Have you ever seen those advertisements that say, "Work from home and make $3,000 per week!!!!"? We all know that these opportunities are too good to be true. It's too much money for too little work.
You should approach scholarships with the same level of skepticism, but how can you tell if a scholarship is a waste of time? Fortunately, there are four key features to look out for.
1. They Charge An Application Fee
As a general rule, if an individual scholarship has some sort of application fee, then skip it. Even if it's a legitimate scholarship, you have plenty of other scholarship options that you don't have to pay to apply for. Your goal is to win money, not give it up!
2. No Application Is Required
No application required usually means that the scholarship is offering some kind of an essay contest. There are many legitimate "essay contest" scholarships out there, and they are easy to spot. Usually, the organization has a culture and history of offering essay contests. For example, the Ayn Rand Institute offers very large prizes for great essays.
Look for organizations that offer prizes for long, thought-provoking, topical essays. A $10,000 essay contest on Abraham Lincoln's contribution to America? Solid. A $10,000 essay contest on what you like to do for fun? Pass.
3. No Essay Is Required
If a scholarship only requests your personal information (name, date of birth, address, email, phone, etc.) and doesn't require an essay or any supplemental documents, then be careful. This could be an organization looking to sell your personal information.
Protect yourself by never, ever giving your Social Security number or other sensitive information to a non-trusted scholarship provider.
4. The Term "Drawing," "Contest," Or "Sweepstakes" Is Used
I'll admit, I have tried entering a few sweepstakes here and there in my life—but I was always fully aware of what I was getting into.
Here is how contests and promotional scholarships often work:
- The organization offers a huge prize to attract students (let's say $10,000).
- Students happily submit their personal information (name, address, phone, educational plans) to these organizations in order to complete their "application" for entry.
- The organization takes all of your data and sells it to third-party organizations, so that these organizations can attempt to sell you products via email, phone, and postal mail.
- The organization gives away $10,000 to ONE lucky student—but has made way more than $10,000 in the process from selling student data.
These organizations can say that they are "legitimate" because, in most cases, they do actually give away money. However, winning that money is the equivalent of playing the lottery—and we all know those odds.
If you want to try a few (maybe lady luck is on your side), go for it. Just remember to create a fake email address to prevent the spam avalanche from flooding your inbox—and make sure to supplement this whimsical approach with applications to traditional, legitimate scholarships.
I find that traditional scholarships (ones that resemble a college admission application) are the best bet for most students. They usually come from organizations that take the time to read your personal story and truly want to have a stake in your well-being as a student. Fewer students apply for these types of scholarships (compared to "no essay required" contests), and thus, you'll have a higher chance of winning!