Do not include sensitive personal information that you’re not asked for.

In fact, if anyone asks you to submit sensitive information, I’d advise skipping that scholarship altogether, because I know of no reason why a reputable program would be asking for your sensitive personal information.

First, let me clarify what I mean by “sensitive personal information.” I’m talking about things like your Social Security number, your driver’s license number, bank account information, passwords, logins, etc. I’m not talking about basic contact information like name, physical address, email address, and basic things such as that. After all, if you’re lucky enough to actually win the scholarship, the committee needs a way to notify you, and if you don’t provide any contact information, you’ll never find out you won and you’ll never get your money!

Back to the issue of sensitive information: You’d be amazed at how many people enclose their Social Security Number with their essay. I have no idea why that is, nor do I have any idea why a reputable scholarship program would ask for it. If you win a big monetary scholarship, then they may need it for tax purposes later – and if you get to that point, they can ask you after you win. Identity theft is rampant, and a valid SSN is the jackpot for an identity thief, especially if it comes along with the owner’s name, address, and other vital information.

Some of our applicants have gone even further. I remember two in particular – one who provided her parents’ full tax return (complete with both parents’ Social Security numbers, names, addresses, employers, incomes… the whole nine yards), and one gentleman from Africa who included his bank account number.

I’ll give both these students the benefit of the doubt and say that SURELY, at one point before sending this info, each paused for at least a moment and thought, “should I really be sending this?” And they likely went ahead and sent the info because of one thing: they trusted the committee not to abuse it. And certainly in our case, they were right to do so. However, mail gets lost, and mail gets stolen. And those who steal mail do it for two reasons: a) to steal money and checks that are in the mail, and b) to steal the personal information within the mail in order to do heavy-duty financial damage later.

Bottom line: Don’t send your SSN or any other sensitive information in a scholarship application. Doing so puts you at high risk for little reward.

6 thoughts on “Do not include sensitive personal information that you’re not asked for.”

  1. Hi Josh,

    I agree with you! However, more and more legitimate scholarship applications are asking for social security numbers upfront. I am not comfortable with that idea unless I am selected as a winner and my identity needs to be verified. What should we do?


  2. Hi, Erika. Are you really seeing an increase in scholarships asking for SSN? Can you point me to a couple of links? That surprises me, and frankly, there is NO reason under the sun for providers to be asking for that information up front. The risk-reward proposition for a student is tilted heavily to the negative and they shouldn’t be asking you to do that.

    Post some links, and let’s pursue it.


  3. The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship asks for the SSN to be printed on top of all the pages in the transcript package.

  4. My daughter recently completed a scholarship package for a single group that offers (or selects and awards, I guess) about 3 dozen different scholarships. You fill out the form once, check the boxes on the list for each one you want to apply to, and then make a copy of the whole form for each one you selected. This one required the ss# at the top of each page, including the forms filled out by those giving references. I didn’t think much about it at the time because we’d been doing college apps too, and those include SS#. Should we be worried about these? And do you have any advice for how to handle this in the future?

  5. Hey Josh,

    I’ve seen the same thing as Erika. I’ve applied to around 30 scholarships thus far (none of those $10k drawings) and I’ve actually sent a few in requiring SSN/parent tax returns. I’ve only had one scholarship program (Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta) ask for a tax return and explicitly tell students to block out the SSNs. This information was really helpful, and while those programs sounded pretty legitimate, I will definitely call those programs (Why is my SSN necessary? Can I wait on giving til selected, if I am? Can I block out SSNs on tax returns?) in the future.

    Going through my records, here’s scholarship programs that ask for that information:
    Ronald McDonald House Charity Scholarships (Tax returns, online)
    MetroPCS Community Scholars (SSN required right on form, mailed)
    Kim & Harold Louie Family Foundation (Tax returns, online)
    Urban League Scholarships (SSN on form, mail)
    Dr. Merrit W. Wilson (“FAFSA forms”?, online)

    A few also asked for SAT score reports; unofficial ones were okay. I just checked and apparently the unofficial SAT score reports mailed home have my SSN on them.

  6. My college (2010-2011) costs 55588 dollars. I have submitted SOOO many scholarships and of course about 10 of those needed my SSN. I used zinch and to search for these scholarships, so hopefully they’re legitimate. I also haven’t been keeping track of them, which I know is bad. I’m starting to do so now.

    Is this ok?

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