12 Scholarship Scams to Avoid

There are thousands of scholarships available to help students pay for college. However, how do you know if a scholarship is legitimate? Large and well-known companies and organizations are usually safe, but what about smaller, lesser-known names? There are many smaller organizations and people who want to help students! However, there are also scammers who prey on students who need financial help. Many of us worry about identity theft and we want to make sure our information is safe. We also don’t want to waste our time on something that is not real. Before applying for a scholarship that you are not sure about, learn about these 12 common scholarship scams. If a scholarship has any of the 12 red flags below, skip it and move to a legitimate opportunity.  

Application fee

Scholarship providers should not be charging an application fee. Sometimes a scholarship website will say the application fee will ensure only serious applicants will apply. Or, they may say the application fee is for “handling.” Real scholarship providers have already set aside the scholarship money and do not need application fees to pay for it. If the scholarship is asking for an application fee, skip it!

Disbursement Fee

If a scholarship provider says you must pay a disbursement or redemption fee before they release the scholarship money, it is probably a scam. If they require you to pay taxes or other fees before releasing the scholarship, it is probably a scam to make money. Never give any money to a scholarship provider to be considered for or to receive a scholarship.

Buy something to be consider

Just like the application fee, requiring an applicant to purchase something to be considered for a scholarship is probably a scam. The only reason they created the scholarship is to get people to purchase their product. Note: There are some organizations that ask students to sign-up for a free profile or newsletter to be considered for the scholarship. There are many websites that offer great information and if you sign up for free, you’ll be entered into the scholarship drawing. This type of scholarship does not need to be ignored. Instead, students should follow their gut feeling when considering whether they will apply or not.

Membership requirements

Many scholarships are only open to members of the organization. If you are a member of a legitimate organization, you should definitely consider the scholarship. Scholarships that require membership are great scholarships that will typically have smaller applicant pools, making your chances of winning better. However, I highly recommend you do not join an organization just to apply for the scholarships. There are organizations that require membership fees and have no other incentive except for offering scholarships. Skip it and don’t join the organization.

You won without applying

We have all heard stories about individuals being scammed out of large amounts of money. This can happen with students and their families as well. Many students will need some sort of financial help to attend college and scammers know it. If someone calls or emails you to say you have won a scholarship you did not apply for, it is probably a scam.

Unclear eligibility requirements

A real scholarship will have some sort of eligibility requirements. If it doesn’t state any eligibility requirements, it might be a scam.

Contact information

The Internet has made it easier for scammers. Anyone can create a website and publish whatever they want. A scholarship scam may not provide contact information on their website. If students have questions about the scholarship or the organization, some sort of contact information should be made available. If you have no way to contact the scholarship provider, skip the scholarship.

Have your questions been answered?

If you have any questions about the scholarship or the organization offering the scholarship, you should be able to ask and get your answer. If your email or phone call goes unanswered, that is a red flag. If you get an incomplete answer, it might be a scam. And, if you get an automatic reply that doesn’t answer your question, it might be a scam. A real scholarship provider will be upfront and honest when answering your question and they will be professional. If you get anything less when contacting a scholarship provider, it could be a scam.

Website is trying to get views

Have you ever gone to a website that feels as though the only reason the person created it was to make money? For example, there are ads everywhere. While the website might actually be legitimate and they are trying to give away a great scholarship, many of these websites might only be trying to get people to visit their website. I typically do not include these types of scholarship in my scholarship database. I recommend students to steer clear of scholarships that have a lot of ads and links to affiliate links.


Require too much personal information

Most scholarships will need a student’s name, address and some other information. The scholarship provider may be investing in your education, so they want to get to know you. However, there are some items that are too personal to provide to a scholarship provider or anyone for that matter. If the scholarship is asking for information on bank accounts, credit card numbers, or social security numbers, it is probably a scam to steal money or your identity information.

Spelling or grammar errors

A real scholarship will not have spelling or grammar errors on their website or application materials. Since a scholarship is such a serious matter, the scholarship provider will want to make sure their opportunity comes across as professional. If spelling or grammar errors are found throughout a scholarship website, it may have been a fast creation in hopes to scam students.

Scholarship doesn’t feel right

Sometimes we have a gut feeling about things, and a scholarship might feel too good to be true. If it doesn’t feel right, it could be a scam. Students and families should follow their gut feeling when deciding to apply for a scholarship or not.

If you do find a scholarship that you think might be a scam, don’t apply and report it. While you did not fall for the scam, there might be other students who will. Visit FInAid.org for a full list of ways to report a scam so others may not fall victim to the scammers.

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