A letter may come in the mail and look like an exclusive invitation to a seminar. In reality, that same invitation may have been sent to every prospective college student in the surrounding ZIP codes, Ashe said.
Seminars may offer to help you fill out the form in a way that will reduce the amount you will owe, particularly when it comes to the expected family contribution.
Watch out for sessions that offer to shelter your assets so that you will qualify for more aid through financial products like whole life or cash value life insurance.
Also be sure the information the seminar provides is transparent, Ashe said. If all of your questions aren't answered, that should be a red flag.
Also be cautious if the seminars claim to have better information than your high school guidance counselors or college financial aid professionals, Ashe said. Those individuals are your best resources, he said, and can often weigh in on whether an aid program is reputable.
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You should also be able to reach out directly to other consumers who have used the services in the past.
"Don't rely on the success stories provided in the seminar," Ashe said. "They could be fictional people or they could be paid shills."
As with scholarship applications, you should limit the information you give out. Do not share Social Security or credit card numbers.
You should also know exactly how much the services offered will cost, and if there is a refund policy if you don't get what you want out of the seminar.
"College is expensive enough," Ashe said. "The last thing consumers should be doing is paying a couple of thousand dollars to a company that may or may not be legitimate. That money is better spent on tuition payments."