Many students have parents and even grandparents who remind them that they worked part-time through the summer to pay their way through school. They don’t realize that while wages slightly increased over the years, college tuition rates increased exponentially even faster.
Even if you have a good summer job, you likely won’t make enough to pay for college. You also might not have the money you need to cover your living expenses, textbooks and a dorm room. That is why you need to look for scholarships that will cover some or all of those costs.
Scholarship programs often include funds that go unclaimed each year and offer money that you do not need to repay. As you start your career, you don’t want to worry about loans and how you will pay them when you have other bills to worry about.
Using college scholarship search platforms is the easiest way to find programs that you qualify for and learn how to get that money. We ranked the 10 best scholarship search platforms that you can use while planning for the future.
- Scholarships (5 stars)
- Sallie Mae (4.9 stars)
- Unigo (4.8 stars)
- Cappex (4.7 stars)
- Peterson’s (4.6 stars)
- College Board (4.6 stars)
- Fastweb (4.5 stars)
- Chegg Scholarships (4.5 stars)
- Scholarship Monkey (4.5 stars)
- Broke Scholar (4.4 stars)
Before you check out any of the top 10 best scholarship search platforms, you should fill out the FAFSA. This stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is available online. The federal government will assign you a pin that you use to log into the system and complete the application.
The FAFSA usually refers to you as a dependent and asks for information from your parents, including their names and tax documents from the last year. You only qualify as an independent student if you meet any of the following criteria:
- You are 24 or older when you start the school year
- You are legally married
- You have children you support
- You are a veteran or currently in the military
- You are an emancipated minor
When you complete the FAFSA, you have the option of adding the college you will attend or multiple schools that interest you. The government will determine how much your costs are for the year and how much financial aid you need.
Both the government and the school will offer financial aid that may include grants and student loans. If you qualify for any scholarships, those funds will appear in your financial aid package too.
What is a Financial Aid Package?
When applying for a school most will offer a financial aid package. Schools can accept you without granting you any financial aid, but most will send you a letter that details all the financial aid that you get. This can be an important part in determining which school is best for you financially.
Most students qualify for federal work-study, which is a program that requires them to work on the college’s campus or in a nearby location. These positions pay the federal minimum wage or slightly more.
You also qualify for subsidized student loans as an undergrad and unsubsidized loans as a graduate student along with grants that can come from the federal or state government.
If the college believes that you qualify for any of its scholarships, it will list those funds in your financial aid package too. Most colleges offer scholarships based on your overall merit as well as your financial need.
Merit vs. Need Scholarships
As an incoming student, you may qualify for need or merit scholarships from the school you chose. A need-based scholarship is a scholarship based on the need that you demonstrated on the FAFSA. Some of the factors that can determine you need extra money include:
- The amount of money that your parents make
- If you have one or more siblings enrolled in school at the same time
- If you come from a household at or below the poverty line
- If you have only one parent
Big schools such as those in the Ivy League offer more need-based scholarships than other schools do.
In addition to scholarships based on your need, you may qualify for merit scholarships too. These often go to the students who finished at or near the top of their classes. You qualify for more money if you graduated in the top 5-10% than if you finished within the top 50% of your class.
Some applications also ask for a list of your extracurricular activities and interests such as the clubs and organizations that you joined along with info on how you helped the community. Doing volunteer work can help you qualify for many scholarships.
If you cannot rely solely on the money that the college might give you, using scholarship search platforms can help you get more funds for school.
Some programs offer lottery scholarships where each person that applies enters into a pool for a chance to win. As long as you complete the application by the deadline, you have a good chance of winning some of the available funds.
If you are one of the random winners you may have just a few weeks to accept the scholarship before it goes to someone else. Though you have no guarantee that you will win a lottery scholarship, you have nothing to lose.
Many of these pools are also smaller than you would expect as few actually enter them. Just applying for a few of these can net you more financial aid than you might ever expect.
How to Improve Your Chances of Winning a Scholarship
Some tips to increase your chances of winning a scholarship are:
- Look for scholarships that are only available to students in your city or state
- See if there are scholarships for students with the same hobbies that you have
- Focus on getting your grades up
- Follow the application requirements closely to make sure that you don’t miss anything or make any mistakes
- Submit all sections and required documents before the posted deadline
- Consider taking the SAT or ACT again to improve your score
- Find new ways to support the community through volunteer programs and internships
- Choose the right people to write any recommendation letters that you need
- Apply to as many programs that ask for essays as possible some students skip those because of the writing requirement
- Look for local organizations that offer scholarships in addition to national organizations
What Do You Need for a Scholarship Application?
Though all scholarship applications are different, most ask for some of the same things, including:
- An essay
- Your high school transcript
- Up to three letters of recommendation
- Official copies of your test score
Even if you only need one letter of recommendation, make sure that you choose the right person to write it. Some students make the mistake of choosing people with a bias or those who aren’t familiar with them. Most scholarship programs want a letter that demonstrates who you are and why you deserve the money.
The essay is an important part of the application too and one that you shouldn’t overlook. You want to spend at least a few days to create an essay that speaks to the scholarship committee and makes them want to pick you.
Some programs may ask for an official transcript from your high school as well as an ACT/SAT score too.
Top 10 Best Scholarship Search Platforms
Rating: 5 Stars
- Offers info on more than 3.7 million grants and scholarships
- Helps students find more than $19 billion in aid every year
- Includes both a scholarship search and a directory of programs
- Lets students create accounts that find scholarships for them
- Features categories for no-essay scholarships and minority programs
- Has too many options for some students
- Doesn’t provide the instant results that similar sites do
- Includes scholarships with application deadlines that already passed
Scholarships.com is one of the biggest names on the scholarship market. The website has you search for scholarships by creating a new profile. The site asks for your current year in school, full name, zip code and address. It also asks for an email address and has you set up a password.
Many scam sites exist for the sole purpose of taking money from prospective college students and their parents. The first time that you visit this site, you will notice the word free on the homepage. This lets you know that you never need to pay a dime to apply for any of the listed scholarships or to use the site.
We highly recommend using the scholarship directory because this helps you narrow down your choices. Not only can you look for scholarships with the most programs available and those for ROTC students, but you can view those open to students in your state or where you want to attend school.
Between applying for financial aid and using the FAFSA, the process of getting help for college is confusing. That is why we like the financial aid section of Scholarships.com. It has a dictionary of all the abbreviations and terms that you might come across with a list of what each one means.
Through the 529 Plans page, you can learn about college savings accounts and what you can do with that money. The site also has financial aid news, including new programs that launch every year and changes to the FAFSA.
Issues with Scholarships.com
One issue with Scholarships.com is that it offers too many options. You may find that narrowing down your searches is difficult and that you have a hard time finding scholarships based on your interests.
We also found some scholarships listed that are closed to new applications and noticed that the site ran a little slow.
You might not like that it limits searches to only those with a registered profile too.
Rating: 4.9 Stars
- Includes info on $24 billion in scholarships
- Offers students the chance to win $1,000
- Has separate searches for graduate students
- Can match students to new scholarships as they become available
- Sends you emails when it finds new matches
- Requires a registered account to use the site
- Doesn’t include info on other types of financial aid
- Focuses a little too much on Sallie Mae loans
Sallie Mae offers loans that include convenient repayment terms and help you get all the money that you need for school. Sallie Mae also offers a free scholarship search that ranks as the second-best of its type on our list.
It takes only minutes to search through more than five million scholarships to see how you can earn some of the $24 billion that goes to students every year.
Sallie Mae has a monthly prize that is similar to a scholarship lottery. Every student who creates an account automatically goes into the prize pool. The site draws one winner every month.
While you can put that money back for college, you can also use it to cover some of your current expenses. After covering what you need now you will still have some cash for school.
While Sallie Mae lets you search scholarships on your own, it also has a matching algorithm. When you fill out your profile, the site makes note of the keywords that you used and the options that you selected. It will then provide you with a list of scholarships that it thinks match your profile.
You no longer need to look through hundreds of scholarships that you don’t qualify for based on your age or hobbies. Sallie Mae shows you exactly which scholarships match your criteria and gives you convenient information on how to apply.
One of the problems associated with using scholarship search platforms is that you will occasionally come across old scholarships that you missed out on. Sallie Mae has an email alert system that can keep you from missing out.
As soon as a scholarship pops up that matches your profile, the site sends you an email alert. Checking your email once a day ensures that you find those scholarships quickly.
Issues with Sallie Mae
As with Scholarships.com, Sallie Mae requires that you complete a profile before you can search the site. This only takes a few minutes, but it can feel like a chore if you use multiple sites.
Since Sallie Mae offers student loans, you can expect to see quite a lot of information on loan programs on the site too. It has an entire section devoted to helping students apply for loans as well as another section on using loans to pay for college. We found that it doesn’t include info on applying for other types of aid for school such as grants.
Rating: 4.8 Stars
- Offers access to more than 3.6 million grants and scholarships
- Lets you apply for free to the Unigo scholarship
- Helps students find schools based on where they want to live and what they want to study
- Features both state and athletic scholarships
- Has helpful articles on applying to college
- Runs slowly when compared to other search platforms
- Includes some annoying pop-up ads
- Can sell your private information to others
Unigo is one of the best scholarship search platforms that few people use. It can still help you apply to more than 3.6 million scholarships and grants as well as find information on the top colleges in the country.
Unigo offers free registration and lets you use a simple account to search for the scholarships that are right for you.
Unigo offers a 10K scholarship and students have received more than $600,000 in scholarship funds since it launched this program. The application has an essay requirement but lets you answer that question in 250 words or less.
To write this essay, you need to pick a historical figure and bring them back to life. You will then explain what their favorite app is and why you think they would love that app. Students can apply for this scholarship in less than an hour.
Thanks to the easy scholarships section of Unigo, you can take a break and still find great scholarships. This section features scholarships that do not require an essay and are easy to enter.
Not only can you find scholarships, but you can apply to them within a few hours. You will also find that each one shows how much money you can get and the deadline to make sure that your application arrives on time.
Unigo can help you find the right college too. It offers a college matching tool that lets you view colleges that offer specific majors as well as those that have campuses in certain states.
You will also find articles on how to get jobs in different areas along with which schools offer programs in that field. Some of its other college resources include tips on acing a standardized test and writing the perfect essay.
Issues with Unigo
We don’t like the disclosure information listed on the bottom of Unigo. This states that the website has the right to sell or share your personal information with others, including your searches as well as your age and location.
We also found that the site runs much slower than similar sites do, which may occur due to the pop-up ads that run on the page.
Rating: 4.7 Stars
- Offers both simple and advanced search tools for students
- Lets you see your chances of getting into college
- Shows scholarships based on eligibility factors such as race and age
- Includes resources for prospective transfer students
- Allows you to apply for scholarships as soon as you register
- Runs slow and can lag
- Includes many sponsored ads
- Offers a lot of resources that you may not use
Cappex is the best scholarship search platform for students who aren’t sure where they want to go to school. The site partnered with more than 3,000 institutions of higher learning as well as organizations that can help you find some great scholarships.
Though the site is a little confusing to use, it has some great resources and scholarships.
We wanted to highlight the scholarship search that Cappex offers before looking at any other features of the site. While you can view all scholarships, you can also narrow down the search based on eligibility factors.
Not only can you set the minimum and maximum amounts, but you can look for renewable scholarships that transfer from one year to the next. It has searches based on ethnicity such as African American and Native American as well as those designed for students in high school and those already enrolled in college.
You can look for scholarships with deadlines that come soon to get in under the wire too.
Check the Odds
It takes just a few minutes to look up the acceptance rates of college and view how many students apply and receive acceptance letters each year. This gives you an idea of your chances when you apply, but Cappex takes it a step further with a tool that lets you compare your odds against other students.
Once you enter info about your class ranking and GPA along with the schools that interest you, the site will determine your odds of getting an acceptance letter. If your odds are low, Cappex will give you a list of tips on how to improve your odds such as taking AP classes.
Issues with Cappex
Cappex includes a little too much information on colleges. While you might not think this is a problem, it may become one when you visit the site. It pushes you to look for colleges in specific states and view colleges that accept students with a certain GPA.
We found that it was sometimes easier to find those links than links to the scholarship search platform. Cappex also has more sponsored ads than other sites do, which causes some lags.
You might click on a link to apply to a scholarship and find that it led to a site that asks for payment to apply.
Rating: 4.6 Stars
- Includes searches for scholarships, grants and other awards
- Offers access to more than $10 billion in financial aid
- Has optional searches for grad students
- Features a custom $2,500 scholarship
- Offers resources on college and test prep
- Pretty basic when compared to other sites
- May sell some of your data
- Doesn’t offer as many search parameters as other sites do
Peterson’s is a popular website for college students with dozens of resources to help get the best score on a standardized test and improve the chances of getting into an amazing school.
When you use the free scholarship search tool, you just need to sign up for a free account. This puts you in touch with more than 4,000 organizations that have available scholarships as well as nearly two million programs. You can search for fellowships and grants too.
Peterson’s shows you data about unique scholarships that you won’t find on many other sites. Examples include many scholarships for students in the LGBTQ+ community and minority students.
Searching with Peterson’s is easy because you just pick the level of award that you want. As long as you have a registered account, the website will show you all the available scholarships and let you change the parameters to find those that match you.
Peterson’s can help you get an extra $2,500 for school through a special program called Peterson’s World’s Easiest Scholarship. The website doesn’t ask for an essay or tons of info and you can apply for this program using the same information that you shared on your profile to save time.
If you win Peterson’s will send you an email to notify you and tell you what to do from there.
Issues with Peterson’s
Peterson’s looks pretty basic when you compare it to other search platforms. You cannot set the parameters that you want to use until you search with a registered account.
Rating: 4.6 Stars
- Includes financial aid opportunities from more than 2,000 programs
- Helps students earn more than $6 billion every year
- Drop-down menus make searching easier
- Lets you view details about each scholarship or visit the program’s official site
- Offers lots of info on standardized tests
- Offers a limited selection of programs
- Doesn’t include many full ride and larger scholarships
- Too basic for advanced users
The College Board is the organization that sends your tests to schools and helps you earn college credits in high school through special programs. With its scholarship search, you can find out about more than $6 billion in funds that go to worthy students every year from more than 2,000 organizations and programs. You’ll also find options for programs that offer need-based aid.
Merit and Need Scholarships
The College Board is one of the few scholarship searchers with need-based programs. When you create a free profile, you can share information from the FAFSA to let the site know whether you come from a low-income family.
With this information it can find schools that offer scholarships to those students to give you an idea of where you should apply. You also have the option of entering ethnicity details and the names of any organizations that you belong to, which lets the site find scholarships from similar organizations.
A nice feature that we like about the College Board is that each search shows you basic details about scholarship programs, including the deadline if there is one and the amount of the award. If you want to learn more, you can click on the name of the scholarship to visit the official website.
The features of the College Board makes it easy for you to view any other requirements and see if the scholarship is still active. Some of the scholarships that we found on the site no longer award money to students.
If you want to get a broad idea of the scholarships that are out there, you can use the browse option offered by the College Board. Instead of adding search criteria, you can view all the scholarships available for specific majors and those for students living in certain states.
The College Board also allows you to view the types of scholarships offered by different schools if you haven’t applied.
Issues with the College Board
The biggest issue with the College Board is that it focuses heavily on smaller scholarships such as those that award students a few hundred dollars or less. While winning multiple awards can significantly help you pay for college, you may find that you can get even more money from larger scholarships that have a similar application process.
The College Board offers a limited selection of programs and has a fairly basic design that is hard for some to use. This can make it feel clunky to use and get around the sight.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
- Provides instant matches when you register
- Offers info on more than $3.4 billion in financial aid
- Lets you easily keep track of your scholarships
- Gives new users the option of viewing past and current scholarship winners
- Includes sections for high school and first-year college students
- Runs lots of ads on the site
- Sends you junk mail when you register
- Pushes some of its exclusive deals
- Offers a limited selection of scholarships
Fastweb offers a scholarship search as well as general information about colleges. That search lets you look through more than one million scholarships to find more than $3.4 billion in money for students.
Though most of its users are high school students preparing for college, it includes scholarships for current college students too.
Some of the top scholarship search platforms require that you keep a notebook handy to write down details when you apply for programs. With Fastweb, you can save all the important info that you need on your digital account.
As long as you stay logged into your Fastweb account, you can view all the scholarships that you applied to in the past and those you saved to apply to later. You will also receive notices if the organization needs anything else from you.
The save feature integrated into Fastweb lets you keep track of scholarships that you want to share with your friends. Category listings include scholarships for military and Hispanic students.
Whether you want to get a part-time job after school or a job for this summer, Fastweb can help. It includes useful articles on how to find the perfect job and what to do during the interview as well as how to make your resume shine when you haven’t had a job before.
The Job Board features open positions available from employers across the country and lets you search by your city or state. You can also use Fastweb to view students who received scholarships in the past, including the most recent winners and what they said about their experiences.
Issues with fastweb
You will notice the ads on Fastweb’s homepage, which also appear on other pages, make the site harder to navigate. Some of those ads include sponsored links that direct you to paid scholarship searches.
You need an account to use the site, which requires registering with your email address. Many users received quite a bit of junk mail from the site.
In addition to a limited selection of scholarships, Fastweb also tries to push some of its exclusive deals on you.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
- One of the easiest scholarship search platforms to use
- Includes options for college and high school students
- Helps you narrow down scholarships to those with online applications
- Lets you create an account and save your searches
- Can help you explore and learn about different colleges
- Pushes some of its products too much
- Frequently asks you to buy products or donate to the site
- Might be too basic
- Includes scholarships that you can find elsewhere
Chegg is best known for the millions of textbooks that it publishes annually. As a way to reach more students and help them with college, it launched Chegg Scholarships, which we added to our list of the top 10 best scholarship search platforms.
This is one of the only platforms we found that shows you matches and lets you view scholarship details without signing up for an account first.
The scholarship search platform on this site is quite basic when compared to others, but that also makes it easy to use. This platform includes more than 20,000 scholarships and can show you some potential matches without asking that you set any parameters first. Once you add those parameters, you can get a better idea of the funding opportunities that are out there.
Not only can you view scholarships for college students or high school students, but you can view those available to students with your GPA or age. The site includes an option to view only scholarships that include an online application.
Finding out more about schools before you apply is a great way to make sure that you pick the right one. With the Chegg Scholarships website, you can use the explore colleges feature to find those schools.
Chegg Scholarships provides information on more than 6,000 colleges and universities across the nation. You can view those in certain environments such as rural towns or big cities and compare public and private schools. Among the features is one that lets you view schools that offer two-year degrees vs. those with four-year degrees.
When logging in the website allows you to save your searches and the colleges that interest you. This can come in handy especially if you’re constantly checking the site.
Issues with Chegg Scholarships
Chegg Scholarship doesn’t offer anything that you can’t find elsewhere. It only has details on around 25,000 scholarships, which is a fraction of what you would find on the other sites on our list.
You won’t find much in the way of search parameters beyond your level of education and GPA. The site also frequently asks if you want to buy some of its products or donate through PayPal.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
- Includes both scholarship lists for minority students and women
- Lets you view scholarships for majors such as nursing
- Offers simple and basic search options
- Saves your info and searches when you sign up
- Can connect your account through social media
- Much more basic than other sites
- Has many ads
- Doesn’t update as often as it should
- Pushes the social media aspect a lot
Scholarship Monkey is a scholarship search platform that includes dozens of options for students based on what they want to study and where they are in their education. Though it lacks some of the options that other platforms have, it’s worth using as you search for scholarships.
One feature that we liked about this site is the scholarship lists. Clicking on the scholarships by major lets you view all the scholarships for students who study nursing, business, education, interior design and dozens of other subjects.
You will find similar lists designed for students of certain religions as well as those who are in the military or play certain sports.
While other sites let you create a new account, Scholarship Monkey asks you to link one of your social media accounts to the site. It will then take you to an authorization page where you log into that account to verify that you are the owner.
Though some dislike this feature, it allows the site to view your current school and other basic information that can help it recommend scholarships for you. This feature also makes it easy to share scholarship opportunities with your online friends.
Issues with Scholarship Monkey
Scholarship Monkey has quite a few issues that you won’t find on other sites, including the ads that you see displayed on the pages and the basic design of its search platform.
We discovered that the site doesn’t update as often as it should. You may come across scholarship listings that ended months ago or even last year.
A thing to keep in mind is the social media aspect that it pushes to encourage you to link the site to your Facebook page.
Rating: 4.4 Stars
- Does not require any personal information
- Includes scholarships that total more than $3 million
- Offers major, year, ethnicity and gender search parameters
- Designed for undergrads, grad and PhD students, and those in high school
- Offers tons of discounts for students
- Very limited selection of programs
- Focuses more on discounts than scholarships
- Not many search parameters
Broke Scholar understands what life is like for college students with limited funds, which is why it’s a website to help students find ways to save money.
Originally launched with discounts and coupons for students, it later added a searchable scholarship platform that is easy to use.
Searching for scholarships through Broke Scholar is easy because you can simply select your year in school such as high school senior or college undergrad. The site then shows all the scholarships that are available for students in that year.
The other search parameters include ethnicity, gender and study area. With ethnicity, you can select Asian, African American, Hispanic or Native American as well as an option for scholarships that are open to all students.
Choosing the study area parameter lets you view scholarships for dental students and those interested in other majors. Broke Scholar lets you search for scholarships specifically for male or female students too.
Offering discounts for students was the original intent of Broke Scholar, which is why you will find so many coupons through the site today. You can view the top discounts of the year and find out how students qualify for 15% off at Target and 30% on Samsung products.
The site has category listings that help you save on electronics and beauty supplies among other products. No matter where you are in school, Broke Scholar can help you find both discounts and scholarships.
Issues with Broke Scholar
Broke Scholar is one of the more basic scholarship search platforms, which means that you won’t find any unique programs on the site. All the scholarships we found were readily available on the other sites on our list.
It also limits some of the search parameters that you can use and puts the focus on ways that the students can save money rather than how they can earn money for school.
Resources and Further Reading
- 7 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Scholarship – Maryam Farooq, Full Opportunities
- How to Improve Your Chances of Qualifying for More Scholarships – Allison Wignall, College Raptor
- 10 Great Ways to Win a College Scholarship – Lynn O’Shaughnessy, CBS News
- Dependency Status – Federal Student Aid
- Best Scholarship Websites – William Kennedy, Rave Reviews