The student debt crisis is impacting millions of Americans. But with more women enrolled in colleges across the country and the persistent gender pay gap, women have been hit harder than their male counterparts.
Student loan debt in the United States reached a whopping $1.5 trillion in 2020, and women carry a shocking two-thirds of the total. The rising cost of higher education and the gender pay gap not only make it difficult for women to pay for college without the help of loans but also make it challenging to pay off debt after graduation.
To offset this, there are many options for gift aid aimed directly at women of all demographics. Scholarships are forms of free money that help pay for college, and numerous organizations and companies offer scholarship opportunities for women specifically.
While some require membership in a particular organization, others ask for academic excellence or are aimed at minority or specialty populations. Scholarships are granted based on hardship, financial need, leadership qualities, specific fields of study, or community involvement.
When looking for gift aid, start by filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if you qualify for federal, state, or institutional grants or scholarships that are need-based. Then, explore other scholarship options like those offered through companies or based on merit.
General Scholarships for Women & Girls
Many scholarships are available specifically for women — they are often intended to encourage women to attend college, diversify certain career fields, and help those who cannot afford to attend college on their own.
Community organizations, nonprofits, local clubs, corporations, and private donors offer funding opportunities to women. While some are based on financial need, others require unique talents or academic merit to qualify.
The following are some general college scholarships for women:
- 1,000 Dreams Fund: This is a one-time education assistance scholarship that provides high school or college-aged women with funds for educational expenses other than tuition. The money from this award can be used to pay for textbooks, tutoring services, college and graduate school exam fees, and other non-tuition necessities. It can provide up to $1,000 in aid.
Applicants must send in two letters of recommendation along with an essay detailing how you will use the grant.
- P.E.O. STAR Scholarship: This awards graduating high school senior women with $2,500 that must be used toward educational expenses the following year.
To qualify, you must demonstrate high academic achievement and exhibit excellence, as well as high potential for future success. You must be recommended and receive a vote from a local P.E.O. chapter to be eligible.
- AAUW local scholarships: Local AAUW branches offer scholarships for qualified women pursuing higher education to bridge the student debt gap. Contact your local AAUW branch for specific information on the scholarship opportunities they offer for women.
- Alpha Chi Omega Foundation scholarships: These merit-based scholarships are intended to help recipients continue their education and are offered to both current and alumni members. Contact your local branch for information on applying.
- SBMEF (Stephen Bufton Memorial Educational Fund) scholarships: Awarding between $2,000 and $10,000 to qualified women, this fund provides multiple national scholarships with various requirements. Scholarship and application details are provided after mid-October for the 2020–2021 academic year.
- Army Women’s Foundation Legacy Scholarship Program: This is open to current and former women soldiers (or children of female soldiers) in the National Guard, U.S. Army, or U.S. Army Reserve. The program awards between $1,000 and $2,500, depending on your level of schooling.
To apply, you will need to complete the online application, write an essay, provide two recommendations, commander’s verification of active duty or qualifying documentation, and proof of matriculation at a designated accredited academic institution.
- Scholarships 4 Moms: This group provides up to $10,000 in scholarships to mothers looking to further their education. An application can be completed online.
- Danish Sisterhood of America scholarships: This group offers five different scholarships to members of the Danish Sisterhood and their children. Academic standards apply. You must be in good standing with the Danish Sisterhood, and you can only apply for one of the five scholarships.
- Jeanette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund (JRF): This provides low-income women over the age of 35 with funding to pursue post-secondary education. To apply, you will need to complete the online application, submit your current proof of income, provide two letters of recommendation, and submit your acceptance letter and/or most recent transcript.
- National Pathfinder Scholarship: The National Federation of Republican Women (NRFW) awards undergraduate and graduate women students three annual scholarships of $2,500. This does not apply to first-year undergraduate students or new high school graduates.
To apply, you will need to complete the application form, provide a copy of your most recent college transcript, a State Federation President Certification (you will need to be a member of a local NRFW chapter), and an essay detailing your career goals and why you should be considered.
- Women’s Independence Scholarship Program (WISP): To be eligible for this scholarship, you will need to be:
- A survivor of intimate partner abuse.
- Have been separated from your abuser for at least one year (but not more than seven years).
- Have sought services from a nonprofit for support as a survivor for at least six months.
- Demonstrate an extreme need for financial assistance.
- Be accepted or enrolled in an accredited institution.
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
- Demonstrate a desire to re-enter the workforce or upgrade your skills through education.
You can use the online portal to apply.
Numerous opportunities for women through state and school-specific organizations are also available. Check with your state financial aid office as well as your high school and chosen college or university.
Scholarships Based on Major or Field of Study
Many organizations and corporations, as well as certain schools and departments, will offer scholarships to women entering specific fields of study. These fields typically include areas of study that are traditionally underrepresented or male-dominated, such as STEM-related fields.
The following are some major-specific or career-specific scholarships for women:
- NSHSS Foundation STEM scholarship: Students from underrepresented populations, such as women, can apply for this scholarship. If you are a high school senior with a GPA of at least 3.0 and are pursuing a degree in a STEM-related field, you can apply.
- Automotive Women’s Alliance (AWA) Foundation education scholarship: Women seeking a career in or related to the automotive industry can apply for this scholarship. You will need to be accepted or enrolled in an accredited collegiate program, have at least a 3.0 GPA, and be a North American citizen.
To apply, fill out the application. Attach your most recent transcripts, a cover letter explaining your career goals in the automotive industry, and a resume.
- Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT) scholarships: Current undergraduate or graduate junior or senior students that identify as women and are studying international trade and global development can apply to receive $1,500. To apply, you will need to submit an essay on one of the available prompts.
- Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship: Adobe awards outstanding master’s or undergraduate students studying computer science a $10,000 scholarship based on academic excellence, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. You can create an application online.
- Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting (EFWA) scholarships: These are undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate scholarships for women pursuing degrees in accounting. Several options are available, with all applications completed online.
- Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship: The Zonta International Foundation awards this scholarship to women pursuing degrees in business fields who demonstrate financial need.
You must be in at least your second year of undergraduate study and live in a Zonta region/district. You must apply through a Zonta club with the following application.
- Alliance for Women in Media Foundation (AWMF) scholarships: These are awarded to female students pursuing degrees in communications, journalism, or other media-related fields. The foundation provides students with nearly $20,000 in scholarships annually.
- Montessori Teacher Education Scholarship: This scholarship is awarded to aspiring teachers in the Montessori program through the American Montessori Society (AMS). Applicants must be accepted or enrolled in an AMS-affiliated teacher education program and demonstrate financial need. You must provide three letters of recommendation, verification of your qualifying program, a personal statement, and proof of financial need to apply.
Applications for the 2020–2021 academic year will be available in February.
- Society of Women Engineers (SWE) scholarships: SWE provides community college, undergraduate, and graduate female students pursuing careers in computer science, engineering, and engineering technology scholarship opportunities. Some of the offerings require SWE membership.
To apply, register with SWE, and follow the prompts.
- Auxiliary Legacy Scholarship: The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) offers this scholarship to women entering their junior year at a four-year ABET-accredited engineering program. Awards are based on merit, academic achievement, letters of recommendation, an essay, and an internship or co-op experience.
Download the application here.
- Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize: The Association for Women in Mathematics awards this to undergraduate females who excel in math. You must be nominated to be eligible for this scholarship.
- HORIZONS Scholarship: Provided through Women in Defense (WID), this scholarship is awarded to women pursuing careers with a focus in defense or foreign policy that supports U.S. national security. To be eligible, you must show financial need, academic achievement, participation in national and defense activities, and be in a qualifying field of study.
You will need to complete an application packet, including your academic transcript, two recommendation letters, an essay, and proof of U.S. citizenship.
- HOSA Future Health Professionals scholarships: Scholarship opportunities are open to female member students enrolled in health care degree programs. More information on the various scholarships can be found on the HOSA website.
- Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship: A minimum of $1,500 is awarded through the American Chemical Society (ACS) to female undergraduate junior or senior students enrolled in a chemistry or related science accredited degree program full-time. You must have a GPA of at least 3.25, be a U.S. citizen, and demonstrate financial need.
Fill out the online application and provide the requested documents to apply.
- Doctor Nancy Foster Scholarship Program: This is awarded to women and minority students with financial need in graduate programs supporting research in marine biology, maritime archeology, or oceanography. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides this scholarship and requires exceptional letters of recommendation. Applicants must be pursuing an independent study of a project matching NOAA’s mission and demonstrate financial need.
- Palantir Women in Technology Scholarship: Women enrolled full-time in an undergraduate program majoring in STEM fields can receive a $7,000 grant to support your education. The application window will reopen in December 2020.
- ABC Humane Wildlife Academic Women in STEM Scholarship: Women enrolled in undergraduate or graduate degree programs related to STEM fields of study are eligible for this scholarship. To apply, submit an essay and proof of enrollment to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Women in STEM Scholarship” in the subject line.
Scholarships for Minority Women
Corporations, schools, and community organizations seeking to diversify specific fields of study and careers often offer scholarships to populations that are traditionally underrepresented. This can include women and minority women.
If you are a woman and also part of a minority ethnic, cultural, or racial population, there are specialized opportunities open to you.
- APA (American Planning Association) Foundation Scholarship: Women and minority undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in Planning Accreditation Board (PAB)-approved programs are eligible for this scholarship. Recipients must be APA members demonstrating financial need and seeking careers as practicing planners. You will need letters of recommendation to apply.
- AfterCollege STEM Inclusion Scholarship: This is open to underrepresented groups, which can include both women and minority students, that are currently enrolled in a degree program in engineering, math, science, or technology. You will need a minimum GPA of 3.0.
- NWBH (National Hook-up of Black Women) scholarships: This group offers national scholarship opportunities to African American women seeking higher education. Check with your local NWBH chapter for more information on applying.
- Red Thread Foundation Fellowship: Female first-generation Americans, immigrants, and international students must provide two letters of recommendation, write two essays, and answer several short-answer questions to apply. Women of international background are eligible for this scholarship; however, U.S. residency and GPA minimums are not required.
While there are a significant number of scholarships available for women from all backgrounds, they may not apply to everyone or cover all educational expenses. Along with scholarships, federal and private student loans are available to make higher education more affordable. However, be sure to explore all scholarship and grant opportunities before taking out student loans — incurring debt may be unnecessary.