How International Students in the U.S. Can Spot and Avoid Scholarship Scams

How International Students in the U.S. Can Spot and Avoid Scholarship Scams

A degree from a university in the U.S. is often highly desired. Not only can it open the pathway to permanent U.S. residency or a Green Card; it can also help you land the best jobs across the world.

However, a college education in the U.S. comes with an astronomical price tag. The average cost of a four-year college degree can be around $35,700 USD.

Since a degree is expensive by any standards, students commonly seek loans and scholarships to help with their academic finances.

Loans vs. Scholarships

Scholarships are different from loans.

A loan is from a financial institution and has to be paid back with interest. However, students from outside the U.S. often have difficulty getting loans. International students and their families typically do not have a credit rating in the U.S., which is a must for any loan.

Usually, only students based out of the U.S. can receive loans.

In contrast, a scholarship is financial aid that is generally granted on a merit basis. Most scholarships are provided from funds set up by colleges, universities, donors, and trusts. The best example of the latter is the famed Harry S. Truman Scholarship that offers up to $30,000 for gifted students.

Scholarship-Based Scams

There are dishonest people in every field and every country, scholarships being no exception. Scams that attempt to defraud students wanting to study abroad in the U.S. occur frequently.

What Are the Most Common Forms of Scams?

Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are the most common. An email is sent with an enticing subject line like, “You are eligible for $10,000 for a study abroad scholarship.”

For nearly anyone, it is hard to discard such an email without at least reading it.

Most phishing emails are very well-composed. They might contain lengthy attachments with an official-looking logo. Even the email address might be spoofed, and be almost the same as the actual one, e.g., replaced by

The most troublesome part of phishing scams is that they provide a link to an authentic-looking webpage where you are required to fill out all of your personal, financial, and educational information.

Now that the scammers have your identity, they can create a fake persona to cheat others.

Illegitimate Webinars

You might get an innocuous request to attend a webinar about scholarships. As part of the webinar, you may be asked to sign up for a service that can assist you.

The pitch is hard to resist since it seems to be delivered by professionals. In fact, they might not even try to sell scholarships, but instead a personal development course.

In the end, after parting with several hundred dollars, you may only receive a set of audiobooks that contain a few hours of recorded sessions stolen off of another website.


Lottery scams invariably sell you the idea of being one of the lucky few. The email may market a lottery with a thousand participants worldwide, and the winners would each receive several thousand dollars.

The entry ticket is priced sufficiently low so as not to raise any suspicion.

Of course, there is no such lottery. This is just a brazen attempt to siphon money from your account.

Also, watch out for deadlines and pressure tactics. Of course, scholarships have deadlines, but they are unlikely to pressure you into submitting an application. Any scholarship that is genuine is flooded with applications and does not need to solicit more.

Key Signs of Scholarship Scams

Application Fees

You need to pay to apply to a college or university, i.e., the form is accompanied by application fees required to process it.

However, a scholarship never asks for processing fees. If the website you visit or the email you receive asks for application money, something is not right. If it does ask, abandon the procedure without divulging further details.

Unexpected Offers

You have not applied for a scholarship, yet you get an email or phone call announcing that you have just been awarded one!

This is quite a common tactic. After all, who does not want an extra $20,000 to help with the huge cost of studying abroad?

This is obviously a scam. The attempt might be to get you to part with a few hundred dollars with the promise of several thousand later, or simply identity theft.

Requests for Credit Information

The way scholarships work is pretty straightforward in any country. Your merit is ascertained, and if any aid is provided to you for tuition, it is sent directly to the school. If the aid is meant for personal use, such as boarding, it is remitted to your bank account.

Under no circumstances do the providers need to know your credit card information. If you receive a legitimate scholarship where funds will be sent directly to you, there is a chance you might be asked to provide a limited amount of banking information. However, they would never ask for credit card information.

Application Through a Third Party

A third party can advise you regarding scholarships; for example, which ones to apply for and how. But it is important to note that a third party cannot apply for a scholarship on your behalf.

Every organization that offers scholarships has the facility for online application, so that students from around the world can apply themselves. If you receive notice that you have received a scholarship that was applied for by a third party, it is very likely illegitimate. 

Trust Your Instincts

It would be wonderful if we lived in a completely moral world, but unfortunately, there are amoral elements lurking everywhere.

Scammers succeed by identifying a victim’s weakness and preying on it. If a scholarship to study in the U.S. is something you strongly desire, it’s easy to throw logic out the window when the possibility of receiving one – by any means – is presented to you.

In these situations, it’s important to be mindful and trust your instincts. If something seems too good to be true, it most likely is not true. Remember the tips in this article, and never provide personal or financial information to anyone unless you can verify who is asking for it. As long as you are cautious, you can avoid being the victim of a scam.

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