Scholarships can help you pay for your college education. But how do you find scholarships that you have a real chance of getting?
First, work with adults who know the scholarship scene. Then cast a wide net to find donors who are looking for someone exactly like you.
Good news: There are thousands of scholarships that you can apply for.
Bad news: The hunt is time-consuming. Also, some colleges may reduce the amount of scholarship aid they offer by the amount of other private scholarships you get.
Still, scholarships are important. They will help you pay for college costs that government grants may not cover. And they are “awards” that can look good on your resume. You should try to get a few!
Your Scholarship Hunt: First Steps
Before you start looking for scholarships, talk to an adult who knows this world. Your school counselor or a local librarian can point you to scholarships that have been helpful to students in your community. This is a great start.
After that, if you need a bigger list of scholarships to apply for, it’s time to hit the web.
Before you open your browser, you may want to read our general advice for scholarship hunters. And look below for some important warnings about the many scam sites out there.
Privacy is also a concern. Many of these websites sell your information to college marketing firms and others who ask for it. When you sign up for a scholarship site, try to opt out of emails from outsiders.
Finally, here’s another short list of sites we like, including some non-profit scholarship providers.
Scholarship Websites: Seven Big Players
Students at UndertandingFASA.org created accounts on some of the largest scholarship sites to see how they work and what they offer.
Check out our pros, cons, and privacy warnings for these big players. They are listed in the order that we liked them.
While each site is worth a quick look, it’s probably best to choose no more than two or three to conduct your scholarship search. (Choosing just one website is ideal, but you might want to experiment to see which website you are most comfortable with.)
Here is our list of the big seven in the order that we like them. Check out our reviews below:
1. College Board: comprehensive, secure, broad
2. Scholarship Owl: secure, trustworthy, efficient
3. Fastweb: one-stop-shop, has helpful guides
4. Scholarships.com: abundant options, but lots of ads
5. Bold.org: informative, great idea, but caters to donors
6. Cappex: gives the lay of the land, but tracks information heavily
7. Going Merry: useful, but beware of tracking
What is a scholarship?
Scholarships are monetary awards given by a college, a private organization, or an individual donor. They’re sometimes referred to as “free money” because you don’t need to pay them back. Usually, they can be used for personal college expenses such as books and living costs, which government grants don’t support.
Colleges may offer you scholarships out of their own funds. Students may also get scholarships from outside organizations. But in all cases, it is important to know what rules you need to follow to get and keep the scholarship.
To get the scholarship, you may need to prove you have certain interests or talents. To keep a scholarship coming from year to year, you may need to get good grades and fulfill other requirements too. Be sure to ask what is expected of you.
Pros: The College Board’s popular Big Future website has a database of scholarships with more than 6,000 programs that provide awards totaling over $4 billion yearly. After you enter in your biographical information, and your interests, affiliations, professions, and citizenship, a more curated list will be provided to you.
Cons: Due to how extensive this list is, be critical of the options provided to you. Try to narrow down your list and find a select few that you can write strong essays for and devote care and attention to.
Privacy: Navigate to the privacy settings tab on the bottom right of the homepage after you sign in to decide what to share with the site and its third-party partners. You can also choose how often you wish to be contacted with marketing outreach and solicitation.
Pros: This is a great site if you are wary of scams. Scholarship Owl boasts that 100 percent of the scholarships on their site are authentic, and even offers a credibility score for each to provide you with more confidence. Check out their blog for tips and tricks on how to get through the application process smoothly.
Cons: Like the other scholarship sites, Scholarship Owl sells your data.
Privacy: Scholarship Owl actively seeks out business partners who want to market to Gen Z students. You probably want to opt out of these communications.
Pros: This site offers a big list of scholarships. After setting up an account, you will begin receiving emails about new opportunities and their deadlines, which is helpful for staying on top of things.
Cons: Beware of browser pop-ups and the private loans that are advertised on the site. If you don’t opt-out of some or all notifications, you may be inundated with messages from this site. Our advice: opt out of all of their notifications.
Privacy: This site collects a lot of personal information from you, in part to help you narrow down your hunt. This information is used for marketing purposes and can be sold to third parties. You can opt-out during signup. Be sure to do so!
Pros: After setting up an account on this site, you will be directed to an extensive scholarship directory. Once in the directory, you can use filters to narrow down what scholarship options you would like to see.
Cons: Beware of the advertisements on this site. They are annoying. You will need to navigate around them to read through the scholarship opportunities offered.
Privacy: This site actively shares your information with third-party marketing partners. You can opt-out when setting up your account. Definitely do this.
Pros: Bold.org allows donors to make tax-deductible contributions to students’ education costs. On this platform, you can explore exclusive scholarships for your state, major, education level, ethnicity, and more. It’s an interesting model: The website serves both students and donors who would like to establish a scholarship.
Cons: In navigating this site, you may feel that it caters a bit too much to donors.
Privacy: Bold promises that they will not sell your information to third parties without your consent. Opt-out by going to your account settings page.
Pros: This website supports both your scholarship and college search. In addition to offering lists of scholarships, you can research colleges and get a sense of how likely you are to be accepted based on your personal and academic information.
Cons: Cappex is sharing your personal information with third parties – and it can be tricky to opt-out.
Privacy: You may want to avoid this website if you don’t want your personal and academic information shared with college marketing companies.
Pros: After inputting some basic information into this site, you will be provided with a list of scholarships that fit your profile. The website also provides a handy countdown for your deadlines and an estimate of how long it will take you to complete each application.
Cons: Be aware that emails from this site will be abundant. After creating a profile and taking a look at your email options, consider unsubscribing to those that don’t look useful.
Privacy: This site collects your personal information and sells it to marketing companies in the higher education world. You can opt-out during signup.
Beware of Scholarship Scam Sites
It can be tricky to determine which scholarship sites to trust and which to avoid.
You will spot sites that offer large scholarships but don’t ask a lot about you or your plans to attend college. These sites are most likely looking for your personal information to sell to college marketing companies. It’s best not to engage with them.
Always ask yourself: Does this seem too good to be true? If the answer is yes, then it probably is. (But feel free to run the offer past a knowledgeable adult. You never know.)
Be wary of any scholarship offers that:
- Use language like “raffle,” “sweepstakes,” or “luck of the draw.”
- Only ask for your basic information. (For example, they don’t ask about your academic history or future interests.)
- Have light or no essay requirements. Requiring an essay with a word count of 100 words or less is a bad sign.
- Don’t ask you for your GPA (grade point average).
- Don’t ask for transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, or letters of recommendation.
- Offer rewards at random times throughout the year.
- Ask for your social security number. As a rule, NEVER share your social security number with anyone without checking with an adult first.
End Note: Need a Scholarship Calendar?
Here is a handy one from Fastweb that also offers advice on scam sites and on additional organizations you may want to contact:
2022-23 Scholarship Application Calendar (Fastweb)