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 $1.43 trillion, reliable sources of financial aid are an essential part of containing student debt.

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scholarshipsforwomen

Men Versus Women: Student Loan Debt as % of Annual Income

Institute for Women's Policy Research, Accessed 2017

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.

Unique Challenges

42% of women have accumulated over $30,000 in college debt, compared with just 27% of men.

Female students face unique financial challenges, both in college and throughout their professional lives.

Increased Student Debt

A study by market research firm ORC International found that 42% of women have accumulated over $30,000 in college debt, compared with just 27% of men. This leaves women 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, start a family, and have smaller retirement funds.

The Gender Gap

In as recent as 2015, women made just 80 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.

Scholarships

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:

Scholarship Application How-To
Essay 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.
Transcripts Undergraduates should have access to their high school transcripts and any records of recently completed college coursework. Graduate students will need their undergraduate transcripts.
Letters Students should have two to three former teachers, mentors or bosses who are able to speak to their qualifications in a letter of recommendation.
Tips and Tricks for Scholarship Applicants
Start Early 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.
Go Local 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.
Tailor 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.
Gather Documents Early 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.
Respect the Deadline 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:

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.

Foundations

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 many of the 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

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.

Award Amount: $5,000

View Scholarship

A&H Merit Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Incoming freshmen, including female students, at CU Boulder who've declared an arts & humanities major. The Gold Scholarship and Achievement Scholarship are available to resident and non-resident students, respectively.

Award Amount: $8,000 to $12,000

View Scholarship

Beinecke Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Graduate female students pursuing a course of study related to the arts or humanities. Candidates must be nominated.

Award Amount: Up to $34,000

View Scholarship

Ann and Peter Ziegler Scholarship Endowment

Who's Eligible: Female liberal arts students who plan on transferring to a four-year school.

Award Amount: Varies

View Scholarship

Business

Blue Soda Promo, Women in Marketing Scholarship

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.

Award Amount: $1,000

View Scholarship

The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting, Laurels Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women with at least 60 credits and a 3.0 GPA who are studying marketing or advertising.

Award Amount: Up to $5,000

View Scholarship

Asian Women in Business Scholarship

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.

Award Amount: $2,500

View Scholarship

Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women demonstrating outstanding potential who are also earning a business-related degree.

Award Amount: $1,000 to $7,000

View Scholarship

WIIT Scholarship

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.

Award Amount: $1,500

View Scholarship

Communication

Moody Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women enrolled in a communication degree at the University of Texas at either the graduate or undergraduate level. The funds may also be used for approved study abroad programs.

Award Amount: Varies

View Scholarship

Breylan Communications Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female students between the ages of 16 and 21 who are enrolled in a communications degree program with at least one year of studies remaining. Must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher.

Award Amount: $1,000

View Scholarship

AQHA Career Path Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female students undertaking a degree in journalism or communications who plan to pursue a career related to horses.

Award Amount: Up to $8,000

View Scholarship

Alliance for Women in Media Emerging Voices Scholarships

Who's Eligible: AWME offers numerous scholarships to women at both the undergraduate and graduate levels who are pursuing higher education in communications.

Award Amount: $2,500

View Scholarship

Education

Edward and Helen Borgens Education Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female students who are at least 25 years old, a college sophomore, and intend on teaching at the elementary or secondary level.

Award Amount: $1,500

View Scholarship

Knowles Science Teaching Foundation

Who's Eligible: Female students who are passionate about teaching science or mathematics at the high school level. The program is a five-year fellowship.

Award Amount: Up to $4,000

View Scholarship

American Montessori Society Teacher Education Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women who are enrolled in an AMS-affiliated program and can demonstrate financial need.

Award Amount: $1,000 to $4,000

View Scholarship

Barbara Lotze Scholarship for Future Teachers

Who's Eligible: Female undergraduates enrolled or planning to enroll in a physics teacher preparation course.

Award Amount: Up to $2,000

View Scholarship

Federal Student Aid TEACH Program

Who's Eligible: Female students enrolled in a program preparing them to be a teacher in a high need field, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Award Amount: Up to $4,000

View Scholarship

Engineering

Society of Women Engineers Scholarships

Who's Eligible: The SWE manages several awards, with varying eligibility and due dates. The SWE page linked above hosts a series of informational videos on how to pursue the society's awards.

Award Amount: $1,000 to $10,000

View Scholarship

LGS Innovations Scholarship

Who's Eligible: College juniors, seniors, or graduate-level students pursuing a STEM degree.

Award Amount: $5,000

View Scholarship

APA's Judith McManus Price Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women and minority students who plan on pursuing careers as practicing public planners.

Award Amount: $2,000 to $4,000

View Scholarship

Interek Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women studying engineering at either the undergraduate or graduate level. The award also includes an internship component.

Award Amount: Up to $10,000

View Scholarship

Auxiliary Legacy Scholarship

Who's Eligible: An undergraduate woman in her junior year of a four-year engineering program accredited by ABET.

Award Amount: $2,000

View Scholarship

Math

Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize

Who's Eligible: All members of the mathematical community are welcome to submit nominations for the prize. Nominees must be female undergraduate students and U.S. citizens.

Award Amount: Varies

View Scholarship

P.E.O. Star Scholarship

Who's Eligible: A female undergraduate student in her final year of study within a mathematics degree program. Must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Award Amount: Up to $2,500

View Scholarship

Horizons Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female students in either a graduate program or in at least their junior year of their undergraduate. Must have at least a 3.25 GPA, financial need, be enrolled in a mathematics or STEM-related degree, and show an interest in pursuing a career related to defense or national security.

Award Amount: Varies

View Scholarship

American Statistical Association's Gertrude M. Cox Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female graduate students enrolled in a statistics program.

Award Amount: $1,000

View Scholarship

Medicine

HOSA Future Health Professionals Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women who are members of HOSA and enrolled in an undergraduate degree program related to a health profession.

Award Amount: Varies

View Scholarship

American Chemistry Society's Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female undergraduates enrolled in a chemistry program, provided they are in their junior or senior year. They must also have a GPA of at least 3.25 and demonstrate financial need.

Award Amount: A minimum of $1,500

View Scholarship

AAUW Selected Professions

Who's Eligible: Female students in their third or fourth year of studying medicine at the doctoral level.

Award Amount: $5,000 to $18,000

View Scholarship

Stephen Bufton Memorial Educational Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women in their freshman or sophomore year of pursuing a nursing degree. They must have at least a 3.0 GPA.

Award Amount: $2,000

View Scholarship

Social Sciences

WIFLE Annual Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female students who have completed at least one year of a social sciences degree and intend to work in law enforcement.

Award Amount: Varies

View Scholarship

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women enrolled in a social science graduate degree program with an interest in working with disaster safety and mitigation.

Award Amount: $1,500

View Scholarship

James M. & Erma T. Freemont Foundation Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female graduate and undergraduate students who show outstanding academic excellence in a social sciences degree program.

Award Amount: $2,000

View Scholarship

Social Science Scholars Program

Who's Eligible: Female students enrolled in a social science degree program in their sophomore or junior year at Florida State University. Students must have a 3.3 GPA or higher.

Award Amount: $5,000

View Scholarship

Science

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Women with financial constraints pursuing a graduate degree in a science-related program.

Award Amount: Up to $42,000

View Scholarship

American Physics Society's M. Hildred Blewett Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female students who have completed a PhD in physics and are pursuing research projects.

Award Amount: Up to $45,000

View Scholarship

Women Chemists Committee Overcoming Challenges Scholarship

Who's Eligible: A woman enrolled in a two-year or four-year chemistry degree program at a school that does not grant doctoral chemistry diplomas. The applicant also needs to show that she has overcome hardships in her lifetime.

Award Amount: Up to $1,250

View Scholarship

Technology

Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female graduate or undergraduate students with a passion for computing and technology. Academic achievement is heavily considered.

Award Amount: Varies

View Scholarship

AOE National Scholarships

Who's Eligible: Women enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate engineering or technical science degree. The applicant must be in at least her sophomore year if an undergraduate. Students should have at least a 3.0 GPA.

Award Amount: $500 to $2,000

View Scholarship

Palantir Scholarship for Women in Engineering

Who's Eligible: Women enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate level STEM program. They should have completed at least one year of study at the time of application.

Award Amount: $1,500 to $10,000

View Scholarship

SWISS Scholarship

Who's Eligible: Female bachelor's and master's degree students studying in fields related to information technology.

Award Amount: Up to $10,000

View Scholarship

Grants for Women

Aside from scholarships, grants are another highly appealing form of funding for female college students. Typically need-based, grants may come from colleges, private organizations, or the government (both state and federal). Like scholarships, these funds do not have to be paid back at any point. Grants are also advantageous because they are open to almost any student who can show financial hardship. They exist at all levels of higher education and can be found at both the local and national level.

Where to Find Grants

State Governments

Aside from federal programs, nearly every state has a grant program for its residents. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators provides a map outlining available governmental grants in each state.

Private Corporations

Typically offered for students with specific interests or career goals, private corporations often award grants to their employees to obtain further education in a field that will benefit the company.

Foundations

These types of grants are typically awarded to students who can demonstrate not only need, but also academic excellence and a proven dedication to their field. Numerous female-specific grants are available, particularly to students in graduate programs. The Foundation Center offers a database of foundation grants available to individuals.

Your University

With the goal of assisting students from low-income backgrounds, the majority of universities now offer some type of grant funding. The majority of these are awarded based on financial information students and their families provide on the FAFSA form, so filling out this document is crucial.

TEACH Grant

Who's Eligible: Students who plan to complete a course required to become a teacher.

Award Amount: Up to $4,000 per year.

View Grant

American Association of University Women Career Development Grant

Who's Eligible: Women who have completed a bachelor's degree and are pursuing an advanced degree or credential.

Award Amount: $2,000 - $12,000

View Grant

P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education

Who's Eligible: Need-based women working to complete a degree or certification process.

Award Amount: Up to $3,000

View Grant

Jeanette Rankin Grant

Who's Eligible: Need-based women who are at least 35 years old and working toward a technical, vocational, associate, or bachelor's degree.

Award Amount: $2,000

View Grant

Graduate Women International Grant

Who's Eligible: Women who are members of this society are eligible to apply for this scholarship while pursuing PhD-level work, regardless of field of study.

Award Amount: $3,000 - $6,000

View Grant

Fellowships for Women

Fellowships have long been an award coveted by graduate students, though increasingly more opportunities for students pursuing their baccalaureate degree are becoming available. Whether lasting a few months or a few years, fellowships help students develop professional or academic skills and are often sponsored by a specific educational department or organization looking to grow the leaders within that field. As with scholarships and grants, fellowships provide funds with no repayment strings attached.

Where to Find Fellowships

When seeking a fellowship, students should begin by speaking to the financial aid office, either at their current institution or a prospective school. The University of California at Berkeley provides an excellent example of the type of information fellowship applicants can hope to gain from a school. Interested candidates should also research professional organizations or associations within their field, as many of these provide fellowship opportunities. For example, a student pursuing a career in anthropology could apply for one of the American Anthropological Association's numerous fellowships.

American Association of University Women American Fellowships

Who's Eligible: Full-time female students working to complete a dissertation, conduct research, or prepare for publication.

Award Amount: $30,000

View Fellowship

Graduate Women in Science National Fellowship

Who's Eligible: Female students who have completed a degree and are performing hypothesis-driven graduate research.

Award Amount: Up to $10,000

View Fellowship

Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women's Studies

Who's Eligible: PhD students working to complete their dissertations on a topic related to women's issues.

Award Amount: $5,000

View Fellowship

Other Ways to Save

  • Cook at home. While it's tempting to go out for all your meals, cooking at home can save hundreds of dollars each month. If you've got roommates, it may even be worth getting a membership to a bulk goods store to save more.
  • Used is best. Rather than buying new textbooks at full price, shop the used books. The university bookstore often has a few copies at the start of the semester, but online retailers are also good sources.
  • Work (during the summer). If your schedule permits, landing a summer job and making some money while not in school will go a long way during the semester. If you can live with your family and save on rent and utilities, all the better.

Additional Resources

American Association of University Women

The AAUW works tirelessly on behalf of women in higher education, conducting important research and offering a variety of scholarships, grants and fellowships.

American Business Women's Association

In addition to serving professional women working in business, the ABWA also has a student membership, allowing women to get involved in the business arena while still in school.

Women's Resource Center

Many colleges have dedicated women's resource centers, as seen in this site for Saint Mary's College of California.

American Association for Women in Community College

This nonprofit organization supports women working to complete their degrees at a community college.