An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

Why FastWeb is a Complete Waste of Time

I stepped onto campus in 2003 as the first child to go to college on either side of my family. Leading up to that point, my parents had pushed me to apply to every college I was remotely interested in.

They also pushed me to apply to every scholarship that I could find. I did both of these, ended up being accepted to every school that I applied to, and ended up getting paid to go to school for my freshman year.

My number one tip for finding and winning scholarship? Avoid FASTweb like the plague!

FASTweb gets a lot of attention because they have over $3 BILLION in scholarships. They have a snazzy website, and are often featured in the press. However, for every one person I have encountered that has actually won a scholarship through FASTweb, I have met 50 who have not.

The concept behind FASTweb is excellent. You create a profile based on your unique skills, experiences, and credentials. FASTweb then matches this profile with its extensive database of scholarships to find ones that match your qualifications. They will then continually monitor their database for you, and email you updates as often as you would like.

This all sounds great until you actually get your first list of scholarships that FASTweb has determined you qualify for. For the purpose of research, I actually created an account on FASTweb with the information that I would use, if I were about to enter my senior year of high school.

My Results

My first scholarship: Vacancy dot com blog contest. They want me to write a blog post about my experience getting an apartment from their site. I’m a rising senior in high school. I still live with my parents. Fail.

Second scholarship: Womenetics Essay contest. Requirements? Be a woman. I clearly stated I was male in my profile. Fail.

Third scholarship: MonsterCollege sweepstakes. Requirements? Enter your contact information. The company will randomly select one $2000 winner per month (and sell your contact information to endless marketing agencies). Fail.

Final scholarship: Siemens Foundation Competition. This is a legitimate competition where you can win up to $100,000 in scholarship money by entering a math, science or technology project and competing against thousands of other student projects from across the country. For the time it would take to focus on this one scholarship and the infinitely small chance of success: Fail.

The main problem with using FASTweb is that all of the scholarships you find are either sketchy sounding websites offering “essay challenges” and sweepstakes, or large nation wide scholarship competitions with millions of applicants. The FASTweb marketing materials make winning a scholarship seem like something you can do on a whim.

There is no auto-pilot for winning scholarships. FASTweb has created the illusion that scholarships are rewards for little or no work, which is simply not true.

The Good News

Before you take me to the cleaners and call me a debbie downer, let me be clear. I work in college financial aid, so I have seen the frustration that countless students have had with trying to find scholarships on FASTweb. I have also seen the elation that students have when they actually DO win a scholarship. My purpose for writing this article is to show you the most effective way to search, apply for, and win scholarships!

Search Local

My number one piece of advice for any student or parent interested in applying for scholarships: start searching local. Just like produce, local scholarships are the best (bad analogy I know, please forgive me). The two main benefits of local scholarships are that the applicant pool is exponentially smaller than any scholarship you would find through FASTweb, and a local scholarship granting organization likely has a personal relationship with your high school, or the in-state college you might be planning to attend.

For example, the town I graduated in had a club exclusively for graduates of the college I was planning to attend. They offered a scholarship and I applied. No brainer! My Dad had friends in the local Shriners club which provided scholarships to students from my high school. I had spoken to the local Ruritan Club for a high school project which created another scholarship opportunity. My Dad’s employer offered a scholarship to employee’s children. I applied and won.

Be Thorough

You should apply for every local scholarship opportunity that you can put your hands on. The best source of local scholarships will be your high school guidance counselor. Most local organizations send their scholarship notices and applications directly to guidance offices. If you exhaust your own office, then ask around to other local high schools.

My senior year of high school I entered a local scholarship competition for the Carolina Tall Club. Requirements were that males be over 6’2. I wrote an essay about what being tall meant to me, and won $1000 after a round of interviews.

The possibilities are endless!

I would also suggest that you check out your local library. Local scholarship organizations often put up notices for their scholarships in the bulletin boards when you first enter the library. Your local librarian will be happy to help you search.

Scholarships do exist, and they can be won. It takes tenacity to apply for every scholarship you can find, and perseverance to see it through to the end.

The end result however, is free money for college; which is pretty awesome!

Have you had any success in searching for local scholarships?

Am I completely wrong about FASTweb?

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8 Comments

  1. I totally agree. I searched FASTweb many times for my two sons and I made them look there too. I think you always hope there is going to be something that works out. Our high school guidance office, on the other hand, was fantastic. They put together a long list of scholarships, both local and national, that the students had a real chance of getting.
    Dave recently posted..Simple Investing With Little Money, Best Ways to Invest Money for Busy PeopleMy Profile

  2. @Dave – I am very glad that your local high school guidance office was a real help. That is encouraging!

    FASTweb can definitely be frustrating. The scholarship search can be painful enough, without having to wade through millions of scholarships that don’t pertain to you in the slightest.
    STRONGside recently posted..Why FastWeb is a Complete Waste of TimeMy Profile

  3. Excellent tips. I’m still a member of FastWeb and I know that many of their scholarships are over-saturated contests. Thinking locally is a great idea. Also, hitting up your major’s department is another good tip. Every semester, the education department offers a few thousand in grants that hardly anyone applies for. Less competition means a higher chance of getting one.
    Little House recently posted..Savings Strategies for Non-SaversMy Profile

  4. @Little House — Great points. Finding money through your own department and internally at your school is a great place to find money.
    STRONGside recently posted..Why FastWeb is a Complete Waste of TimeMy Profile

  5. This is a major theme for us on My University Money. Scholarships, bursaries, and grants, go unclaimed every year because they are simply in places where few people look. Any association you have with any business or organization can be taken advantage of in most cases. Your financial organizations, sports clubs, any volunteer groups your parents belong to etc. After a few essays, they are usually relatively similar anyway and you can write them fairly quickly.
    My University Money recently posted..What Other Bloggers Are Saying #18My Profile

    • @My University Money– I have great respect for what you guys are doing over at University Money. I think the more that this message gets out, the better off students will be, and the less they will have to rely on student loans to afford a credible college education.
      STRONGside recently posted..Introducing: Scholarship Saturdays!My Profile

  6. FastWeb is a mind-numbing site. I had enough financial aid to help me through my first year of study, but tuition rates drastically went up my second year. What advice did everyone in the financial aid office give me? “Go to FastWeb.” There literally was no other attempt to help me than to go to FastWeb, which at that time I had been a member of for 2-3 years. I ended up dropping out because I couldn’t afford it. Now, I have every intentions of attending a better-suited college for me and hope to have more luck with scholarships.

    Thank you for the informative article!

    • @Tuba C – I am sorry to hear that. Yes, FastWeb is a difficult site to navigate, but hopefully you will find the FInancial Aid office at your next schol much more helpful. Ghey are often one of the best sources of financial information on campus. Hope it works out for you!

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