Your Aunt Edna from Maine emails a photograph of two scuba diving tourists with a huge shark behind them just before your vacation to Florida. You immediately check it out on snopes.com. When your car insurance bill goes up 37 cents, you call the insurance company. You carefully watch MythBusters to see if you can beat traffic surveillance cameras by speeding faster than the camera can click. (The answer is no. Don’t try this at home or in Prescott Valley.) But what do you do when a beautiful glossy, professional looking letter from a legitimate sounding company comes in the mail telling you they will find scholarships to fund your entire education…. for a small fee.
When your senior year rolls around, there’s going to be a lot of mail arriving at your doorstep. The Army, Air Force, and Marines all seem to think you’d be an excellent candidate to join their services. And then the Arizona State Universities send beautiful flyers extolling the benefits of their particular schools, even if you haven’t applied there. Of course those are all legitimate organizations who just want you to consider them in your choices for the future.
On the flip side are flyers, brochures, letters and invitations from organizations that aren’t all that legitimate. For example in 2003 National Student Financial Aid lost a case before the U.S. District Court. They were ordered to give full refunds to their customers. The consumer complaints are listed on the Consumer Affairs website. These consumers lost from $100 to $1,300.
One of the come-ons that dishonest companies often use is to cite false statistics, one of which has almost become an urban legend. In 1983 a Congressional Subcommittee Congressional Subcommittee reported that 6.6 billion in college scholarship money goes unclaimed each year. The scholarships the subcommittee was speaking about were tuition grants available from employers to employees and their children. It had nothing to do with the average American college student. If that is used in an ad from a scholarship search service, I’d do some fact checking on them. In 2000, the College Scholarship Fraud Prevention Act was passed which resulted in some loopholes being closed and stiffer penalties for the people and companies who prey on students and parents.
This is not to say that all college scholarship consultants are dishonest. I believe there are parents and students who could truly benefit from their professional services. Consultants can help you through the paperwork, focus your direction, highlight your strengths, and keep you motivated. If your student has decided to try to win a prestigious scholarship like the Flinn, I would recommend some outside consulting. Simply going to their high school guidance counselors is a start, and there’s no cost to the student.
As with anything, it’s “buyer beware.” Your high school or college financial aid counselors will probably not be able to recommend an individual consultant, but if they know of a group or person that someone else has had problems with, they may be willing to share that information.
It’s not easy to win scholarships. You have to dig up the information, find the ones you qualify for, write essays and follow the rules to the letter. As the old adage says, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
In the meantime if you receive anything in the mail that offers “guaranteed” results for your student receiving financial aid, asks for your credit card or some sort of payment up front, claims they have “secret scholarship information” that only they know about, or declares you a winner of scholarship you didn’t even apply for, get out the shredder.