The Best Scholarship Search Platform
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 design, and educational resources.
How We Chose the Best Scholarship Search Platform
Up-to-date and inclusive
To determine the best scholarship search platforms, we first compiled a master list of 28 of the most popular sites. We then studied existing rankings, read hundreds of student reviews, and followed the recommendations of several state departments of education and college admissions offices to establish a set of criteria to ensure the sites’ legitimacy and relevancy. The exigency of meeting that criteria brought our list down to 17.
- Must not be a scholarship challenge/lottery site
- Must have a unique, searchable database of outside scholarships
- Must include results for more than a single demographic (i.e. scholarships exclusively for electrical engineers, military personnel, or employees of a specific company)
- Must be regularly updated with new opportunities
- Must make an effort to filter/remove inactive scholarships
- Must not charge for otherwise-free financial aid services (pay to apply for a scholarship, pay to file FAFSA, etc.)
Resources and usability
We identified five core metrics to help us to stack-rank those 17 remaining sites. Broadly, these metrics allowed us to judge usability (are searches easy and fruitful?) and usefulness (are we seeing plenty of viable awards?). For every site, we graded each metric based on key contributing features. We then weighted each metric by importance.
Here’s a breakdown:
Search functionality (30%)
Scholarship availability (25%)
Additional resources (10%)
Number of search results
A key arbiter of a platform’s quality is its total number of listings, but it’s nearly impossible to get an accurate count. Many don’t make the information available, and many give inflated numbers. We chose to grade each site’s listing size by the average number of results a typical student can expect. We created 25 profiles representing the “average student” based on data from the US Department of Education, the US Census Bureau, and the College Board.
These included profiles from five race categories (Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American), with each profile seeking one of the five current most popular degree majors (Business, Nursing, Psychology, Biology, Teaching). Our prospective students had a GPA and test scores equal to the national average for incoming college freshman. We searched every scholarship site using each profile, recorded the number of scholarship results, then averaged them. The more results returned for every profile, the more powerful and inclusive the site, and the higher it moved in our ranking.
The 4 Best Scholarship Search Platforms
Best for Most Students
Hands down the most impressive search site we encountered.
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.
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.
Browse without creating a profile
Fastweb requires no registration to browse scholarship listings, meaning you can start by checking out the searchable database and fielding personalized matches before you go to the trouble of creating a profile. But the site’s superior organization and results means that you will likely want to.
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.
Great for students who want to be able to apply for — and track the status of — a large number of scholarships.
Why we chose it
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.
Strong search features put Unigo in third place and elevated it far above the remaining contenders we considered.
Why we chose it
Stellar search functionality
Unigo ranked first in our most heavily-weighted metric, Search Functionality. It has more filters and scholarship categories than any other platform — nearly 2,000 in total. The sheer number of filters increases your likelihood of finding promising scholarships faster.
Intuitive layout and navigation
Unigo is also exceptionally easy to use. Those 2,000 filters, which have the potential to be overwhelming, are easy to find and easy to remove, thanks to an intuitive site layout. In fact, Unigo garnered our highest score for “ease of use,” which is a large reason why it was elevated to third place.
And the gap between third and fourth place is large: The nearest competitors would have to make significant improvements to the intuitivity and organization of their platforms to overtake Unigo’s spot, while Unigo would only have to make a few minor changes to its site (like beefing up additional resources) to claim our first-place position. We suggest making an account with all of our top three, which together boast the best features of the field.
Points to consider
Fewer resources than competitors
The only areas in which Unigo falls short are tools and additional resources. Without deadline reminders or new match notifications, you’ll have to be more diligent in organizing your searches, findings, and ongoing applications so you don’t get bogged down by the huge fund of scholarships Unigo can turn up.
Underwhelming for scholarship searches, but a treasure trove of other valuable features.
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, it isn’t a one-stop shop. 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.
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.
- 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 US 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 Platform FAQs
What types of scholarships are available?
What’s the difference between a scholarship and a grant?
What grants should I apply for?
The Best Scholarship Search Platform: Summed Up
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: