Do college scholarship search engines work?

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(MoneyWatch) A popular way to search for private college scholarships that charities, foundations and civic groups award is to turn to scholarship search engines. So just how effective are these websites?

To find out, Money magazine recruited teenagers to try out the nation's leading scholarship search sites. The results? Mediocre at best. Fastweb fared the worst. According to the magazine, the service generated zero "promising" matches for users, while also pelting users with ads.

The other four major providers in this space -- Scholarships.com, the College Board, Cappex and Zinch -- hardly did any better. Scholarships.com performed the best in linking students to worthwhile matches -- 20 percent of the matches were promising. Only five percent of the matches were promising for the other three sites.

At the recent annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Toronto, I asked a staffer at Fastweb, which was sponsoring a booth at the event, about the company's poor showing in the Money study. She just shrugged and said lots of users like their site. That wasn't much of a defense.

While the results of the survey were disappointing, there are ways to find scholarships without relying on the search engines. The best chance for your child to obtain a private scholarship is to find one that is offered locally. These scholarships are usually not included the national scholarship search engines. Local scholarship providers receive enough entries without being listed in major databases.

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