After reading Jill’s article from last week, one of my former students (now a College Freshman) sent me a very official looking flyer from the ‘Student Financial Resouce Center’.  It had been circulated on her campus with this claim:  For $65.00 and some sensitive information about you (like your social # and financial information), they will search for financial aid programs for college students.’

For the record, they won’t really.  In return for your $65.00 you’ll get a ‘guidebook’  (term I’m using lightly) maybe, with a few websites like Fastweb.com (the legitimate, and VERY free independent scholarship site that Jill mentioned), and the College Board or FAFSA.gov, all of which provide financial aid information for free.

I understand the desperation that many students and parents may feel as they scramble to meet the May 1 deposit deadlines.  And unfortunately in their quest to leave no stone unturned, some may fall prey to scholarship scams like this one.

In fact, as early as the Fall of 10th grade, but especially now, when it gets ‘down to the wire,’ 12th graders will begin receiving legitimate-looking notices with ‘Federal stamps’ and even phone calls from official-sounding’ companies claiming that they have access to ‘unclaimed scholarships‘ or ‘confirming your child’s eligibility for an award.’  NEVER respond to or give out personal information to these companies and NEVER pay for this type of information, no matter how tempting. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that parents lose more than $100 million to scholarship scams every year.

To avoid becoming a victim:

1. Steer clear of any companies that claim that your child is a ‘finalist’ for some likely fictitiousscholarship and require an advance fee to either confirm your eligibility or hold his/her place.  Same for any company who charges you to do an ‘independent or private’ scholarship search (like the one I mentioned above).

2. Never provide information about your bank account, social security number etc. in response to an unsolicited  (or any) sholarship offer. Your student will only be offered something that s/he has sought and applied for — and it should NEVER cost you a dime to apply for an independent scholarship.

3. Watch out for any company that ‘guarantees’ (for a fee) that they can get your child a scholarship.  Any claim or guarantee I have ever seen or reviewed came with impossible conditions and have turned out to be a scam.

4. Don’t respond to financial aid ‘offers’ from National Foundations that you’ve never heard of or from companies that require a ‘processing fee’ for you to receive your award.

Bottom line is that while there are many legitimate ‘private’ scholarships available, they represent a scant 2% of  the total scholarship pool available… and they should never cost you anything to find, apply for and receive. Though it’s late in the game and frankly, a long-shot, if your child is in 12th grade and your family is still searching for ways to pay the college bill, here are some tips to help maximize your chances of finding legitimate, independent scholarships that won’t cost you anything:

1. Use a FREE, reputable scholarship search aggregator like  Fastweb, or borrow a scholarship book that is less than one year old.

2. Check with your, your spouse’s and even your parents’ employers.  Many have scholarships that nobody knows about because they’ve never asked and never been aggressively marketed.

3.. Apply wisely.  Cast a narrow net.  You may have a better shot at applying for less cometitive localscholarships than more widely publicized national programs.

Most middle class families will find the best discounts by choosing the right colleges and asking properly.  Private, non-institutional, scholarship money like the kind discussed in this email should be a last resort.  As Jill mentioned last week, these types of scholarships tend to be awarded in small increments, are very competitive (only 6.9% of students who apply will receive anything at all) and can be used to offset any other monies offered (by the college, for example).  Frankly a better option for most families is to consider the funding process earlier so they can avoid relying upon independentscholarships.

So, what do I mean when I say you should begin the college planning and funding process earlier?  At the latest in 10th or 11th grade, or at the very latest, at the same time that students are beginning their admissions preparation, so that affordability is a component of their admissions and application strategy.  If you’re the parent of a high school student with questions about where the legitimate college money is, you should come to one of my free classes.   I’m holding one on Thursday, April 24 and another in May. These classes are free, pitch-free, and full of valuable information about college admissions and funding.  You can click here to reserve a seat.

Best,
Peter

P.S. One final note:  if you believe you are the victim of a scholarship scam, notify the FTC immediately.  They will put you in touch with their education fraud division to assist you.

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