In the 2015-2016 academic year alone, women accounted for 11.5 million of the 20.2 million students expected to attend an American college or university. But as more and more women pursue their degrees, the harsh reality of paying for an increasingly expensive college clouds the experience. In a time when student loan debt has skyrocketed to $1.34 trillion, reliable sources of financial aid are an essential part of containing student debt.
Men Versus Women: Student Loan Debt as % of Annual Income
Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Accessed 2016
According to the latest data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, female students receive an average of $15,360 in federal and nonfederal aid per academic year, or $350 less than their male counterparts. While these funds, which are made up of grants, loans and work-study programs, partially offset the high cost of a degree, they are not enough to ensure that women graduate from college and enter the workforce without significant debt. Hence the importance of merit- and aid-based scholarships.
Women receive less financial aid than male students, equaling a $1,400 difference during an undergraduate program.
Female students face unique financial challenges, both in college and throughout their professional lives.
Increased Student Debt
As previously mentioned, women receive less financial aid than male students, equaling a $1,400 difference during an undergraduate program. In a report by the American Association for University Women, researchers concluded that 53% of women (compared to 39% of men) are paying more money toward their student loan debt than most individuals can afford, leaving them with less money to pay for essentials such as health insurance, housing and food. In long-term planning, it means they will wait longer to purchase a home and have smaller retirement funds.
The Gender Gap
In as recent as 2014, women made just 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man. While federal and state laws have banned gender discrimination, inequality still exists.
Though both of these issues create substantial hurdles for women, maximizing aid and scholarships can significantly lessen the financial burden of higher education. However, many sources of aid go overlooked. Take work study programs. According to a report by the NCES, just 6% of students earn money through work-study, meaning tens of thousands of dollars in aid are left on the table every year.
Below, we investigate the major sources of financial aid awards, which, unlike loans, do not have to be repaid. We explain how scholarships, grants and fellowships work and then identify awards for women that are worth pursuing.
Similar to grants, scholarships are funds that students are not required to pay back. Often this form of funding comes with specific requirements of the student, such as maintaining a certain GPA, earning a specific degree, or living in a particular region. Any student can apply for a scholarship provided they meet the eligibility requirements. Scholarships are particularly valuable to female students, allowing them to offset costs while not going further into debt.
Although scholarship applications vary significantly among different organizations and foundations, they typically have similar baseline requirements:
Whether writing about a time in life when you overcame a challenge or delineating what a college degree means to you, most scholarship applications require some written component.
Undergraduates should have access to their high school transcripts and any records of recently completed college coursework. Graduate students will need their undergraduate transcripts.
Students should have two to three former teachers, mentors or bosses who are able to speak to their qualifications in a letter of recommendation.
Even if you aren’t planning on attending for another one to two years, get an idea of what’s out there. Those who know the field best have the best chances.
Although there are national scholarships abound, the same can be said for applicants. If there are scholarships specific to your city, state or region, go after these first. You’ll have a better shot at securing an award.
After a certain number of applications, it may be tempting to create generic answers and copy+paste them onto the form. Resist the urge, as individualizing your application to each organization or foundation will show you care about their goals and mission.
It’s vital that you don’t put this off until the last minute, especially if you are relying on letters of recommendation. While you may be able to pull everything together in a rush, you expose yourself to mistakes and an overall dip in quality.
While you may have found a scholarship that was tailor-made for you and crafted the best application imaginable, missing the deadline wastes your efforts. Make a calendar of all deadlines for scholarship to which you are applying, and make sure to send everything in on time.
Applicants seeking further advice can use the following resources:
- Top Ten Scholarship Tips. Indiana University at South Bend provides their top 10 pieces of advice for students looking to score a scholarship.
- Winning the Perfect Scholarship. U.S. News & World Report offers insider knowledge on what selection committees want to see.
- How Parents and Students Can Find College Scholarships. While other resources are geared toward crafting the perfect application, this resource helps families know where to find the best scholarships.
- Scholarship Reference Guide. In addition to tips, this resource also highlights common mistakes, scams to avoid, and a range of interesting scholarships to consider.
Where to Find Scholarships
- Women's organizations
Recognizing the unique challenges faced by female students, numerous prominent women’s organizations have created scholarship funds to aid women of all ages in their pursuit of a degree. Students can research organizations such as the American Association of University Women, American Medical Women’s Association, P.E.O. Sisterhood, and the American Business Women’s Association, to name a few.
- Your college or university
Female students can take advantage of a number of institutional scholarships, including those offered by specific programs or departments. Such scholarships can either be merit- or need-based.
Thousands of foundations offer scholarships based on specific interests. Whether seeking exclusively female applicants, students with disabilities, students who plan to pursue a particular topic or career, or those with the highest GPAs, foundations are a vital source of scholarship funding.
- Local community organizations
Groups like Lions Club International and Rotary International have thousands of chapters throughout the country and many provide local scholarships to graduating high school students. It’s worth checking a directory of community organizations and researching which ones provide awards.
Scholarships for Women by Field of Study
Though scholarship deadlines for the 2016-17 academic year may have passed, the scholarships listed below are available every year. Students should bookmark any of interest and check back regularly for details about the next cycle of awards.
Arts and Humanities
- Nellie Love Butcher Music Scholarship
Award Amount: $5,000 one time
Who’s Eligible: Female music students undertaking a degree in piano or voice. Students must submit a performance CD with their application and hold a 3.0 GPA.
- Noet Humanities Scholarship
Award Amount: $500 one time
Who’s Eligible: Female students enrolled in a humanities degree who show great promise in research.
Deadline: March 31
- Edward Burton Kaufmann Scholarship
Award Amount: $2,000 one time
Who’s Eligible: Female humanities students at the graduate or undergraduate level and enrolled at San Francisco State University. Students must show financial need and academic excellence.
- CHaSS Scholarships
Award Amount: Varied
Who’s Eligible: Female students enrolled at USU within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. A number of scholarships are available.
- Beinecke Scholarship
Award Amount: Up to $34,000
Who’s Eligible: Graduate female students pursuing a course of study related to the arts or humanities. Candidates must be nominated.
Deadline: February 19
- Blue Soda Promo, Women in Marketing Scholarship
Award Amount: $1,000 one time
Who’s Eligible: Women pursuing a postgraduate degree in accounting with demonstrable academic achievements and a commitment to service. Financial need is also taken into account.
Deadline: July 1 and October 31
- The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting, Laurels Scholarship
Award Amount: Up to $5,000 one time
Who’s Eligible: Women with at least 60 credits and a 3.0 GPA who are studying marketing or advertising.
Deadline: May 15
- Asian Women in Business Scholarship
Award Amount: $2,500 one time
Who’s Eligible: Women of Asian or Pacific Island ancestry who can demonstrate holding a leadership role or an entrepreneurial achievement. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and be enrolled full-time in an undergraduate program.
Deadline: October 1
- Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship
Award Amount: $1,000 – $7,000 one time
Who’s Eligible: Women demonstrating outstanding potential who are also earning a business-related degree.
Deadline: July 1
- WIIT Scholarship
Award Amount: $1,500 one time
Who’s Eligible: Women currently enrolled in a graduate or undergraduate degree program with a demonstrated passion for international development, relations, trade, economics or business.
Deadline: March 15 and July 15