Avoid Scholarship Scams

It’s a story that college admissions officers have heard too often. Iregi Macharia*, a secondary school student from Kenya, received an official-looking email from a man who promised to find him a full scholarship to UCLA, for a modest fee. The man said that he had been given Iregi’s name by one of his teachers, who wanted to remain anonymous. Iregi followed the link in the email to a website that looked professional.

After exchanging a few more emails, the man assured Iregi that his contacts could guarantee Iregi a full scholarship to UCLA, despite his poor grades. In fact, the man had uncovered Iregi’s email address online, where Iregi had talked about his dream of someday attending college in the U.S. One of the schools that he had mentioned was UCLA. Iregi talked it over with his parents, and they agreed that it was the best thing to do. After all, the website guaranteed results and said their fee was “100% refundable” in case he didn’t get the scholarship. “I just thought this was how things worked in the U.S.,” Iregi said. “You give $100 to somebody who knows somebody, and you get the scholarship. It made sense that somebody who was already in the U.S. was in a position to help me.”

Unfortunately, for Iregi and thousands of other students, this was a scholarship hoax. Iregi paid the $100 fee – plus a $10 processing fee – and never heard from the man again. Emails requesting a refund were never answered. Scholarship scams are not new. Often, students receive an email that tells them they have already been awarded a $20,000 scholarship, and only need to send a “processing fee” of $200. Sadly, all of these claims are simply false. International students are especially vulnerable to scholarship scams. After all, it’s easy to believe that someone based in the U.S. has the “inside track” on highly coveted scholarships.

Faced with paying up to $40,000 per year for college tuition, fees, living expenses, books and supplies, many international students – and their parents – are only too happy to fork over $100 or $250 to anyone who promises a full scholarship. How can you know if a scholarship is a scam? Here are a few warning signs: • You didn’t apply for the scholarship • There’s no reason for the scholarship • A fee is charged to receive the scholarship • Someone “guarantees” that you will win a scholarship You Didn’t Apply for the Scholarship Applying for a scholarship is a lot of work. Usually students must complete a written application and write an essay. If you applied for a scholarship, you’d remember! Be suspicious of any offer that says you were “automatically entered” to win a scholarship.

If you are applying for an art scholarship, you’ll probably have to submit samples of your artwork. If you’re applying for an athletic scholarship, you may need to visit the school to meet the coach in person. Winning a scholarship you didn’t apply for is less likely than having a stranger give you a million dollars. There’s No Reason for the Scholarship Each year, there are more than 1.3 million U.S. scholarships worth at least $3 billion. There are many real scholarships out there for students, including international students. Many different types of scholarships exist. Academic scholarships reward students with the top grades. Athletic scholarships go to students who will compete in sports. Scholastic scholarships are given to students who want to study a particular subject, such as computer technology or agriculture.

Some scholarships are set aside especially for students who are older, members of an ethnic minority or from poor families. A number of groups give scholarships to the sons and daughters of their members. All of these scholarships exist for a reason. In every case, if you ask, “Why is someone giving me a scholarship?” you’ll receive an answer. You’re being given the scholarship because you’re an athlete, or good at painting, or because your father was a policeman. Always be suspicious of a scholarship from someone you don’t know, for no reason. A Fee is Charged to Receive the Scholarship Legitimate scholarships don’t charge a fee to enter. There are no processing fees, entrance fees, transfer fees, membership fees, etc. You should not have to pay anything to receive a scholarship.

In a legitimate scholarship, they give money to you. You don’t give money to them. Many bogus scholarship websites guarantee that you will receive a scholarship – that’s always a lie. They may include a money-back guarantee. That’s a lie, too. Students who request their money back never hear from the scholarship people again. Someone Guarantees Results Every scholarship is a competition between the students who enter. For some scholarships, only a handful of students apply. For others, thousands of top students vie for the award. The more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances of winning. However, you should be suspicious anytime someone “guarantees” that you will win a scholarship. Don’t let scholarship scams discourage you from applying for real scholarships. There are over 1.3 million real scholarships out there. Dozens of legitimate, free websites will help you search for scholarships.

There are scholarships for everything from the sons and daughters of international diplomats, to the children of postal workers. Some scholarships are for students with a special talent in art, writing, acting or engineering. And, yes, a number of scholarships are set aside especially for international students. Iregi’s story has a happy ending. He was able to win an athletic scholarship to a community college in Iowa. In two years, Iregi’s grades were good enough that he did receive an academic scholarship to UCLA– and this time, it was a real one.

*Student names have been changed to protect their identities.