Follow these tips to avoid scholarship scams

Once you've used a college search engine to find the college for you, the next step of the process is applying for financial aid. Although attending college can be expensive, there are many financial assistance programs available to help you, including merit-based programs like scholarships.

However, there are a few unscrupulous sharks out there just waiting for the chance to separate you from your money by offering phony scholarship programs. But don't worry. There are many tell-tale signs that the scholarship program you've been contacted about by email or seen online are frauds.

One of the easiest ways to spot a fake scholarship scam is if they're offering to do all the work for you. Filling out scholarship application information is one way that fraudulent con artists will try to tempt you into buying into their scam. However, any school offering legitimate scholarships will definitely want to hear directly from you to assess your application. No school will accept third-party applications, so if someone offers to complete all the paperwork for you, leave them alone. Filling out scholarship applications can be easy, but not that easy.

Another good indication that a scholarship program is suspect is when they claim to have exclusive information. Many of the top scholarships rely on federal funding and want to attract the best possible candidates, so why would they keep any information a secret? Any organization claiming to have information that nobody else does is almost certainly bogus.

Many scam artists claim that applicants to their scholarship program will be guaranteed acceptance. As tempting as this may be, no college or university can guarantee that a candidate will be granted a scholarship. Another good indication that a scholarship program is bending the truth is by asking for a filing or application fee, and offering money-back guarantees. If you took the time to read through the pages of fine print, you'd be confronted with an almost-endless list of virtually impossible criteria you'd have to fulfill to get your "application fee" back. No reputable scholarship program will ask you for money in the first place, so stay away.

One of the most obvious tip-offs to a bogus scholarship program is receiving letters or emails telling you that you've been pre-approved or selected for the funding. Again, since scholarships are usually awarded to the best candidates, any service or company claiming that you've been selected to receive scholarship money before you even filled out an application is probably not telling the truth.

Don't let these tricksters put you off, though – there are many reputable scholarships that can help you pay for the cost of earning your degree. Be careful, and do your research before applying for any financial aid. 

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