Evaluating Scholarship Matching Services
Do not waste your money on fee-based scholarship matching services. The largest and highest quality scholarship databases are all available for free on the World Wide Web. The best are featured in our scholarship section. It takes only 5 to 10 minutes to search any of these databases; we recommend that you search at least two. Most students will get around 15 to 25 good matches with the free services.
If you pay money to a fee-based service, thinking that you'll get more matches, you will be disappointed. Search several of the free services and you'll see that all the databases overlap to a significant degree. Don't be fooled into thinking that the fee-based services have any better coverage than the free services.
Scholarship matching services do not award scholarships and do not apply for scholarships on your behalf. All they do is provide a list of the names and addresses of scholarships that superficially match your profile. It is then up to the student to contact the scholarship sponsor for current information and application materials. The scholarship matching service does not complete the applications for the student, nor do they select the winning students.
Because the fee-based scholarship matching services want you to pay them money, they often engage in false and misleading marketing tactics designed to give you an unreasonable expectation of success in using their service and to convince you that their service is entirely without risk. Some of the more common fraudulent claims include:
The unclaimed aid myth. You may be told that millions or billions of dollars of scholarships go unused each year because students don't know where to apply, but this simply isn't true. Most financial aid programs are highly competitive. No scholarship matching service has ever substantiated this myth with a verifiable list of unclaimed scholarship awards. Statements such as "$6.6 billion went unclaimed last year" are based on a 20-year-old estimate of potentially available but unused employer tuition benefits. Such money goes unused because it can't be used and is not available to the general public. There is no pool of unclaimed money just waiting for you to "claim your fair share".
Guaranteed Winnings. Be wary of services that guarantee you'll receive a minimum amount of financial aid. There's no way they can guarantee you'll receive funding, because they have no control over the decisions made by scholarship sponsors. By making such a guarantee they are engaged in fraud, even if they were to issue a full refund to every customer who complains.
Also, such "guarantees" often come with hidden conditions that make them hard to redeem or worth less than they seem, if the company honors its guarantee at all. They might require you to submit rejection letters from the scholarship sponsors (most sponsors only notify the winners), deduct a large refund or cancellation fee or provide the refund in the form of a US Savings Bond (which has an immediate redemption value equal to half of the face value). Some companies will not refund your money, but instead will offer to rerun the search some number of times at no charge. Some companies use the word "receive" in a very loose sense, meaning that you will receive information about scholarships, not the scholarships themselves. Others count government aid as part of the total, yielding a meaningless guarantee.
Everybody is Eligible. All scholarship sponsors are looking for candidates who best match certain criteria. Scholarships are awarded according to a variety of merits and needs, but some set of restrictions always apply. No scholarship sponsor is going to give you money simply for breathing.
A 96% Success Rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics at the US Department of Education, only 4% of undergraduate, graduate and professional students receive private sector scholarships, and the average amount received by those students is about $1,600. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the success rate for fee-based scholarship matching services is even less, about 1%, because they deliberately water down their application pools to maximize the number of people paying them money. When they refer to a 96% success rate, they are describing their success in matching students against the database, not the number of students who receive money.
Our Database is Unique. If a scholarship matching service claims that you can't get the information anywhere else, do not believe them. Most scholarship databases overlap to a significant degree because they use similar methods to compile their databases.
You Must Use Our Service to Qualify for Aid. Scholarship matching services match you to a list of awards, but it is not necessary to use their service to prequalify for an award. Scholarship matching services do not control who wins an award.
Awards are Given on a First Come, First Served Basis. Time is Limited. Apply Now! Although most programs have deadlines, very few give out scholarships on a rolling basis. Scholarship matching services that use this claim are trying to rush you into using their service without thinking.
We Represent Big-Name Companies Who Need A Tax Write-off. If a company claims to represent big companies "who give away scholarships for tax purposes", be suspicious. The firms that do manage scholarship programs for big-name companies -- Scholarship America, ACT Recognition Program Services and the Oregon Student Assistance Commission -- never charge an application fee. They get their operating revenue from the scholarship sponsor, who pays them a fixed administrative fee. Moreover, the name of the company that manages the scholarship program is always invisible and is never presented as a "representative" or "agent" of the scholarship sponsor.
Our Scholarship Database is the Largest. Many scholarship matching services will claim to have the largest database, consisting of hundreds of thousands of available awards. These numbers are misleading, because individual sponsors may offer hundreds of different scholarships. When comparing scholarship databases, it's more useful to find out how many sponsors, not awards, are listed in their databases and whether the database counts college-controlled awards and employer tuition assistance programs as part of the total.
We Compile Our Own Database. Many of the scholarship matching services will claim that they compile their own database, when they actually use the database of an independent company. They might also rely upon testimonials from the database company, instead of testimonials gathered by the scholarship matching service itself.
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