In 1960, women made up almost 38 percent of the college enrollment. Today, female students outnumber their male counterparts (at 56 percent), and are projected to outpace male enrollment growth into 2026, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Since women represent over half of enrollment and the cost of higher education is at an all time high, the need for financial assistance is a familiar concept for millions. Fortunately there are thousands of scholarships and fellowships catered to women, so the cost of college shouldn’t deter anyone from earning an undergraduate or graduate degree.
To learn more about how you can pay for college, follow this guide and use our interactive tool to sort through the scholarship opportunities for women that you qualify for. But first, let’s not forget how far women have come since the 19th century beginning with the first coeducational college in the U.S., Oberlin College.
Evolution of Women & Education
Scholarships and student loans impact the success of American female leaders who have contributed to technological and medical advances, economic progress, the prosperity of our country and more. The former First Lady, Michelle Obama, partly attributes her success to the help of scholarships and financial aid, based on a speech given by former President Barack Obama:
“Michelle and I, we're only where we are today because scholarships and student loans gave us a shot at a great education:
— Barack Obama, 44th U.S. President
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, there are many opportunities available to help you pay for college—find the combination that works best for you.
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How to Pay for College
- Scholarships: There are thousands of scholarships for women, which are awarded by local organizations, private companies, societies and more.
- Grants: Grants don’t need to be paid back and are based on your financial circumstances. They are usually funded by the federal government, your state or college.
- Fellowships: While scholarships usually fund tuition, fellowships typically cover graduate study, research projects and abroad experiences without needing to be paid back.
- Student loans: You can borrow money from the government or a bank, but it needs to be paid back with interest. The federal government offers many loan options—fill out the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for financial aid.
- Federal Work-Study Program: Provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to pay education expenses.
If you’re just beginning the process of finding suitable scholarships, make sure you’re prepared for the application process by starting a folder with the assets below.
Scholarship Application Preparation
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- Transcript: Not all scholarships are based off of your GPA, but most need to verify your high school education to qualify. Try to get certified copies of your transcript early, so you have plenty of time to meet the deadline.
- Test Scores: Although there are scholarship opportunities that aren’t merit-based, it’s valuable to take the SAT or ACT standardized tests in case it’s a scholarship qualification.
- Essay: Your scholarship essay is what will bring attention to your application out of the pool of applicants. That’s why it’s important to craft a stand out piece that attests to your experience, adheres to the scholarship guidelines and most importantly, highlights your true personality.
- Recommendation: Letters of recommendation are a true judgement of your character—something that can’t be revealed through your test scores or transcript. Reach out to former teachers, counselors or bosses, so that they can speak to your qualifications. You may also want to provide them with a resume that outlines your achievements and goals as well.
Whether you’re the valedictorian or have earned average grades, there are hundreds of scholarships to choose from. Below are a few types of scholarships you can look for.
Scholarship Opportunities for Women
Instructions: Click through the dropdowns below to sort by your intended major, award amount or if you’re looking for need-based aid. Click the box for a larger view.
Scholarship Opportunities for Women
- National Center for Education Statistics: College enrollment rates of high school graduates, by sex: 1960 to 1998
- National Center for Education Statistics: Undergraduate Enrollment
- Oberlin College & Conservatory: Oberlin History
- AAUW: The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Spring 2017)
- National Center for Educational Statistics: Fast Facts
- National Women’s History Game: The History of Women and Education
- The White House - President Barack Obama: Remarks by the President on College Affordability
- Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Federal Student Aid: Work-Study Jobs