The Best Scholarship Search Platforms of 2017

1. Introduction

College is the most expensive it’s ever been. With tuition rates rising an average of 3.5% every year, the average undergraduate now finishes their degree with over $37,000 in student debt.

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:

  1. The major challenges students face when searching for scholarships
  2. How the right search engine can help students overcome these challenges
  3. What students should know before applying for a scholarship
  4. The most important features of a great scholarship search platform
  5. The best scholarship search platforms of 2017
  6. Advice on early preparation to qualify for scholarships
  7. Tips on applying for scholarships
  8. Our full methodology and scoring process

2. The best scholarship search platforms of 2017


















#1: Fastweb

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.

#2 Cappex

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.

#3: Unigo

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.

Additional recommendations

#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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Common Features

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.

Drawbacks

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:

  1. Must not be a scholarship challenge/lottery site
  2. Must have a unique, searchable database of outside scholarships
  3. Must include results for more than a single demographic (i.e. scholarships exclusively for electrical engineers, military personnel, or employees of a specific company)
  4. Must be regularly updated with new opportunities
  5. Must make an effort to filter/remove inactive scholarships
  6. 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:

  1. American Society of Mechanical Engineers Scholarship Finder: Only includes results for a single demographic.
  2. Art Deadlines List: Not searchable and only includes results for a single demographic.
  3. CollegeNET: Not a database, it’s a scholarship challenge.
  4. College Toolkit: Duplicate database to Student Scholarship Search.
  5. FinAid.org: Not a unique database; uses a FastWeb widget.
  6. Military.com Scholarship Finder: Only includes results for a single demographic.
  7. National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Scholarship Finder: Only includes results for a single demographic.
  8. Scholarship Monkey: Broken database; could not create a profile.
  9. Scholarship Owl: Charges for free financial aid services.
  10. ScholarshipPoints: Not a database, it’s a scholarship lottery.
  11. 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.

They are:

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:

  1. Search Functionality (30%):

    Searchable by:

    • Keyword/Scholarship type
    • Location (home state + college state)
    • GPA
    • Test scores
    • Major
    • Profession/industry
    • Gender
    • Ethnicity
    • Religious affiliation
    • Organizational affiliation
    • Military affiliation
    • Disabilities
    • Sports
    • Extra-curricular activities
    • Special attributes
  2. 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
  3. 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?)
  4. Tools (15%):

    • 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
  5. 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:

  • Caucasian
  • African American
  • Hispanic
  • Asian
  • Native American

The degrees were:

  • Business Administration
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Biology
  • Teaching

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.

7. Guide to applying for scholarships

The Basics of Scholarships

Financial Aid Terms and Definitions

Before you start to apply for any scholarships, you should familiarize yourself with some basic terms and definitions. The following list isn’t exhaustive, but it includes the terms you’re most likely to come across during your search.

Award letter The financial aid 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 only a statement of all the aid that you qualify for. You’re under no obligation to accept any of it.
Cost of Attendance (COA)The cost of attendance is the total price for one year of college after all tuition, fees, and required personal expenses are calculated.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC)Your EFC is the amount of money the government expects your family to contribute to your tuition. They determine that amount contribution based on your parent’s financial information that must be submitted as a part of the FAFSA.
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)The FAFSA is the form used to apply for federal financial aid. The information you provide on it determines your Expected Family Contribution.
Federal student aidFederal student aid consists of federal student loans, grants, and work studies that are awarded by the government based on financial need.
Financial Aid PackageYour 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.
GrantsGrants 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 LoansStudent loans are tuition money that must be paid back to the lender over time with interest.
Net PriceNet 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 once all of your grants and scholarships are applied.
Room and boardRoom and board is the cost to live on campus. Living on campus will increase your overall cost of attendance.
ScholarshipsLike grants, 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)The 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.
TuitionTuition is the money charged for class instruction only. It’s either charged on a per-credit basis, or a flat fee. It doesn’t include room and board, textbooks, supplies, or other fees.
Tuition reimbursementTuition 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-studyA 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.

Scholarships versus Grants

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 the grants are sponsored by the government rather than private organizations.

There are currently four types of federal grants available:

Federal Pell Grants

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)

Campus-based grant administered by the financial aid office. Not all schools participate. Award amounts range from $100 to $4,000 a year, based on financial need and availability of funds.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants

Provides up to $4,000 a year to completing coursework for a teaching degree. The program requires that specific teaching-related courses be taken. 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

If the requirements aren’t met, the grant turns into a loan and must be repaid with interest.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

Rewarded 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 your 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.

The award amount is equal to the amount of a maximum Federal Pell Grant.

Your search for college funding should include grants as well as scholarships, especially considering that there are no extra steps involved to find them. Grant eligibility is determined based on the information you provide in the FAFSA.

If you weren’t planning on filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, you should. There are enough different programs and opportunities available that everyone could potentially qualify for some form of assistance. There are also a number of state-level and school-sponsored programs that rely on the FAFSA for qualification.

You can find all of the information you need at the official FAFSA website.

Types of Scholarships

There are two main types of scholarships:

School-sponsored: School sponsored scholarships are affiliated with a specific institution. They can either be funded by the school or an outside organization, but they are only available to students attending that particular college. Information and applications can typically be obtained through the school’s financial aid office.

External: External scholarships are sponsored by outside donors, businesses, organizations, foundations, etc. They’re not affiliated with a specific institution and can be used at any school of the recipient’s choosing.

From there, scholarships fall into a few broad categories:

  • Need-based: These scholarships are awarded based on demonstrated financial need. Many need-based scholarships are school-sponsored and funded directly by the college. Their eligibility and awards are based on the financial information submitted to them through the FAFSA.
  • Merit-based: Rather than taking into account financial need, these scholarships are awarded based on individual achievement: academic, artistic, philanthropic, etc.
  • Demographic: A large number of scholarships are set up for students that fit a specific demographic such as race, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, or residents a specific geographical region.
  • Major/Career: Many colleges and organizations sponsor scholarships for students who major in a specific subject area or who are training for a specific career.
  • Athletic: These scholarships are awarded to students based on their performance in a particular sport. There are external organizations that award athletic scholarships, but the majority are sponsored by the school itself.

When to start

Every scholarship has a different application deadline. Some can be as early as a year before you graduate high school. You should start your search no later than the beginning of your junior year and start sending out applications during the summer before senior year.

If possible, start even earlier. Many scholarships are offered year after year. Even if you can’t apply for one until your junior year, knowing all of the details and requirements in your sophomore year will give you more time to make sure you meet all of the qualifications by the time you’re eligible.

Finding a Scholarship

Create a list of your qualifications

First, 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.

Each item on your list can be used as a filter on a scholarship search platform. The more categories you fit into, the more opportunities you’ll find.

Use a scholarship search platform

With so many scholarships offered by so many different organizations, a basic internet search would never uncover them all. A dedicated scholarship search platform will give you much better results and save a lot of time.

The best platforms have large, continually updated databases with plenty of academic, demographic, and geographic filters to help you find every opportunity for which you qualify. To find the right search platform for you, refer back to our complete ranking of the Best Scholarship Search Platforms of 2017.

Explore all potential sources

In addition to internet scholarship searches, think about smaller, local sources to which you already have a personal connection. If any of them offer scholarships, not only are you uniquely qualified through your association with them but they might also have a much smaller candidate pool, which increases your chances of winning.

Some examples of potential scholarship sources are:

  • Work: If you currently have a job, your company may offer career scholarships or tuition reimbursement for work-related degrees. If you don’t work, inquire with a parent’s employer.
  • School networks: Your local school district may have scholarship opportunities available in a variety of academic categories. If not the schools themselves, then perhaps organizations associated with them. For example, if you’re a member of the school’s AV club, a larger regional AV association may offer scholarships for technical degree seekers. Also, if you’re planning on attending the same college as a parent, check with alumni organizations for any potential funding opportunities.
  • Community organizations: Veterans associations, social clubs, recreational sports leagues and more have been known to sponsor scholarships for students in their communities.
  • Religious groups: Many churches and independent religious organizations sponsor scholarships for members.
  • Campus organizations: Students already attending a college should research any opportunities with various campus organizations such as fraternities, sororities, academic groups, social clubs, and religious societies.

Write query letters

A query letter is a simple request for a scholarship application, complete guidelines, and a list of relevant deadlines. Dedicated scholarship webpages and online applications have eliminated much of the need for traditional queries, but you should be prepared to write some just in case.

Come up with a single template in which you can substitute specific information so you can send the same letter out to multiple sponsors and save some time.

Search constantly

To make sure you don’t miss out on any opportunities, you should plan on searching and sending out multiple waves of applications, not just one batch.
This is true even after you’ve started college. There are plenty of scholarships available for current undergraduates as well as graduate students.

Be aware of scams

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

Use this government resource to locate your state’s DOE agencies

Applying for a Scholarship

Gather any required paperwork

A majority of scholarships involve more than just submitting an application form. Most request that you include additional materials as well. If you fail to submit them as a part of your application, you’ll be disqualified from the competition.

Supporting documentation

The supporting documents required for a scholarship application help prove your eligibility for the award. Not all scholarships require every document, but the most commonly requested ones are:

  • High school transcript: This is a documented record of your entire high school career. It details your yearly academic performance, final grades, standardized test scores, and any honors or awards you earned. You’ll need a transcript for any scholarship with a GPA requirement.
  • Standardized test scores: Your test score report details your SAT or ACT results and is usually included as a part of your high school transcript. If not, it can be obtained separately from your high school or the school district’s administration office. Any scholarship with a minimum test score threshold will request a copy of this report.
  • Financial aid forms: Need-based scholarships request forms proving the student’s financial need. Students can often satisfy this requirement by submitting their FAFSA information via a copy of their Student Aid Report. If not, the sponsor will most likely have their own financial forms that need to be filled out.
  • Letters of recommendation: This is when someone writes a letter on your behalf recommending you as a person worthy of winning a particular scholarship. It should directly address your qualifications for the specific award instead of just a blanket recommendation. Letters should come from academic or professional sources (teachers, professors, employers, clergy, etc.), not family or friends.
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV): This is an educational resume. It should list all of your academic accomplishments, study experiences, volunteer work, hobbies, interests, and educational/career goals. A lot of this information is included as a part of a scholarship application, so you’re less likely to need to include a CV than you are other documents, but you should have one prepared just in case.
  • Essays: Judges often use personal essays to differentiate equally-qualified students and help make their decisions. Scholarship essays typically have a main prompt that asks you to discuss a certain topic or answer a specific question related to the mission of the sponsor organization. They vary in subject, length, and format, so you need to be prepared to write separate essays for each application instead of just one that you can submit multiple times.

Other potential requirements

Supporting documents and essays are the most typical application requirements, but depending on the type of scholarship and level of competition, it could also require one of the following:

  • Special Projects: Major/career-specific scholarships are known to ask applicants to submit projects based on their desired area of study. For example, students applying for scholarships in one of the arts could be required to submit relevant short films, songs, paintings, or photography portfolios.
  • Written exams: Though they are rare, some prestigious, high-value scholarships with heavy competition require applicants to take a written exam in addition to submitting their existing grades and test scores to help determine the winner.
  • Interviews: Like written exams, face-to-face interviews with a scholarship review board are rare, but there are awards that utilize them. During the interview, you will be asked basic questions about why you deserve the scholarship and how you plan to use it if you win. Your responses and overall demeanor impact the judge’s decision.

Verify your qualifications

A lot of scholarships have secondary qualifications beyond the primary one. For example, an academic scholarship might also have a demographic requirement. Take extra care to read through all of the qualifications to ensure that you’re truly eligible.

It’s also important to always be honest. It might be tempting for you to embellish your accomplishments on paper to make them meet a scholarship’s requirements. Ultimately, the judges will see through any deception and reject your application. Not only will you waste valuable time, you will most likely get yourself disqualified from any future opportunities with that sponsor.

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.

Organize and track your applications

Try to use a scholarship search platform that includes tools for tracking your applications. If the platform you decide on doesn’t have those tools, or if you feel more comfortable using your own system, here are our suggestions for staying organized:

  • Make a separate file folder (either physical or digital) for each scholarship and sort them by application deadline.
  • Gather any required documents and keep a separate copy with each file.
  • Create a single document that you can use to track of all your applications in one place. We recommend including the following information:
    • Scholarship name
    • Scholarship sponsor
    • Contact information
    • Scholarship website address (if applicable)
    • Application deadline
    • Award amount
    • Summary of specific criteria (GPA, test scores, volunteer hours, etc.)
    • A list of required documentation (transcripts, essays, etc.)
    • Date you applied
    • Current status (not yet applied, applied – pending, denied, awarded)
    • Total amount awarded (if any)
  • Keep a copy of every completed application and add it to your scholarship file.
    • Throughout the process, constantly update your files to ensure you don’t miss any deadlines, forget to include any required documents, apply for the same scholarship twice, or skip over an opportunity because you thought you already applied for it.

      Manage your deadlines

      For every scholarship, you need to give yourself plenty of time to gather all of the needed documents and complete any essays or projects. You should start working on those requirements as soon as possible to ensure that you meet all of your deadlines.

      This is especially true of recommendation letters. With them, you’re dependent on someone else to complete a key requirement, someone who may not operate on your schedule. You need enough time to request a letter, allow the person to write it, get it back, and submit it with your application.

      Double-check and proofread everything

      Typos look unprofessional and can easily cost you a scholarship. With so many students competing for the same award, grammar errors in an application or essay are an easy way for judges to disqualify you and narrow the field.
      You also don’t want to look over an application after you’ve submitted it and realize you forgot to list an accomplishment, such as an academic award, that could have given you an advantage in the competition.
      Have a trusted friend or family member review your work before you submit it, no matter how many times you’ve checked over it yourself.

      Essay, Interview, and Recommendation Letter Tips

      Essay Tips

      Essays are the most common application requirement, but they are also the most varied. Some have specific prompts and questions they want answered, while others leave the topic up to you. They also have different formats and lengths.

      Here are some standard guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind:

      If an essay doesn’t have a prompt, we have some suggestions for topics:

      • Personal achievements: An essay is one of your best opportunities to sell yourself to a scholarship judge. Your application already listed your personal achievements, but now you have a chance to elaborate on them. You’ll especially want to include any community service or volunteer work.
      • Academic plans: Describe your educational goals. Tell the sponsor exactly what you plan on doing with the scholarship should you win it. Give them an idea of the impact their money will have on the world if they invest it in you.
      • Social issues/current events: Discussing social issues and current events in an essay is a great way to illustrate your intelligence, character, and personality all at once. Just be sure to tailor the subject to the scholarship. Give your opinion or insight on an issue related to the mission of the sponsor.
      • Mentors and influences: Give the judges an idea of who you are by describing mentors and role models. Describe learning experiences and specific instances where their example influenced your life. If possible, choose an influence from your academic major or intended career, or choose someone in the same field as the scholarship sponsor.

      Interview tips

      Your first step in preparing for an interview should be thoroughly researching the sponsor organization. You need to have a solid understanding of their history and ideology so you’re prepared to discuss how you fit into their mission.

      There’s no way to know what questions the interviewer will ask, but you should prepare answers for some of the most common ones, including:

      1. Tell us about yourself.
      2. Why did you apply for this scholarship?
      3. Why do you think you’re the best candidate for this scholarship?
      4. What makes you stand out from other candidates?
      5. What is the most important thing you’ve learned in high school?
      6. What are your greatest strengths?
      7. What are your weaknesses?
      8. Tell us about a time when you displayed leadership qualities.
      9. How do you contribute to your community?
      10. Tell us about a specific event that greatly influenced you.
      11. What are your academic goals?
      12. What are your career goals?
      13. Where do you see yourself in five years?
      14. How do you spend your free time?
      15. What is a skill or experience you hope to leave college with?
      16. What personal achievements are you most proud of?
      17. What’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
      18. Tell us about a person that has influenced your life and how.
      19. Talk about a significant challenge you have encountered.
      20. If you could do high school over again, what would you do differently?

      The interviewer may also ask you to elaborate on details from your application, ask questions about your recommendation letter and its author, or ask you to discuss current events.

      Take care to answer every question thoroughly and remember to be as specific about yourself as possible and relate your answers to the sponsor’s mission where applicable.

      Once you’ve prepared all of your answers, you just need to remember some basic interview tips:

      • Dress professionally. First impressions count for a lot in an interview. Do your best to look like someone worth investing money in.
      • Be honest. If you’re in an interview, you’ve already proven your qualifications and are in serious contention for the award. There is no need to lie at this point.
      • Study your application. The interviewer will have a copy of your application and supporting documentation. It’s important to remember everything you originally wrote so you don’t contradict yourself.
      • Be yourself. The interview is your chance to show the scholarship sponsor that you’re more than a GPA and a list of accomplishments. Be respectful, but also relaxed. Your unique personality is what is going to set you apart from other candidates.
      • Be grateful. Make sure you convey your appreciation for the opportunity the sponsor has provided and your excitement at the possibility of winning. Follow up with an email (or letter) the day after the interview to reiterate your gratitude.

      Recommendation letter tips

      The first step is decided who to ask for a recommendation. Here are the most important things to keep in mind:

      • Don’t ask family or friends: Your family and friends have no credibility when it comes to official recommendations. Your letters need to come from objective, professional sources.
      • Choose someone who knows you well: Ask for a letter from someone who is familiar with your work and achievements, as well as someone who understands your educational goals and the goals of the scholarship sponsor.
      • Know your audience: It’s important to tailor your letters to the scholarship. For example, if the scholarship is sponsored by a religious organization, you should consider asking a trusted clergy member for a letter rather than your football coach.
      • Make a list of potential writers: Group everyone on your list by their area of expertise so you have a pool of writers to approach as each unique scholarship opportunity arises.

      Once you’ve compiled a list of writers, you need to solicit them for the letters. To make the easier for them, and to ensure that you get the letter you need, follow these tips:

      • Give them plenty of time: The timeframe needs to be large enough that they can complete the letter without inconveniencing their schedule. You also need to give yourself extra time between your request and the application deadline just in case the letter isn’t completed in that window.
      • Make a formal request: Where possible, arrange a meeting where you can ask for a recommendation letter in person.
      • Be prepared for rejection and have a backup plan: Some people don’t feel comfortable writing recommendation letters for a variety of reasons. If your first choice denies your request, ask if there is someone else they could recommend. If not, have a second choice lined up from your list.
      • Give your writer all the information they’ll need:

        Make sure they have:

        • Your complete contact information
        • Any forms they needs to fill out as a part of the recommendation
        • The sponsor, title, and description of the scholarship
        • The contact information and address of the recipient
        • Scholarship deadline information
        • A copy of your completed scholarship application for reference
        • A full list of your academic achievements and a transcript
        • Your resume or CV
        • A brief letter of your own reminding the writer of your past work together (If a teacher: a description of outstanding coursework in their class, a past essay, etc.)