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A photo of Cal U's Eberly Science CenterA photo of Cal U's Eberly Science Center

How to Avoid Scholarship Scams

Need money for college? Many students and their families are looking for creative ways to finance a college education. 

The Financial Aid Office urges families to be very cautious in paying for scholarship searches. While there are legitimate organizations that do charge a fee, there are also organizations that take advantage of students' and parents' fears about meeting the costs of higher education.

Tips to avoid deceptive offers:

  1. If you must pay money to get money, it might be a scam.
  2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Spend the time, not the money.
  4. Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships.
  5. Nobody can guarantee that you'll win a scholarship.
  6. Legitimate scholarship foundations do not charge application fees.

The Federal Trade Commission cautions students to look for these phrases used by scam artists:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
    • No one can guarantee that they will get you a grant or scholarship. The refund guarantees that are offered usually have so many conditions or strings attached that it is almost impossible for consumers to get their money back.
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
    • Scholarship information is widely available in books, from libraries, financial aid offices and the Internet.
  • “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
    • This is never a requirement for a legitimate scholarship offer. Don’t give out your financial information in this kind of situation.
  • “We’ll do all of the work.”
    • Only parents and students can determine and provide the financial information needed to complete the forms.
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.”
    • Legitimate scholarship offers never require payment of any kind.
  •  “You’ve been selected by a ‘national foundation’ to receive a scholarship” or “You’re a finalist in a contest (that you never entered).”
    • If you have not applied for a scholarship sponsored by the foundation, be skeptical about this claim.

More Info

Students and families who think that they may have received information that could be a scam should contact the FTC at 877-382-4357 or visit