There are billions of dollars awarded every year for grants and scholarships that target specific students based on ethnic, gender, religious and other clearly-defined backgrounds.
Businesses, community organizations, clubs, churches and universities recognize the value of educating a diverse population and have been increasing their financial support to open the door to college for just about everyone. Women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Lesbians are just a few of the minority groups that have scholarship funds set up specifically to help overcome the financial hurdles of student debt.
The challenge is to determine what characteristics or skills you have that distinguish you from classmates and start researching online to see if there is a scholarship or grant opportunity that asks for those qualifications.
Difference Between Scholarships and Grants
The terms “scholarships’’ and “grants’’ often are used interchangeably, but it’s wise for students and parents to understand the difference between the two.
Scholarships are generally based on merit. They are awarded by government entities, schools and private organizations to students with academic, athletic, music or some other specific talent.
Grants are generally based on financial need. The most common one is Pell Grants, a needs-based federal program that provided $28.2 billion to 6.5 million college students in the 2015-2016 academic year.
Funding for Pell Grants changes every year, but students could receive up to $5,920 for the academic year 2017-18.
While Pell Grants are the easiest and most common form of “free money,” there are thousands of other grants handed out by colleges, state governments, civic groups and religious organizations.
The key is knowing what specific skills, talents, characteristics or needs you have, then making sure to clearly articulate them so you stand out from the other candidates. This is no small job. Billions of dollars in scholarships or grants are available for women, minorities and other clearly defined groups.
Programs aimed at ethnic minorities are the most popular and financially rewarding student-specific scholarships. The qualifications typically require that you share the cultural or national heritage required and have some combination of merit achievement and financial need.
For example, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund is for students who are at least one-quarter Hispanic/Latino. The decision is based on merit and applicants must have a 3.0 or better GPA to qualify for awards between $500 and $5,000. Though financial need is not part of the selection process, it is taken into account when they determine how much money to provide a student.
The Blacks At Microsoft (BAM) scholarship is one of hundreds of opportunities that target African Americans. The BAM scholarship gives $5,000 to students of African descent who have an interest in technology. The scholarship is renewable for four years, bringing the value to $20,000. This award also serves as a recruiting tool for future Microsoft employees.
The Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) is the biggest supporter of scholarships for Asian American and Pacific Islander students. APIASF has 13 scholarship programs involving sponsors like Coca-Cola, Toyota and Federal Express, who have provided $80 million in grants since 2003.
Then there is the Ronald McDonald House Charities scholarship for students of African-American, Hispanic or Asian descent, who demonstrate financial need and academic achievement. RMHC has given out $62 million in grants in 35 years to qualified students.
More Student Specific Scholarships
There are thousands of other student specific grants and scholarship opportunities. For example, several organizations and foundations target single mothers, who haven’t finished their college degree. The P. E.O. Program for Continuing Education seeks women who have two years left to complete their degree and expect the degree to be the difference in gaining employment.
If you are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) community, you can turn to the Pride Foundation, which has more than 50 scholarships available to pursue a degree. Children of members of the LGBT community also are eligible.
Native Americans have a chance to tap into federal and state resources as well as private grants to help fund their college careers. Most of the government grants are specific to careers in professions that are underrepresented in the Native American community. The Indian Health Service Scholarships for Native Americans pursuing careers in the healthcare industry is a good example.
There are other scholarships that run the gamut of classifications, skills and characteristics.
Are you a vegetarian? The Vegetarian Resource Group gives out $20,000 a year in scholarship money to three students (one for $10,000, two for $5,000 each) who demonstrate a commitment to promoting a peaceful world through a vegetarian lifestyle.
There is even a scholarship for being a redhead or left-handed.
Online research can open the door for scholarships or grants that you never knew existed.
Two of the fastest-growing and popular areas for scholarships involve people with disabilities or religious affiliations.
In the workplace, women often are placed at a disadvantage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earned 82% on the dollar compared to man in 2016.
But according to NerdWallet, there were four times as many scholarships designed specifically for women in 2013 than those designed specifically for men.
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) offers more than 75 scholarships, sponsored by companies such as Bayer, Chrysler, Cisco and Caterpillar. More than $500,000 is available each year for women with entrepreneurial or leadership skills.
Popular funding sources for women’s scholarships include college and universities, government agencies, religious entities, minority advocacy groups, professional organizations and corporate sponsors.
Here are some examples of available scholarships, broken down by fields of study.
The Selected Professions Fellowships, sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), offers between $5,000 and $20,000 for women entering graduate or postgraduate degree STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
- The Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize, sponsored by the Association for Women in Mathematics, is awarded to undergraduate women who show promise in math. Letters of nomination from members of the math field are required.
- Microsoft provides one-year scholarships to graduate students working toward a PhD in computer science, electrical engineering or math. Winners can receive $15,000.
- Google sponsors the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for female computer science and computer engineering students in their final year of undergraduate study or beyond. Awards of $10,000 were given to candidates who maintained a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5.
- The Vanguard Women in Information Technology Scholarships, presented by one of the nation’s largest financial management firms, have accounted for scholarships of more than $250,000 to female IT students since 2004.
- And let’s not forget the really fun part of STEM. It’s a highly-specialized field, but check out Women Gamers scholarships if you have a hankering to develop computer games.
There are voluminous scholarships available for female sculptors, art history majors, weavers, the visual arts and other creative fields.
- Kentucky Foundation for Women has funding for feminist artists and organizations through its Art Enrichment program. The mission is promoting social change and fostering positive outcomes from women in the arts.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has government sponsored scholarship funds for women entering health care fields.
Here’s a way to pinpoint scholarships that serve a precise educational interest. You could gain an advantage by joining an organization and becoming active in its local chapter.
- Women Chefs and Restaurateurs awards dozens of internships and scholarships for women who want to become chefs or work in the food industry.
- The American Association of Professional Women offers scholarships and grants to help with its mission of advocating for equality through education, research and philanthropy.
- For women interested in the accounting profession, the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting offers scholarships that recognize commitment to the profession through prior course work or employment experience.
- Ranchers, farmers and close relatives can pursue scholarships from American Agri-Women, a coalition of women’s agricultural organizations.
Minority and International Women
Opportunities abound for black and Hispanic women, groups that have long been classified as academically disadvantaged.
- The Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund, open to international women born before 1970, offers scholarships for women in developing countries.
- The American Association of University Women’s Selected Professions for African American Women offers between $5,000 to $12,000 for graduate or post-graduate applicants who study business, law or medicine.
- The American Geosciences Institute administers the Minority Participation Program Geoscience Student Scholarship. It’s meant to develop greater minority representation in geoscience education.
- The Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship, sponsored by Zonta International, presents 12 international scholarships of $5,000 to business management students who want to pursue leadership roles in business.
- For those interested in graphic arts, painting, furniture design, new media, photography or other creative modes of expression, WorldStudio.org, a non-profit international arts organization, has WorldStudio AIGA Scholarships to promote education among minority and disadvantaged students.
- The Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology goes to African American undergraduates studying technology at historically black colleges and universities.
Returning to College/Career Advancement
For women, career paths can be interrupted by family and child rearing, so a return to college — or a resumption of a career that needs additional schooling — can be challenging for the budget. Here’s some help.
- Talbot’s Women’s Scholarships, honoring the company’s founder Nancy Talbot, offers $10,000 scholarships and a single $30,000 memorial award for women based on their academic record, leadership, participation in community activities, work experience and career goals.
- The Jeanette Rankin Scholarship Fund honors the first women elected to the U.S. Congress. Rankin dedicated a portion of her estate to help disadvantaged women. The fund, which has provided more than $1-million since 1978, is earmarked for low income women over age 35. The idea is to break the cycle of poverty by applying the funds to undergraduate degree and vocational school expenses.
- The Girlfriend Factor, a California non-profit organization that advances educational and occupational development goals of West Coast women, offer Go Girl scholarships. Applicants must demonstrate how their educational paths lead to specific career advancement outcomes.
Yes, grade-point averages, test scores and personal essays still matter when you’re looking for scholarship money for college, but did you know there are faith-based scholarship opportunities available for every religious affiliation (even atheists)?
Were you aware that financial aid is potentially offered to students who use a wheelchair, are afflicted with ADHD or suffer from speech disorders such as stuttering?
Have you heard the AARP sponsors a grant for women over 50?
If you haven’t found a scholarship or grant that applies to your gender, ethnic background or sexual orientation, you might not be searching thoroughly enough.
For women, minorities and others with clearly defined backgrounds, the financial doors to a college education have never been more open and that’s critical when you consider that student loan debt has skyrocketed to $1.43-billion in 2017.
Women, particularly, can use the funding. They comprise 57% of the students that attend American colleges and universities. According to 2016 data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, female students receive an average of $15,360 in federal and non-federal aid per academic year. On average, that’s $350 less than male counterparts.
Meanwhile, a 2015 study by market research firm ORC International reported that 42% of women have accumulated more than $30,000 in student loan debt, compared to just 27% of men with the same figure.
It spotlights the importance of seeking out and earning scholarships and grants, sometimes known as “gift aid’’ or “free money”, meaning it doesn’t need to be paid back.
There is $122.7-billion available in grants and scholarships to help pay for college in 2016.
People with disabilities are claiming more of the share in all student populations. In 1990, there were 26% of people with disabilities who enrolled in post-secondary education. By 2005, that number had increased to 46%.
In 2016, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 63% of all students with disabilities were enrolled in post-secondary education two years after high school (compared to 72% of all students without disabilities).
Across the board, there was increased post-secondary enrollment by students with all forms of disabilities, including those with a learning disability (47.3% enrolled), speech disorder (54.6%), hearing disability (71.8%), visual impairment (77.8%), autism (57.5%) or orthopedic disability (53.7%).
In all, 7% of all post-secondary students have limited mobility while 11% have a chronic illness or other physical impairment.
Accordingly, there are many scholarship opportunities for the disabled population. A valuable resource is the website disability.org, which covers plenty of concerns for disabled students.
Here are some scholarship options in various categories:
Attention Deficit Disorder
- The Michael Yasick ADHD Scholarship ($4,400 value) recognizes undergraduate students diagnosed with ADHD. It includes a year of ADHD coaching services.
- The Rise Scholarship Foundation, Inc., recognizes five students ($2,500 each) diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and an additional learning disability. It’s designed to help students who learn differently than traditional methods. Applicants must have a 2.5 GPA or higher.
- Autism Delaware ($1,000), specifically designed for autistic adults, requires a cover letter that describes why the applicant is pursuing a degree and their employment plans after graduation.
- The Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship ($1,000), named for a 14-year-old autistic boy who wandered away from school and didn’t make it home alive, goes to high-achieving autistic students.
- The Kelly Law Team Autism Scholarship ($1,000) requires an inspirational essay that explains why the scholarship will benefit the applicant. The stories are placed on the Kelly Law Team website and winners are selected based on which story receives the most attention.
- The Organization for Autism Research ($3,000) includes two non-renewable scholarships for autistic students working toward certification or accreditation in a particular field.
- The 1-800 Wheelchair Scholarship ($500), presented to two students, was designed to raise awareness of mobility issues on college campuses.
- The AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability ($1,000) goes to college juniors with diagnosed disabilities who are pursuing degrees related to public health, health promotion, disability studies, disability research, rehabilitation engineering and audiology.
- The American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation ($5,000) offers scholarships for disabled graduate students who are enrolled in communication sciences.
- The Baer Reintegration Scholarship goes to students diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Students must be currently receiving treatment for the disease. The scholarship is based on academic success, an essay and references.
- The Business Plan Scholarship ($1,000) requires applicants to write an essay about the process of writing a business plan. Essays are judged by the co-founder of Fit Small Business on originality, writing style and quality of ideas.
- The Google Lime Scholarship for Students with Disabilities ($10,000 in U.S., $5,000 in Canada) was designed by Google for students with disabilities who require long-term or recurring support that impacts one or more major activities considered to be daily functions.
- The Injury Lawyer News Annual Disability Scholarship ($1,000) goes to pre-law or law students with a medically documented disability.
- The Microsoft DisAbility Scholarship ($5,000) is awarded to a student with financial need who majors in engineering, computer science, computer information systems, law, business or a related field.
- The Science Graduate Student Grant Fund ($1,000) goes to graduate and professional students who are pursuing degrees in science, engineering, mathematics, technology and pre-medical/dental areas.
- The AG Bell College Scholarship Program is merit-based and goes to full-time students with pre-lingual bilateral hearing loss that is moderately severe to profound.
- The Anders Tjellstrom Scholarship ($2,000 per year) is open to Baha System recipients. Students must maintain a 2.5 GRP to keep the scholarship.
- The Graeme Clark Scholarship ($2,000) goes to individuals who have received a Nucleus Cochlear Implant.
- The Linda Cowden Memorial Scholarship ($1,000), named for an administrative assistant and liaison to deaf clubs for 10 years, goes to a Tennessee student who is deaf or hard of hearing.
- The Sertoma Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf ($1,000) is for students with a minimum 40dB bilateral hearing loss in both ears.
Learning and Cognitive Disabilities
- The Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship ($2,500) is a one-time award to a high-school senior headed to a two-year community college to take a vocational tech program or specialized program for students with learning disabilities.
- The Allina Health Scholarship for People with Disabilities ($1,000) assists people who have a sensory impairment or physical disability. Applicants must identify how the award would support their career goals.
- The Anne Ford Scholarship ($10,000 or $2,500 per year over four years) goes to graduating seniors who will attend a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Applicants must demonstrate financial need while being involved in school and community activities.
- The P. Buckley Moss Endowed Scholarship ($1,000) goes to high school seniors interested in a visual arts career. Applicants must show a certified language-related learning difference and an artistic talent.
- The AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship ($2,500) goes to a student who used a manual wheelchair, power wheelchair or mobility scooter. Applicants must have one year of college experience and a 3.0 GPA.
- The Craig H. Nielsen Scholarship Fund for Students with Disabilities ($7,000) provides funds for students with spinal cord injuries. Preference is giving to business-related majors or those studying law.
- The Ethel Louise Armstrong Foundation Scholarship ($500 to $2,000) goes to female graduate students with physical disabilities.
- Michigan Cerebral Palsy Attorneys ($1,500) have designed a scholarship that increases awareness of cerebral palsy and celebrates the achievements of those affected by it. Students must have a 3.0 GPA and write an essay that describes how cerebral palsy affects their lives.
- The National Stuttering Association Scholarship goes to students with a speech disorder who demonstrate financial need. Applicants must submit an essay that describes their situation and how much financial assistance they need.
- The American Foundation for the Blind ($500 to $2,500) has annual scholarships for students who are legally blind. It requires proof of blindness, an essay and two letters of recommendation.
- The Lighthouse Guild Scholarships ($10,000) are merit-based. Applicants must submit proof of legal blindness, two personal statements and three letters of recommendation.
- The Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards ($1,000 to $6,000) is for a legally blind student who has been registered as a Learning Ally for at least a year.
- The National Federation of the Blind ($3,000 to $12,000) offers more than 30 merit-based scholarships through the National Federation of the Blind. Students must attend the NFB national convention.
Religious organizations are known for their charity, community involvement and catering to those in need. Most people have attended church-sponsored events such as carnivals, concerts, benefit dinners and raffles. Many middle school and high school students go to religion classes, volunteer with children, participate in youth groups, sing in choirs, attend services or go to a faith-based high school.
In turn, religious scholarships help individuals of varying religious beliefs pay for college. Students can be rewarded for involvement with faith-related activities, pursuing religious-affiliated careers or ministry work or even simply belonging to the church.
Here are some religious scholarship options (if you don’t see one that applies, conduct a free scholarship search by logging onto scholarships.com and indicating your religion in the profile):
- The Aziz Jamaluddin Scholarship ($4,000) supports the education of Muslims and annually chooses five students who are studying journalism and political science.
- The American Atheists Chinn Scholarships ($500) recognize LGBT Atheist Activism, although applicants aren’t required to be member of the LGBT community.
- The American Atheists O’Hair Award ($1,000) goes to an atheist student attending a college or university. It is presented annually at the American Atheists National Convention.
- The American Baptist Financial Aid Program ($3,000) supports college students, graduate students and seminarians who have been active members of an American Baptist church for at least one year.
- The ARFORA Undergraduate Scholarship for Women ($1,000) goes to female students who are members of a parish in the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America.
- The Baptist Life Scholarships ($1,000) offers annual scholarships to full-time students who are insured with Baptist Life Association or one of its affiliates.
- The Beta Sigma Psi Martin Luther Scholarship ($2,000), offered by the Beta Sigma Psi National Lutheran Fraternity, requires a phone interview with the scholarship committee.
- The Catholic Financial Life College Scholarship ($1,000) goes to a student financial member of Catholic Financial Life as the primary insured person for at least one continuous year while performing 10 community service hours.
- The Church of the Brethren Nursing Scholarships ($2,000) goes to church members who are enrolled in an LPN, RN or nursing graduate program.
- The David Pohl Scholarship, established by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA), supports the intellectual, spiritual and professional development of individuals studying for the Unitarian Universalist ministry.
- The Disciples Home Missions Scholarships, funded by gifts from individuals, families and congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada, are given to persons preparing for ministry in the church.
- The Earlham College Quaker Fellows Scholarship ($2,000) is based on Quaker faith and practice, a program that engages the whole person and prepares students to be agents of change in the world. It’s designed for students who want to serve as leaders in their communities while developing the core values of spirituality, community and leadership.
- The FEREP Graduate Scholarship Program ($40,000) is awarded to students who are dedicated to working in the Jewish community.
- The FFRF Student Scholarship Essay Contests ($3,000) is sponsored by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. High school seniors write essays after selection from two topics: “The challenges of growing up a freethinker’’ or “Why Boys Scouts of America should welcome atheists and nonbelievers.’’
- The FTE Fellowships for Doctoral Students of African Descent offers support for doctoral students (of African descent) in religion, theological studies or biblical studies. Similar scholarships for students of Latino, Latina and Asian descent.
- The Helga Henry Scholarship ($2,500) goes to master’s-level women students who are pursuing a theological education. Leadership potential is a strong criteria.
- The Italian Catholic Federation First Year Scholarship ($1,000), which has awarded more than $2-million in scholarships to more than 6,000 high school students, is offered to Catholic high school students who are Roman Catholic and of Italian descent.
- The Jewish Community Center North American Graduate Scholarship ($10,000) goes to students pursuing a master’s degree that will enhance professional careers in the JCC movement.
- The John W. McDevitt (Fourth Degree) Scholarships ($1,500) are given to 36 freshmen students at a Catholic college or universities who are members in good standing of the Knights of Columbus or the wife, widow, son or daughter of a member.
- Khyentse Foundation Buddhist Studies Scholarships ($3,000) are offered to Buddhist scholarships who want to study the Dharma.
- Leonard M. Perryman Communications Scholarship for Racial Ethnic Minority Students ($2,500) goes to United Methodist undergraduates who are pursuing a career in religious journalism.
- The Mary E. Bivins Foundation Scholarships ($3,500) go to students who major in a field of preparation to preach the Christian religion.
- The National Presbyterian College Scholarship ($1,500), created with the Presbyterian Church USA’s related colleges and universities, assists Presbyterian students attending Presbyterian-related schools.
- The Stoody-West Graduate Fellowship ($6,000) goes to a United Methodist student who wants to pursue a career in religious journalism.
- The Hindu Temple Educational Scholarship Program ($1,000) goes to senior students from the Hindu Temple membership families.
- The Martha and Robert Atherton Ministerial Scholarship goes to ministerial students in their second or third year of seminary who already have proven their capabilities. It’s awarded to individuals who respect hard work as a foundation of a full life, while appreciating the freedom, political system and philosophical underpinnings of our country.