High school students warned to watch out for college scholarship scams

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COLUMBIA - Guidance counselors are warning high school students to watch out for potential college scholarship scams. 

Jacob Biener, a guidance counselor at Battle High School, said students should utilize the school's resources rather than sites and companies posing as scholarship aids. 

"There are plenty of services out there that will want to take your money to pair you up with scholarships, when there are better free alternatives," Biener said. 

Sean Spence of the Better Business Bureau said companies will pose as a real business, claiming they offer scholarship aid when in reality they are only looking to take a person's money. 

"It could be someone who says they have a scholarship and really don't or it could be a company thats says they will help you find scholarships for a fee and then they really don't," Spence said.

Many scams come via direct mail, e-mail, or over the phone.

Anytime a company or individual asks for money up front in return for services, Spence said, that's a warning signal. While it might not necessarily mean the company is trying to scam you, he said to look into it further by making phone calls and asking people who've used the company before paying any money. 

"Always find someone who has had success with that company, because if you can't find someone then that company is probably a scam," Spence said. 

Columbia Public Schools uses its website as a strong source to provide students with scholarship help. 

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the school system lists potential scholarship opportunities and links for federal aid (FAFSA) and other resources.

"The FAFSA process can be very overwhelming and confusing, especially to high school students. So we try to work with students and their families to help them navigate that process and help them be able to know what resources are available to them," Baumstark said.

The director of secondary education for CPS, Betsy Jones, said often when students are applying for scholarships, they don't fill out the FAFSA, which could prohibit them from receiving potential scholarships. 

"Students have to apply for FAFSA first because no institution or state is going to give them money until they see what they qualify for federally. It's a common mistake where students don't fill out the FAFSA because they think their family's income is too high, but then they have to go back and fill it out to ensure they get that scholarship," Jones said. 

Jones also said following the schools on social media is a huge benefit because, in addition to posting scholarship opportunities on their websites, the schools post them on Twitter as well. 

April 1 is deadline to fill out FAFSA paperwork for Missouri for the 2016-17 school year.