There are tons of services out there that connect you with college sholarships (including rare scholarships, scholarships middle-schoolers can apply for and more. They can be a great place to start your scholarship search, but they’re not the end all and be all of the scholarship options that are right for you. Most of them definitely aren’t worth paying for, and some may even have you questioning their validity. For example, is Scholarship Owl legit? The answer is yes, but there’s more to the story than a simple answer.
Let’s take a closer look at Scholarship Owl, which is considered a leader in the space. While this is a great site to find scholarships that might be a good match, it’s not really worth paying for the extra add-on services.
Is Scholarship Owl legit?
Yes, Scholarship Owl is a legit website. It connects you with scholarships that could help you get free money for college.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the paid features are worth it, though. Because Scholarship Owl is a freemium service, you may be able to get away with not paying a penny for the things you actually need. What does “freemium” mean exactly? That means that Scholarship Owl offers basic features for free, but also offers advanced services for a fee.
Their free services work pretty well to give you scholarship direction.
When you sign up for a free Scholarship Owl account, you’ll enter a bunch of personal information about your demographics, intended field of study, etc. Then Scholarship Owl will compare your individual circumstances to the qualification criteria of thousands of scholarships.
A list of scholarships you may be eligible for pops up. When you click “View T&C” (short for Terms & Conditions), you’ll be redirected to the website of the scholarship-granting organization. You can then apply directly on the sponsor’s website.
Honestly, this is the part of the service that’s most beneficial. The paid upgrades are a little bit much and might be counterproductive to your goals.
Scholarship Owl has two different paid tiers, but we don’t recommend upgrading.
There are two different tiers of paid Scholarship Owl membership:
||$69/mo billed monthly|
|Benefits||Apply for scholarships en masse after you’ve uploaded your demographic information and a blanket scholarship essay.||
To be real with you, the odds that a blanket scholarship essay can be used for each and every scholarship is pretty low. And if you do use this method, you might save time but also miss out on scholarship money.
Most scholarships are going to require an essay tailored to the prompt, and Scholarship Owl will ask you to submit unique essays when this is required (which is more often than not). This is the same experience you’d have if you were applying with the scholarship sponsor directly, so it’s really not worth paying for.
If you do use a boilerplate scholarship essay, it will show. It won’t be tailored to the scholarship-granting organization’s prompt and might decrease your odds of winning.
As for proofreading services and a personal account manager, these are also services you can find for yourself for free.
Find your own scholarships with a scholarship resume.
Another problem with big scholarship websites like Scholarship Owl or Fastweb is that everyone knows about them. That means the scholarships you find listed there are likely to have A LOT of applicants.
You can up your odds of winning by finding scholarships everyone and their brother isn’t already applying to. With a smaller applicant pool, it’s more likely you’ll get noticed.
To find these smaller scholarships, start by writing a scholarship resume. This is simply a document for yourself that outlines all the things that make you unique. Include basic demographic information like age, gender, race, and ethnicity, but also add other items like group affiliations or hobbies you enjoy.
For example, maybe you’re a teen that’s super into 4H or serves in your school’s model UN. Maybe you’re in a sorority or fraternity, or maybe you’re a member of a religious organization. There are scholarships for everything under the sun, so don’t hold back. List everything that makes you unique no matter how big or small.
Then start your own scholarship search using your good friend Google. If you start your search out hyper locally — in your town or county, for instance — you’re likely to find scholarships that have very few applicants. You may even be the only one!
Once you’ve exhausted hyper local options, look for scholarships that match your scholarship resume at the state level. Then you can start searching at the national level (where there is likely the largest applicant base).
Related: Scholarships Nobody Applies for — And How to Get Them
Frame your essay around your character traits — not the saddest story.
You don’t necessarily need a personal coach to write a great scholarship essay. Following some basic rules will do the trick.
First know that while it’s real tempting to try to use pity to get your scholarship essay approved, it’s not necessarily what scholarship judging panels are looking for. Everybody’s got a sad story, and if you play a game of tragedy olympics with other applicants, odds are someone else out there will have a sadder story than your own. No matter what you’ve been through.
What scholarship judging panels are actually looking for are the character traits that will help you reach your educational and professional goals. Try to match these up with the scholarship essay prompt.
For example, if the prompt is, “Why should we give you money to help you achieve your professional goals?,” highlight your professional goals and the characteristics required to achieve them.
Say you decide on the qualities of tenacity, ethical behavior, and innovation. Think of a story from your past that demonstrates these exact qualities. These traits can serve as a throughline for what that anecdote has already proven you can do. Tie it into how you’ll continue to apply these character traits in the future to your professional career.
And of course, mention that you need the financing to get there.
Ask your English teacher or other adult to edit your essay for free.
As a student, you probably don’t have to look far to find a great editor. While it’s great that Scholarship Owl is willing to review a single 500-word essay per month if you pay, you can probably find someone in your life who is willing to review and edit your essay for free.
Think of people like your English teacher, guidance counselor, or a professor who specializes in the field you want to study. They’ll probably be happy to help you, and these are people you’re likely already going to be tapping for letters of reference, anyways.
Scholarship Owl is a good resource but not worth paying for.
Scholarship Owl’s search engine is a great place to start your scholarship journey, but it shouldn’t be your last stop along the way. With the help of your parents and teachers, you can outsource a lot of the same services you’d get from a paid Scholarship Owl membership without shelling out a cent.