Navigating scholarships

November 25, 2013

Money in College Jar

With the increasing costs of attending post-secondary school prospective students are looking for every possible way to pay steep post-secondary costs. A number of organizations advertise that they can help students get scholarship money. BBB advises students to be cautious about responding to any unsolicited offers from scholarship services that require application fees.

For advance fees ranging from 12 to hundreds of dollars, some scholarship firms claim to award thousands of dollars in scholarships or to match students with sources of funding, regardless of qualifications or need. Some companies even "guarantee" scholarships, unless they are themselves providing the scholarship they can not guarantee the funding.

In exchange for their fees, students may receive lists of possible scholarship sources. However, the companies do not assist students in obtaining the listed scholarships. Consumers complain that after paying the fee and supplying the necessary information, they never hear from the organization again or are unable to obtain refunds. Others allege that the information they were sent arrived too late to meet the application deadlines or did not match the students' qualifications.

To avoid losing money when they can least afford students should seek out information from reputable sources. Many services advertised in the fraudulent mailings are available free of charge through high school counseling offices, college financial aid offices, or public libraries. Some schools offer on-line computer programs for financial aid.

Consider all available options, including federal, provincial and local aid programs; financial institutions' loan plans; home equity loans; and scholarships, fellowships, or other programs offered by the post-secondary schools themselves. You can contact the Student Finance Board at 403-297-6344 for information on government loans. Or the Alberta Heritage Scholarships at 780-427-8640 and request their free brochure on available scholarships. Many private organizations, foundations, professional clubs, and churches also provide legitimate scholarships to students. Qualifying factors may include community activities, membership in organizations, and special talents or skills.

If you are interested in using a scholarship service, investigate the background of any unknown company by calling BBB. Ask the company to put all details of its services and promises in writing, including the refund policy. Be suspicious of any guaranteed offers. Request the names and addresses of past scholarship recipients and ask those references about their satisfaction with the company.