Myths and Misconceptions: |
Finding the Right Fit
Hicks, ScienceWise.com Editor May 30, 2000
Finding scholarships can be
nerve-wracking, but ultimately rewarding — if you do your homework.
Along the way,
many myths and misconceptions can lead you in the wrong direction.
Becoming familiar with some
of the most common scholarship-seeking
myths can help you save time, reduce frustration, and focus your
Myth #1: Only athletes
win big scholarships.
You don’t have to be a
basketball or football star to win a
super scholarship. Being an athlete is just one way to garner a
Other factors (such as GPA, community service, and financial need) play
significant role as well. Finding a scholarship has as much to do with
work and perseverance as anything else. You do have to do the research
out the forms, but you don't have to hit home runs.
Myth #2: My grades are
too low for me to win a
Grades are important, but
don't worry if you’re not a
straight-A student. Grades aren’t the only criteria for awarding
your grade point average (GPA) will be taken into account, many
use it mainly as a preliminary cut-off point. For example, many
require a minimum GPA of 2.5.
Organizations look for
talented students with a range of
interests, such as writing, involvement in community service, and
For example, the Target
All-Around Scholarship Program
requires a 2.0 GPA and looks for applicants who are involved in
The Dr. Harry Britenstool Scholarship Fund is geared toward Boy Scout
The annual Signet Classic Scholarship Essay Contest is based almost
the applicant’s English essay.
Although most engineering
and science scholarships require
at least a 3.0 GPA, there are quite a few exceptions to this rule. The
E. Merwin Scholarship in electrical engineering and computer science,
example, is available to members of the
Computer Society Student
Branch Chapter and requires a 2.5
Myth #3: Since I have a
high GPA, scholarships will come
Just because your grades are
high doesn't mean financial
help will automatically fall into your lap. You should still consider
a variety of financial aid options, including tuition tax credits,
federal programs, loans, and grants.
Myth #4: My family income
is too high for me to qualify
for a scholarship.
Most private sources don't
require financial need
information. State and federal scholarship restrictions, which do
financial need statements, do not apply in the private sector.
Myth #5: Billions of
scholarship dollars go unclaimed
According to financial aid
specialists, the number of unused
scholarships is very low. This myth stems from two factors. First of
supposedly unused scholarships are corporate benefits that go to
their children and are included in the totals of unclaimed
Secondly, online scholarship
search engines that charge $24
to $200 propagate the myth, hoping that students will use their
find some of those billions of "unused" dollars.
There is an abundance of
scholarship resources available for
free on the Internet and at the library. A free Science and Engineering
search is available through the Scholarship Resource Network on the
ScienceWise.com Web site.
Myth #6: Scholarship
competitions are always objective.
Like most contests,
scholarship competitions are often
subjective. Each scholarship is understandably biased. It's not that
panels are unfair, it’s just that they have specific qualifications for
candidates. Take a close look at each scholarship description to make
it matches your particular interests and strengths.
Myth #7: The more extracurricular
activities I participate
in, the better my chances are.
Quality, not quantity, is
important when it comes to
extracurricular activities. It is more advantageous to participate in
two relevant activities than to acquire a long list that demonstrates
dedication to any one activity. Sticking to a couple of activities
that you are focused and passionate about your interests.
Myth #8: I should spend my time and energy
on only one or
two scholarship applications.
Don't focus all your energy
and time on one or two
scholarships. Although there are a lot of factors within your control,
are many factors beyond it. The more scholarships you apply for, the
your odds are of winning one. That’s not to say that you should apply
hundreds of scholarships while sacrificing efficiency. Remember to be
when searching and applying for scholarships to find the correct ones
Myth #9: University, corporate, and
are the only ones worth pursuing.
Avoid confining your search
to universities and large
corporations; there are plenty of private local scholarships out there
Civic, religious, and community organizations such as Elks clubs,
the American Legion, and local churches are excellent sources.
sites often highlight local scholarships.
Myth #10: I'm too old to apply for a
More than half of all
students in the United States are over
25 years old. People are changing jobs in the middle of their careers
back to school to finish undergraduate studies or earn graduate
students leave school for the work world before graduating and decide
a couple of years later.
There are a lot of
scholarships available for students over
25 years old. Programs such as the Jeannettte Rankin Foundation offer
for women 35 years or older. Many other colleges offer scholarships for
Scholarships have a variety
of requirements and come from a
variety of organizations. Your grades, interests, and financial status
important factors in securing a scholarship, but you don't have to be a
superstar to find them.
Don't forget to research and
apply for federal, state, and
college assistance programs. Look for the college that best suits your
and financial needs. Then, do your scholarship homework and apply for
that match your interests, strengths, and needs.
Part I: No
Guarantee If There Is A Fee
This is the first part of
a two-part series focusing on
scholarship scams. This first installment examines the warning signs of
Part II will show how the Federal Trade Commission works to curtail
will also report on the proliferation of scholarship scams on the
Let's say you or one of your
children has been busy applying
to colleges and trying to find scholarships. One day you receive an
U.S. Postal Service letter that looks something like this:
The National Biological
Scholarship Center (NBSSC) has selected you as a possible recipient of
ten scholarships worth
The NBSSC is approved by The National Science Scholarship Program
(NSSP).Tofind out if you qualify for one
awards, send a check of $25.00 payable to NBSSC.
Does this sound too good to
be true? It is. It is probably a
scam. Bogus scholarship services can use a variety of tactics, phrases,
media to attract your interest and garner your money. They prey on your
vulnerability during what can sometimes be a very busy and stressful
telemarketing, and, most recently, the
World Wide Web are used to communicate fraudulent scholarship
often guarantee that you will receive a scholarship. Many scams ask for
As a rule of thumb, you should be suspicious when you see the words
"fee" and "guarantee" in regards to scholarship
information, searches, and award services.
Watch out for these telltale
signs of scholarship scams:
Don't Send Money: "For a nominal fee…"
sponsors do not charge fees of any
kind. Do not send money with a scholarship application.
Be suspicious of any
scholarship that requires an
application fee — whether it's $2 or $5 or $500. Even if a phony
for only a $5 fee, he or she can make a very good living by receiving
10,000 applications. Don't pay his or her salary.
There Are No Guarantees:
"You have been selected!
Scholarship Approved! You're a Finalist!"
If an organization you have
not applied to sends literature
stating that you have been selected to receive a scholarship, be very
may have been selected, but it is not for a scholarship. A scam company
bought your name and address has selected you to send them money.
Beware of scholarship
matching services that guarantee
you'll win a scholarship or they'll refund your money. They may send
you a report
of matching scholarships but there is no guarantee that you will
awards. Meanwhile, whatever fee they charged will be difficult, if not
impossible, to get back.
There are plenty of
services online. ScienceWise.com offers a free science and engineering
search through the Scholarship Resource Network.
No Secret Formula: "Information you can't get
If you get unsolicited
literature that says that — for a
price — they can send you secret information that you can't get anywhere
else, delete the e-mail or
throw the letter into the nearest
Scholarship sponsors want to
award their grants. They are
not hiding any information from you. Go online and do a scholarship
learn all you need to know about awards and their requirements. Go see
high school advisor or contact the financial aid departments at the
and universities you are considering.
No Numbers, Please: "All we
need is your bank account
and credit card numbers."
Do not disclose your bank
account, credit card, ATM card, or
social security numbers over the phone, over the Internet, or in
anyone who wants to sell you scholarship services. Anyone asking for
information is probably a scam artist. Even if they tell you that the
information is needed to "confirm your eligibility" or "verify
your identity," don't tell them. They really want the numbers so that
can charge stuff on your account, apply for new credit cards in your
withdraw money from your banking account.
Apply Yourself: "We'll do
all the work."
There is no getting around
it. If you want a scholarship,
you're going to have to do the work yourself. You'll have to research
that meet your needs and capabilities. You'll have to write the essays.
have to fill out the applications. You'll have to solicit letters of
You do not have to pay
someone else to do it, especially
when you may get very meager results or none at all.
Phony Application Forms:
"Apply with us and we'll
apply for you."
Some Web sites or letters
come complete with application
forms that allow you — for a fee — to join their service. These forms
very similar to actual scholarship applications. They might use the
language and ask for the same information with one glaring exception.
ask you for your credit card number. (See "No Numbers, Please: 'All We
Need is Your Bank Account and Credit Card Numbers' ") above.
"Everyone is eligible," "Over $240 Million Unclaimed"
If it sounds like hype, it
may be nothing but hype.
"Free money" means "pay us to find free money for you."
"Everyone is eligible" means "Everyone is eligible to find a
scholarship by themselves but pay us anyway". "Over $240 Million
Unclaimed" is a myth to entice you (see Scholarship Myths and
Misconceptions: Finding the Right Fit).
Great Pretenders: "The
U.S. Scholarship Agency is
endorsed by the Better Business Bureau and the
U.S. Department of
Fraudulent companies often
use official sounding names like
"U.S. Scholarship Agency". If you haven't heard of the agency, check to
see if it really is a government agency.
Also, federal agencies do
not make a habit of endorsing or
recommending private businesses. The U.S. Department of Education
it "cannot endorse or appear to endorse any enterprise, product, or
The Better Business Bureau says it "does not endorse any product,
Telephone Run-around: "You may already be a
sponsors do not notify award
recipients by phone — they usually mail the notices. Also, if a
service calls, ask specific
questions. If the caller repeats
lines over and over, he or she is most likely reading from a script.
Sneaky Seminars: "Pay now or you'll miss out!"
If you are planning to
attend a financial aid or scholarship
seminar, check with your guidance counselor or financial aid advisor
first. If you
attend, avoid high-pressure sales pitches that require you to pay
or risk missing out on an opportunity. Find out how much the service
what services will be performed, and the company's refund policy. Get
information in writing. Ask a lot of questions. If the salesperson is
to give answers, that may be a bad sign.
Federal Trade Commission Targets Fraudulent
The Federal Trade
Commission's (FTC) "Project
Scholarship Scam," an ongoing law enforcement and consumer education
program aimed at fraudulent college scholarship services, has netted
results since it began in 1996.
In Part II of this series
we will explore the effects
this project has had on scams and highlight the FTC's latest efforts to
scams over the Internet. You'll find out how you can help the FTC by
possible scams. We'll also show how Web sites can use the phrases and
you have just read about to their advantage by playing on people's
fears of Web
July 25, 2000
Scams Part II:
Web scams, the FTC, and how you
Scott Hicks, ScienceWise.com
In our first installment
(http://www.sciencewise.com/swscholar/scams1.htm) of Scholarship Scams
showed you the warning signs to look for when searching for and
scholarship information. Scholarship Scams Part II focuses on the
of fraudulent scholarship sites on the Internet, how to recognize a
scam on the
Internet, what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is doing to stop Web
the impact of the FTC's Project Scholarship Scam campaign, and how you
the FTC by reporting possible scams.
The Internet is a terrific
tool for researching
scholarships. But, like any other media, there are people who benefit
cost of others. "They prey on parents' fears," says Federal Trade
Commission staff attorney Gregory Ashe. These "scammers" create
search sites to make money off of concerned parents and their children
busy finding ways to finance a college education. The FTC considers Web
big problem — so big that it is conducting ongoing investigations and
has sent warnings
letters to nearly 40 companies.
Many of the same warning
signs we discussed in our first
installment, "Scholarship Scams Part I," apply to the Web, but there
are a few other things you should know about.
Because the Web is so widely
used, relied upon, easy to
access, and full of information, it’s no wonder that there are plenty
out there. And it's only natural that some people fall for bogus
Fine line between puffery and fraudulent
There is a gray area between
"puffery" and fraudulent claims. An Internet scholarship service can
boast that it has the largest scholarship database or get the best
much the same way a car dealer can claim to have the best selection of
vehicles. Puffery is sneaky, but it is not necessarily fraudulent. The
difference is when a company guarantees outrageous results, such as
that its applicants receive thousands of dollars in scholarships.
The FTC is wary of
guarantees. The guarantee you read on the
Web site might not be the entire guarantee. The guarantee may state
get your $50 back if you receive no scholarship money, but there may be
restrictions in the guarantees that they don’t tell you about until
have applied and sent in your fee. These restrictions often make it
to get your money back.
Isn’t it worth it to do the
paper work yourself and send it
directly to the real scholarship organization so there is a real chance
will get something in return? And, aside from the supplies and stamps,
Josey Vierra, president of
the Scholarship Resource Network
(http://www.srnexpress.com) declares, "The only guarantee an
can offer is that its research information is current and that its
results are accurate."
Sometimes, you can judge a
book by its cover. An amateurish
Web design (with cheesy graphics) that looks like it was slapped
together in a
damp basement is a warning sign. Basically, poor workmanship
workmanship (and service). The FTC's Ashe comments, "It’s funny — not
'funny ha ha', but funny — that a lot of scam sites seem very
and very unsophisticated."
Another danger sign is
misspelled words and poor grammar. If
a Web company can’t even spell correctly, do you think that it will
scholarship? "It should make you pause and wonder," muses Ashe.
Prefabricated letters and e-mails
When a Web site says it will
send a personalized letter to
your scholarship contacts, that usually means that it has an automated
merge program that spews out generic letters with your name on them and
them out. You can do a better job of writing your own letters that
reflect your interests and abilities.
Beware of e-mail from a
company you have never had contact
with, especially if it say that you are already a scholarship winner.
Don’t fall into the
sweepstakes trap of sending in your
credit card number or a personal check.
Vierra observes, "In my
experience, I have seen many
new so-called 'scholarship search services' come and go. Most of these
that provide only ‘scholarship search services’ are only doing so as a
rich quick’ scheme. Many charge $179 and higher and offer false
A lack of sound scholarship
advice or information about the
company should raise your eyebrows.
Taking advantage of Web
Some sites play on people’s
fears about online security.
They claim that Web sites that offer free scholarship searches and
are security risks. They tell you not to trust the other sites, and
a diatribe on why you should pay them $100 to find information that you
for free elsewhere. In any case, make sure the company clearly states
will not sell any of your personal information to anyone.
Before you send personal
information to a scholarship Web
sure the service offers an opportunity to "opt out" of providing data
that you feel is inappropriate.
Off-the-wall scholarship sites
Though not necessarily
fraudulent, there are other
questionable scholarship sales tactics on the Internet. In our research,
ScienceWise.com found a
couple of sites that merely list
links to fee-based scholarship services.
There are even scholarship
matching services that hire sales
"representatives" to work from home. The sales rep is encouraged to
the service to parents, students, and guidance counselors. The scheme
like this: The rep pays the company $25 per search. Then the rep
whatever he or she wants at a hefty profit. Businesses like this hire
do their work for them. It is legal, but shady.
FTC combats Web-based scams
The FTC has sent 37 warning
letters to scholarship companies
on the Web since January 2000 and continues to search for more. In the
the FTC cites the infractions, such as false guarantees, and instructs
company to clean up its act. The results have been that some companies
lifted their guarantees from sites or shut down altogether.
The FTC is currently
re-evaluating the sites for
infractions. If they are still not satisfied, the next step is to send
warning. If violations persist, the FTC will begin a formal
the company and either file a legal case or negotiate. The severity of
FTC’s actions varies from case to case. It depends on how egregious the
violations are or even how successful the site appears to be. Ashe
"It can depend on how big the site is. If it is getting one hit a
there may be no action. If there are lots of hits, then we have a
requires further action." Another factor is the degree of the
"If a site guarantees a $5,000 award or your money back, that’s a bad
Scammers fought the law and the law won
The FTC has had a good deal
of success with "Project
Scholarship Scam." The campaign, which began in 1996, has targeted
seminar, and other scams. Most cases are settled out of court with the
agreeing to get out of the industry. The companies who fought the FTC
probably wish they had settled instead. The FTC has brought eight
against eleven companies and 30 individuals and won every time.
One company, Career
Assistance Planning, was ordered to pay
over $6 million in consumer compensation and to post a $6 million
bond before engaging in any telemarketing activity in the future. "They
fought it all the way, rolled the dice, and lost. There was
evidence against them," adds Ashe.
Of the eight cases, the FTC
estimates that 175,000 customers
were bilked out of $22 million. That is an average of $125 per
"We’ve made a sizeable dent. We see less mail and telemarketing
Now we’re monitoring the Web."
How you can help
The best help the FTC gets
in combating scholarship scams is
from consumers. "There are only so many of us at the FTC in
Washington. Most scams are identified by consumers. We
target those companies that consumers tell us about," says Ashe.
can help. If you are suspicious of a scholarship
service, call 1-877-FTC-HELP, toll free, or fill out a complaint form
FTC's Web site at https://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm.
Sage Scholarship Advice
Perhaps the best and most
encouraging advice comes from
SRN's Vierra. It is so simple it may surprise you:
need to pay for anything on the Web when there are many good sites that
to assisting students applying for financial aid. All information
financial aid process is available free of charge. If you choose to pay
for a professional service, either college
financial planning or a scholarship matching service, make certain to
them out first."
The Web is a great tool. Use
FTC case: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/1997/9709/levy.htm
Resource Network Express
If you are aware of
issues related to these kinds of problems, please please email us
firstname.lastname@example.org so we can
forwarn potential scam victims.
always for your positive feedback!.