A Comprehensive Review of the Leading Scholarship Search Services

How Accurate and Concise is the Information?

Scholarship searches are a challenge. Many students now buy into the growing number of free scholarship search services. FastWeb, Scholarships.com, FindTuition, and ScholarshipExperts are all among the leading services. As free subscriber sites they offer their services to users that take the time to fill in the brief online profiles. But how timely, accurate and relevant are these services? And do they deliver results any different from those you’d find using Google search?

Our Example Student Profile

In order to really get a clear idea of how each of these services works, I filled out a fictional profile on my own at each site:

My name is Toni, and I’m a senior in high school. I am a white female, non-minority. I am an Honor Roll Student with a 3.4 GPA, and SAT score of 1430. My college of choice is the University of Colorado-Boulder, intended major is biology, and career interest is medical research. I have a part-time job at McDonald’s, at least one of my parents is a police officer, our household income is $60,000, and I’m a resident of Colorado. I also have Multiple Sclerosis.

Dissecting FastWeb, a Leading Scholarship Search Service

FastWeb.

FastWeb is without argument one of the leading free scholarship services. It’s not a search engine, and it’s much more than a database, it’s more akin to basic project management tool. On most days a quick Google search for scholarships returns results with FastWeb at the top of the search heap.

FastWeb Features

This website is a veritable one-stop-shop for students as well as parents:

Besides these three primary services, a Resources page links out to a few dozen articles on topics relevant to current and future college students. Topics are organized into categories such as Money, Your Career, Student Life, and Student Voices—links to student blogs and articles.

There is a lot more here than you’d think and acquainting yourself with the site features is encouraged. According to the FastWeb creators, they have become one of the most “trusted” scholarship services on the web. The site was created in 1995 and is a subsidiary of job search giant, Monster.

Accessing the FW Information

The service is designed to target each user’s particular interests, college and career goals, and job hopes. In order to access the FastWeb features users must create a personal profile. The information is pretty basic—name, email address, country of origin, birth date, gender, and your current year of school. You’ll also have to decide if you want to be a part of FW’s mailing list. The site claims it’s a means by which colleges may contact you or you can be sent scholarship reminders. However, this is really a marketing tool on their end, a perk they extend to advertising partners that could actually turn out to be more of an inconvenience to you, the user.

Once you’ve created a user profile and logged in you have immediate access to some handy tools that provide you some organizational dexterity.

Scholarship deadline reminders, up in the left hand corner of you’re My FastWeb might sound as though they are perfectly tailored to your profile, but click on one and you are taken to a page that lists many general scholarships with upcoming deadlines. Still, no doubt, helpful. If any applicable scholarships belong to a college you’ve entered into your profile or are offered by colleges within a state in which you listed a college interest, then any of those programs in FW’s database are listed as well.

Save scholarships you’re interested in to your Favorites tab by clicking in the checkbox and choosing Save to Favorites. Don’t want to see some again, check the boxes and click Discard. Wish to add a reminder note to a listing? There is a pen icon alongside the link to every scholarship, this opens a popup window into which you may type a brief note or send yourself an “email reminder.” Avoid the “Special Offers” in between various scholarships; they are ads.

How FW Performed for My Profile

For my fictional profile—Toni—My Scholarships returns 110 results. I can sort them by deadline or by dollar amount. As you’ll see the other services provide similar flexibility. Outside the ability to sort, make a comment and save to my favorites, the list is pretty general.

Scholarships.com Search Service Built on a Search Engine

Scholarships.com.

Scholarships.com was launched in 1998 and competes with FastWeb for top placement in search engine results. Again, users must enter a personal profile to logon and begin using the search service, but the interface is up front and simpler than FW’s. You will receive emails from Scholarships.com, so if this is an annoyance you might think twice or choose an email account you rarely use, and even set one up specifically for your college scholarship search. To avoid the site’s affiliate advertisers, uncheck the box that mentions the occasional mailings—it’s located at the very bottom of the profile sign-on, in tiny font.

Scholarships.com Features

Scholarships.com provides a college search and a Resources page, similar to FW—dozens of relevant articles for prospective college students. The Resources page is divided into categories: Scholarships, Financial Aid, College Prep, Study Skills, and Campus Life. Also read “Success Stories,” update your profile, and save select scholarship programs to your Favorites.

The My Scholarships Tab

This is the meat of Scholarships.com. The site makes a big deal of the relevancy of their scholarship search engine algorithm. Results are parsed using the details you provide in your profile. When you click on My Scholarships tab your targeted list of scholarship links appears. What I really like about the results is the Relevancy column. Click on one of the most relevant scholarships you’ve been delivered and you’ll see what factors you provided that matched it to your profile. This is a valuable metric for measuring the success of this service.

How Scholarships.com Performed for My Profile

For my fictional profile, Scholarships.com delivered 79 search results for applicable scholarships. Compare this to 110 for FastWeb. This doesn’t mean that they offer same results. In fact, when I sort by deadline I notice FastWeb is able to show me 5 programs in July; Scholarships, 2, but one of Scholarships’ is unique to FastWeb’s. There are actually a lot of dissimilarities across the board. One standout, primarily for its prominence among scholarships, was the Coca Cola Scholars Scholarship. It showed up with a high relevancy rating for my Scholarships.com account, but was absent on FastWeb. Here is a likely example of human error, lack of proper maintenance, or the fact that these sites work because they solicit the membership of scholarship providers. Someone has to actually submit award information before it’s included in the site’s features. But this seems like a clear example of how incomplete your scholarship searches can actually be. You’ll get solid results, but rest assured there are gaps.

I like the relevancy rating I get with Scholarships.com. I can also sort results by deadline or by award dollar amount, same as FastWeb.

FindTuition.com: Does Largest Database Deliver?

FindTuition.

FindTuition is not one of the top returns in the search results, but the creators claim the “largest scholarship database in the world,” which also includes national and state-based scholarships.

FindTuition Features

FindTuition.com invites users to complete an online profile, similar to FastWeb and Scholarships.com. The features that stand out above the others are:

FindTuition is congruently focused on college tuition in general. Outside their first job, as scholarship search service, FT dedicates significant web space to information and services focused on financial aid and loan consolidation.

Missing is the stable of informational articles that both FastWeb and Scholarships.com provided.

My Tuition

The biggest advantage to My Tuition seems to be the ability to track your scholarship application process. However, this is not automated, users must actually click checkboxes to utilize the “tracking” process. This is really just an online checklist for your benefit.

How FindTuition Performed for My Student Profile, “Toni”

The service returns 857 college scholarships, 293 national scholarships, and 12 state scholarships, all based on Toni’s profile. I know already that the state scholarship results are a match because they are all for Colorado, Toni’s home state. The state and national scholarship results in FT are not offered as part of either FastWeb or Scholarships.com, these are a bonus. If you recall, Toni’s profile included some personal data that should make her eligible for some state and national scholarships: at least one parent was in law enforcement and she is an honor roll student. The state scholarships are delivered without filters applied to profile elements. There is a button to Apply Filters appropriate to my profile, but the search results failed to change when I tried this. Toni doesn’t qualify for low-income student grants, but she does for Colorado Dependents Tuition Assistance Program, designed for the dependents of law enforcement personnel.

Outside the national and state scholarships, the college scholarships results based on Toni’s profile provide no specific or relevant matches at all. Her profile only lists University of Colorado-Boulder as her intended college, but FT returned scholarships for colleges located in 5 states, none of which was Colorado. If results are consistently irrelevant and downright wrong then this service is a big frustration if you’re focused on time management. But I like the state and national results.

Is ScholarshipExperts.com More Relevant and Accurate Than the Rest?

ScholarshipExperts.

ScholarshipExperts.com is a free subscriber scholarship search service that entered development in 2000. The site creators claim SE is the “most accurate scholarship search service on the internet.” Users complete the online profile so that scholarships can be “matched” to the appropriate personal data.

Site Features

From the eOrganizer page, you may immediately check out your personalized scholarship search results, view and update your profile, or search for a college. SE has a couple proprietary features:

How ScholarshipExperts Performed for Toni’s Profile

SE found only 58 scholarships that matched Toni’s profile, but were they more relevant than others? Clearly FindTuition’s results in the college scholarships category were not applicable in the least for my fictional profile. Scholarships.com rates the relevancy of each scholarship, a distinguishable and useful metric, but FastWeb for all its bells and whistles leaves me poking through each and every scholarship.

SE’s method of scholarship data collection is more time consuming than the others. Scholarship providers are asked to email SE; then a representative contacts the provider. This may be redundant or it may be their key to accurate and concise data.

There are as many similarities as there are disparities between these four services. Are they accurate? The only one that even attempts to measure the value of the scholarship matches is Scholarships.com. Some of the better information may be the Resources tabs on FastWeb and Scholarships.com—useful and relevant informational articles targeted to wannabe college students.

Other Quality Scholarship Search Providers

The list of scholarship search services hardly stops here. In the interest of completeness we’re including brief profiles of other very good databases and services. Check them out, you might find one that performs best for your interests.

Broke Scholar: Granular Details Provide Targeted Results

BrokeScholar.

Aptly named Broke Scholar, is one of the newer free scholarship services. The service claims 650,000 scholarship awards in its database, among them programs for undergrads, grads, and professionals.

Users are required to register a free profile in order to use Broke Scholar. Persevere and you will find that some of the information for which you are prompted is more granular than the top four search services we’ve already examined. This should be an indication of a more relevant scholarship search than some of the previous. You’ll be prompted for all the general information, as well as specific names of colleges in which you’re interested, intended major, field of interest, athletic interests, and general hobbies and interests. At the end of your profile setup, make sure you uncheck the last box for email promotions. These will be ads and direct mail junk that will only gum up your email and ultimately frustrate you.

Broke Scholar Features

Besides the lengthy profile process, you’ll find Broke Scholar fairly clean and intuitive. But unless you look carefully you might miss a couple nice little features. Up in the right hand corner of your web page, right next to the logout link, you’ll find a link to the FAQ page. If you have a question about the site, check this out for a possible answer. The Articles link directs you to a linked list of categories: College Life, Scholarships, Loans, Managing Money, Federal Student Aid, Admissions, and Articles for Parents. Each of these links leads to about half a dozen applicable articles written for prospective college students and confused parents.

On your Matching Scholarships page, you should see three other tabs:

The Matching Scholarships page provides you with the scholarship results specific to the user’s profile. The rating column displays a number of stars that indicate the scholarship relevancy. This is similar to Scholarships.com’s relevancy rating, a nice little metric that lets you know something is working behind the scenes. Also from this page you may type in a search keyword to pare down your search even more exactly to a specific topic, and even a scholarship name.

How Broke Scholar Performed for Toni, My Fictional Profile

Broke Scholar returned 273 Matching Scholarships for Toni’s profile. Generally, the scholarship results seemed pretty precise considering the slim details I provided. The first page of scholarship results was populated with University of Colorado-Boulder programs. This is the college Toni is interested in, so the results rated high for relevancy. After these specific UCB results the scholarship list became more general. I tried narrowing the scholarship search down with the keyphrase multiple sclerosis, but without results.

Does College Board Have the Inside Track on Scholarships?

The College Board.

College Board is the preeminent source for almost everyone involved in the college application process, from students to educators. CB is also the primary site for SAT and ACT resources, sample tests, and test dates and locations. As an adjunct service, College Board has added its own proprietary scholarship tool. The College Board Scholarship Search service advertises over 2300 sources for possible scholarship funds.

College Board’s scholarship data collection mechanism is distinctly different. Up until now the other free scholarship search services have relied on scholarship providers to come to them. However, College Board claims that it collects its information through an annual financial aid survey distributed to “over 1,200 sponsoring organizations.” This we’ll-come-to-you method may also make a difference in the types and numbers of scholarships available.

The user profile is rather comprehensive and even more detailed than Broke Scholar. You can choose to include applicable loans, research grants, and internships, in with the scholarship search. The biggest drawback is that the user profile is not saved; you must go through this process every time you wish to try their scholarship search product.

How College Board Scholarship Search Performed for My Profile

I expected the results to be really targeted and comprehensive, especially with the expansive profile questions. But the results are delivered in alphabetical order and are not flexible for sorted or filtered searches. While completing the profile I realized quite a few questions pertained to military personnel/veterans and to students that may be involved in or affiliated with specific professional organizations. There was a drop down menu for medical conditions, but multiple sclerosis was not among them, which would have directly applied to Toni’s profile.

The scholarship search returned 104 results, most of which were pretty general. The profile did not allow for specific college choices and instead the criteria was constrained: high school senior looking for merit and need-based aid as a college freshman, an intended major in biology, a resident of Colorado, and female.

Organizational tools are missing from the College Board site. Save and sorting features available with most other search services allow a level of flexibility just not present here.

Peterson’s: Can its Scholarship Search Be as Good as the Rest of Its Resources?

Petersons Scholarship Search.

Peterson’s Award Database is from the company most noted for its Peterson’s college guidebooks. The company has been delivering the most up-to-date information for educators, parents, and students since the late 60s. In 2006, Nelnet—a leading student loan lender—acquired Peterson’s.

Peterson’s scholarship search is only available when users input profile information. Expect to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes on this; it’s just not that intuitive. Outside the search features, a good reason to check out Peterson’s is for the extensive resources on the college application process: financial aid, essay writing, sample tests, and much more.

How Did Peterson’s Perform for Toni’s Profile?

Toni’s personalized scholarship search returned 273 results, pretty comprehensive, but the relevancy was low. I even included Toni’s interest in music, but that’s not precise enough—a scholarship for a student organist made it onto the list. Regardless of volume, I was frustrated. Also the profile process is confusing. Overlook any of the fields, even if they don’t pertain to you, and an annoying little message window drops down and reminds you to choose something from a menu of items that may not apply. I finally figured out that if I scrolled to the bottom of each little drop down that I would find the “Not Applicable” option. This needs to be at the top of the list. I almost quit the entire process in midstream.

I may use Peterson’s for general educational and college information, but I would not use the scholarship search again. The information is nearly identical to that in the annually updated Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants, & Prizes guidebooks. I’d go for the book, instead—it’s easier to thumb through than the online heap.

NextStudent Scholarship Search: Does it Compete with the Rest?

NextStudent Scholarship Search.

NextStudent is one of the most visible and aggressive student loan lenders/providers on the web. Their primary business is lending money. So, how does the scholarship “search engine” stack up against the competition? And for Toni’s Profile?

NextStudent’s scholarship tool is an afterthought, with really no more zing than a loan calculator. Like the rest of the NextStudent website, this search tool also seems very advertiser/affiliate-driven. On every page of the profile login, there was an option to have information sent from lenders. The profile seemed comprehensive and included some information one might consider precision-oriented: a menu of medical disabilities and chronic illnesses, a detailed list of college majors, and a list of interests. Toni’s personalized scholarship search did parse some key information from her profile, but of the only 28 scholarships found almost all of them targeted her intended major—Biology and one parsed her music interest, but outside of this the scholarships were flimsy, and too few in comparison with other more ample sites.

College Data Scholarship Finder: Simple, Lackluster Search Feature

CollegeData Scholarship Search.

College Data’s scholarship tool runs on Peterson’s scholarship database. The site features some extras worth mentioning: an admissions tracker tool, and a tab labeled “Data Locker,” into which users may tag scholarships to save for later.

Like NextStudent, College Data’s scholarship database is really not a viable option considering the volume of results you may get from the bigger search services. The profile interface is brief. The one profile option I liked was the Keyword field. Users are prompted to add in specific keywords that correspond to hobby or interest as well as professional affiliation or career goal. I entered multiple sclerosis and police officer—one or both of her (fictional) parents’ professions. Of the 32 scholarship results, almost two-thirds were various state police organizations with scholarships. I was disappointed; not one was Colorado, which meant the sorting algorithm was imprecise to begin with—the database maybe catches one keyphrase and overlooks all others. And there were no funds returned for the key phrase multiple sclerosis. Using a simple Google search, I could have hooked more targeted scholarships with similar keywords, as you’ll see.

SRN Express: Scholarship Search Tool From MyRichUncle

SRN Express Scholarship Search.

Scholarship Resource Network Express is a simplistic scholarship search tool with no extras and few options. Student loan lender, MyRichUncle, owns SRN Express. In terms of Toni’s profile, the 80 scholarships SRN returned were general, private scholarships. Many were common and similar to those that turned up in the FastWeb search. All in all, some generally good funds showed up, albeit very competitive ones. But I could have found them on a more inclusive and robust search service that actually offers sorting and saving features. Users cannot even bookmark results pages on SRN Express.

College Answer: Sallie Mae Scholarship Search

College Answer Scholarship Search.

Leave it to Sallie Mae, one of the nation’s leading student loan lenders and servicers, to design a user-friendly and uncluttered scholarship search service. The only inconvenience: users must first establish an account with College Answer and then a subsequent user profile with the actual scholarship search. The site features organizational tools:

A nice feature of this database is the Match Accuracy. This metric is displayed as a percentage alongside each scholarship and is designed to indicate how closely a program matches the user profile. But profiles remain fairly vague regardless of questions pertaining to career interest, study major, and hobbies and interests. Users can adjust match accuracy on a scale from low to high. The higher your match accuracy the fewer scholarships you’re shown. Still, even within this “precision” bracket, you will still have to evaluate each scholarship award. The database does a pretty good job of parsing profiles to awards based on multiple criteria, but there remain discrepancies.

How Did the Sallie Mae Scholarship Service Perform for Toni’s Profile?

For Toni’s profile the default match scale was set at 60%, which returned 128 scholarships. The most relevant funds matched her profile criteria in areas related to hobbies, career and intended college major, class level, and state residency. But within the awards results I would have to evaluate each for more granular criteria. Another advantage of this search service is the inclusion of state awards among private and educational programs.

Services Round-Up

There are as many similarities as there are disparities between all the above scholarship services. Are they accurate? Only a few even attempt to measure the value of the scholarship matches with some type of relevancy rating or percentage of accuracy. Regardless of how precise some of the profiles seem, these are databases, not search engines. Search queries may be more sophisticated from one to the next, but they still fall far short of the agility of a real search engine. Beyond actual scholarship results, the better information among the services may be the article repositories on FastWeb, Scholarships.com, and Broke Scholar, as well as the Newsletter feature on Sallie Mae’s site—useful and relevant informational articles targeted to prospective college students and parents.

What Types of Scholarship Results Can I Get with a Google Search?

Google.

Google is a very good search engine, but it works off of specific combinations of keywords. You cannot just type in college scholarships and have an unadulterated and sorted list of results. Chances are you’ll have some very relevant and useable results, but you must analyze the material. This may be more time consuming than the search services, but you may feel as though you have more control over the data, the way it’s searched and what’s returned as results.

In the realm of simple search, let’s consider the elements of Toni’s profile that could immediately draw targeted scholarships:

Let’s Search: Using the Right Keywords

The trick to working with Google is to know what keywords to use. If you have problems brainstorming your own, try out a keyword tool.

This is just an example of how you could begin to go about drilling down into Google for pertinent and relevant scholarship information outside the subscriber search services. Scholarship services promise big results, but might not live up to their reputation. However, they do outdo Google in nifty organizational tools: email reminders, post-it note comments, and downloadable applications, batch print capabilities and sorting mechanisms. We dedicated a separate article that goes in-depth into the many Google search techniques and services to help with your scholarship search.

Post-Dissection

After my dissection of each of the four search services I chose, it’s clear that not any one of them is able to give a complete and concise scholarship list and results lists differ widely. There are anomalies, mismatched data, and their systems are human-driven, which means there could be outdated and inaccurate information. The scholarship data itself is categorized completely differently from one to the other, and in almost all of them, it’s clear that advertisers figure prominently. Users may maximize the scholarship data and subscribe to more than one. A new email account specifically for use during college and scholarship searches would effectively keep spam and junk out of a personal email account. At the same time no one misses any serious college recruiters, scholarship notices, and/or deadline reminders.

Google also provides useable data. It’s not sorted and organized in quite the same way, not filtered, but some of the results returned by the services were not uniquely filtered. Scholarships are work no matter how you look at it, whether you wrestle with the free search services or get savvy with Google search.


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