Piedmont Triad, NC -- The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning for parents looking for money to get their children through college: not all offers for help are created equal.
Budgets have tightened and scholarships and grants are hard to come by -- which means a lot of families are willing to do almost anything to make sure their children get some tuition help.
It's that eagerness that the BBB says could potentially make them victims of a financial aid scheme.
High school senior Kristan Edwards has spent a lot of time this summer gathering tuition money in preparing for college - which is still a year away.
"I have a few friends who graduated this past year who waited too long, I guess, and they got no financial aid at all. I just don't want to be stuck in their shoes," she explained.
That's because being stuck in their shoes would mean no money for college or graduating with thousands of dollars in debt.
"The fact that you have to pay so much for a good education, it just kind of blows my mind," said Kristan.
The search for tuition help is one Ken Edwards, Kristan's father, is all too familiar with.
"You find out quickly that if you make just a little bit of money you can't get need-based," he said.
Edwards has already put one child through college and knows finding money this time around will be much harder.
"I feel like there'll be a panic button coming in, in the not too distant future," he said.
It's when that panic sets in that the BBB says schemers are standing by -- just as eager -- to rip families off.
"We just want to try to get the word out to as many folks as possible to be wary when researching opportunities," said Kevin Hinterberger with the Greensboro BBB.
Hinterberger says not all websites, seminars and financial aid advisors are created equal.
"If you feel like you're being pressured into a situation, if you feel there's an upfront fee, take a step back, ask questions," Hinterberger said.
Gregg Schlaudecker is a chartered financial consultant with Emerald College Planning and says the schools may be the safest way to start the search.
"Almost every scholarship out there advertises with, if you will, through high school counselors so that's the first place you should start," he said. "[College is] a big expense and people are just concerned about where they are going to get that check."
The Edwards, however, plan to do as much research as they can on their own but are more than willing to seek reputable outside help.
"We're not at that point yet but we know it's coming," said Edwards.
Here are the five tips from the BBB to remember in your financial aid search should you decide to get help:
Don't be pressured
Turn to a school counselor
Get details in writing
And by all means, research the company's background.
Our experts also add that this is the best time for your high school rising senior to start searching for financial aid.
They'll most likely be too busy with tests and college applications their senior year to dedicate enough time to it then.
If you go with professional help, make sure they have a guarantee without too many restrictions.
Schlaudecker suggests checking with civic groups and local foundations for grants and scholarships.
Also, if your child has a list of colleges they want to apply to, contact the financial aid offices at those colleges for help.
There are also federal tax benefits - like the American Opportunity Scholarship that you can look into.
Most importantly, remember it's never too late to get financial aid: even when students are in college, they can reapply every year. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA starts January first of every year your child is in college.