Grants for Women to Help Pay for College
Women are still considered a minority across the board, and this may help open some doors to females seeking higher education. The number of women attending college is actually on the rise with 10 million females enrolled in the fall of 2012, making up 56 percent of the total number of people enrolled in college nationally, overtaking men who made up the remaining 44 percent, as published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This rising number could be due to the number of encouraging opportunities for women that now exist. College costs are also rising as well, however, and it may be difficult to afford the costs of higher education without assistance. Fortunately, there are many options available to women to help offset these costs.
Student loans from either the federal government or private financial institutions are an option for students wishing to borrow money and pay it back after graduation. These loans can, however, easily bog you down in debt that may be difficult to repay, unfortunately. You should first explore any forms of free money open to you. This includes both scholarships and grants. Scholarships are usually offered on the basis of merit, or if you meet certain criteria, while grants may be more generally accessible. Both are forms of free money or gift aid that doesn’t have to be paid back.
One of the first things you should do when looking for financial aid for college is fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much, if any, federal aid you may be eligible for. FAFSA uses your financial information to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and then balances that amount with your enrollment status, plans for duration of your enrollment, and actual cost of attendance at your chosen school to calculate how much aid you qualify for. The U.S. Department of Education funds and administers four types of grants to both females and males alike, which are:
- Federal Pell Grants
- Teacher Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
Pell Grants are the most common federal grants, and they are awarded to undergraduate students seeking their first degree. The maximum award amount varies each year, and for the 2016-2017 school year, it is $5,815 for up to six years total. The actual amount you are awarded is based on your demonstration of financial need as calculated via your FAFSA application and school information.
If you plan to become a teacher in a high-need field in a low-income location, you may qualify for up to $4,000 a year via a TEACH Grant. This type of grant requires that you take certain eligible classes, maintain academic achievement requirements, and then get a teaching job as specified by your TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve. TEACH Grants are available for undergraduate, post baccalaureate, and graduate students, and require annual TEACH Grant counseling to remain eligible.
Participating schools’ financial aid offices can administer grants through the FSEOG program. The U.S. Department of Education allocates a set amount of funds to the school, and you may be eligible for anywhere between $100 and $4,000, depending on your financial needs. This type of aid is considered “campus-based” since it comes through your school, and once all FSEOG funds have been allocated, no more will be available for that year. So while the Pell Grant program provides financial aid to all eligible students, FSEOG funds have a cap. In order to obtain FSEOG money, it is in your best interest to apply early.
If you are not eligible for a Federal Pell Grant due your EFC being too high, but you were under 24 or enrolled in college at least half-time when your parent or guardian died as a result of military service while in the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, you may be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. The amount awarded may be equal to the Pell Grant maximum amount but cannot be more than the cost of attendance at your school. Award amounts are also subject to sequestration, and for the 2014-2015 academic year, the total will be reduced by 7.3 percent.
Each state in the United States has a Department of Education, which monitors, regulates and often offers some form of financial aid to low-income or financial needy potential and current college resident students. Women are often eligible for these state-funded college grants. The type and amount of financial aid varies greatly from state to state so be sure to check with your school and state to determine what type of aid might be available to residents in your area. Generally you have to provide proof of residency for a set amount of time in order to qualify for a state-based grant.
Private Grants Through Your School
Individual schools often have grant programs specifically for women and to promote female enrollment. Women’s colleges in particular generally have generous grant programs for their students. These are usually private grants often funded by a generous alumni association as well as private donations and are not always need-based, but may be open to middleclass students as well as low-income ones. Check with your school’s financial aid office in order to find out if they offer grants specifically for women.
Field-Specific and Professional Association Grants
Both public and private institutions offer grant programs for certain fields of study, particularly those that have traditionally been dominated by men. Fields of study offering grants for women include health care, dentistry, nursing, teaching, engineering, science, accounting, the arts, math, and computer sciences. Grants are offered through schools and specific programs as well to entice women to join these fields and professions.
Each of these grants will have different criteria and eligibility requirements. Some examples of these grants offered by professional associations and organizations include:
- National Science Foundation: grants for women in engineering, and computer and information science Awards for woman graduate students studying math, science, computer science, or engineering
- National Physical Science Consortium: physical sciences fellowships for women pursuing a career in geology, astronomy, math, chemistry, or chemistry science
- College Art Association: graduate student grants for non-traditional art students in their second-to-last year of their program
- National Sculpture Society: art student grants for those pursuing sculpture
- Society of Women Engineers: grants for women pursing engineering degrees with higher priority to members
- Women Chefs and Restaurateurs: education grants for members pursing chef or restaurateur careers
- Nurses’ Associations: many offer grants to women nursing students
- Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting: need and merit-based grants for women pursing two-year, four-year, or master’s degrees in finance or accounting
- American Society of Women Accountants: grants for students pursuing two-year, four-year, or graduate degrees in accounting or finance; also provides small grants for industry-related travel and certifications
- Association for Women in Science: grants for women studying science, including physics and natural sciences
- Association for Women in Mathematics: grant funding for women studying mathematical sciences
Perhaps one of the biggest sources of grant funding for women is provided by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which gave $4.3 million in grants and fellowships to 278 women in 2012 alone. The AAUW provides grants for all types of women, particularly for those entering underrepresented fields as well as minority, non-U.S. citizens, and financially underprivileged women. These grants are available for undergraduate and graduate students in varying amounts. Similarly, the AAUW gives special consideration to women who are returning to school after pursuing a family or career.
Non-Traditional Student and Disadvantaged Women Grants
A non-traditional student is typically considered students beyond the “normal” college age. Students wait to pursue a higher education rather than go to college straight out of high school for many reasons, including starting a career or family. The Jeanette Rankin Foundation Women’s Education Fund targets women entering college after age 35, offering $1,500 grants for those who show both ambition and financial need. The Jeannette Rankin Foundation specifically targets women who are U.S. citizens and who may be disadvantaged, helping over 750 women attain a college degree and improve their lives. The foundation is only renewing scholarships and not offering new ones at this time.
Victims of domestic violence have some options open to them to help start a new life with higher education as well. The Sunshine Lady Foundation offers financial aid through their Women’s Independence Scholarship Program in an attempt to empower battered and abused women and aid them in starting anew. This privately run program is intended for survivors of abuse who wish to pursue an education to become economically independent.
Single mothers may be eligible for certain grants and scholarships when seeking a better life through education. The Student Loan Repayment Grant helps single mothers who do community service, are in a service or teaching job, or document at least eight hours of volunteering their professional skills a month by repaying their student loan debt through grant funding. The Child of a Single Parent Woman Scholarship provides scholarships and grants for children of single parents while single mothers who have been denied other grants or financial assistance because of their incomes being too high may qualify for funds through the Scholarship for Continuing Education.
Many schools are highly interested in pursuing and recruiting minority women and encouraging them to enroll in their programs in order to promote diversity. If you are a non-U.S. citizen or a minority woman, there are many opportunities for college grants open to you. Some of these programs may be offered through your individual school while others come from private or non-profit organizations. The United Negro College Fund and Hispanic College Fund are great resources for finding out more information on the types of grants you might qualify for.
College is expensive, and many women find it difficult to afford a higher education without help. You should seek out and apply for as many scholarships and grants as you may be eligible for. You may qualify for aid from more than one source. Be sure to check with your financial aid office and do your research, including browsing our site in order to determine what types and how much funding you may be able to obtain.