By Katie Wornek, Outreach Officer and Financial Aid Expert – March 13, 2019

There are many resources designed to help students just like you pay for college. Scholarships are one of the best options because you never have to pay the money back.

Most scholarships are awarded based on a student’s merit – this includes things like good academic performance, a strong commitment to volunteerism, or excellence in athletics. Scholarships may also consider other factors, such as financial need or status as a first-generation college student.

Scholarships are competitive and it takes time and effort to win scholarship money. The most competitive students:


  • Maintain good grades
  • Stay involved in their school or community
  • Write a strong personal statement and submit scholarship applications that are thorough and professional
  • Understand they won’t win every scholarship, but stay positive and continue applying for new scholarships


What is a scholarship scam?

As you can see, there are many tasks involved in winning scholarships. However, you should never pay money to earn a scholarship. Some companies charge money to help students find and complete scholarship applications. Other companies may advertise “guaranteed” scholarships in exchange for money.


Any scholarship program that asks for money from students is a “scholarship scam”.


How do I avoid scholarship scams?

The United States Federal Trade Commission has put together a guide to help students spot scholarship scams. You should avoid scholarship programs that use phrases like:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
  • “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
  • “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.”
  • “You’ve been selected” by a ‘national foundation’ to receive a scholarship; or ‘You’re a finalist’ in a contest you never entered.”


If I’m the victim of a scholarship scam, what should I do?

If you applied for a scholarship scam, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or your state’s Attorney General. Even if you didn’t apply for the scholarship scam, you should still report any scholarship scams you find in order to help other students avoid problems.


Where can I find legitimate scholarships?

Many different organizations offer scholarships, including colleges and universities, nonprofit or charity organizations, and businesses and corporations. Our advice is to start local – talk to your school counselor about scholarship opportunities in your area. Ask about scholarships through your parents’ employer, your bank or credit union, local businesses, or organizations you volunteer for. Local scholarships (such as those offered by a local bank, community nonprofit organization, or local business) tend to have smaller pools of applicants, which means your chances of winning are much higher.

You can also look for national scholarship programs. Valid scholarship search engines include:

Katie is an Outreach Officer with UHEAA and StepUpUtah. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Political Science from the University of Utah and previously worked as a tutor with the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) college preparatory program. You can follow her for professional advice about preparing and paying for college on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (@StepUpKatie).