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How to Get the Best College Scholarships and Avoid Scams

There are a multitude of different scholarships out there that will help you pay for college, awarded by everyone from your parents' employers, to the college you're about to attend, to various nonprofit organizations.

Qualifications for scholarships are just as plentiful and varied; there are scholarships out there based on everything from basic financial need to your skill at creating your prom dress out of duct tape.  Yup, there's actually a company that awards scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000 for constructing prom outfits out of their product.  Check them out here.

Here are the basic different types of scholarships you may be eligible for:

  • Scholarships awarded or coordinated by the institution you're attending.

    These include scholarships from the institution itself and from its alumni.

  • Employee Scholarships.

    These are awarded by your or your parents' employers.

  • Corporate Scholarships.

    These are given out by large companies such as Walmart, Lowes, etc.

  • Athletic Scholarships.

    These are awarded for certain athletic accomplishments and are sometimes contingent upon you continuing to play the sport for your college's team.

  • Academic Scholarships.

    These are based on your academic performance, grades, and/or teacher recommendations.  They may be contingent upon you continuing to maintain a certain GPA while in college as well.

  • Need-Based Scholarships.

    These are given out based on financial need.

  • Religious Scholarships.

    These are awarded based on religious affiliation by religious organizations.

  • Other Specialty Scholarships.

    These are awarded based on a host of different criteria including race, gender, extracurricular involvement, geographic location, etc.

Check out the following websites to get started on some scholarship research and to find out which ones you might qualify for:

Name Website
Scholarships.com www.scholarships.com
FinAid www.finaid.org
US Department of Education https://studentaid2.ed.gov/getmoney/scholarship/v3browse.asp

The following tips will help you effectively apply for scholarships:

  • Start your research early.

    Begin scholarship research as soon as you start researching colleges to apply to.  The above links are useful tools for your search.

  • Watch out for deadlines.

    Don't miss out on scholarship money because  you've forgotten a deadline.  Make sure you have all of your deadlines clearly highlighted so you get your applications in on time.

  • Be clear on eligibility requirements.

    If you have any questions on your eligibility for a certain scholarship, call or e-mail the scholarship sponsors and make sure you have all of the details right.

  • Follow instructions.

    It may sound simple, but read and reread the application instructions to make sure you're doing everything correctly.  You don't want to be disqualified from a scholarship because your essay is 550 words instead of 600.  Don't leave any information blank, and if you have questions just call or e-mail the sponsors to clarify.

  • Be honest.

    Stick to the truth in your applications and essays.  Not only can lying get you disqualified, but you'll write a more compelling and interesting essay if it's based on experiences that actually happened to you.

  • Double check and proofread.

    Take the time to reread your application and any essays to check for errors, grammar, spelling, etc.  Your materials will look so much more impressive if you don't have those mistakes and it will look careless if you do have them; it's worth the small amount of time it takes to do.

  • Stay organized and keep copies.

    Keep a file with documents you use frequently to fill out scholarship applications, such as tax returns, your high school transcript, etc.  And make sure you keep copies of each scholarship application and essay that you send out.  You may want to reference them in the future for other scholarships, and it's a good idea to hang onto them in case something gets lost in the mail.

  • Send via certified mail.

    To avoid such important documents getting lost in the mail, and so that you know they've arrived prior to any deadlines, send your applications by certified mail, with delivery confirmation, or with return receipt requested.  Also, if you're running late with your scholarship applications, you can always send them via Express Mail (overnight) or Priority Mail (2-3 day shipping).


Signs you're being scammed by a fake scholarship:

Unfortunately, there are a fair amount of scammers out there looking to take advantage of college students searching for scholarships.  The tips below should help you sort out the difference between a legitimate and a fake scholarship.

  • There is a fee to apply.

    It should never cost money to apply for a legitimate scholarship.

  • There is a spot on the scholarship application for your credit card number or bank account information.

    Again, it should never cost anything to apply for a scholarship so this is definitely a dead giveaway that something is fishy.

  • The scholarship information claims that it's guaranteed you'll receive the scholarship.

    You're always going to have to apply for scholarships and compete against other applicants and their qualifications.

  • The scholarship is available to everyone across the board, with zero qualifications.

    There should be specifications and qualifications for each scholarship, whether it's financial need or academic merit or religious affiliation.  You don't just get a scholarship for absolutely no reason.

  • The organization sponsoring the scholarship claims that they'll do all of the work involved for you.

    You're going to have to exert some effort, whether it's writing an essay or filling out a financial questionnaire, to apply for a scholarship.  A great general rule of thumb is that if looks too good to be true, it probably is.

  • You receive unsolicited information about a scholarship.

    In most cases, you're going to be the one seeking out scholarships.

There are also several resources you can use to find out for sure if a scholarship is a scam:

  • Call your high school guidance office or guidance counselor.

    They should have a good familiarity with what scholarships are out there.

  • Call your college's financial aid office.

    They'll also be well acquainted with most scholarships.

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau

    www.bbb.org