Scholarship search websites promise students access to millions of awards totaling billions in free money for college.
All you need is an email address to use sites like Fastweb, Cappex and Unigo. But once you provide it, scholarship listings aren’t the only things you’ll receive.
“[You] are going to get a lot of spam,” says Monica Matthews, creator of the website how2winscholarships.com. “You are going to be inundated.”
Don’t let a barrage of emails deter you from signing up — or sticking with — a scholarship website, though.
You don’t have to repay scholarships, making them the best way to pay for college. You can win private awards before you even know where you’ll go to college. And giving a scholarship site some basic data can simplify your search by identifying potential matches.
Here’s how to use these tools to get more than just marketing emails.
Decide whether to opt out
Scholarship sites let you opt out of email communications. But you may not want to unsubscribe from everything.
Fastweb, which has helped students find scholarships since 1995, lets you pick specific communications when you register. That way, you’ll receive messages about award deadlines but not part-time jobs, for example.
“Our aim is to keep students informed,” says Kathryn Knight Randolph, Fastweb’s associate content editor.
Other scholarship sites may feature more general communication preference choices. Even then, deleting messages as they arrive can make more sense than opting out altogether.
“Let it come in and at least take a quick glance,” says Marianne Ragins, publisher of ScholarshipWorkshop.com. “Sometimes, it might be something good.”
Create a dedicated email
Providing an email is the price of doing business with many scholarship search engines.
“Our service is free,” Randolph says. “With that comes working with advertisers and people who want to market to students.”
That doesn’t mean you have to give them your primary email address.
Instead, create an email account solely for scholarship mail. It will keep marketers from your main inbox and help you track your applications.
Matthews recommends using “something clean” for your scholarship email, like your first and last name with an additional number, symbol or dash if needed.
Be sure to check this account’s spam folder. Important messages like acceptance notices from scholarship providers could end up there by accident.
Use a site that doesn't require registration
The scholarship sites that don’t require an email are unlikely to save your results or send you reminders, but you’ll avoid marketing messages.
To see if you prefer to not share your email, try sites such as CareerOneStop from the U.S. Department of Labor and the College Board’s Scholarship Search. Ideally, you’ll use both kinds of sites, registered and not, and multiple scholarship search engines.
“Five is a good place to start,” says Kristina Ellis, creator of CollegeNinja.com. “You don’t want to get too overwhelmed.”
Avoid websites that charge a fee, since there are plenty of free choices.
Evaluate awards wisely
Some scholarships may be more likely to lead to spam — or be outright scams.
Never pay for awards. And be wary of applications that require information like a Social Security number, says Shauna Grant, financial aid director at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“If it feels invasive, put the brakes on,” Grant says.
Ragins says to know what you’re getting into if you enter sweepstakes, for example. These scholarships may not be scams — you can win money — but their primary goal is collecting information to sell.
“If you’re not prepared to have your name put in a marketing bucket, then don’t do it,” she says.
Don't rely on websites alone
Scholarship search sites are a great way to find awards, but they shouldn’t be your only strategy. Consider the following tactics as well:
Look locally. Visit your high school guidance counselor or college financial aid office to find awards from local organizations or businesses, as well as your state.
Google it. Use searches that include your interests, potential majors, year in school and other details.
Read scholarship books. Check your library for recent editions of titles like “The Ultimate Scholarship Book” and “Scholarships, Grants & Prizes.”
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.