BBB Warns Students To Steer Clear Of Sites, Sales Pitches That Promise To Find Financial Aid

June 12, 2012

With the cost of college outpacing inflation and crimping family budgets, students and their families are anxious to find scholarships and other awards that can help them pay for higher education.

The Better Business Bureau advises students and their parents to be wary of websites, seminars or other schemes that promise to find scholarships, grants or financial aid packages for a fee. The companies may promise a money-back guarantee, but they set so many conditions that it's almost impossible to get a refund. Others tell students they've been selected as finalists but that they have to pay a fee to be eligible for the award.

In some cases, companies promise to handle paperwork that can make you eligible for the aid – for a fee. However, the standard application for financial aid is most often the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which students and their parents can complete themselves. More information is available online or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.

College financial aid offices require the FAFSA to assess a student's eligibility for need-based aid, and they may require additional information. Most are willing to advise prospective students on how to apply for aid and answer questions about financial aid packages they offer when a student is accepted for admission.

High school guidance counselors often can help students search for information on scholarships based on their talents, academic achievements, essay contests or other merit-based aid. Information on many awards is available free online or at public or school libraries.

Legitimate companies can help students find aid, but they will never promise results. However, parents and students usually can find the same awards on their own by searching online or going to the library.

The BBB advises students to:

· Take your time. Don't be rushed into paying for help at a seminar. Be cautious if a representative urges you to buy now to avoid losing an opportunity.

· Be cautious if a company is reluctant to answer any questions you have about the service or the process. If the company or seminar representative is evasive, walk away.

· Ask your guidance counselor or a college financial aid office whether they have experience with the company.

· Be skeptical of glowing success stories touted on websites or at seminars. Ask instead for the names of families in your community who have used the service in the last year. Talk to them and find out about their experience with the firm.

· Ask about fees associated with a professional financial aid search and find out if the company provides refunds. Get the information in writing, but realize the dishonest companies may refuse to provide refunds despite stated policies.

· Beware of letters or emails saying you've been selected to receive a scholarship for a contest you never entered.

· Investigate any company that you consider using to help find aid. Check the company's BBB Business Review at