Pros:+ Most comprehensive scholarship database. + Protects your data. + Easy user experience. + No ads or unrelated offers. + Scholarships matched to you.
Cons:– Funding isn’t exclusive to platform. – Applications are off-site.
The Bottom Line:Sallie Mae is the place to start if you’re looking for scholarships. Use their comprehensive scholarship search to get an idea of what’s out there and quickly hone in on the funding opportunities best suited to you.
Pros:+ Scholarships are exclusive to the platform, so your chances of winning are higher.
+ Protects your data. No ads or unrelated offers.
+ Student profile to showcase to scholarship panels.
+ Streamlined applications on the platform.
Cons:– Smaller than large scholarship databases.
– Creating a great profile takes ~15 minutes.
The Bottom Line:Although Bold.org is smaller than other platforms, it provides you the best chance of winning. It offers a robust student profile to ensure you look great for scholarship panels, and it provides funding exclusive to the platform, which means lower competition.
Pros:+ Strong breadth and depth of opportunities.
+ Easy user experience.
+ Good data privacy and limited unrelated offers relative to other platforms.
+ Save scholarships to apply later.
Cons:– Funding isn’t exclusive to platform. – Applications are off-site.
The Bottom Line:With straightforward UX, Chegg makes it quick and easy to view a large list of scholarships and save your favorites. It’s a strong option for students who want a modern platform to find and apply to a wide variety of scholarships.
How We Decided
What Makes a Scholarship Platform Great?
For many prospective college students, applying for scholarships is an integral part of the college application process.
With tuition, textbooks, and room and board becoming increasingly expensive, scholarships provide much-needed funding opportunities for students who might otherwise not be able to afford higher education, or would have to rely on even larger student loans that could take decades to repay.
But when it comes time to search for relevant scholarship opportunities, online scholarship platforms sometimes create more confusion and frustration than they solve.
Many platforms are outdated and filled with defunct or expired scholarships, while others simply list the exact same scholarships as their competitors, which makes it difficult for students to find unique opportunities. For students who are trying to make important decisions about their college career, many scholarship platforms are simply not particularly helpful.
Being bombarded by ads and unintentionally signing up for frequent and unwanted spam emails are all-too-common occurrences when perusing scholarship platforms.
And even when they appear distinct from their competitors, many platforms simply share the exact same database of scholarships, while requiring students to provide detailed personal information that is then sold to higher education providers or even marketing firms.
This is why many students approach the scholarship search with feelings of trepidation and even dread. It’s also why countless students are desperate to find scholarship platforms that won’t share or sell their personal data, fill their inboxes with spam, or show them scholarships that thousands of other students have already seen.
Finding a trustworthy and easy-to-navigate platform that will show students an up-to-date list of scholarships that are relevant to their background, interests, and experience almost seems like a fantasy, because there are so many websites that promise to give students access to funding opportunities that simply don’t exist.
Our goal is to sort through the long list of websites that inevitably appears when you do a Google search for “college scholarships 2021.”
Based on the factors that students find most important when selecting a scholarship platform, we have developed a detailed methodology to score and rank these websites. Specifically, we assessed 15 of the most popular scholarship platforms across 14 different metrics.
The specific metrics that determine the quality and usefulness of a scholarship platform fall into three main categories: trustworthiness, user experience, and funding available.
When ranking the platforms, we assigned a weight of 30% for funding available, 40% for trustworthiness, and 40% for user experience. The precise methodology we used in assessing these three categories is outlined below.
The amount of total funding that various platforms have at their disposal differs immensely, ranging from some websites that allow students to access only a few thousand dollars worth of funding, to those with scholarships that are collectively worth billions of dollars.
This huge disparity in total funding may not be apparent to a casual browser, but it is likely to be very important when deciding which platform to use.
Within this category, we also assessed how well different platforms provide specific opportunities for students with various academic interests, skills, and desired fields of study. Also within this category, we looked at whether the scholarships listed on the platforms are current and timely, with rapidly approaching deadlines, so that applicants will have access to time-sensitive opportunities.
Lastly, we investigated whether the platforms contain scholarship opportunities that are unique to their website, rather than simply providing access to a database that is shared by many different platforms.
One major shortcoming of many scholarship platforms is their lack of trustworthiness and transparency. This is something that we examined quite closely, across several different metrics.
Firstly, we recorded which platforms are free to use and which charge fees, because free, unfettered access to a scholarship database is something that nearly all students would expect.
We also tested whether students are subjected to email offers or banner advertisements for various products and services after registering for the platform, as these offers are nearly always unwanted and can feel very intrusive.
Lastly, we examined whether the scholarship platforms keep the personal data they receive from visitors private, or whether that information is passed on to other companies, without the knowledge or permission of website users.
Having a modern and regularly-updated website is something that students typically expect from scholarship platforms, but this isn’t always the reality.
We assessed whether various platforms are updated regularly, and determined whether the brands appear to be modern, relevant, and in touch with the latest developments and opportunities in the higher education field.
A straightforward, easy-to-use website with clear and accurate information is also a top priority of most students, so this became another of our criteria.
We also assessed whether the various platforms have the capability to match students with relevant scholarship opportunities, rather than just showing them a generalized list of scholarships that may not fit with their background, experience, or field of study.
Similarly, we judged how seamlessly the platforms connect students with scholarship opportunities, so that the process doesn’t have to involve entering the same information multiple times in order to apply to several different scholarships.
Lastly, we examined whether the platforms have the functionality to attract the attention of colleges and universities through well-crafted student profiles, so that students can stand out from the crowd, rather than feeling like another name or number among thousands of applicants.
From our research, it is abundantly clear that today’s high school and college students have access to more scholarship opportunities than ever before.
Likewise, there is an ever-increasing number of websites dedicated to connecting students with those opportunities. We think this is an overwhelmingly positive development, as it means that deserving students will be able to secure much-needed funding for their studies.
However, it has also become apparent that these scholarship platforms are not all the same. While many platforms have a similar list of scholarship opportunities, some of those platforms require students to sign up for unwanted emails, sift through advertisements, or unwittingly share their personal data with universities, marketing firms, and loan brokers.
The challenge has been to find a platform that provides students with access to unique funding opportunities, while also keeping their personal data private and limiting the unnecessary marketing efforts that they have to deal with.
Our methodology and scoring system clearly indicate that Sallie Mae, Bold.org, and Chegg were a cut above the rest, and with many unique features. In particular, Sallie Mae stood out as the platform with the largest pool of funding, while Bold.org distinguished itself by providing access to many unique funding opportunities and allowing students to apply for scholarships directly through its platform.
Attending college can be an exciting, inspiring, and often very expensive period in a young person’s life, and we hope that having better access to scholarship opportunities will help you make the most of this thrilling time. Whatever you choose, we wish you the best of luck with your scholarship applications and your future studies!
What is a Scholarship?
As noted by the USA Grant Application organization, the simple definition of a scholarship is simple. A scholarship is a sum of money that helps a student pay for their education. This is free college money that you never need to pay back. This financial support is awarded to a student based on certain criteria. The two most common types of scholarship are merit-based and need-based. Merit-based scholarships are awarded based on academic achievement, a special talent, or an interest. Need-based scholarships are directed towards students who would not be able to afford higher education without financial support. It is also common for college scholarships to be geared towards certain demographics, such as athletes, women in STEM, or children in military families.
When it comes to the monetary amount awarded through a scholarship or grant, funds widely differ. While some scholarships will pay for a student’s full tuition, more commonly, scholarships will be a one-off sum that ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Additionally, while scholarships are commonly geared towards high school students and rising college freshmen, scholarships are also available for students who are already attending college, graduate school students, and more.
How Do Scholarships Work?
Similar to how there are different types of scholarships, every scholarship is designed slightly differently. While some scholarships are a one-off occurrence, other scholarships require students to reapply for the award every year. This may be because a scholarship requires you to be enrolled on a sport’s team, or maintain a certain GPA, to be eligible for the award.
Scholarships may also differ in terms of how they distribute the monetary award. In some cases, scholarship money may be directly deposited into your bank account, while other private scholarships will send the awarded money straight to your school or university. In some cases, you may never have direct access to your scholarship funds, as they may be used to directly cover the cost of college tuition, housing, textbooks, or other school-related expenses. Some scholarships may specifically outline how you are expected to use your awarded funds, others will come with no strings attached. The bottom line? For information on a specific scholarship, and how the process for that scholarship works, you should reach out directly to the benefactor for further details.
How to Find Scholarships
Regardless of your background, GPA, interests, and financial situation, there are dozens of scholarships out there that are perfectly catered towards you. You just need to know where to begin to find scholarships. First things first: if you already have an idea of where you want to attend college or university, consider reaching out to your dream school’s financial aid office or college admissions office. If you are lucky, there may be several scholarships geared particularly towards prospective students at your desired university. Scholarships are extremely competitive, and they become more competitive the greater the application pool is. There’s a good chance that school-specific scholarships, or local scholarships, may have fewer applicants, which will give you a competitive edge in the cut-throat competition.
Next, one of the easiest and most effective ways to land a college scholarship is to look online on college scholarship websites. Numerous scholarship websites can help you find a scholarship that is catered towards you. Sometimes, a scholarship finder will have you create a profile so they can send scholarships to you based on your background. Perform new searches on the best scholarship websites regularly to find new scholarships. Every month, new scholarships may be available, and scholarship deadlines occur throughout the academic year. Here are other free resources that you should certainly take advantage of during your scholarship search:
- Scholarship search engines
- The U.S Department of Labor’s scholarship search engine
- Your state grant agency
- Your high school college counseling office or TRIO counselor
- Organizations that are related to your passions or interests
- Religious or community organizations
- Local scholarships
How to Apply for Scholarships
Once you have created a list of scholarship opportunities that pique your interest, the application process can finally begin. While scholarship applications can be daunting, devising a plan of attack can help the process feel far less overwhelming. Here are some tried and true tips and tricks to help you through it.
Procrastinating and waiting until the last minute is rarely a winning strategy, including when it comes to scholarship applications. Starting early is the best way for you to capitalize upon as many scholarships as possible, as well as avoid the last-minute scramble.
Additionally, there’s no reason to wait until junior or senior year of high school to begin looking for scholarships. If you have the time, start doing some initial research as early as freshman year. Getting a head start and finding scholarships that are worth your while, will perfectly prepare you for application season junior or senior year. Most scholarships have the same annual deadline, so you can even begin writing down scholarship due dates, which will help you prioritize which applications to start with when the time comes.
Find Your Niche
Scholarship committees spend endless hours reviewing applications, which puts even more pressure on contestants to make their applications shine. Keep in mind that every contestant is responding to the same questions and essay prompts as you are, so it’s important to try to set yourself apart from the average Joe. One of the best ways to make your application stand out is to focus on scholarship essays. Scholarship essays are the perfect opportunity to communicate your strengths to the judges. Sit down and write a list of all of your distinctive traits and strengths. Ask yourself, which one would make the most compelling story? Then, figure out how to highlight these strengths in your application. This will help the scholarship committee understand why your skills make you the perfect candidate for the reward.
Another way to capitalize on your unique traits is to find scholarships based on your one-of-a-kind background. Think about the factors that help make up your identity so you can search for relevant scholarships. If you are a physics student, search for scholarships catered towards rising high school seniors interested in majoring in physics.
Read the Fine Print
While this tip may seem like a no-brainer, it’s on this list for a reason. When scholarship application season kicks off, it can be tempting to cut corners and try to get things done as quickly as possible. While efficiency is certainly important in the scholarship application game, reading each application thoroughly is far more important, and will save you time down the line.
Learning about the eligibility for a scholarship, the deadline, and the required materials, are all essential pieces of information that you should figure out from the get-go. Nothing is worse than spending hours on an application that you later realize you were never even qualified for.
Additionally, requesting letters of recommendation and digital high school transcripts are documents that sometimes take weeks or even months to receive. Knowing what materials are required for each application, and when everything is due, is extremely important when tackling the scholarship application process. Keeping a scholarship or college-specific calendar is also highly recommended to keep track of important dates and deadlines.
It’s All a Numbers Game
We all know that quality is more important than quantity. That being said, when it comes to scholarships, quantity is also an important factor to take into consideration. The more scholarships that you apply to, the greater your chances are of getting awarded a scholarship.
Additionally, it is certainly possible to not just receive one, but various scholarships to help fund your college education. While this process should not be an unorganized free-for-all, set an ambitious goal for yourself, and try to take advantage of as many scholarships as your schedule allows for.
Frequently Asked Questions about Scholarships
Are scholarships taxable?
For the most part, scholarships and fellowships are tax-free if the award is being used to fund school-related fees such as college tuition, books, equipment, etc. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, any funds allocated towards room, board, and other living expenses are taxable.
What is the best website to apply for scholarships?
There are scholarship search engines available, but Bold.org stands out above the rest. Bold.org provides users with exclusive scholarship opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere, allows students to apply directly on its site, and it allows students to create an account and a profile to showcase their experience to scholarship panels.
How can I get free scholarships?
A scholarship is free money that you never have to pay back. There are many ways to find available scholarships, but one of the easiest, most efficient, methods is using a scholarship website. You can also use government resources, consult a college counselor, or contact financial aid offices at colleges and universities that you are interested in.
What GPA do you need to get a full scholarship?
Every scholarship is designed differently, however, for merit-based scholarships, it is common for students to need between a 3.5 and 4.0 GPA to qualify. If you are looking to boost your GPA, consider reaching out to one of many online tutors.
What are the four types of scholarships?
There are four main types of financial aid including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study. Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants do not need to be paid back. With work-study, you are typically given a job and can use your earnings to help pay for your college education.
How is a student loan different from a scholarship?
Scholarships are monetary awards that never need to be paid back. A student loan will enable you to borrow money and pay it back at a later date, with added interest. There are different types of college student loans including federal loans, direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans, and private loans.
Do you have to pay back scholarships?
Unlike student loans, students do not have to repay grants or scholarships. Scholarships are considered gift aid and do not need to be paid back. That being said, if you fail to meet any particular requirements or criteria after accepting the award, you may risk losing the scholarship.
What scholarships can I get?
Every scholarship will have particular eligibility criteria that you must meet to apply. For example, some scholarships may be eligible for only women or only people of color. If you meet all of the eligibility criteria for a scholarship, then you have a chance of winning that award.
What is the difference between a grant and a scholarship?
In general, the main difference between a grant and a scholarship is where the funds come from, the eligibility requirements, and the application process. While grants are most commonly given based on financial need, scholarships are typically merit-based and awarded based on academic or extra-curricular achievements.
Are there scholarships for medical school?
Medical school can be exorbitantly expensive, and scholarship providers are well aware of this. Luckily, there are numerous medical school scholarships available whether they are provided by schools, local organizations, or individual benefactors to help medical students receive financial aid and pursue their goals.
How many scholarships can I get?
There is no limit to how many scholarships you are allowed to apply for. However, if you win a substantial amount of money from scholarships, it may impact your financial aid package. Colleges must remove financial aid from your package that can be replaced by scholarships.