With growing tuition costs strapping American college students with loan debt they will be paying back for years after graduation, scholarships have become more valuable than ever.
Many students look to the Internet to find the best and biggest scholarships to provide them with funds to make it through their four years. For some, however, it is difficult to decipher the legitimate outlets from the scams.
“The biggest scam is fafsa.com,” said Plattsburgh State Director of Student Financial Services Todd Moravec, about a deceptive website that charges students for a service that would otherwise be free.
The scam site tricks students into believing they’re applying for the real fafsa.gov website, which helps students qualify for regional and national financial aid. Students can be tricked into spending $79.99 for an application that will just be forwarded to the real website after completion.
They even include testimonials from pleased customers, such as, “I’ve used the service every year now for the last four years. I am very highly satisfied with all of your employees and the help they give and their knowledge. Thank you,” said fafsa.com customer Michael M. Weirton.
It can be hard to distinguish which site is actually the real one, but the actual Free Application for Federal Student Aid never charges its users an application fee. Also, in the top right corner of the homepage, fafsa.com states “We are not affiliated with the Department of Education.”
PSUC psychology major Ruby Lainez said she learned in high school about financial aid scams.
“We had an orientation about applying to college, so they said, ‘Don’t pay for anything because it’s not necessary,’” Lainez said.
PSUC theater and television production major Joey Paolicelli has had experience with fafsa.com after accidentally going to the site and noticing he had to fill out an application. Explaining further, Paolicelli said, “I was like, ‘Wait, I already filled it out and it should already be saved.’ There had to be something wrong here, and I looked and it said ‘.com’ instead of ‘.gov.’ It looks identical.”
Paolicelli has a Higher Education Service Corporation scholarship that he received from the United States government. At first, he wasn’t sure if it was legitimate until he called the number and checked for himself.
“I didn’t know what was going on with it or if it was legitimate or not. So I called, and basically you have to fill out FAFSA and click off a box,” Paolicelli said.
From 2006 to 2012 the number of first-time students who have received financial aid increased from 75 to 85 percent, as reported in a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Studentaid.ed.gov, a website that helps students prepare for college, claims that there are 22 million FAFSA submissions each year.
“In general, roughly half of our freshman class has scholarships,” Moravec said.
Moravec said he recommends students check out the website fastweb.com if they are looking for legitimate scholarships. Moravec also suggests looking within academic departments, club sports or organizations, depending on what each individual student is involved in.
PSUC journalism major Eve Barnofsky has a scholarship from the Long Island Blood Center.
“If you run your own blood drive and get over 50 pints, they will give you $500 in scholarship money,” Barnofsky said. “So I did two of those a year — one in the winter and one in the summer — since freshman year.”
Fastweb.com gives a list of helpful tips in determining if you are being scammed. Some of the tips state that scholarships will never guarantee you money, constantly contact you about deadlines or have “limited time offers.”
Email Patrick Willisch at firstname.lastname@example.org