Overview of common scholarship essay prompts

Paying for “special” access

If you come across a scholarship website that claims that they have “special” or “preferred” access, this should be a warning sign. Individuals claiming to have special access to scholarships are very likely misleading you. 

Applications that ask you for personal financial information

Similar to application fees, you should be wary of any application that asks you for any personal financial information. Any credible scholarship is not going to ask for banking or credit card information. 

Note that some legitimate scholarships may ask for information about the FAFSA. Students can ask a teacher, counselor, college access professional if they are ever unsure if a scholarship is legit or not.

Also see: Easy scholarships to apply for

“Guaranteed” scholarships

The last big red flag is any scholarship that “guarantees” you a specific outcome. Yes, some colleges will “guarantee” scholarships if you meet certain requirements for GPA and test scores, but outside scholarships that guarantee anything should be met with skepticism.

What should you do if you come across a scholarship scam?

So what happens if you do come across one of the above scholarship scams? What should you do?

First of all, you should not apply for the scholarship. If you are filling out an application and see an application fee, stop what you are doing. Don’t complete any more of the application.

You can also report potential scholarship scams to prevent other students from getting scams.

What should you do if you have applied to a sketchy scholarship?

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve already applied to a scholarship that raises red flags, all is not lost. The FTC has some useful advice for students who may be victims of a scholarship scam. We highly recommend that you refer to the FTC webpage for next steps on how you can deal with scams. 

Tips for avoiding scholarship scams

  • Research any scholarship thoroughly
  • Use reputable sources to find scholarships
  • Be cautious with unsolicited scholarship offers that arrive via email, phone or social media
  • If there are any application fees they are likely a scam
  • Beware of any scholarships that guarantee anything
  • Avoid sharing unnecessary personal information
  • Check for any typos or errors in the scholarship posting or application
  • Read the fine print
  • Seek advice from your schools financial aid office or a trusted advisor
  • Report any suspicious activity
  • Trust your gut

Bottom Line

Scholarship scams are real things that you may encounter when searching for scholarships. It is wise to be aware of the common tactics that these scammers use. In general, if something doesn’t feel right about a scholarship or if it seems “too good to be true,” you should trust your gut and do some further research. 

Next steps

One of the best ways to avoid scholarship scams is to conduct your scholarship search through vetted scholarship lists.  Scholarships360 allows you to search our database of opportunities that are tailored to your situation. All of our lists are compiled by our staff of current and recent college students, and people with extensive experience in higher education. Best of luck!

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Frequently asked questions about how to avoid scholarship scams

Is it safe to share personal information when applying for scholarships?

Be  cautious when sharing personal information. Legitimate scholarships may require some personal data, but they should not ask for sensitive information like your social security number or bank account details.

How can I protect myself from scholarship scams?

Stay informed, research scholarships thoroughly, be cautious sharing personal information, never pay upfront fees, and trust your gut! If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Can I trust scholarships offered by social media platforms?

Scholarships advertised on social media or through online ads can be legitimate, but they also can be used by scammers. Always research the sponsoring organization and verify the scholarship’s authenticity before applying.

Where can I find reliable information about scholarships and financial aid?

Trustworthy sources for scholarship and financial aid information include your school’s financial aid office, government websites like FAFSA and reputable scholarship databases such as Scholarships360!

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