Beware of FAFSA and Scholarship Myths and Scams

ALBANY, NY (02/17/2011)(readMedia)-- Searching for scholarships can be time consuming, but the reward can be great, especially if you gain enough scholarship money to help pay for some or all of your college expenses.

You may have received offers from individuals or companies to find scholarships or complete the federal financial aid application, the FAFSA for you...for a fee. The New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) urges students and families to be aware of the services you are paying for when considering fee-based student financial aid services. Much of the information provided is generally available freely on Internet search engines and at HESC is the State's student financial aid agency that helps people pay for college.

Be aware of these common scholarship myths and scams:

Myth: We have the secret formula for getting more federal aid.

The key to receiving federal financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – the FAFSA. Note the first word in FAFSA is "free." There is no need to pay for a service to prepare the FAFSA for you. The official form is at , which you can access through

There are no secret formulas and the amount of aid you'll receive, based on your financial need and expected family contribution, is the same regardless of who completes the application. Completing the FAFSA is easier than ever before. Plus, free FAFSA help is available at many community organizations throughout the State and at, HESC's student financial aid awareness campaign website.

Myth: Millions of dollars in scholarship money go unclaimed.

In reality, almost all scholarships are awarded. As much as 85 percent of the "unclaimed" money is employer-paid education benefits that are not awarded because of highly restrictive requirements or timing.

Myth: Only "A" students get scholarships.

Students with higher grades can compete for academic scholarships, but many scholarship committees look for more than grades. Some scholarship requirements may include involvement in community or extracurricular activities; others may require a particular skill or talent.

Myth: You need tons of community service and extracurricular activities to get scholarships.

Many scholarship winners have distinguished themselves with their dedication to only a few activities and have developed leadership skills within those programs. High-quality involvement with one or two activities trumps low-quality involvement in many. Quantity isn't everything.

Myth: Only the neediest students get scholarships.

While many scholarships are based on financial need or heritage, there are many other scholarships based on merit, academic interest, written essay competition or by audition. The scholarship search engines on can help you find them.

Myth: Scholarships will reduce the amount of financial aid I'll receive.

You must report all scholarships, gifts or other funds you will be using for college when applying for financial aid. Receiving one or more scholarships may change the amount of need-based financial aid you receive. At the same time, receiving a scholarship is more likely to reduce your need for loans. In many cases, receiving a scholarship will not affect your total financial aid package.

Scam: We guarantee to get you scholarship aid – we'll do all the work.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Keeping this old adage top-of-mind will help you determine whether to use a scholarship-finding service. Most scholarship search services match your profile to lists of available scholarships, probably from many of the same sources you can access for free on the Internet. Be aware that most scholarship sponsors do not charge up-front fees to apply for funding, and no legitimate scholarship sponsor can guarantee you will win an award.

Scam: We have information you can't get anywhere else.

There are no secret sources of federal or state student aid. There is simply no need to spend several hundred dollars for free information you can find yourself.

Scam: We need your credit card to "hold" your scholarship.

This is a red not give your credit card information over the phone or online to anyone without getting information about their service in writing first. You may be setting yourself up for an unauthorized charge or withdrawal, or worse yet, for identity theft.

You can learn more about scholarship myths and scams by visiting the Federal Trade Commission's Scholarship Scams Website.

About HESC: HESC is New York State's student financial aid agency, helping people pay for college by providing more grant and scholarship award money than any other state in the nation. At HESC's core are programs like the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), numerous state scholarships, the New York Higher Education Loan Program (NYHELPs), federal college access grants and a highly successful College Savings program. HESC puts college within the reach of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers each year through programs like these, and through the guidance it provides to students, families and counselors. In 2009-10, HESC helped more than 605,000 students achieve their college dreams by providing $4.4 billion in grants, scholarships and loan guarantees, including $901 million awarded through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to nearly 398,000 students.