The Ultimate Guide to Avoiding Popular Scholarship Scams

It’s good to be active in your scholarship search as you get ready for your next big step after high school graduation. College can get pricey quickly, so financial aid can immensely help many families and students afford higher education. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in the process of applying for scholarships, you can be in a vulnerable situation. Scammers are aware that college-bound students and their parents are searching for scholarships, and often try to take advantage of well-intended students simply looking for ways to pay for college.

Avoid falling into the pothole by being aware of the recognizable scam traits. The ability to spot scholarship scams will help you save time, hassle, and money in the long-run.

Lack of Professional Appearance

If it looks shady, it most likely is. Trust your instincts. A website with a ton of spelling errors, suspicious return addresses, no telephone numbers, verbally abusive representatives, and notifications via phone rather than in writing are all red flags. The legitimate businesses giving away money will put in more effort to gain your trust and at the very least, show a professional appearance.

Unsolicited Offers

Keep an eye out on offers that sound too good to be true. The competition is quite fierce for scholarships with millions of students trying for the same pool of college scholarships and grant money. That being said, scholarship providers don’t really need to offer these scholarships; instead, college-bound students go to them and find them. If you’re getting unsolicited emails, phone calls, or even letters in the mail asking you to apply to a scholarship that sounds incredible, it may likely be a scam. These companies may even go as far as saying that you’ve won a college scholarship prize worth thousands of dollars, but ask that you pay a “redemption fee” to collect it. Be suspicious!

If you are ever unsure about the legitimacy of a scholarship, you can always ask your high school guidance counselor or a financial aid advisor for insight. These people have been trained in spotting the common scholarship scams and should be able to help you pinpoint which ones are safe to apply to, and which ones to stay away from.

Advance Payments

Remember that the whole point of getting scholarships is to get free money to afford college – not you having to pay money. Yet, many so-called college scholarships will ask students and their families to pay an up-front fee to gain access. Some fees include application fees, advance-fee loans, and other award-related fees.

Since scholarship providers have the goal of giving you money, they do not need to ask you for application fees. These expenses are accounted for ahead of time before the money is even awarded. That being said, “application fees” are a way for fake scholarship companies to deceive thousands of college-bound students each year.

If you are applying for a loan, it’s normal to have to pay them back after a certain time. Many college loans offer attractive and affordable interest rates. However, if the rates sound too good to be true, it most likely is. Scam lenders may require you to pay a small fee before you get the loans. Stay away from such companies because you may not ever get the loan money after they get a hold of your up-front fee. Legitimate education loan providers will deduct their fees from the loan allotment amount, rather than asking you to pay something up-front.

The bottom line? You should never be asked for money to learn more about an award, apply for it, or receive it. Focus on finding scholarships that allow you to raise money for college, not spend it all before you even begin your higher education.

“We Apply For You” Scholarships

These days, people are searching for convenience in any way they can, and some fake scholarship companies are capitalizing on it. They are aware that students get tired of having to fill out applications over and over. So, newer scholarship scams are popping up and promising to do all the work. Of course, as you may have guessed, this service is not free, which may make their fee seem reasonable. However, it’s not.

The reality is, if you want to get scholarships for college, you’ll have to put in the work and time to find them and apply for them. Handing this responsibility over to a stranger may seem like a smart idea especially when you have a ton of other things to juggle during college application season. But if you are struggling, you may want to reconsider your readiness for college.

Guaranteed Scholarship Search Service

Any company promising that it will get you a scholarship or refund your money is not worth pursuing. Scammers may simply pocket your money and you’ll never hear back from them ever again. At best, they might send you a list of recommended scholarships, but won’t follow through with actually landing you one. After they’ve taken your up-front fee, it may be difficult to get a refund.

Again, regardless of how busy you may be, it’s best to set aside time to search for and apply for your own scholarships. Fill out the applications yourself, write your own essays, and get your own recommendation letters. Don’t trust or pay someone else to do it for you, or it might backfire on you later.


When raising money for college, you want to feel comfortable and trust your scholarship, grant, and loan providers. More importantly, you must trust your instincts, and don’t hesitate to walk away from something that seems fishy. Again, if you need help finding the right scholarships or evaluation on whether something is legitimate or not, it’s best to ask a school counselor or a financial aid advisor for advice.