The Best Scholarship Search Platforms of 2018
Scholarships are one of the best ways to reduce these growing costs and scholarship search platforms exist to help students find the most relevant ones. These platforms compile large databases of available scholarships and provide filters to allow students to maximize their searches.
We created this guide to review the best scholarship search platforms and instruct students on how to use them effectively to find as many opportunities as possible.
To determine the best scholarship search platforms, we spent over 200 hours researching 17 of the most popular sites across five core metrics including search functionality, scholarship availability, ease of use, application tools, and additional helpful resources.
The best scholarship search platform was Fastweb. They scored the highest out of all 17 platforms because they were the easiest to use, had the most tools, and had among the most available scholarships with the highest dollar amounts. This search engine is best for most students including high school, undergraduate, and graduate.
We also recommend Cappex. This platform scored consistently high in the most important categories of scholarship availability, ease of use, and tools. It is the best and best for students who want to be able to apply for and track the status of a large number of scholarships.
What we’ll cover in this guide:
- The major challenges students face when searching for scholarships
- How the right search engine can help students overcome these challenges
- What students should know before applying for a scholarship
- The most important features of a great scholarship search platform
- The best scholarship search platforms of 2017
- Advice on early preparation to qualify for scholarships
- Tips on applying for scholarships
- Our full methodology and scoring process
2. The best scholarship search platforms of 2018
Fastweb is the top overall scholarship search platform in our review. They scored consistently high marks across every metric. They were the easiest to use as they required no registration to browse scholarship listings, had both a searchable database and personalized matches, and were mobile-friendly.
Fastweb also had the most tools of any platform. That fact, combined with a high score for scholarship availability, means Fastweb is the best platform for finding scholarships, managing deadlines, and tracking applications.
The only thing that could be considered a drawback would be a smaller number of search results than some competitors, but their overall third-place finish in that metric means they still outshine most. They also scored third-place in search functionality, so while the number of results you get may be smaller, they’re most likely more relevant to you than sites with high results but few filters.
Cappex ranked second place in our review mostly thanks to their large database. Only two other platforms returned more average search results, and even then, the margin wasn’t very wide. That database, combined with every desirable tool, pushed Cappex ahead of the competition.
Cappex was also among the easiest platforms to use. They have both a searchable database and personalized matches. When a site has only personalized matches, there’s no way for you to manually check the rest of the database for any opportunities that the matching filters might have missed. We saw nothing to suggest that Cappex gave bad matches, but it’s always a bonus to be able to search scholarships by category as well.
The main drawback of the Cappex platform is the fact that they offered no filters for military affiliation. Veteran scholarships may appear somewhere in their database, but there was no filter that would allow you to be matched specifically to them.
Strong scores in the most important metrics elevated Unigo to a third-place finish by a wide margin. The nearest competitors would have to make significant improvements to their platforms to overtake Unigo’s spot. Meanwhile, Unigo would only have to make a few minor additions to its site to claim our first-place position.
Unigo ranked first in our most heavily-weighted metric, Search Functionality. They have the most filters and scholarship categories of any other platform at nearly 2,000. No other site allows you to get more specific in your search. They also tied our top ranked platform in Ease of Use, which means you should have no problems find the exact scholarship you need with minimal effort.
The only areas in which Unigo falls short are tools and additional resources. There are no deadline reminders or new match notifications, so you’ll have to be more diligent in your searches and managing deadlines than some sites.
#8: Big Future
Big Future is a scholarship search platform operated by the College Board, the administrators of the SAT. It is a basic, but thorough site that allows you to search multiple scholarship categories at once, including all of the key filters such as GPA, test scores, gender, and ethnicity. There are no saved profiles or personalized matches, so you need to re-enter your search every time you use it.
Where Big Future stands out is in the wealth of additional college planning tools they offer. They are a one-stop-shop for financial aid information and tuition planning. There are eight different cost calculators, as well as dozens of helpful articles, videos, and in-depth guides.
Even if you don’t utilize Big Future’s scholarship search, they are worth checking out for their helpful tools alone. If you use them in conjunction with one of our top-ranking search platforms, you should have no problem planning your college finances.
3. What should you know about scholarships?
What are scholarships?
At its most basic definition, a scholarship is money for tuition and school expenses that doesn’t need to be repaid, unlike a student loan. It is a gift from a donor that you use to pay for college.
Scholarships are sponsored by a variety of organizations including (but not limited to) schools, businesses, professional associations, and religious groups.
How do scholarships work?
Scholarships are set up exclusively for students who fit a particular profile, one that is usually in line with the mission and ideology of the sponsor organization. Those qualifications can be based on academic achievement, financial need, ethnic background, career goals, or countless other factors.
The scholarship and its eligibility requirements are advertised by the sponsor organization. Any student who qualifies is encouraged to apply. Once the application period is closed, a team of judges reviews each candidate and picks a winner.
How the award money is distributed depends on the scholarship sponsor. Typically, the money is sent directly to the college on the winner’s behalf. From there, it is applied to any tuition or fees that the student owes. If the money isn’t sent directly to the school, it will most likely be sent directly to the winner in the form of a check.
How do you find a scholarship?
Over $50 billion in scholarships were awarded to students last year. With a number that large, it would seem that an opportunity wouldn’t be hard to find, but the opposite is true. Because there are so many scholarships spread across a wide variety of eligibility requirements, searching through all of them is the hardest step in the process.
Most students face the same common problems:
- No single source for scholarship listings: Thousands of organizations sponsor scholarships every year and each advertises through their different channels. A basic internet search takes too long and leaves a majority of opportunities undiscovered.
- Missed deadlines: By the time many students find their ideal opportunities, the deadlines have either already passed or are too close to complete all of the application requirements in time.
- Incomplete information: When third-parties advertise a scholarship outside of the sponsor’s website, many do so with incomplete details. Students who apply based solely on third-party information might be unaware of key eligibility requirements that disqualify them from the competition.
- Scholarship scams: The internet is filled with fake scholarship opportunities that most often include scholarships with application or redemption fees (and awards that never materialize), paid “guaranteed scholarship” search services, and identity theft scams.
A quality scholarship search platform is the best solution to all of these problems. These dedicated websites and mobile apps compile large databases of active scholarships from thousands of organizations and put them in one place for students to browse. They most often include dozens of filters that allow you search only for awards that match your unique qualifications, such as scholarships by ethnicity, major, test scores, and extracurricular activity.
The best platforms constantly update their databases, the benefit of which is two-fold. First, they are always adding new opportunities. Second, their information on existing scholarships is always up-to-date, meaning you’ll never find the perfect match only to discover later that the award doesn’t exist anymore or the eligibility requirements have changed. They also allow you to save scholarships to a favorites list, send you reminders when deadlines are approaching, and do a good job of filtering out scams.
4. How do scholarship search platforms work?
Each scholarship search platform begins with a large database of scholarship opportunities, complete with details and links to the sponsor’s application page. From there, they typically allow students to search the database in one of two ways:
Search by category
Each scholarship is tagged with its key eligibility requirements and sorted into appropriate sub-directories. You can then browse the different categories to see all of the scholarships of that type. Some allow you to select multiple categories at once to compile your own list.
Personalized matches based on a profile
Before beginning your search, you’re required to register for the site. As you do, you create a profile that includes all of your relevant personal and academic details, such as age, gender, race, desired major, GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities, organizational affiliations, etc.
Once you complete your registration, the platform presents a list of scholarships that you qualify for based on the information entered in your profile. The list is updated every time you log onto the site, and some will send email or text alerts if they find a new match while you are away.
Whether they have scholarships grouped by category or personalized matches (some have both), most search platforms share these key features:
- Search by keyword: A simple search bar allows you to search within the separate categories or your personalized matches. This is especially useful if you’re trying to find information on a specific scholarship for which you already know the name or sponsor.
- Search filters: You can request to see only scholarships you qualify for by selecting category filters or entering them into your profile information. The type and number of filters varies by platform. Some have a few, while others have thousands. The most common ones are:
- Hide unwanted results: If you decide not to pursue a particular scholarship, you can add it to a block list so that it won’t appear in your future searches.
- Save scholarships: If you see an opportunity you’re interested in, but want to continue your search, you can add it to a favorites list so you can come back to it when you’re ready.
- Track applications: Once you save a scholarship to your favorites list, you can then tag it with your application status: will apply, applied, didn’t win, won, etc.
- Deadline alerts: Many platforms will also send you deadline alerts for the applications you saved but haven’t applied to yet.
While they are extremely beneficial, no search platform is perfect. There are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind:
- Some sites limit your search results with additional filters rather than increasing them
Most sites show you an additional, full category of results for every new filter you apply, but a minority of them string those filters together into one large qualification. The former site could show you hundreds of results, while the latter might make it seem as if you don’t qualify for any scholarships at all.
For example, if you are a Hispanic student, interested in studying biology, and you play the violin, the first site would show you scholarships for Hispanics, scholarships for biology majors, and scholarships for violinists. The second site would only show you scholarships for Hispanic violinists studying biology. Few scholarships are that specific, so you’re likely to return zero results.
It’s important to understand how the filters function on whichever platform you choose and adjust your search accordingly.
- Some sites don’t update their databases regularly enough
New scholarships are made available every day, while others expire just as often. Not every site updates their database quick enough to keep up with that pace. If you use a site with an outdated database, you could get search results for inactive scholarships, or for awards whose eligibility requirements have changed.
- Many sites include sponsored ads and scholarships with your search results
Often (but not always) the sponsored ads are not traditional scholarships at all, but rather scholarship challenges or lotteries. They involve registration and participation on outside sites for what amounts to little reward money.
Other times, they’re for scholarships for which you don’t qualify. Under normal circumstances, they would be filtered from your results, but because they’re sponsored, they’re included. Some sites do a good job highlighting sponsored results, but it can still be easy to confuse them for the real opportunities.
- No single site has information on every scholarship
It’s impossible for any platform to keep up with every award available. Always perform diligent research outside of whichever search platform you choose to make sure you don’t miss out on any opportunities.
5. What should students know before they search for a scholarship?
6. How we reviewed the best scholarship search platforms
To determine the best scholarship search platforms, we first compiled a master list of the most popular sites. We established that list by conducting basic internet searches, studying existing rankings, reading hundreds of student reviews, and following the recommendations of several state departments of education and college admissions offices.
That gave us a starting list of 28 platforms:
We used those same student reviews and DOE recommendations to establish the following minimum criteria for each platform in our final review:
- Must not be a scholarship challenge/lottery site
- Must have a unique, searchable database of outside scholarships
- Must include results for more than a single demographic (i.e. scholarships exclusively for electrical engineers, military personnel, or employees of a specific company)
- Must be regularly updated with new opportunities
- Must make an effort to filter/remove inactive scholarships
- Must not charge for otherwise free financial aid services (pay to apply for a scholarship, pay to file FAFSA, etc.)
Applying that minimum criteria eliminated 11 sites:
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers Scholarship Finder: Only includes results for a single demographic.
- Art Deadlines List: Not searchable and only includes results for a single demographic.
- CollegeNET: Not a database, it’s a scholarship challenge.
- College Toolkit: Duplicate database to Student Scholarship Search.
- FinAid.org: Not a unique database; uses a FastWeb widget.
- Military.com Scholarship Finder: Only includes results for a single demographic.
- National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Scholarship Finder: Only includes results for a single demographic.
- Scholarship Monkey: Broken database; could not create a profile.
- Scholarship Owl: Charges for free financial aid services.
- ScholarshipPoints: Not a database, it’s a scholarship lottery.
- U.S. DOE Office of Federal Student Aid: Not a unique database, it links out to other resources.
This left us with 17 sites to review in detail.
Next, we determined the most important qualities of a great scholarship search platform based on praises (or complaints) from student reviews and discussions in college planning forums, recommendations from college admissions professionals, and trends found in our initial research of the most popular sites.
These five qualities became the core metrics of our ranking system.
Lastly, we divided each core metric into 33 smaller sub-metrics and graded each one on a scale from 1-10 to calculate the core metric score. Each core metric score was then weighed by importance to arrive at a search platform’s overall score.
Here is a breakdown:
Search Functionality (30%):
- Keyword/Scholarship type
- Location (home state + college state)
- Test scores
- Religious affiliation
- Organizational affiliation
- Military affiliation
- Extra-curricular activities
- Special attributes
Scholarship Availability (25%):
- Average total scholarship results
- Average total scholarship value
- Are there prospective undergraduate scholarships
- Are there current undergraduate scholarships
- Are there graduate scholarships
Ease of Use (20%):
- Is there a registration requirement
- Does it have a searchable database
- Are there personalized matches based on profile
- What fees are there
- Is it mobile-friendly
- Privacy (is your personal information given to colleges and partner companies?)
- Ability to hide unwanted search results
- Ability to save scholarships to watch lists
- Ability to track applications
- Ability to receive alerts for upcoming due dates
- Ability to to receive new scholarship notifications
Additional Resources (10%):
- Any additional educational material for students
- Any additional planning tools
(For complete scoring details, see the section Full methodology and metric walkthrough)
Drawbacks to our reviewing process
The top feature most students look for in a scholarship search platform is which site has the highest total number of listings. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for us to get an accurate count of every database. Many sites don’t make that information available, and those that do often give inflated or inaccurate numbers (their total counts often include expired and inactive scholarships, as well as single scholarships tagged in multiple categories).
Because of that, there’s no way for us to honestly grade any platform based on which has the “most” scholarships available. Instead, we chose to grade the average search results of each site based on common student demographics, which is an average number of results the typical student can expect. It’s not an ideal measure, but it’s the most objective.
To determine the average search results, we created 25 profiles representing the “average student” based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the College Board. We made five profiles for each one of five race categories, with each profile seeking one of the five current most popular degree majors. Our prospective students had a GPA and test scores equal to the national average for all incoming college freshman.
The races were:
- African American
- Native American
The degrees were:
- Business Administration
We searched every scholarship site using each profile, recorded the number of scholarship results, and then averaged them. This gave us the best idea of what the typical student can expect to find when using each platform.