Helping Women Pay for College

With headlines blaring about the rising cost of higher education, young women and their families must wonder about how to pay for college today. The reality is that while many colleges and universities come with expensive price tags, there are many ways to pay the bills and ancillary costs. Institutional financial aid, scholarships, grants, student loans, parent loans, work study jobs, and summer earnings all can play an important role in making college affordable.

This guide is designed to give women a deeper understanding of the costs of attending college, the types of aid available, and how to apply for aid and scholarships. In addition, there is helpful information on and links to various scholarship opportunities available to women today.

The True Cost of College

People often refer to "tuition" as the all-encompassing fee to attend college. The reality is that tuition is just one component of any college bill. There are various fees associated with attending most two- and four-year institutions. Scholarships and loans are available to cover many of those costs, including tuition, room, board, and fees. Those costs can vary considerably depending on whether you live on or off campus.

Students should consider other costs related to attendance, including the cost of books and supplies, travel expenses to and from school multiple times a year, and incidental funds for those late-night pizzas and coffeehouse visits. Below is some of the key terminology to understand regarding college costs.​

  • Tuition: The complete cost for academic work, including courses, laboratories, and seminars
  • Room: The cost of lodging. These costs often vary based on various housing plans. Dormitory rooms are generally less expensive than school-owned suites and apartments. Rooming policies vary, but many colleges have a minimum number of semesters, usually two or four when full-time students are required to live on campus. 

  • Board: The cost of meal plans. Like housing, there are often various options available, particularly for upperclassmen.

  • Fees: Additional costs will differ based on the school, but may include fees for student activities, athletics or technology.

  • Incidentals: There are significant additional costs associated with attending college. Books are not included with most college courses and need to be purchased separately, either at school-run bookstores or online. In addition, notebooks, computers or laptops, need to be factored into the total cost of college attendance.

  • Travel: Travel costs can vary based on how close you live to the college you attend. Most colleges have a winter break in mid-December to mid-January, a three- to five-day Thanksgiving break, a one- to two-week spring break, and a one- to three-day fall break. While students are usually allowed to remain in college housing during shorter breaks, dining halls may not be open.

Financial Aid 

Financial aid is an important way to finance a college education. Financial aid is offered mostly by the colleges and universities themselves, though federal and state governments and private organizations also offer resources for students and their families. Below is information on the types and sources of financial aid.

Scholarships are funds provided based usually on special abilities, whether academic, athletic, artistic, or talent, or due to a particular relationship or identity characteristic. Scholarships are funds that do not need to be paid back to the granting organization, whether it be the college or private organization. Scholarships can be of varying amounts, from full or partial tuition scholarships to those that cover a specific expense such as textbooks, housing or special educational opportunities. Some scholarships require maintaining a minimum GPA or pursuing a specific major or career path.

Grants like, scholarships do not need to be repaid. They come from a variety of sources, including governmental organizations, colleges or universities, or other organizations. Several grant programs, like some scholarships, are issued by the government or industries that are facing employee shortages and require grantees to work in a specific field or purse graduate study for a certain amount of time after graduation.

Loans unlike scholarships and grants, need to be repaid, usually with interest, to the borrowing institution, whether it be a financial institution, college or university, or federal or state government. Many loan programs, particularly federally subsidized loans, have lower interest rates and interest does not begin to accrue until after graduation. Educational loans usually do not need to be repaid while a student is enrolled, although the level of enrollment (e.g... part time or full time) varies.

Work Study Programs are offered at most colleges and have a wide variety of campus jobs available, from admissions tour guides, lab or hall monitors, tutors, library staff, office help, student phonathon callers, or dining hall servers. Some of these jobs are subsidized by federal funds and restricted to students receiving financial aid while others are open to all students.

Sources of Financial Aid 

There are four main sources of financial aid: the federal government, state governments, colleges and universities, and private organizations.

The U.S. Department of Education provides billions of dollars annually to students in the form of low-interest loans, grants, and work-study reimbursements. Students need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as the FAFSA, to apply for these programs. Financial aid is based on the student and her family's ability to pay, based on criteria such as income, investments, summer earnings, and savings.

Students are often eligible for state aid to pay for college. The funding criteria vary by state and are usually related to academic merit, talent, or chosen career path.

Most colleges and universities have funds available to assist students with college attendance, in the form of grants, school-administered loan programs, and scholarships. These aid awards are generally based on specific characteristics or talent.

Private Organizations
Civic, corporate, religious and cultural organizations are among the many that offer scholarships  and other programs that assist families with college expenses.

Scholarships -- A Deeper Look

Now that you understand the types and sources of financial aid let's take a closer look at scholarships themselves, including the types of funds and how recipients are selected.

Institutional Scholarships

Institutional scholarships are those administered by colleges and universities themselves. In some cases these scholarships are part of an institution's operating budget. In others, donors, usually alumni or parents, have established scholarships at the school to honor their experiences as a student, a beloved faculty member, or in memory of a loved one. Institutional scholarships usually come in one of three forms:

  • Need-based. These scholarships are usually offered based on completing the FAFSA or a school-specific application for aid. Amounts can vary from several hundred dollars to full tuition.
  • Merit-based. Students with exceptional academic, athletic or other skills may be eligible for merit-based scholarships. These scholarships are provided without factoring a student's ability to pay and are based solely on accomplishments.
  • Characteristic-basedOften donors to an institution want to see that students with the same experience or background have an opportunity to succeed at the school. While some of these scholarships have undergone increased scrutiny in recent years, they often offer unexpected funding opportunities. Characteristics may include academic background, socioeconomics, family background, a hobby, desired career path, or personal experience. Many institutions will send students a questionnaire asking them to identify characteristics that may be a scholarship match while in other cases there are supplemental applications required.

External Scholarships 

For students seeking scholarship funds, there are untold possibilities, many of which are listed below. Scholarships can come from a variety of unexpected sources. Some examples are:

  • Organizations - Local civic organizations like chambers of commerce, business alliances, and membership clubs (such as Rotary, Lions, Elks) may offer competitive scholarships. Often applicants for such scholarships need to complete an application, submit an essay, transcript or recommendations, or be interviewed by organization members.
  • Characteristic-based groups - Much like the institutional scholarships, many organizations want to support students with similar beliefs or traits in their academic pursuits. Such organizations can include religious organizations, cultural organizations, political groups, There are even scholarships for women who are 5'10" or taller and for left-handed women.
  • Academic achievements - Exceptional scores on standardized tests and placements in state, national and international competitions such as science and engineering fairs provide funds for high-placing individuals.

Federal Student Loans and Grants -- A Deeper Look

The Department of Education administers four federal student loan programs. The eligibility criteria, available funds, interest rates and terms vary. Federal student loans offer significant advantages to borrowers over private student loans. Federal student loans have low, fixed interest rates; cancelation for certain types of employment; income-based repayment plans; and deferment options, including for when a student pursues additional education.

Perkins Loans

  • Available: Undergraduate and graduate students. Based on financial need and the college's available funds
  • Amounts: Up to $5,500 (undergraduate), up to $8,000 (graduate and professional students). Total may not exceed $27,500 for undergraduates and $60,000 for graduate or professional students (including undergraduate amounts)
  • Lender: College or university

Direct Subsidized Loans (Stafford Loans)

  • Available: Undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need
  • Interest rate: For loans before July 1, 2016, 4.29 percent. Student is not charged interest during certain periods
  • Amounts: $3,500 to $5,500. Lifetime amounts vary
  • Lender: U.S. Department of Education

Direct Unsubsidized Loans (Stafford Loans)

  • Available: Undergraduate and graduate students. No financial need expectation
  • Interest rate: For loans before July 1, 2016: 4.29 percent (undergraduate students), 5.84 percent (graduate students). Student is responsible for interest during all periods
  • Amounts: $5,500 to $20,500, less any subsidized loans received. Lifetime amounts vary
  • Lender: U.S. Department of Education

Direct PLUS Loans

  • Available: Parents of dependent undergraduate students. Graduate or professional students. No financial need expectation. The student must be a dependent undergraduate of the parent taking out the loan. Borrower must not have negative credit history and is responsible for interest in all periods
  • Interest rate: For loans before July 1, 2016: 6.84 percent
  • Amounts: Maximum amount is cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received
  • Lender: U.S. Department of Education

Pell Grants

Available: Undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or professional degree

  • Eligibility: Based on financial need, cost of attendance, status (full- or part-time), plans to attend (full year or less)
  • Amounts: Up to $5,815 (2016-17 school year)

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

  • Available: Undergraduate students with exceptional financial need who have not earned a bachelor's or professional degree
  • Eligibility: Pell Grant recipients have first priority. Not all schools participate in this program
  • Amounts: Up to $4,000

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant

  • Available: Undergraduate, post-baccalaureate or graduate students taking coursework to become secondary or elementary teachers
  • Eligibility: Must attend a participating college, meet certain academic requirements, and agree to serve at least four years as a full-time teacher in a high-need field or with an agency that supports low-income students
  • Amounts: Up to $4,000

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

  • Available: Students whose parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died in service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11
  • Eligibility: Must be ineligible for Pell Grant
  • Amounts: Up to $5,311

Other Financing Resources 

There are several other resources for funding college expenses.

  • 529 Plans. A 529 plan is an education savings account run by a state or educational institution. These plans, named after the relevant IRS code section, are designed to allow families to set aside money to cover future educational costs. In most plans, you do not need to attend a school in the state managing the plan. Click here to find information about 529 plans in your state.
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account. These funds can be used to pay higher education as well as elementary and secondary education expenses. Income limits apply to contributors and the maximum total annual contributions cannot exceed $2,000 per student. contributions are not tax-deductible, but can accrue tax-free until distributed.
  • External Employment. Some students prefer not to work on campus and seek employment close to where they attend school. Most college towns have ample opportunities for part-time employment and some schools have relationships with local businesses. In addition, if you are employed by a chain in your home town, there may be an opportunity to transfer to another branch near your school's location.

Receiving a Financial Aid Package 

When you receive a financial aid package or award letter from a college or university, there are usually certain components. Understanding what these elements are is important when determining what your financial requirements are. Letters typically include the following:

  • Cost of Attendance. This usually includes the comprehensive fee as calculated by the school. Some letters will also break out estimated costs for books, supplies, travel and incidentals
  • Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount that you and your family is expected to contribute towards the Cost of Attendance
  • Financial Aid Awarded. The amount of aid being offered by the school, including institutional scholarships, grants and loans
  • Gap. Any amount of the Cost of Attendance not covered by the Expected Family Contribution and Financial Aid Awarded

Financial aid letters also usually include information on the academic term covered, the deadline for accepting the package, terms associated with any loans or scholarships, and any information that may still be needed.

Tax Advantages 

Paying for college is certainly a significant expense. There are several federal tax benefits available to those families paying educational expenses. There are both credits and deductions available.

  • American Opportunity Tax Credit. For qualified educational expenses in the first four years of higher education, the AOTC provides a $2,500 credit per qualified student. There are eligibility and income requirements.
  • Lifetime Learning Credit. For qualified tuition and educational expenses to pay for undergraduate, graduate or professional degrees. There is no limit to the number of years you can take the $2,000 credit. There are eligibility and income requirements.
  • Tuition and Fees Deductions. Qualified education expenses for yourself, a spouse or dependent may be deducted, reducing your income subject to tax by up to $4,000.
  • Student Loan Interest Deduction. Interest paid on student loans is generally deductible, depending on income limitations.

Applying for Financial Aid: The FAFSA

The federal government, most state programs, and most institutional aid programs, require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is an important step to take in nearly all aid application processes. Deadlines for completing the FAFSA vary. Most colleges and universities require them to be completed early in the year (February and March) while federal funds can be applied for between January 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, for the 2016-17 academic year.

The 10-page form can be completed online or in paper form. You and your parents will need to complete your 2015 income tax returns in order to complete a number of the FAFSA fields. The FAFSA contains sections on student and parental biographic information; student and parental academic information; and student and parental income information. Once submitted, school financial aid offices will use the form to determine the aid package you are offered. The FAFSA is a valuable tool for colleges and universities because it provides uniform information on student applicants and ensures compliance with regulations for school-administered federal loan programs. Some schools require additional information not included on the standard FAFSA form that need to be submitted as a supplement.

Finding Scholarships 

For young women considering scholarships there are a plethora of opportunities. We've gathered a few of them here for you to review.

Scholarships by field of study 


American Society of Women Accountants

​Sponsor: American Society of Women Accountants

Amount: Varies

Deadline: Varies ​

Based on need and scholastic aptitude. Research scholarships for women in doctoral programs are also available to ASWA members.

Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting Graduate Scholarships

Sponsor: Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting

Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Deadline: June 30​

Various scholarships available for graduate and postgraduate work, based on scholastic merit, service or volunteer work and financial need


Asian Women in Business Scholarship

Sponsor: Asian Women in Business

Amount: $2,500-$5,000

Deadline: October 1 ​

For women of Asian descent with demonstrated leadership or entrepreneurial experience who have completed at least a semester of post-secondary work

C200 Scholar Awards

Sponsor: The Committee of 200

Amount: Up to $10,000

Deadline: Spring​

For women pursuing an MBA degree at a school that hosts C200 Reachout sessions. Strong leadership and interest in entrepreneurship required

Forte Fellows Program

Sponsor: Forte Foundation

Amount: Varies

Deadline: June 1​

For students in MBA programs at participating schools. Most awards for full-time study

Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship

Sponsor: Zonta In​ternational

Amount: $1,000-$7,000​

Deadline: July 1​

For women enrolled in a business or business-related field living or studying in a Zonta district

The WIIT Scholarship Program

Sponsor: Women in International Trade

Amount: $1,500

Deadline: March 15 and July 15 ​

For women in undergraduate or graduate programs with a demonstrated passion for international business and related activities

Computer Science 

Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship

Sponsor: Google

Amount: Varies

Deadline: May 1​

For women in undergraduate and graduate studies who aspire to be leaders in computing and technology sectors. Based on academic achievement and leadership skills

Delphix Technology Scholarship for Women

Sponsor: Delphix Technology ​

Amount: $5,000

Deadline: November 15​

For women studying full-time as undergraduates or postgraduates seeking a degree in computer science, mathematics, information technology or electrical engineering

HP Helion Openstack Scholarship for Women

​Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard 

Amount: $10,000

Deadline: September 30​

For women in undergraduate or graduate programs in information systems or computer science. Recipients are asked to develop a project using Cloud Foundry or Openstack technology.

The National President’s Scholarship

Sponsor: The Stephen Bufton Memorial Education Fund

Amount: $10,000

Deadline: May 15​

For women in junior or senior year in computer science or computer information systems with a GPA of at least 3.0

UPS Scholarship for Female Students

​Sponsor: Institute of Industrial Engineers 

Amount: $4,000

Deadline: November 15​

For female undergraduate women studying engineering or technology and affiliated with Institute of Industrial Engineers

Women in Technology Scholarship

Sponsor: Visionary Integration ​Professionals

Amount: Up to $2,500

Deadline: March 9

For women at a two- or four-year institution studying computer science, information technology, management information systems or computer engineering


AASA Educational Administration Scholarship

Sponsor: The School Superintendents Association

Amount: $2,500

Deadline: September 30​

For female graduate students studying school administration who aspire to become a superintendent

Community Action Grant

Sponsor: American Association of University Women

Amount: $2,000-$10,000

Deadline: January 15​

For applicants demonstrating a commitment to furthering education and equality for women, with a specific interest in applicants focused on K-12 and community college education

Barbara Lotze Scholarships for Future Teachers

Sponsor: American Association of Physics Teachers

Amount: $2,000

Deadline: December 1​

For undergraduate women who want to teach at high school level and enrolled in physics teacher preparation coursework

KSTF Fellowship

Sponsor: Knowles Science Teaching Foundation

Amount: Up to $4,000

Deadline: November 1 ​

For women who want to teach science or mathematics at high school level

Teacher Education Scholarship

  • Sponsor: American Montessori Society
  • Amount: $1,000-$4,000
  • Deadline: May 1

For women currently or soon to be enrolled in an AMS-affiliated education program. Based on financial need, letters of recommendation and personal statement


Auxiliary Legacy Scholarship

Sponsor: National Society of Professional Engineers

Amount: $2,000

Deadline: March 1 ​

For female undergraduates in third year of study pursuing an ABET-accredited engineering degree. Based on GPA, extracurricular activities, recommendation's and essay

Anne Maureen Whitney Barrow Memorial Scholarship

Sponsor: Society of Women Engineers

Amount: $7,000, renewable for a maximum of five years

Deadline: May 15​

Open to women in undergraduate freshman, sophomore, junior or senior years in engineering programs

Buick Achievers Scholarship Program

Spo​nsor: The GM Foundation 

Amount: $25,000 per year up to four years

Deadline: February 27 ​

For high school seniors or undergraduates students enrolled full-time in engineering or technology program with an interest in automotive engineering or related industries

Engineering and Technical Science Achievement Scholarship

Sponsor: Alpha Omega Epsilon National Foundation

Amount: Varies

Deadline: February 15 ​

For women enrolled in an ABET-accredited undergraduate program studying engineering or technical science.

Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship

Sponsor: Microsoft Research

Amount: $15,000

Deadline: May 1​

For female graduate students in second year studying computer science, engineering, mathematics, or bioinformatics/information science. Applicants must be nominated by university or college

Ada I. Pressman Memorial Scholarship

Sponsor: Society of Women Engineers

Amount: $5,000, renewable for five years

Deadline: May 15​

For women studying pursuing engineering or engineering-related subjects at an ABET-accredited institution. Students in second, third or final years of undergraduate program and graduate students eligible


Bachelor’s in Nursing Scholarship

Sponsor: Oncology Nursing Society Foundation

Amount: $3,000-$5,000

Deadline: February 1 ​

For students in their final undergraduate year at an NLN- or CCNE-accredited school wanting to work in oncology

Career Mobility Scholarship

Sponsor: American Nephrology Nurses Association ​

Amount: Varies

Deadline: Varies ​

For undergraduate and graduate women who are members of ANNA

Future Care Scholarship

Sponsor: Tylenol

Amount: $500-$5000

Deadline: June 30​

For women seeking career in health care, with preference for those studying public health, health education, medicine, nursing or pharmacy

Graduate Nursing Scholarships

Sponsor: March of Dimes

Amount: $5,000​

Deadline: January 14​

For female registered nurses in a graduate degree program focused on maternal-child nursing and in an approved professional organization

Graduate Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Practice

Sponsor: American Caner Society

Amount: $10,000 per year, two years

deadline: February 1 ​

For female nursing students pursuing master’s degree in cancer nursing or a doctorate in nursing practice

HOSA Scholarship

Sponsor: HOSA-Future Health Professionals

Amount: Varies

Deadline: April 1​

For high school seniors or college students who are HOSA members studying health profession topics with priority for those in nursing programs

Legacy Scholarship in honor of Nina Bell Reddick

Sponsor: The Stephen Bufton Memorial Education Fund

Amount: $5,000

Deadline: May 15 ​

For women in freshman or sophomore year pursuing nursing degree with at least a 3.0 GPA

Nurse Corps Scholarship Program

Sponsor: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Amount: Covers all tuition, fees, costs and includes monthly stipend

Deadline: May 21​

For undergraduate and graduate women in nursing programs. In exchange for full funding, recipients agree to work in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for at least two years.

Physical and Life Sciences 

APS/IBM Research Internship

Sponsor: American Physical Society

Amount: Varies

Deadline: February 15​

For undergraduate women in first three years of undergraduate study majoring in biology, chemical engineering, chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering, materials science, mechanical engineering or physics

M. Hildred Blewett Fellowship

Sponsor: APS Physics

Amount: $45,000

Deadline: June 1 ​

For American women returning to physics after taking time off. Candidates should have completed some work towards a doctorate at time of application

Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program

Sponsor: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administraiton

Amount: Up to $42,000 annually

Deadline: April 1  

For women in graduate-level study and research in marine biology, maritime archeology or oceanography programs. Based on academic performance, letters or recommendation, research and need

The Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship

Sponsor: American Chemical Society

Amount: Minimum of $ 1,500

Deadline: May 1 ​

For undergraduate women in junior or senior year enrolled full-time in chemistry or chemistry-related program, and not intending to go to medical school

Selected Professions Fellowships

Sponsor: American Association of University Women

Amount: $5,000-$18,000

Deadline: January 10​

For women pursuing full-time study in an accredited institution with special consideration for those in areas where women are traditionally underrepresented, including science

WIFLE Annual Scholarship Program

Sponsor: Women in Federal Law Enforcement

Amount: Varies

Deadline: June 1 ​

For women with at least one year of study at an accredited institution intending to serve communities through law enforcement. Special consideration given to majors in chemistry, computer science, finance, physics, public administration and social sciences