Preparing for College

Preparing for College for a Fee?

ACT, ETS, FAFSA, and SAR—every year, students and their parents seek assistance in understanding the flurry of paperwork and acronyms they encounter on the road to college. Unfortunately, some fall prey to scholarship and financial aid scams while going through the financial aid and admission processes.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, every year unscrupulous companies guarantee assistance with the admission process or promise fantastic financial aid packages. Many use high-pressure sales pitches at seminars and require participants to pay immediately or risk losing out on the "opportunity."

Some companies guarantee that they can get scholarships on behalf of students or award them "scholarships" in exchange for an advance fee. Most offer a "money back guarantee" but attach conditions that make it impossible to get the refund. Others provide nothing for the advance fee, not even a list of potential sources; still others tell students they've been selected as "finalists" for awards that require an up-front fee. Sometimes these companies ask for a checking account number to "confirm eligibility," then debit the account without the owner's consent, or quote only a relatively small "monthly" or "weekly" fee and then ask for authorization to debit a checking account for an undetermined length of time.

If you attend a seminar on financial aid or college preparation, the following may be helpful to consider:

If you or someone you know suspects a scam, report the offer to the National Fraud Information center at (800) 876-7060, or send an e-mail to

Preparing for College for Free!

Free help is available, whether you are looking for sources of student aid, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or completing the UW System Application for Admission.

The following sources provide information about aid from the federal government and state government; most explain funds from local community and private sources as well.

Where Can I Get Free Information about Applying for Admission?

The following resources can assist high school students and their families in learning more about the college admission process.

Who Offers Free Help Completing Financial Aid Forms?

Some private companies charge a fee for help completing these forms. You can get free help from the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC), UW HELP, or the campus financial aid office on the campus you plan to attend. Contact information for all UW System financial aid offices is available in the Introduction to the UW System.

Who Offers Free Help Completing the Application for Admission?

Again, some private companies charge a fee for help completing an application for admission.

Free assistance is available from UW HELP or the admissions office of the campus you plan to attend. Contact information for all UW System admissions offices is available in the Introduction to the UW System.

Sources of Free Information

Check with all of these sources before considering paying for a scholarship search or a college preparation service.

Could you run that by me one more time?

Most of the information provided by private scholarship search services or college preparation services can be obtained for free. Before you pay any company or organization, make sure you know what you're getting for your money.

Return to top.