How to Spot a Scholarship Scam

By Danni White on December 13, 2017

Scholarships are an amazing opportunity for students to help pay for their college education or to pay for their entire academic journey. However, as with anything good in life, there are people who will attempt to take advantage of such opportunities and ruin the trust students naturally have in the scholarship application process. With so many scholarships available to choose from, it is important to be able to differentiate the good from the not-so-good so you can spend time on what is most important.

via Pixabay

When you embark on your scholarship search, it is a good idea to have a parent, mentor, or even older sibling help you pick out the best and most legitimate ones for your degree program. In many scenarios, there will be red flags that pop up such as scholarships that come across as guarantees or scholarships that require you to enter a credit card or bank account number. Such triggers should urge you to investigate the scholarship a little more to avoid being trapped by the deception.

So, how can you tell a legitimate scholarship from a fake one? Here are some clues to help you avoid dealing with a scholarship scam:

Guaranteed Money
Most scholarships are built on an honest, competitive application process. If you run across a scholarship website that guarantees you will win the money or sells you on it with a statement like, “You’ve already won,” even though you have never applied for anything, it is most likely a scam. warns, “You always have to apply for scholarships in order to receive them. If you receive an e-mail that says you have won a scholarship from an organization that you have never heard of, let alone applied to, ignore it. Such e-mails could easily be an internet phishing scam or some other type of ruse.”

Anything that is worthwhile requires at least some effort. There is no such thing as free money. If an organization promises free money, there are likely conditions and strings attached which you are better off avoiding.

Give Me Your Money
A legitimate scholarship program or opportunity does not need your credit card number or bank account information in order for you to apply and they will not ask for such information. Never provide this information to anyone that you do not know if they claim to be behind a scholarship.

You’re a college student or about to become a college student. It doesn’t make sense to give up your money in order to gain money in these instances. Typically, when such information is being asked for, a bad person or bad organization is behind it ready to make illegal and unauthorized charges or withdrawals from your account.

This also goes for personally identifying information such as your social security number. A few legitimate scholarships request this information for verification purposes, but most do not. If you run across one that does, be sure to deeply investigate the organization before handing it over.

No Contact
A great way to research a scholarship is by contacting the institution, organization, or person behind it directly. Legitimate scholarships will willingly provide you the name of the scholarship, the name of whoever is behind it, address, email address, and phone number on the website or application sheet in case you have questions. Additionally, some will provide statements from other students who have received the scholarship money as “endorsements.”

If you cannot find such information, it may be best to skip over such a scholarship. Further, if you do attempt to contact the organization and the number is invalid, the email is returned, no reply is sent to you, or you consistently get a voicemail even during business hours, your best bet is to think of that as a green light to find another scholarship.

We Do the Work
For most of us, we cannot make it in life if someone simply does all the work for us. This is no truer than in scholarships. It takes a lot of work to find and apply for scholarships and a lot of patience to wait for responses and keep up with the grueling process. The offer to have someone do the work for you to get a scholarship might sound enticing, especially when you might be swamped with school assignments during finals week, but don’t give in to the temptation. If you want a chance at getting a scholarship, you must do the hard work of applying for them yourself.

Stay away from scholarships that sound legitimate until they get down to the “processing fee required” part. Real scholarships do not want you to pay a processing fee or any other type of fee, even if it is just a few dollars. Real scholarship information services and individual scholarship applications give out money to qualified applications; they do not take money away and pass it off as needed to defray costs.

Just because a scholarship may sound legitimate, does not mean that it is. Remember, if it is too good to be true, it is unlikely that it is good or true. Save your time and energy for finding the best scholarships for your degree program and avoid the rest.

Danni White is a developmental psychology graduate student at Liberty University. She works in the digital publishing, media, and technology industries. After this degree, she will go on to work on a PhD in social psychology in which she hopes to do research on perception and social cognition’s impact on human behavior. She hopes to apply this research in corporate HR departments and community-based organizations. In her otherwise limited spare time, she blogs, writes and reads. She loves coffee, sports, music, cooking, meeting new people, and binge watching Netflix.

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