No matter where you look, the demographics of college campuses are steadily changing. The enrollment of women in higher education has increased with each passing year. In fact, women now outnumber their male peers: 57% of students on college campuses in 2019 were women.
In large part, increased female representation is the result of changing mindsets. Instead of staying home, having kids, and relegating oneself to a domestic life, women are pursuing advanced career paths. Workplaces are now required to be equitable to all genders, and these changing societal expectations are facilitating this progress.
Fortunately, many organizations and influencers in academia want to facilitate this progress, which leads to a wide variety of career pathways, resources, and opportunities. Programs, scholarships, and grants are available to women who want to further their education, including those pursuing a master’s degree (especially in fields where women are historically underrepresented, as you’ll read below), as well as undergraduate programs. One goal of these resources is to lessen and eventually close gender gaps in critical career paths.
If you’re a prospective college student, or have recently started your freshman year, you may have noticed that sorting through these resources can be a daunting task.
This comprehensive guide is designed to help you do just that. Below, review the most and least popular career paths/scholarships for women, and check the links to organizations and scholarships. This guide will also discuss current gender-related issues in the workplace and discuss what you can do to address them.
General college scholarships for women
No matter your area of interest, there are many women-specific, general college scholarships that can help you meet your academic and career goals. But where should you begin your search?
Start local. Nearby colleges/universities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations will have some local scholarships that may help fund your learning. Requirements for each scholarship differ, but there are many that are specifically designed for women.
Unlike more prestigious awards, local scholarships usually have less competition, and groups offering them are typically more communicative with applicants. These components are likely to lead to easier scholarship wins and less headache. You can search for scholarships by state at Student Scholarship Search.
Of course, you should also apply for scholarships from national organizations. Criteria for eligibility for some of the scholarships include being under or over a certain age, maintaining a high level of academic performance, or surviving traumatic life events. Some of the notable general scholarships for women include:
- 1,000 Dreams Scholarship: High school students or college-aged women may be eligible for the 1,000 Dreams Scholarship. This scholarship is a one-time award of up to $1,000 and is intended to cover educational expenses beyond the classroom, such as application fees, textbooks, or education-related software.
- AAUW Educational Foundation International Fellowships: Looking to go back to school to get an advanced degree? AAUW is one of the largest providers of funding for fellowships and grants for graduate women in the world. Applicants who can show a commitment to the advancement of women and girls through their work are preferred.
- Girl Scout Scholarships: If you were once a member of the Girl Scouts, you may be eligible for some scholarships. The organization, which now has nearly 2 million members, wants to help women succeed in academics. The Girl Scouts offer many scholarships for women interested in attending specific schools. Awards vary in amount, but many are renewable. Most require a background with the organization.
- Girls Inc. National Scholarship: This award is designed to support young female learners who are aiming to attend college after graduating high school. Ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, this scholarship is awarded to several applicants each year based on academic performance and extracurricular activities.
- Soroptimist’s Live Your Dreams Award: Soroptimist distributes more than $2 million in scholarships to more than 1,500 recipients each year. Their focus is on assisting women who provide the primary financial support for their families — often survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, or sexual assault.
As you can see, there are many scholarship opportunities for women. In order to help finance your academic future, you should start searching for scholarships early, stay organized, and apply for anything and everything that you’re eligible for. This can be a time-intensive process, but with perseverance and proper organization, you can potentially help offset the cost of your education.
Scholarships for moms returning to college
There are scholarships available for women of a wide range of ages and life circumstances. Mothers looking to return to college are no exception.
Once their children have grown up and become self-sufficient, many women opt to go back to school. Even full-time mothers can further their education through online programs and evening classes, in order to balance priorities at home with career aspirations.
The following scholarships have had a positive impact on the academic careers of mothers and may help you in your journey toward career advancement:
- Jeannette Rankin Foundation: The Jeanette Rankin Foundation aims to help mothers return to school to develop their skills and educational background after being out academia for many years. Low-income female students over the age of 35 may be eligible for this scholarship. The amount you can receive depends on your financial needs.
- Patsy Takemoto Mink Award: Low-income mothers pursuing an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree may be eligible for the Patsy Takemoto Mink Award. Five applicants are selected to receive this $5,000 scholarship based on financial need, personal circumstances, and overall career/civic goals.
- Women’s Independent Scholarship Program (WISP): Female survivors of intimate partner abuse — often single mothers — who can demonstrate a critical need for financial assistance to attend college may be eligible for awards from WISP. Awards vary based on individual needs and availability.
Scholarships for women in STEM
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have been historically male-dominated fields. The progress toward getting women more involved in these areas may seem to indicate that the gender gap is closing, but statistics indicate otherwise: Women represent only 29% of the STEM workforce and less than 40% of college STEM majors.
Due to this discrepancy, there are many scholarships intended for women who plan for a career in STEM. Here are some notable examples:
- Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship: This scholarship is intended to bring more gender diversity to the technology industry. To do so, Adobe is awarding a limited number of college students who are studying computer science $10,000, as well as a Creative Cloud membership, an Adobe Research mentor, and an interview for an internship at Adobe.
- Association for Women Geoscientists Minority Scholarship: Female, full-time students pursuing an undergraduate degree in the geosciences (or high school students intending to do so) can apply for this $6,000 scholarship. It’s intended for minority students — women who are African American, Hispanic, or Native American.
- Clare Boothe Luce Program Scholarships: While more than half of these annual scholarships are awarded to students at Catholic colleges and universities, all undergraduate women studying in science, mathematics, and engineering fields are eligible to receive support. Undergraduate scholarships cover expenses for the last two years of your undergraduate program.
- Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Scholarships: SWE Scholarships support women pursuing bachelor or graduate programs approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Completing just one application puts you in consideration for more than 200 individual scholarships.
Additional aid and resources for women in STEM fields
Women make up less than a third of the STEM workforce. This can largely be attributed to a lack of support within these subjects for this underrepresented group. There are also different expectations for men and women when it comes to cooperation and leadership, which can make advancement difficult for women.
This is an example of how the gender gap can perpetuate itself. When women lack representation and supportive, like-minded peers, they are less likely to succeed and are more likely to drop out.
Additional aid and resources are required to overcome these issues and end this cycle. Because women are represented in STEM fields, there are programs available that help encourage women to enter these career paths. Many of these programs focus on getting girls interested in STEM at an early age, while others are dedicated to providing women with ongoing academic/career support.
- Association for Women in Science: At more than 100,000 members around the globe, the Association for Women in Science is dedicated to advocating for greater gender diversity in STEM careers, helping women develop into transformative leaders, providing research and analysis on STEM issues, and partnering with organizations to make positive change.
- Fastweb: Interested in coding or education initiatives related to coding? This resource by Fastweb outlines five relevant organizations: Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Google’s Made with Code, Code.org, and coderGirls.
- Million Women Mentors: In an effort to spark the interest of girls and women to seek out careers in STEM fields, Million Women Mentors provide individuals with mentors to help them achieve greater academic and career success. While everyone involved is connected to a national movement, the organization coordinates with local mentee groups to provide help to females across 40+ states.
- The Scientista Foundation: As noted in the foundation’s mission statement, the Scientista Foundation serves “to connect all communities of women in STEM at campuses across the nation, giving such important organizations more visibility and resources, and building a strong, cohesive network of women in science that can act as one voice.” It’s the largest such network across STEM disciplines.
- Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN): This organization uses research and best practices to advocate for greater inclusion of women in engineering. WEPAN connects advocates and leaders with this common goal. Through their efforts they are drawing women to the field, creating new educational opportunities, and offering relevant informational resources.
Scholarships for women in business
While the gender gap within business is significantly smaller than STEM fields, business leadership tends to be predominately male. Women can benefit the business world by introducing diverse viewpoints and a variety of skills. As such, there are a number of scholarships specifically for women who plan to study business.
Here are a few scholarships designed for women who are interested in business:
- AARP Foundation, Women’s Scholarship Program: Low-income women who are over 50 years old and are pursuing a business degree can apply for this scholarship. The awarded amount varies depending on individual needs, and priority is given to women who have been chronically underemployed or unemployed.
- American Business Women’s Association Scholarships: Future business women can receive financial support from scholarships awarded by the American Business Women’s Association. Awards are given to those with high academic performance, financial need, and interest in business. One award winner receives a $10,000 scholarship, while two additional winners receive $3,000 scholarships.
- C200 Scholars Award: First-year female MBA students can apply to receive up to $25,000 in funding for educational expenses. Applicants are evaluated based on their academic records, recommendations, past work history, and their motivations for pursuing a degree in business. Winners will also have the opportunity to participate in an internship program.
- The National Society of Hispanic MBAs: Also called Prospanica, this organization offers scholarships to five applicants who need assistance to pursue a career in business. They offer between $2,500 to $10,000 to each award winner. Applicants must be of Hispanic heritage and be a U.S. citizen or legal resident.
Scholarships for women in medicine, healthcare, or nursing
Unlike subject areas covered up until this point, women are a clear majority in medicine, healthcare, and nursing. In fact, they constitute 84% of all healthcare majors in colleges across the U.S.
Given their level of representation in these fields, most healthcare scholarships are inclusive of all genders. Here are some examples:
- APIASF/United Health Foundation Scholarship: A product of a partnership between the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund and the United Health Foundation, this scholarship is designed to provide financial assistance to Asian or Pacific Islander students in programs to become healthcare professionals. Students selected to receive this scholarship are awarded $15,000, disbursed in annual installments of $5,000 over three years.
- Health Resources and Service Administration Bureau of Health Professions Scholarship: The U.S. Public Health Service offers this scholarship to financially disadvantaged, full-time students in health fields. Specific scholarship requirements can be set by participating schools, and the maximum amount that can be awarded is $15,000.
- Irene and Daisy MacGregor Memorial Scholarship: Students who are enrolled in a program to become a medical doctor can apply for this scholarship. While both men and women can apply, preference is given to women when all other criteria are equal. This scholarship awards $5,000 and can be renewed up to four times, for a total of $20,000.
- Nurse Corps Scholarship Program: Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, this scholarship is available to female students who are pursuing a degree in nursing. The award amount covers all educational expenses and includes a monthly stipend. In return, students must agree to work in a facility in a health professional shortage area for a minimum of two years.
Additional financial aid and resources for women in healthcare
While women outnumber men in healthcare career fields and majors, there’s still a huge demand for healthcare workers. Because the U.S. struggles to meet healthcare demand, choosing a major related to medicine, healthcare, or nursing is a wise decision.
As you can see in statistics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there remains a high demand (and resulting pay) for those who do so.
For students who choose to enter the world of healthcare, there are some helpful resources and programs designed to help them achieve success:
- American Medical Women’s Association: This is “the oldest multispecialty organization dedicated to advancing women in medicine and improving women’s health.” The American Medical Women’s Association seeks to empower women and help them improve health for all while providing the unique perspective of women.
- Association of American Medical Colleges – Organization of Student Representatives: The Organization of Student Representatives of the AAMC helps students who are active participants when it comes to directing their education, know their rights, and understand their responsibilities as a future healthcare professional. They offer professional development opportunities and helpful toolkits/resources.
- Student National Medical Association: Through national programs across the country, the Student National Medical Association aims to diversify the face of medicine. They support underrepresented minority medical students and aim to address the needs of underserved communities.
Scholarships for education majors and future teachers
Education is another field in which women represent the majority. According to EdWeek, the education/teaching career fields are vastly dominated by women (77%), and that number is only increasing.
Some education scholarships are specifically designed for women, though most are applicable to all genders. Here are some notable examples of scholarships for education majors and future teachers:
- AASA Educational Administration Scholarship: Sponsored by the School Superintendents Association, this $2,500 scholarship is intended to help female graduate students who have the career goal of becoming a superintendent — ultimately bolstering female leadership in education.
- AFCEA — STEM Teacher Scholarships: Students who are pursuing a graduate degree in order to teach a STEM subject at a U.S. K-12 school can apply for a $2,500 scholarship from the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
- Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellowship: Women who are going to school to become high school-level science or math teachers can apply for the KSTF Fellowship. Up to $4,000 can be awarded.
Resources and aid for women in homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting
In addition to some of the fields listed above, there is a struggle to achieve adequate female representation in homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting.
Across these industries, men are overrepresented, and this problem doesn’t seem to be resolving itself; men also outnumber women in associate degree fields related to these careers (57% men to 43% women).
Women have historically been a minority in these fields due to many factors, and some of these issues persist today. Social stigmas aside, there is the perception that women may not have the physical strength required for these positions. In such physically demanding jobs, women are sometimes erroneously assumed to be incompetent.
These outdated mindsets still prevail in some areas, though some organizations are looking to right these wrongs.
Here are some organizations that support women in these fields:
- International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services: Also known as iWomen, this organization provides a network that “supports, mentors, and educates current and future women in fire and emergency services.” They promote and support women in this field by advocating for female involvement, providing education, creating support networks, and helping employers develop equitable policy guidelines.
- International Association of Women Police (IAWP): The IAWP Foundation seeks to help women succeed in law enforcement and inform people around the world about women’s issues in police-related activities. The organization also conducts training conferences, assists members seek further training, and awards female officers who distinguish themselves through excellent service to their respective community.
- Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE): WIFLE is a nonprofit organization was formed to support women who are interested in getting involved with law enforcement — including providing educational resources, leadership training sessions, and scholarships. They aim to address the underlying issues affecting disproportional female representation in federal law enforcement and advocate for real change.
- Women in Homeland Security: Another nonprofit, Women in Homeland Security is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving female representation in the homeland security community. They state that, “Women in Homeland Security fosters a collaborative environment for homeland security professionals to improve our nation’s security and intelligence on critical homeland security topics confronting the nation.”
College grants for women
Scholarships are typically merit-based — they may have a minimum GPA requirement or other requirements that may disqualify many potential applicants. Grants, on the other hand, are primarily need-based; applicants are assessed based on the disadvantages they’ve faced and their financial needs.
Of course, some of the scholarships listed above are need-based rather than merit-based. This is a result of the terms “grants” and “scholarships” frequently being used interchangeably.
Applying for grants is very similar to how one would apply for scholarships. As such, it’s important to remember to do research, stay organized, and always remember to apply by the deadline. Most importantly, if the terms of a grant require you to agree to specific conditions, you need to be sure to stick to those terms to avoid needing to pay back that amount.
Like scholarships, there are many grants that are specifically available for women.
- Go Girl! Grants: The Girlfriend Factor aims to make more women self-sufficient and economically secure through education. Go Girl! Grants are a direct way to help women in Coachella Valley, California, afford educational expenses and achieve real strides in their careers. Applicants must be at least 25 years old and be able to demonstrate how their current educational path will help them achieve their career goals.
- PEO Program for Continuing Education: If your academic career was interrupted, as is often the case for young mothers, the PEO Program for Continuing Education may help. After completing the application, a local chapter must sponsor you in order for you to receive funds of up to $3,000.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant: This government initiative is a useful resource for many prospective teachers. It’s designed to encourage graduates to teach in underserved areas. In return for agreeing to teach in such an area for at least four years, this program will pay up to $4,000 annually in educational expenses.
- Looking for Additional Grants: If you’d like to explore more college grants for women, take a look through The College Grants Database. This resource lists many different grants, requirements for eligibility, and any other key information you’ll need to know.
Financial aid for women: Why female students need more resources to help pay for school
The existence of such a wide variety of resources and financial opportunities for women begs a simple question: Why do female students need more resources to help pay for school? The answer to this question is multifaceted.
The gender wage gap
While some people might disagree that a gender wage gap exists, some statistics on the matter suggest otherwise. According to 2020 PayScale data women earn 81 cents for every dollar a man in the same age group earned. This gap varies by industry, age, and job type.
While individual choices (including choosing to have children or work in particular fields) may influence this earnings gap, those variables don’t adequately explain the extent of the current gap.
On the positive side, the gap is getting smaller year by year. This is due in part to initiatives from organizations like those detailed above. Each year, women are succeeding at securing more equitable pay across many job industries. Financial aid, scholarships, and programs designed for women enable them to further close this gap and creates a brighter future for women and girls everywhere.
Student loan debt disproportionately burdens female students
To make matters more difficult on women, they disproportionately have more student debt than men. Most (70%) college students need to take out student loans to pay for school expenses. Women, however, hold more student debt on average than men. An earnings gap, combined with increased student loans, can obviously make financial stability a difficult prospect for any individual.
The key to overcoming these issues is understanding how to handle financial aid. Understanding your responsibilities as a borrower or grant receiver is essential to avoid paying additional fees or interest. Furthermore, by managing your loans as early as possible, paying more than the minimum amount, prioritizing high-interest loans, taking tax deductions, and looking into refinancing or student debt forgiveness programs, you can minimize the financial impacts of your college expenses.
Barriers to education women face
Women also face additional potential barriers to education. The desire to raise children, have a full-time job, handle financial setbacks, and fulfill familial obligations can make going back to college difficult, to say the least — especially since women need to make more career adjustments to accommodate for family life.
Online degree programs and evening courses are excellent ways to juggle these requirements and achieve this career growth. With a flexible program and the right resources, online education may make college degrees more accessible for people who otherwise might not have the time or availability to pursue higher education.