Top 10 Scholarships for Women Returning to School

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Making the decision to go back to school isn't easy, especially if you have a family and financial responsibilities. Fortunately, there are several scholarships and grants available for those who decide to return to college. To narrow down your search, we've found some of the best programs designed specifically to help women complete their educational goals.

Scholarships and Grants for Women Returning to College

The costs of higher education can be especially hard on your wallet, as you may have other expenses to keep up with in addition to school costs. That's why scholarships and grants are helpful for students who can't afford the full cost of college. The terms are typically used interchangeably, but scholarships are generally awarded based on merit, while grants are based on financial need. Below, we've listed some of the best opportunities for women who need funds to pursue their educational and career goals.

The P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education (PCE)

The Philanthropic Education Organization Program for Continuing Education was created in 1973 to provide need-based financial assistance to women whose educations have been interrupted but want to return to school. The program helps women complete a degree or certification to find or improve employment opportunities. The maximum grant amount is $3,000 and cannot be used for living expenses or to repay any debt.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be a citizen or legal permanent resident of the U.S. or Canada.
  • Be enrolled in a certification or degree program.
  • Live and study in the U.S. or Canada for the entire course of study.
  • Have a period of at least 24 consecutive months in your adult life when you were not a student.
  • Be within 24 consecutive months of completing an educational program that will lead to employment or a job advancement.

How to apply: To start the application process, you must complete and submit the online application. The organization will then forward the form to local chapters. To move forward, a chapter must agree to sponsor your application through a vote and submit a Chapter Recommendation Form to the project supervisor. After preapproval, candidates will have 30 days to complete and submit the PCE Application and Income and Expense Statement.

To learn more, visit P.E.O. International.

Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards

Soroptimist is an organization created to assist women and girls in completing their education and finding their dream careers. The organization offers a specific grant for women who want to improve their education, marketable skills and employment outlook. Each year, Soroptimist gives more than $2 million in education grants to about 1,500 women worldwide, with individual awards ranging from $1,000 to $16,000. Recipients can use the funds for any costs related to their efforts for higher education including transportation, tuition and child care.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Provide primary financial support for yourself and your dependents (children, spouse, partner, siblings and/or parents).
  • Have financial need.
  • Be enrolled in or accepted to an undergraduate degree program or vocational/skills-training program.
  • Be motivated to achieve educational and career goals.
  • Reside in one of Soroptimist International of the Americas' member countries or territories (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guam, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, United States of America, Venezuela).
  • Not have previously been the recipient of a Soroptimist Women's Opportunity or Live Your Dream Award.
  • Not have a graduate degree.
  • Not be a Soroptimist member, an employee of Soroptimist International of the Americas or an immediate family member of either.
  • Have a Social Security number of tax ID number (for U.S. residents).

How to apply: The Live Your Dream Awards application is offered from July 1 to Nov. 15 each year. To apply, you will need to create an account on the Soroptimist website and follow the instructions for completing the online application. You will need to complete an eligibility form, provide your personal information and ask two references to complete online reference forms. References can be mentors, teachers, counselors, supervisors, colleagues or case managers. You will also need to write a personal statement of 750 words or fewer telling the organization how this money can help you live your dream.

To learn more, visit the Soroptimist website.

Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Award

Patsy Takemoto Mink was the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. The Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation was created in her honor to support access to education and opportunities for low-income women, especially mothers and children. In 2019, the foundation will award five Education Support Awards of up to $5,000 each.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be a woman, at least 17 years old.
  • Be a mother with minor children.
  • Be pursuing a vocational degree/certificate, associate degree, first bachelor's degree or a professional/master's/doctoral degree.
  • Be enrolled in a not-for-profit, accredited institution or program in the U.S. for the 2019–
  • 20 academic year.
  • Be part of a low-income family (annual household income of less than $20,000 for a family of two; less than $24,000 for a family of three; or less than $28,000 for a family of four).

How to apply: The application is available online in late spring. To apply, you will need to provide your personal details and demonstrate your need to qualify. Candidates will be selected based on their financial need, personal circumstances, educational path, occupational goal, and service, activist or civic goals. If accepted, you will be notified by phone or email in the late fall. The foundation will not contact each applicant; only those accepted to receive an award.

To learn more, visit the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation.

Women's Independence Scholarship Program (WISP)

The Women's Independence Scholarship Program was created to help female survivors of intimate partner abuse find educational opportunities that can lead to a living wage and financial self-sufficiency. There is no set dollar amount for the scholarship. The smallest award is about $250, and the average award is around $2,000 per school term. It's important to note that although WISP considers applicants attending for-profit institutions, they are placed at the lowest priority for funding, as the organization discourages enrolling in these schools.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be a female survivor of intimate partner abuse.
  • Be separated from the abuser for at least one year but not more than seven years.
  • Have sought services from a nonprofit agency that provides help for survivors of intimate abuse for at least six consecutive months. This agency must be willing to sponsor you with mentoring and support through your educational experience and can accept funds on your behalf.
  • Be a citizen, permanent resident or have an immigration status that makes you eligible for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Have applied to or have been accepted to an accredited course of study at a U.S. institution.
  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Have a strong desire and an ability to complete a training or academic program.
  • Have a definite plan to use the training for career advancement, to train for a new career field or re-enter the job market.

How to apply: Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis and should be submitted as soon as you fit the eligibility requirements, as it can take up to two months to review new applications. Applicants should submit their applications at least two months before the start date of their programs, although it is not guaranteed they will be accepted by the desired date. You and your sponsor will need to complete the application, which includes your basic contact information and educational history; answer questions about your goals and situation; upload your tuition bill, financial aid and income tax returns; and complete an academic plan.

To learn more, visit the Women's Independence Scholarship Program.

Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship

Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. When she passed away, she left a portion of her estate to offer a scholarship for low-income women who want to return to school, which was created in 1978. The organization has awarded $2.75 million in scholarships to more than 1,000 low-income women in the U.S since then.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be a woman, age 35 or older.
  • Be considered low-income (based on certain income guidelines).
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • Be pursuing a technical or vocational education, an associate degree or a first bachelor's degree.
  • Be enrolled in or accepted to a not-for-profit, regionally accredited institution.

How to apply: The application is available from Nov. 1, 2018, through March 1, 2019. To complete the application, you will need to provide your 2018 tax return for proof of income, your most recent school transcript and/or letter of acceptance and two letters of recommendation from nonfamily members. If you meet all of the eligibility requirements, you will be accepted based on your goals, your plan for reaching your goals and how you will use your education to give back to the community.

To learn more, visit the Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund.

Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Scholarships

The Society of Women Engineers offers various scholarships to women studying engineering, engineering technology or computer science toward an associate, bachelor's or master's degree. Unlike most of the other programs, U.S. citizenship is not required, though you may need to be an SWE member. The program awarded $830,000 in scholarships to approximately 238 new and renewed applicants in 2018.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Identify as female.
  • Be an undergraduate/community college applicant planning to study an ABET-accredited program in engineering, technology or computing in the upcoming year OR you must be a master's program student or Ph.D. candidate enrolled or accepted to a school with ABET-accredited programs in engineering, technology or computing.
  • Plan to attend full time (exceptions made for re-entry and nontraditional applicants).
  • Not have full funding for tuition, fees, and books or the equivalent from your school or another organization.
  • Have a transcript in English.
  • Have at least a 3.0 out of a 4.0 GPA for upperclassmen applicants.

How to apply: SWE has one application for freshmen students, available from March 1, 2019, to May 1, 2019, and another for sophomore to graduate students, available from Dec. 1, 2018, to Feb. 15, 2019. You must submit the online application with your current transcript, a letter of acceptance from an ABET-accredited college or university, your resume, and two references. One reference must be a teacher or college professor in a STEM-related field familiar with your work, and the other must be from a nonfamily member who has known you for two or more years.

To learn more, visit the Society of Women Engineers.

Go Girl! Grant

The Go Girl! Grant was created by the Girlfriend Factor to promote education as the key to economic advancement and self-sufficiency. The organization has given more than $500,000 in grants to more than 147 local women in Coachella Valley pursuing four-year degrees or occupational certificates.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be age 25 or older.
  • Live and go to school in Coachella Valley, California.
  • Be working toward a specific undergraduate degree or occupational certification.
  • Be currently enrolled in at least two classes in school.
  • Apply for financial aid using the FAFSA.

How to apply: You'll need to complete the grant application, write a one-page autobiography, provide information about your course of study and school costs, submit three references, and prepare for a personal interview. The documents must be mailed to The Girlfriend Factor. Applications are reviewed twice a year and must be received by Dec. 15 for review in January or June 15 for review in July.

To learn more, visit the Girlfriend Factor.

Wynetta A. Frazier Sister-to-Sister Scholarship

The Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier Sister-to-Sister Scholarship was created by The National Hook-Up of Black Women Inc. to honor Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier. Its purpose is to provide financial assistance to African-American women who are pursuing a post-secondary education and previously had their education interrupted by other responsibilities. The organization gives $500 scholarships to two awardees each year.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be an African-American woman.
  • Be at least 21 years old.
  • Have proof of acceptance or you're currently attending a college or university.

How to apply: You will need to fill out the application, write a personal statement and write a 450- to 500-word essay explaining the circumstances that led you to need the scholarship and how the scholarship will impact your future. In addition, you will need two letters of recommendation from nonfamily members, an official transcript from the last college/university you attended or your official high school transcript, and a recent photo with your full name listed on the back. After you complete all of the above, you will need to mail the application to the National Hook-Up of Black Women Inc.

To learn more, visit the scholarship's website.

Dr. Blanca Moore-Velez Woman of Substance Scholarship

The Dr. Blanca Moore-Velez Woman of Substance Scholarship was created by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs (NANBPWC) to help women who have overcome or are working to overcome adversities and finish their education. Keep in mind that you will already have to be enrolled in an accredited school to qualify.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be an African-American woman.
  • Be a U.S. citizen.
  • Be at least 35 years old.
  • Be enrolled in an undergraduate program at an accredited college or university.
  • Have at least a 3.0 out of a 4.0 GPA.

How to apply: To apply, you must complete an official scholarship application online with your personal details and school information, including your major, academic awards or honors, and school involvement. You must also submit a 500-word essay on a given topic about your experience overcoming challenges as a mature student. The application is open from Jan. 1 to March 1. Late or incomplete applications won't be considered.

To learn more, visit the scholarship's website.

American Association of University Women (AAUW) Career Development Grants

AAUW Career Development Grants help women who want to make career changes, advance in their careers or re-enter the workforce by providing financial help to attend additional higher education, technical training or professional development institutes. The organization gives women of color and women pursuing nontraditional fields primary consideration. Awards range from $2,000 to $12,000.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen.
  • Hold an earned (not honorary) bachelor's degree received before June 30, 2014.
  • Not hold a graduate or professional degree.
  • Plan to enroll or are enrolled in courses/activities for professional employment or advancement.
  • Plan to enroll or are enrolled in one of the following:
    • Bachelor's or associate degree program that is different from your previously earned degree.
    • Master's degree program.
    • Certification program.
    • Technical school.
    • Professional degree (e.g., law or medicine).

How to apply: Applications are reviewed once a year by the Career Development Grants Panel to recommend finalists to the AAUW Board of Directors. Applications are accepted from Aug. 1 to Nov. 15 each year. You will need to fill out an application with your personal details, academic plan and financial budget. In addition, you'll need to provide a recommendation letter from a college counselor/adviser, instructor or work supervisor, your resume, and your narrative for why you should receive the aid and how you demonstrate financial need and an underrepresented background.

To learn more, visit the American Association of University Women.

Other Ways to Pay for College

If you're looking to go back to school, whether you want to continue an undergraduate, associate, technical, graduate or professional program, there are other options to consider if you've used all of your scholarship and grant opportunities. Unfortunately, with these options you will generally need to pay back the aid you receive with interest. Although this may not be ideal, taking the steps to get an education may be worth it as it can lead to more job opportunities and higher pay.

Federal Student Aid

You can apply for federal student aid by filling out the FAFSA form. You may be eligible for scholarships, grants and/or loans from the government or your school based on your need and educational accomplishments. You will be required to pay back the federal student loans you receive with interest, and your rate will depend on whether you have subsidized, unsubsidized or PLUS loans. Always apply for federal aid to see what you qualify for, as the application is free and federal student loan interest rates tend to be lower than rates on private loans.

Private Student Loans

If you still need more aid to afford schools costs after exhausting all your scholarship, grant and federal options, you should look at the best private lender options. Similar to federal student loans, you will be required to pay back this money with interest after graduating or leaving school. In some cases, you may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate than you would get with federal loans, depending on your or your co-signer's credit history. But, keep in mind, you won't have all the same repayment options and government protections that federal aid offers.

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