Recently we had a student ask us, “How do you decide if an external scholarship is legitimate and a worthwhile endeavor?” We want to share with you some of the ways that we review external scholarship opportunities so that you can make better informed decisions about how to allocate your time spent on applications.
First Point: The Dollars and Sense
Shortly after the University Scholarship Office was created, it was decided that we would only advertise external scholarship opportunities with a dollar amount of $750 or more. First and foremost, we have a firm commitment to UNC Charlotte students pursuing a high level of academic achievement, and believe that students may not benefit from applying for low-dollar scholarships.
With thousands of external scholarship opportunities available, it just makes sense that UNC Charlotte students should only apply to those scholarships which will have the greatest impact on their financial situation.
Second Point: Deadlines, Deadlines, and Short Deadlines
Procrastination is an inevitable part of every student’s college career; however, we do not encourage the behavior! Our office does not list external scholarship opportunities which have deadlines less than 30-days away. Rushing to complete essays and submit applications will not produce the best results for students. Dozens of external scholarship opportunities are received every month which have deadlines that are a week or two away. When looking through the external scholarship spreadsheet, we encourage students to pick opportunities which are not due for several months, thus giving the student ample time to submit a stellar application.
Third Point: Application Fee or Application Free?
While it is rare for us to see them, we simply do not list opportunities that have application fees. Scholarships are about rewarding students for their academic, leadership, and writing achievements. There should not be a “pay wall” for any scholarship opportunity. Most students who are seeking scholarships will not have extra money to pay application fees. Due to the high amount of scholarship scams online, we encourage students to never pay an application fee for a scholarship.
Visit The CollegeBoard to learn more about scholarship scams, and the tactics that scammers use to con students.
Fourth Point: Avoid TMI (Too much information)
Some scholarship opportunities that come across our desk are simply asking for too much information from the student. From our experience, it seems that many external scholarship opportunities are marketing campaigns, and one of the goals is to collect data on students. Collecting personal information is normal for external scholarships, but sometimes the information requested is excessive. For example, external scholarship opportunities that ask for student’s social security numbers are not legitimate.
We also look into the legal terms and conditions for each scholarship to see what the company intends to do with the information collected. If there is any indication that the company will sell the student’s information to a third-party, we will not list the opportunity.
Fifth Point: Legitimacy
Sometimes the companies that send us external scholarship opportunities are simply not legitimate. What do we mean by that? Below are some common examples of illegitimate companies:
- The scholarship page is the only thing on their website: This is more common than you might think. It is very easy to create a website these days, but I notice that many companies which advertise scholarships will only have one page on their entire website, and it’s the scholarship. Strange, right? How could a company possibly make money if the only thing they do is advertise a single scholarship opportunity? Looking at the website structure, the number of pages, and other content is a great signal of legitimacy.
- The purpose of the company matters: What does the company actually do day-to-day? Many of our external scholarship opportunities are from law firms, blogs, review websites, retailers, and academic organizations. If the company does not appear to have a legitimate purpose, we will not list the scholarship opportunity. Be particularly diligent when viewing opportunities that are posted by companies outside of the United States, or opportunities from companies who sell social media followers.
- We are proud members of the grammar police: I saw the following in a scholarship advertisement last week, “A students who apprehend higher education may best be applied to our scholarships for students.” It is extremely common for illegitimate companies to have several serious spelling and grammatical errors in their scholarship advertisement. It is a sign that the website was thrown together hastily, and that the person managing the website may have alternative motives. In my opinion, if you can’t manage to create a scholarship advertisement without glaring spelling or grammatical errors, then you are not to be trusted with student’s personal information.
After going through the five points above, each external scholarship opportunity is either added to our list or declined. Accepted opportunities are posted to our external scholarship spreadsheet and advertised to UNC Charlotte students.
We do our best to have a stringent review process to protect our students from serious issues like identity theft, or theft of intellectual property. Even with our review process, it is important that every student carefully review the external scholarship’s terms and conditions before applying. We can never be 100% sure that all opportunities on our list are legitimate, but we do our best to ensure the legitimacy of each scholarship.
If you ever have any questions about a specific external scholarship opportunity, please do not hesitate to contact our office via email, phone, or online.
This blog was written by Taylor J. Valley, a Graduate Assistant in the University Scholarship Office at UNC Charlotte, and a student in the Master of Public Administration program.