A number of organizations advertise that they can help students get scholarship money. The BBB advises students and their parents to be cautious about responding to any unsolicited offers from scholarship services that require application fees, since these organizations often cannot make good on their promises.
For advance fees ranging from twelve to hundreds of dollars, some scholarship firms claim to award thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants or to match students with sources of funding, regardless of qualifications or need. Some companies even "guarantee" scholarships or refunds.
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 application deadlines or did not match the students' qualifications.
To avoid losing money when they can least afford it, students and their parents should seek out information from reputable sources. Many services advertised in these 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 software programs for financial aid. Consider all available options, including federal, state, and local aid programs; financial institutions' loan plans; home equity loans; and scholarships, fellowships, or other programs offered by colleges themselves. 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 the BBB for a reliability report. 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 experience and satisfaction with the company.
For more information on this subject see BBB's article on Financial Aid For College at http://www.bbb.org/library/finaid.asp.