4 WAYS TO SPOT A BAD SCHOLARSHIP

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Too Good to be True

If something seems too good to be true, odds are it is.

Have you ever seen those advertisements that say “Work from home and make $3,000 per week!!!!”?

We all know that these opportunities are too good to be true. It’s too much money for too little work.

You should approach scholarships with the same level of skepticism.

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I’m just going to come out and say it: all of those “scholarships” publicizing $10,000 award “drawings” with no essay required are bogus.

While these organizations do award the prize money, it’s only to one person. What they don’t tell you is how many thousands of students apply for these awards each round. Here is how these contests and promotional scholarships work:

  • The organization offers a huge prize to attract students (let’s say $10,000).
  • Students happily submit their personal information (name, address, phone, educational plans) to these organizations in order to complete their “application” for entry.
  • The organization takes all of your data and sells it to third-party organizations so that these organizations can attempt to sell you products via email, phone, and postal mail.
  • The organization gives away $10,000 to ONE lucky student—but has made way more than $10,000 in the process from selling student data.

These organizations can say that they are “legitimate” because they do, in most cases, actually give away money. However, don’t waste your time with these scholarships. It’s the equivalent of playing the lottery, and we all know those odds.

I find that traditional scholarships (ones that resemble a college admission application) are the best bet for most students. These usually come from organizations that take the time to read your personal story and truly want to have a stake in your well-being as a student. Fewer students apply for these types of scholarships (compared to “no essay required” contests), and thus, you’ll have a higher chance of winning a scholarship.

So, how can you tell if a scholarship is a waste of time? Here are four key features to look out for.

SCHOLARSHIPS WITH AN APPLICATION FEE

As a general rule, if an individual scholarship has some sort of application fee, then skip it. Even if it’s a legitimate scholarship, you have plenty of other scholarship options that you don’t have to pay to apply for.

THERE IS NO APPLICATION REQUIRED

No application required usually means that the scholarship is offering some kind of an essay contest. There are many legitimate “essay contest” scholarships out there, and they are easy to spot. Usually, the organization has a culture and history of offering essay contests. For example, the Ayn Rand Institute offers very large prizes for great essays.

Look for organizations that offer prizes for long, thought-provoking, topical essays. A $10,000 essay contest on Abraham Lincoln’s contribution to America? Solid. A $10,000 essay contest on what you like to do for fun? I’ll pass.

THERE IS NO ESSAY REQUIRED

If a scholarship only requests your personal information (name, date of birth, address, email, phone, etc.) and doesn’t require an essay or any supplemental documents, then be careful. This could be an organization looking to sell your personal information. Protect yourself by never, ever entering your Social Security number or other sensitive information to a non-trusted scholarship provider.

THE TERMS “DRAWING,” “CONTEST” OR “SWEEPSTAKES” ARE USED

I’ll admit… I have tried entering a few sweepstakes here and there in my life, but I was always fully aware of what I was getting into.

Contests and sweepstakes have ridiculous odds and usually sell your personal information. If you want to try a few (maybe lady luck is on your side) go for it. Just remember to create a fake email address to prevent the spam avalanche from flooding your inbox—and make sure to supplement this whimsical approach with applications to traditional, legitimate scholarships.

Had a run-in with a bad scholarship? Share your story in the comments.

(Photo credit: Flickr/dok1)

About Diane Melville

Diane Melville paid for her entire college education with scholarships and is the author of “The Community College Advantage: Your Guide to a Low-Cost, High-Reward Community College Experience.” Find her on Twitter: @DianeMelville

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