A recent College Board survey revealed that one year of college education can cost an average for tuition, fees and room and board, $20,770 for a four year college and $47,700 for a private one. With rates for higher education continuing to rise 3-4% annually, high school students and their families often scramble to manage the financial responsibility.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends caution when dealing with companies that offer assistance in finding financial aid opportunities. Students and their families should be wary of websites, seminars or other schemes that promise to find scholarships, grants or financial aid packages for a fee.
Better Business Bureau, which awards a Student of Ethics scholarship, reminds students and parents that most scholarship information is available free. Springfield BBB Regional Director Stephanie Garland says, “High school guidance counselors often can help students search for information on scholarships based on their academic achievements, athletic ability and talents. Information on many awards is available online or at public or school libraries.”
Fraudulent companies advertising financial aid search services may promise a money-back guarantee if students are unable to secure grants or scholarships, but they also set so many conditions that it’s almost always impossible to get a refund.
Legitimate companies can help students find aid, but they will never guarantee results. However, parents and students usually can find the same awards and others on their own by searching online or going to the library.
Most colleges that award need-based financial aid require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which the schools use to determine a student’s financial need. Parents or students can complete the FAFSA online. More information is available online or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.
BBB advises students to:
• 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 cautious if a company is reluctant to answer any questions you have about the service or the process. If the company or seminar representative is evasive, walk away.
• Ask your guidance counselor or a college financial aid office whether they have experience with the 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 to them and find out about their experience with the firm.
• Ask about fees associated with a professional financial aid search and find out if the company provides refunds. Get the information in writing, but realize the 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.
• If you suspect a financial aid assistance company of running a scam, go to bbb.org/scamtracker and make a report.
• Investigate any company that you consider using to help find aid. Check the company’s BBB Business Profile at bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
• To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.
BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information.