ByAnne Dennon Home Technology Writer

Anne has covered home security and home automation for for two years. She's interested in human-computer interaction and tech ethics.

The Best Scholarship Search Platforms

College is the most expensive it’s ever been. A great way to manage the growing cost is scholarships. Because there’s no single source for scholarship listings, your best option for finding funding is dedicated scholarship search platforms. These sites compile thousands of active scholarships and match you to them based on your unique qualifications. We found four that promise to maximize your scholarship potential with large databases, smart filters, application tools, user-friendly designs, and educational resources.

The 4 Best Scholarship Search Platforms

Best for
Most Students


Hands down the most impressive search site we encountered.
Easier to use than competitors
Exceptional tools
Fewer search results than other platforms

Why we chose it

Easier to use than competitors

Fastweb took the lead in every category. Out of the 17 platforms we considered, Fastweb aced the most elements that impact the scholarship seeker’s experience. Perhaps most notable was its inviting and interactional functionality and high dollar amount scholarships. However, we also appreciated that Fastweb’s search platform can be tailored for all levels of student — high school, undergraduate, graduate.

Exceptional tools

Fastweb also had the most tools of any platform we looked at. A detailed search is the first win, but we also appreciated the ability to manage deadlines and track ongoing applications. Many sites offer application management along these same lines, but Fastweb does a better job at making progress visible at a glance.

Points to consider

Fewer search results than other platforms

The only thing that could be considered a drawback about Fastweb is the smaller number of search results it turns up in comparison to Cappex. Although Fastweb still finished third out of 17 competitors in this metric — and its top-tier search functionality promises greater search relevance — it won’t have quite the same volume of results as some competitors.

Best Database


Great for students who want to be able to apply for — and track the status of — a large number of scholarships.
Expansive database
Plenty of search tools
No military filters

Why we chose it

Expansive database

Cappex scored consistently high in all of the most important categories — scholarship availability, ease of use, extra tools — but it really stood out for its large database. More search results than any other site, plus every desirable search tool, pushed Cappex ahead of the competition. For students who are looking to cast a wide net in their scholarship search, Cappex comes with the assurance that you won’t be leaving any money on the table.

Plenty of search tools

You have two avenues for retrieving scholarships from Cappex’s database: personalized matches and category search. Personalized matches filters every scholarship through the profile you’ve created, making it an easy way to locate targeted opportunities. Manually browsing by category, something other sites don’t offer, allows you to identify potential scholarships that your list of qualifications might not bring up. There’s actually a scholarship for left-handed redheads, for example, but those aren’t characteristics your demographic information reflects.

Points to consider

No military filters

The main drawback of the Cappex platform is that it offers no filters for military affiliation. Veteran scholarships may appear in its database, but with no filter, they won’t appear in your list of personalized recommendations. You’ll have to browse for them the old-fashioned way — searching keywords.

Best Resources

Big Future

Big Future
Underwhelming for scholarship searches, but a treasure trove of other valuable features.
Tons of educational tools
Simple but powerful search
No saved profile

Why we chose it

Tons of educational tools

Big Future is a scholarship search platform operated by the College Board, the administrators of the SAT. Where the site stands out is in the wealth of additional college planning tools it offers. It’s a one-stop-shop for financial aid information and tuition planning. Experiment with eight different cost calculators, browse helpful articles, and get informed with instructional videos and in-depth guides. Even if you don’t utilize Big Future’s scholarship search, it is worth checking out for its helpful tools alone.

Simple but powerful search

The search function of Big Future is basic, but thorough. Our favorite element is the option to search multiple scholarship categories at once, including all of the key filters such as GPA, test scores, gender, and ethnicity.

Points to consider

No saved profile

While Big Future allows you to read up on every facet of college financing and get a general picture of scholarships available to you, we found it lacking in other key areas. There are no saved profiles or personalized matches, so you’ll need to re-enter your search every time you use it.

Our suggestion: Use Big Future to get informed about college finances, then use its resources in conjunction with our top-ranking search platforms, which enable you to return to previous searches and store applications.

Guide to Scholarship Search Platforms

How to land your dream scholarships

Start early and keep track

You should start your scholarship search as soon as possible, ideally no later than the beginning of your junior year. Even if you can’t apply to the one you want until your junior year, knowing all of the details and requirements as a sophomore gives you more time to make sure you meet all of the qualifications by the time you’re eligible.

Since this is a long process, it’s wise to organize your application materials. Scholarship search platforms often provide organization tools, but you can’t go wrong keeping things tidy in a dedicated spreadsheet of your own.

Create a list of your qualifications

Write down all your personal accomplishments, academic achievements, awards, extracurricular activities, and group affiliations. Next, list out your ethnicity, gender, geographical location, talents or passions, military service, your desired major/career, and anything you can think of that defines you and makes you unique in some way.

The more categories you fit into, the more opportunities you’ll find. That said, be honest about categories you don’t fit into. It’s always smarter to focus on the scholarships you are clearly eligible for than to lie or exaggerate to apply for one that you aren’t.

Gather paperwork

Most scholarships ask for supporting materials. Have all of the most commonly requested ones on hand so you don’t get snagged last-minute by a forgotten detail.

  • High school transcript: A documented record of your entire high school career that you’ll need for any scholarship with a GPA requirement
  • Standardized test scores: Your SAT/ACT results are usually included on your high school transcript but can also be obtained separately from the school or the school district’s administration office. Any scholarship with a minimum test score will request a copy.
  • Financial aid forms: Need-based scholarships request forms proving the student’s financial need — either a copy of their Student Aid Report, FAFSA information, or the sponsor’s own forms
  • Letters of recommendation: A letter written by academic or professional sources on your behalf that directly addresses your qualifications for the specific award
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV): An educational resume listing all academic accomplishments, study experiences, volunteer work, hobbies, interests, and educational/career goals
  • Essays: A prompted or personal essay helps judges differentiate between equally qualified students. They vary in subject, length, and format, so be prepared to write separate essays for each application.

Explore your network

A dedicated scholarship search engine, more so than a simple internet search, is your best bet to turn up potential scholarships. But you should also look to local sources, especially those with which you already have a connection. If any of them offer scholarships, not only are you uniquely qualified through your association, but they also likely have a much smaller candidate pool.

  • Work
  • School networks (school district, academic clubs, alumni organizations, etc.)
  • Community organizations (veterans associations, social clubs, recreational sports leagues, etc.)
  • Religious groups
  • Campus organizations (fraternities, sororities, academic groups, etc.)

Beware of scams

The most common scholarship scams are ones that charge for information or services that are otherwise freely available. The key to avoiding them is to never pay for commercial financial aid services (such as paying a company to fill out your FAFSA) or for scholarship searches.

The U.S. Department of Education also warns against any scholarships that charge an application fee. If you come across one in your search, it’s likely a scammer charging to apply for an existing scholarship on your behalf.

If you ever have any questions about scholarships in general, or the validity of any opportunity you find, your safest, most reliable sources for scholarship information are:

Scholarship Search Platforms FAQ

Can you use scholarship money for anything?

As fun as that might be, scholarships are not blank checks you can use for just anything. In fact, most scholarship applications will have financial requirements for how to spend your award. You can check with your school’s financial aid office and the scholarship organization for more information on these requirements.

Since scholarships are meant to help you pay for school, you should use them for school and school-related expenses. That means your award money should go toward your tuition, books, and any resources pertinent to your area of study.

How you spend your scholarship money will also have an impact on your financial aid package and tax return. That means you might get a bigger break come tax season if you used that award money for books and tuition as opposed to flat-screen TVs, game consoles, and movie tickets.

What is work-study?

Before you start to apply for schools and scholarships, you should familiarize yourself with some basic terms and definitions. Work-study, for instance, gives students the opportunity to seek part-time employment in exchange for tuition assistance. The following list isn’t exhaustive, but it includes the terms you’re most likely to come across during your search.

  • Award letter details all of the various forms of aid you’re eligible to receive through your prospective school, including grants, scholarships, and loans. It’s a statement of all the aid that you qualify for — you’re under no obligation to accept any of it.
  • Cost of Attendance (COA) is the total price for one year of college after all tuition, fees, and required personal expenses are calculated.
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the amount of money the government expects your family to contribute to your tuition. They determine that contribution amount based on your parents’ financial information that must be submitted as a part of the FAFSA.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form used to apply for federal financial aid. The information you provide determines your Expected Family Contribution and your eligibility for grants and many scholarships.
  • Federal student aid consists of federal student loans, grants, and work studies that are awarded by the government based on financial need.
  • Financial Aid Package is the combination of all forms of aid, from all sources, that you are eligible to receive. Your aid package is detailed in the award letter sent to you by your prospective school.
  • Grants are a form of tuition assistance typically awarded by federal and state governments based on financial need and demographic requirements. Unlike federal loans, they don’t need to be repaid.
  • Student loans are tuition money that must be paid back to the lender over time with interest.
  • Net price is the true cost of college after all gift aid and educational tax benefits are deducted. It’s what’s left for you to pay out of pocket.
  • Room and board is the cost to live on campus.
  • Scholarships are a form of financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. Unlike grants, they are most often merit-based (academic achievement, volunteer work, etc.).
  • Student Aid Report (SAR) is the notice sent to you after completing the FAFSA. Unlike an award letter, it doesn’t list the aid you’re eligible for. It is simply a copy of your processed FAFSA that now includes your official EFC.
  • Tuition is the money charged for class instruction. It’s either charged on a per-credit basis or as a flat fee. It doesn’t include room and board, textbooks, supplies, or other fees.
  • Tuition reimbursement or tuition assistance is when a company refunds some or all of the cost of tuition for employees studying in a work-related area.
  • Work-study or work award is a form of federal financial aid in which students are given tuition funds in exchange for part-time employment.

What types of scholarships are available?

Broadly, scholarships are either school-sponsored (affiliated with a specific institution) or external (sponsored by outside donors and unaffiliated with a specific institution). Within these two categories, there are a number of other distinct types.

  • Need-based scholarships are awarded based on demonstrated financial need
  • Merit-based scholarships take individual achievement (academic, artistic, philanthropic) rather than financial need into account
  • Demographic scholarships are set up for students that match to certain race, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, or regional qualifications
  • Major/Career scholarships are typically sponsored by colleges and organizations interested in encouraging a specific subject area or career
  • Athletic scholarships are awarded to students based on their performance in a particular sport and are often sponsored by the school itself

What's the difference between a scholarship and a grant?

Grants are similar to scholarships in that they are gift money for college that doesn’t need to be repaid. The main difference between the two is that grants are sponsored by the government rather than by private organizations. Grant eligibility is determined based on the information you provide in the FAFSA.

What grants should I apply for?

There are currently four types of federal grants available:

  • Federal Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or professional degree. The maximum award is $5,775 and is based on:
    • Financial need
    • Tuition cost
    • Enrollment status
    • Length of attendance
    • Note: You cannot receive Pell Grants from more than one school at a time, or for more than 12 semesters.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are campus-based grants administered by the financial aid office. Not all schools participate. Award amounts range from $100 to $4,000 per year based on financial need and availability of funds.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants provides up to $4,000 per year toward completing coursework for a teaching degree. The program requires that specific teaching-related courses be taken. If the requirements aren’t met, the grant turns into a loan and must be repaid with interest. You must also agree to teach:
    • In a high-need field
    • At a school that serves students from low-income families
    • For at least four complete academic years within eight years after graduation
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, equal in amount to a maximum Federal Pell Grant, are awarded to students whose parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11 and who:
    • Are not eligible for a Federal Pell Grant on the basis of their Expected Family Contribution but meet the remaining Federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements
    • Were under 24 years old or enrolled in college at least part-time at the time of the death

Can you go to jail for not paying a student loan?

No. Not paying a student loan will not result in jail time or an arrest. A student loan is what is known as a civil debt — like credit card balances — and you cannot be arrested for not paying them. However, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

If you cannot pay a student loan, the collection agency may opt to garnish your wages. This is when your employer withholds a certain amount of money for your payment, which goes to the collection agency. This continues until the debt is paid.

This is why we can’t recommend scholarships enough. Unlike student loans, scholarship money can help pay for your education, and you don’t have to pay scholarships back.

The Best Scholarship Search Platforms: Summed Up

Big Future
The best
For most students
Search functionality score
Scholarship availability score
Ease of use score
Tools score
Additional resources score

Our Other Education Reviews

We have been exploring the services that help students land their dream school and get a start on their dream career for many years now. You could say we’ve done our homework. Check out some of them below:

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