Watching Out For Scholarship Scams
Financing a postsecondary education can be expensive, but that shouldn't tempt consumers to let down their guard when looking into scholarships and agencies that promise scholarships in exchange for often-exorbitant fees.
DECO Consulting Services became the Federal Trade Commission's latest "bust" in late October for guaranteeing its clients at least $1,000 worth of scholarships in return for $200 up front. DECO is charged with delivering "outdated" and "useless" scholarship information.
Larry Organ, spokesman for student services at Sourcebooks Inc., in Naperville, Ill., says these agencies often report that billions in scholarship money went unclaimed last year and their agency will help you find the unused funds. "It's ludicrous. The [excess] money was never intended for education in the first place," he says.
Experts recommend tapping into the free and comprehensive scholarship source listings in scholarship books in the library as well as the few budding Internet databases such as www.Fastweb.com.
And if you decide to use an agency to save time, they suggest, be sure to check past client references and fee arrangements - and stay clear of groups that guarantee anything and promise to do all the work.
Searching for a good college? You might want to think twice about relying on the college rankings in magazines such as U.S. News and World Report and Money to give you the low-down, says Norman Smith, president of Wagner College in New York.
In Dr. Smith's book, "Selecting the Right College," he points out that both publications rely on data provided by schools. The information they do receive is often incomplete, he says, and those doing the ranking have not visited most of the schools included. He also points out that evaluators can set arbitrary criteria, such as favoring the amount of money spent on faculty over the quality of their teaching.
Bill Coolbaugh, president of the College Counsel in Natick, Mass., says rankings started as a good idea, but are now overemphasized, especially by the admissions offices of high-ranking schools. "Only a few colleges will be high on the rankings, and there are a lot of good colleges," he says.
Many experts say the best way to research a college is to visit the campus, talk to students, and go to the career center to find what types of jobs their graduates land.