The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a non-profit organization that has worked for more than 70 years to create a marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other. It accomplishes this through consumer and business education, setting ethical standards for businesses, complaint resolution and exposing unethical business practices.
If you are (or have a child who is) a senior in high school, chances are you know about the college application deadline looming. It's also likely that you've been approached (or will soon be approached) by companies promising to help you find college financial aid or scholarships. Beware!
With the cost of college outpacing inflation and crimping family budgets, students and their families are anxious to find scholarships and other awards that can help them pay for higher education. The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises students and their parents to be wary of websites, seminars or other schemes that promise to find scholarships, grants or financial aid packages for a fee.
These companies may promise a money-back guarantee, but they set so many conditions that it’s almost impossible to get a refund. Others tell students they’ve been selected as finalists but that they must pay a fee to be eligible for the award.
In some cases, companies promise to process paperwork that can make you eligible for the aid for a fee. However, the standard application for financial aid is most often the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which students and their parents can complete themselves at no cost. More information is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov or by calling toll-free 1-800-4-FED-AID.
College financial aid offices require FAFSA to assess a student’s eligibility for need-based aid, and they may require additional information. Most are willing to advise prospective students on how to apply for aid and answer questions about financial aid packages they offer when a student is accepted for admission.
High school guidance counselors can often help students search for information on scholarships based on their talents, academic achievements, essay contests or other merit-based aid. Information on many awards is available free online or at public and school libraries. Legitimate companies can help students find aid, but they will never promise results.
The Wisconsin BBB offers the following tips:
- 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 wary if a company is reluctant to answer any questions you have about its service or the process. If the business or seminar representative is evasive, walk away.
- Ask your guidance counselor or a college financial aid office whether they have experience with the prospective 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 with them directly about their experience with the firm.
- Ask about fees associated with a professional financial aid search and find out if the business provides refunds. Get all information in writing, but understand that dishonest companies may refuse to provide refunds despite stated policies.
- Beware of letters or e-mails saying you’ve been selected to receive a scholarship for a contest you never entered.
- Investigate any company that you consider using to help find aid. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at www.wisconsin.bbb.org or by calling 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee) or 800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin).