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.

Admissions 101

If you’re like most international students, the U.S. college admissions process seems extremely complex and confusing. Don’t worry! There are actually just a few parts to the college admission application. Understanding them, and the process, is the first step toward getting into the U.S. college of your dreams! The college admission process is simple. Basically, you fill out an application and get it in before the deadline, with any required fee.

You arrange for essential information such as evaluation letters, test scores and secondary school transcripts to be mailed to the college. You complete an interview if required. And, the college lets you know result. With just a little luck, you’ll be accepted! What do colleges look for when accepting students? First, most colleges require an entrance exam such as the ACT or SAT. However, this isn’t the most important factor in choosing students.

Does that surprise you? In the UK, Canada and several other nations, test results are the primary criteria that universities use to select students. A student who earns high test scores gets in. A student who gets low test scores doesn’t go to college. It’s not like that in the U.S. Test scores are just one factor that a U.S. college will consider. And, they’re not the most important factor. Most admission officers look just as closely at other factors including the application, evaluation letters, the essay, the interview and the student’s grades. They also consider any awards the student has earned, their work experience, their leadership skills, and special talents.

Of all these factors, often the student’s grades in secondary school are the most important. Why? Admissions officers, like employers, believe that “past performance predicts future performance.” That means that if you were a good student in the past, you’ll likely be a good student in the future. Above all, the college wants you to succeed at your studies. It does no one any good for a college to accept students who can’t make the grade.

A student with high test scores but low grades may seem lazy to admissions officers. The student is obviously bright, or they wouldn’t have such high test scores. But, their low grades suggest that they don’t work hard. Most colleges would rather have a student of average intelligence who works hard, than a brilliant student who won’t study. What can you do if your grades in secondary school were less than spectacular? This is a great topic to address indirectly in your admissions essay. Maybe your essay will discuss how hard it was for you to focus on your studies after your brother died in your second year. Or maybe, you’ll talk about how you learned to take education more seriously during the last two years of secondary school.

If your grades support your remarks, you may well be admitted in spite of low grades. Don’t try to earn high marks by taking only the easiest classes. Colleges are aware of this strategy, and it will work against you. It makes you appear lazy. Getting a slightly lower grade in advanced mathematics is better than getting a high grade in basic math. This applies to all subjects. Most American colleges value uniqueness and competition. Anyone who stands out from the crowd has an advantage. Schools, especially the top schools, want students who have showed their leadership abilities. It may seem rude or arrogant to “boast” about your awards, honors and achievements, but that’s exactly what you need to do, to get into a good school.

Take a minute to write down everything spectacular you’ve ever done, and make sure it gets on that application somewhere. If you received the highest marks in your science class, write it down. If you were the best cricket player in your school, write it down. You already have one positive going for you as an international student. Colleges recognize that only the most motivated students consider studying outside their native country. In the admissions officer’s mind, you are already ahead of most other students. One area that’s often overlooked by students is the application itself. Make sure that it is filled out completely. If the application is not done on a computer, it should be typed or neatly printed. To the college, the application is an example of the type of work that you produce.

Have a trusted advisor look over the application to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Double check your spelling and grammar. Colleges want evidence that you can succeed outside the classroom, as well as in it. They prefer students who are active in extracurricular activities. These might include music, art, or a job. You might volunteer to tutor younger students or compete in a sport. Maybe you’re active in your community. It’s not so important what you do outside the classroom, but it is important that you do something to show you are “well rounded.” evaluation letters are important.

Ask teachers or community leaders that you trust to write the letters for you. Check in advance to see what the college’s policies are on letters from international students. Some require that evaluation letters be written in English. Others will accept a letter with an English translation. Usually, it’s better to avoid evaluation letters from relatives or members of the clergy. Most colleges realize that no one from those groups is going to say anything bad about you! Be sure that your evaluation letters list your most spectacular accomplishments. Many international students are terrified by the admissions interview, but they really shouldn’t be. For many colleges, this is the least important factor. Many schools even forget about the interview for international students.

Or, they may ask you to interview by phone or answer a series of questions by email. If an admissions officer has decided to reject you, but you ace the interview, that may change his or her mind. If an admission’s officer has decided to accept you based on your application, letters of evaluation and essay, the interview is probably not going to change his or her mind. The admissions process may seem intimidating, but it’s really easier than you think! Once you are accepted into a U.S. college, you’ll forget all about the time you spent on admissions.

About the Academic Environment in the U.S.

Academic and research institutions in the United States differ in many respects from those in other countries. If you will be working with faculty or researchers at universities in the United States, you will need to be aware of the constraints and pressures on academics as well as the underlying structure of the faculty system.

Faculty
This section contains information on the organization of faculty within an institution of higher learning including: the ranking of faculty, teaching and research responsibilities of faculty members, tenure, and monetary compensation.

Students
In the university setting, faculty interactions with students tend to be informal. Often graduate students and faculty become close friends and work together on an almost equal basis. This section elaborates on the relationships between students and faculty at institutions of higher learning.

Research Institutions
Visiting scholars may find they have fewer distractions from their projects in institutions dedicated entirely to research as compared with academic institutions.