Why should students begin researching Scholarships as early as the 9th grade?
A student can’t apply for most scholarships until the 11th or 12th grade, but it’s best to begin researching scholarships early. This allows a student to be informed about what scholarships are available, the application deadlines and the scholarship criteria.
Beware of Scholarship Scams
Unfortunately for prospective scholarship seekers, the private aid sector exists virtually without patterns or rules. Regrettably, the combination of the urgency to locate money, the student’s limited time, and a complex and bewildering system has created opportunities for fraud. Although most scholarship sponsors and most scholarship search services are legitimate, schemes that pose as either legitimate scholarship search services or scholarship sponsors have cheated thousands of families.
These fraudulent businesses advertise in campus newspapers, distribute flyers, mail letters and postcards, provide toll-free phone numbers, and even have sites on the Web. The most obvious frauds operate as scholarship search services or scholarship clearinghouses. Another quieter segment sets up as a scholarship sponsor, pockets the money from the fees and charges that are paid by thousands of hopeful scholarship seekers, and returns little, if anything, in proportion to the amount it collects. A few of these frauds inflict great harm by gaining access to individuals’ credit or checking accounts with the intent to extort funds.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in Washington, D.C., has a campaign called Project $cholar$cam to confront this type of fraudulent activity. There are legitimate services. However, a scholarship search service cannot truthfully guarantee that a student will receive a scholarship, and students almost always will fare as well or better by doing their own homework using a reliable scholarship information source, such as Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants & Prizes, than by wasting money and time with a search service that promises a scholarship.
The FTC warns you to be alert for these six warning signs of scam:
1. “This scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.” No service can guarantee that it will get you a grant or scholarship. Refund guarantees often have impossible conditions attached. Review a service’s refund policies in writing before you pay a fee.
2. “The scholarship service will do all the work.” Unfortunately, nobody else can fill out the personal information forms, write the essays, and supply the references that many scholarships may require.
3. “The scholarship will cost some money.” Be wary of any charges related to scholarship information services or individual scholarship applications, especially in significant amounts. Before you send money to apply for a scholarship, investigate the sponsor.
4. “You can’t get this information anywhere else.” In addition to Petersons’s, scholarship directories from other publishers are available in any large bookstore, public library, or high school guidance office.
5. “You are a finalist” or “You have been selected by the national foundation to receive a scholarship.” Most legitimate scholarship programs almost never seek out particular applicants. Most scholarship sponsors will contact you only in response to an inquiry because they generally lack the budget to do anything more than this. Should you think that there is any real possibility that you may have been selected to receive a scholarship, before you send any money, investigate first to be sure that the sponsor or program is legitimate.
6. “The scholarship service needs your credit card or checking account number in advance.” Never provide your credit card or bank account number on the telephone to the representative of an organization that you do not know. Get information in writing first. An unscrupulous operation does not need your signature on a check. It will scheme to set up situations that will allow it to drain a victim’s account with unauthorized withdrawals.
In addition to the FTC’s six signs, here are some other points to keep in mind when considering a scholarship program:
• Fraudulent scholarship operations often use official-sounding names, containing word such as federal, national, administration, division, federation, and foundation. Their names are often a slight variant of the name of a legitimate government or private organization. Do not be fooled by a name that seems reputable or official, an official-looking seal, or a Washington, D.C., address.
• If you win a scholarship, you will receive written official notification by mail, not by telephone. If the sponsor calls to inform you , it will follow up with a letter in the mail. If a request for money is made by phone, the operation is probably fraudulent.
• Be wary if an organization’s address is a box number or a residential address. If a bona fide scholarship program uses a post office box number, it usually will include a street address and telephone number on its stationary.
• Beware of telephone numbers with a 900-area code. These may charge you a fee of several dollars a minute for a call that could be a long recording that provides only a list of addresses or names.
• Watch for scholarships that ask you to “act now.” A dishonest operation may put pressure on an applicant by saying that awards are on a “first-come, first-serve” basis. Some scholarship programs will give preference to the earlier qualified applications, however, if you are told, especially on the telephone, that you must respond quickly but that you will not hear about the results for several months, there may be a problem.
• Be wary of endorsements. Fraudulent operations will claim endorsements by groups with names similar to well known private or government organizations. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and government agencies do not endorse businesses.
• Don’t pay money for a scholarship to an organization that you’ve never heard of before or whose legitimacy you can’t verify. If you have already paid money to such an organization and find reason to doubt its authenticity, call your bank to stop payment on your check, if possible, or call your credit card company and tell it that you think you were the victim of consumer fraud.
To find out how to recognize, report, and stop a scholarship scam, you may write to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Response Center at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NS, Washington, D.C. 20580. On the Web, go to www.ftc.gov, or call 877-FTC-HELP (toll free). You can also check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which is an organization that maintains files of businesses about which it has received complaints. You should call both your local BBB office and the BBB office in the area of the organization in question; each local BBB has different records. Call 703-276-0100 to get the telephone number of your local BBB, or look at www.bbb.org for a directory of local BBBs and downloadable BBB complaint forms.