With the cost of college outpacing inflation and crimping family budgets, students and their families are anxious to find scholarships and other awards that can help them pay for higher education. Connecticut Better Business Bureau, however, advises students and their parents to be wary of websites, seminars or other schemes that promise to find scholarships, grants or financial aid packages for a fee.
These companies may promise a money-back guarantee, but they set so many conditions that it’s almost impossible to get a refund. Others tell students they’ve been selected as finalists but that they have to pay a fee to be eligible for the award.
“Getting a college education is the first step toward finding a promising career,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau President, Paulette Scarpetti. “However, students must protect their financial resources from businesses that promise to find aid but may never deliver.”
Government offers free help seeking financial assistance
In some cases, companies promise to handle paperwork that can make you eligible for the aid – for a fee. However, the standard application for financial aid is most often the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which students and their parents can complete themselves. More information is available online or by calling 1-800-4-FED-
College financial aid offices require the FAFSA to assess a student’s eligibility for need-based aid, and they may require additional information. Most are willing to advise prospective students on how to apply for aid and answer questions about financial aid packages they offer when a student is accepted for admission.
High school guidance counselors often can help students search for information on scholarships based on their talents, academic achievements, essay contests or other merit-based aid. Information on many awards is available free online or at public or school libraries.
Legitimate companies can help students find aid, but they will never promise results.
Connecticut BBB advises:
•Take your time. Don’t be rushed into paying for help at a seminar.
•Be cautious if a representative urges you to “buy now to avoid losing an opportunity.”
•Be wary if a company is reluctant to answer any questions you have about its service or the process. If the business or seminar representative is evasive, walk away.
•Ask your guidance counselor or a college financial aid office whether they have experience with a prospective company.
•Be skeptical of glowing success stories touted on websites or at seminars. Ask instead for the names of families in your community who have used the service in the last year. Talk with them directly about their experience with the firm.
•Ask about fees associated with a professional financial aid search and find out if the business provides refunds. Get all information in writing, but understand that dishonest companies may refuse to provide refunds despite stated policies.
•Beware of letters or emails saying you’ve been selected to receive a scholarship for a contest you never entered.
Investigate any company that you consider using to help find aid. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at http://ct.bbb.org/