Low Wage Workers Essay Scholarships

Attending college and completing a degree are important academic goals for any student. Unfortunately, there is a pronounced racial gap in enrollment rates at top colleges and universities around the country. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that fewer than 65% of African American high school students attend college, compared to 70% of white students.

Affordability is a concern for all college-bound students, including African Americans. Fortunately, a number of scholarships and financial aid opportunities are earmarked specifically for their demographic. Several organizations offer even more specific aid opportunities, such as scholarships for African American women.

Unique Challenges

According to a report from Demos, African American students borrow money more often to complete their bachelor’s degree at a public college than whites. Around 84% of African American graduates used Pell Grants to finance their education and only 60% of white students did the same. Additionally, nearly one in four black borrowers drops out of college, leaving them both in debt and without a degree. Obtaining financial aid can also be challenging. According to a study in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, whites are more likely to receive merit-based scholarships, even after accounting for different enrollment rates between the demographics. These statistics underline the importance of African American scholarships. These awards can help offset the cost of a college education, and leave students less dependent on loans. They also offer African Americans a unique opportunity to pursue financial aid without any strings attached, and without any racial biases favoring another demographic, intentionally or otherwise.

Around 84% of African American graduates used Pell Grants to finance their education and graduated with debt.

Since many African American students are also first-generation college students — a report by Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy reveals that 32% of undergraduates are the first member of their family to attend school — they may feel more pressure to succeed academically and complete their degree in four years or less. Between the financial strain and the added pressure, many students drop out: three out of five first-generation college students do not complete a degree or obtain a credential within six years. Part of the problem is again financial: many first-generation students come from poor families and must rely on loans to fund school, placing them in seemingly-insurmountable debt with each passing year.


A scholarship is a monetary gift for students to use for funding their postsecondary education. Scholarships do not need to be paid back, making them a desirable alternative to student loans. Scholarships may be used to pay for education-related costs including tuition, books, and other course materials. Some scholarships may also be used to cover food, room-and-board, laundry, and day-to-day expenses.

Thousands of different scholarships are available. Merit-based scholarships are typically given to students with high GPAs or an extensive record of community service. Other scholarships may be allotted to certain groups of people, including women or minority students. There are also scholarship options for students who demonstrate financial need. Nonprofits and organizations that support the African American community, some colleges and universities, and even some major employers offer scholarships exclusively for African Americans and minorities.

In order to qualify for most scholarships, students must first complete an application. While the nature of these applications will vary by award, most will include the following general criteria:

External Scholarship Resources

Students who are unfamiliar with scholarship applications should seek advice from educational experts. Here are a few online resources for scholarship applicants to peruse:

How to Apply for a Scholarship
More tips on how to apply for a scholarship from The College Board.

How to Apply for Scholarships
Tips for getting organized and using scholarship search tools to find the right scholarship for you, provided by Sallie Mae.

Top Ten Scholarship Tips
Tips for perfecting the scholarship application process, including advice on people to reach out to.

5 Tips for Winning Scholarships
Tips for finding scholarships and screening available scholarships to find the most worthwhile and effective match for your interests and strengths.

Scholarships for African American Students

The Jackie Robinson Foundation

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Who’s Eligible? The Jackie Robinson Foundation provides resources and scholarships for underserved minority high school seniors who plan to attend an accredited four-year institution in the United States.
Award amount: $30,000 for four years
Deadline: February 1

EMPOWER Scholarship Award

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Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to medical rehabilitation students. It is administered by the Courage Center and funded through the David M. Hersey Endowment Fund. Applicants must show interest in the field and complete at least 200 hours of career-related volunteer service to be eligible for this scholarship.
Award amount: $1,500
Deadline: April 30

Trustee Diversity Scholarship - Rice University

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Who’s Eligible? African American and other minority students at Rice can apply for this scholarship, which covers four years of tuition.
Award amount: $25,500 to $27,000 for up to four years
Deadline: Varies

Claver Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? Offered to high-achieving students at Loyola-Maryland, these scholarships provide financial assistance to African-American and other minority students. Only entering freshmen are eligible for this scholarship.
Award amount: Up to $26,000
Deadline: Varies

George Washington Carver Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? This award is intended for freshman African American and minority students at Simpson College.
Award amount: Varies, with some awards $10,000 or higher
Deadline: May 30

American Bus Association (ABA) Diversity Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? This scholarship supports underrepresented groups, including African Americans, pursuing careers in management and operations in the transportation, travel, and tourism industry.
Award amount: $5,000
Deadline: April 6

ACS Scholars Program

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Who’s Eligible? These scholarships are intended for African Americans and minorities studying in chemistry and chemistry-related fields. Qualified students must demonstrative high academic achievement in science subjects and be planning a career in chemical sciences.
Award amount: $5,000
Deadline: March 1

African American Network of the Carolinas Scholarship Fund

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Who’s Eligible? The African American Network is a Duke Energy employee resource group and provides scholarships to college-bound students from North and South Carolina pursuing degrees in engineering, math, science, computer science, accounting, finance, or business administration.
Award amount: $2,000
Deadline: March 2

AMS Minority Scholarships

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Who’s Eligible? Underrepresented student populations are eligible for this award through the American Meteorological Society. The AMS provides scholarships through donations made by members of the AMS Giving Program. These are two-year scholarships distributed once per year.
Award amount: $6,000 ($3,000 each for freshman and sophomore years)
Deadline: February 2

Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship Program

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Who’s Eligible? Brown and Caldwell supports diversity in the workplace and provides a minority scholarship program for African American students and other underrepresented student populations in environmental engineering.
Award amount: $5,000
Deadline: Varies

Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship Program

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Who’s Eligible? Xerox strives to promote diversity in its workplace and awards up to $10,000 to qualified minorities enrolled in a technical degree program at the undergraduate level or above. Applicants can submit their information online along with an electronic version of their resume.
Award amount: $1,000 to $10,000
Deadline: September 30

Ron Brown Scholar Program

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Who’s Eligible? Intended for African American high school seniors, this program rewards applicants with a record of academic excellence, exceptional leadership potential, and active community members with a demonstrable financial need.
Award amount: $40,000 ($10,000 for four years of college)
Deadline: November 1 (early application deadline); January 9 (final deadline)

Scholarships for African American Women

The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? The NANBPWC awards the National Scholarship to a female African American graduating high school senior with a 3.0 GPA or higher. An essay is required.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: March 1

Formation Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? Created by Beyoncé to commemorate the one-year anniversary of her LEMONADE album, this award supports female students studying creative arts, music, literature or African American studies. The scholarship is available through four participating institutions: Berklee College of Music, Parsons School of Design, Howard University and Spelman College.
Award amount: $25,000 per recipient (one recipient per school)
Deadline: Varies by institution

Dr. Arnita Young Boswell Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to African American students currently enrolled at an accredited college or university. Applicants must provide three letters of recommendation and an essay demonstrating their social commitment and involvement within the African American community.
Award amount: $1,000
Deadline: March 1

Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier 'Sister to Sister' Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? This award is reserved for African American female students who are at least 21 years old and returning to college after their education was interrupted by ‘family responsibilities or other personal demands.’ Applicants must be currently attending or accepted to a college or university.
Award amount: $500
Deadline: March 1

STEM Scholarships for African American Students

National Society of Black Engineers

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Who’s Eligible? The NSBE offers several private and corporate-sponsored scholarships and awards for black engineering students. Applicants must be active NSBE members and are required to submit transcripts to the main office before the due date. More than $500,000 in awards and scholarships are available each year.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: December 22 (fall deadline); February 28 and April 27 (spring deadlines)

NACME Scholars Block Grant Program

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Who’s Eligible? This program provides minority college scholarships to eligible students as a lump sum grant. Students must demonstrate academic excellence and enroll in an engineering program at a partner university.
Award amount: $12,500 for up to five years
Deadline: Varies

Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) Program

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Who’s Eligible? This program was developed specifically to encourage diversity in atmospheric sciences. Black students interested in STEM careers may consider a career in this field and be eligible for an award after completing at least two years of college.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: Varies

Morris A. Esmiol, Jr. Scholarship in Engineering in UCS

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Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is funded by The Sachs Foundation and is designed specifically for African American undergraduate students pursuing a career in engineering. Applicants must be attending or have been admitted to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs College of Engineering and Applied Science Program.
Award amount: $6,000 per year
Deadline: March 15

ESA Foundation Computer & Video Game Scholarship Program

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Who’s Eligible? Women or minority students pursuing computer and video game art degrees are qualified for this award. High school seniors interested in the field are also eligible.
Award amount: $3,000
Deadline: May 4

Scholarships for First Generation African American Students

RMHC® African American Future Achievers Scholarship Program

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Who’s Eligible? Eligible students are graduating high school seniors with at least one African American parent who live within the boundaries of a participating Ronald McDonald House Charity Chapter. Awards are granted based on academic achievement, financial need, and community participation.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: January 18

Bay Area Minority Law Student Scholarship Program

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Who’s Eligible? Aspiring black lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area are eligible. Applicants must be a current or incoming law student at an accredited law school in San Francisco.
Award amount: $10,000 per year
Deadline: April 20

Colorado Christian University World Changers Scholarship

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Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to minority students whose parents did not attend college or obtain a Christian college degree. It provides financial support for minority students, including African American students, as well as leadership development activities and personal mentoring.
Award amount: Full tuition (up to eight semesters)
Deadline: Varies

Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program

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Who’s Eligible? This program is open to underrepresented, low-income first generation students interested in attending college and studying one of the following fields: transportation management, math, science, engineeering, architecture, environmental design, pre-med, psychology or Spanish language/literature. The scholarship is provided by a family-owned trucking company located in California.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: March 14


In most cases, grants are awarded to further an organization’s research efforts or to support a student that may have a vested interest in the organization itself. Grant recipients are not always limited to students and are not awarded based on need or merit. The U.S. Department of Education offers discretionary grants, formula grants, and student loans or grants, such as the Pell grant. Like scholarships, they do not need to be repaid.

Grants for African American Students

Much like scholarships, grants are monetary gifts for students to use for tuition, course fees, and living expenses while enrolled in a college program. Grants are usually need-based, and in some cases the recipient may be required to pay back unused funds upon graduation.

AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students

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Who’s Eligible? As part of its diversity initiative to increase representation of ethnically diverse CPA professors, the American Institute of CPAs provides scholarships and fellowship opportunities for minority doctoral students. Eligible students must have applied to a doctoral program and have at least three years of full-time experience in the field.
Award amount: $12,000 awarded annually
Deadline: May 15

Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs

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Who’s Eligible? The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine offers this fellowship to underrepresented students and provides awards for approximately 60 predoctoral students annually. These support recipients for three years while they complete their degree.
Award amount: $24,000 per year
Deadline: January 9

Carl Albert Rouse Undergraduate Research Fellowship

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Who’s Eligible? Offered by the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), this fellowship is designed specifically for black physicists who will be conducting research with the LIGO Laboratory. It is awarded annually to undergraduates.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: Varies

Lydia Donaldson Tutt-Jones Memorial Research Grant

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Who’s Eligible? These grants are intended for graduate students and professionals dedicated to researching African American success in education. Grant applications must include six sets of materials.
Award amount: $5,000
Deadline: June 1

Grades and Transcripts – Most scholarships (merit- and non-merit-based) require a minimum GPA for consideration; this minimum is usually 2.5 or higher. Additionally, some impose minimum scores on the SAT, ACT, or other college admissions tests.

Essay – Many scholarships require applicants to complete an original written testimonial explaining why they deserve the award.

Letters of Recommendation – A scholarship application may ask for letters of recommendation from teachers, school counselors, former employers, and other people who have interacted with the student in an educational or professional environment. These letters should not come from friends, relatives, or family acquaintances.

College Information – Many scholarships will only award money to applicants who have enrolled or plan to enroll in an accredited postsecondary institution within the following year. Some are only allotted to students who plan to pursue certain fields of study.

Other Financial Aid – For needs-based scholarships, applicants may need to prove they are not receiving federal financial aid, additional scholarships, grants, or other forms of monetary support.

Tips and Tricks

Students have plenty on their plate during their last two years of high school, but they shouldn’t neglect applying for scholarships. Below are a few useful tips for students sifting through a variety of scholarship opportunities:

Outline Application Priorities
All scholarships have different eligibility criteria and requirements. Some ask for an essay on a particular topic while others require letters of recommendation. It’s important for students to adhere to all requirements; submissions that ignore instructions will be discarded.

Create a Checklist with Due Dates
Make a checklist of to-do items for each scholarship, recording submission deadlines and specific instructions. Regardless of how many scholarships you are applying for, breaking down the applications into specific tasks can help you keep everything on track.

Make Time for the Essay
When a scholarship-granting organization asks for an essay, they want applicants to take their time reviewing the question and articulating an answer. It’s important that students conduct the necessary research, and to write, edit, and proofread the essay before submitting it.

Follow Instructions to the Letter
This one speaks for itself: applications that do not follow instructions will be discarded, so be sure to provide whatever information and materials the award requests.

Make Copies Of All Submissions
Students should make copies of all materials they submit, in the event that the organization loses all or part of your application. Submitting applications early is advisable, in case your submission is returned or gets lost in the mail.


Federal Pell Grants
Pell grants are federal need-based grants designed to support low-income students. These grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Grants from State Governments
Individual states may award state grants for local residents. These are typically awarded by institutions, such as the state’s Department of Education, state Department of Grants Program, and other non-profit organizations.

Private Grants
Private foundations, community organizations, and individuals may award grants to support students. They are also awarded to those seeking a research grant that would benefit the organization.

Other Ways to Save

Fee Waivers for Entrance Exams

Low-income high school students who are applying for the SAT and ACT exam can pursue a fee waiver. Eligibility criteria includes enrollment or eligibility to participate in the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRPL) and meeting certain income eligibility requirements.

Apply for Early Admission

Students who already know which school they would automatically go to if they were accepted can apply early so they can get an answer before they start applying (and paying application fees) to other schools.

Employer Tuition Reimbursement

Through an employer tuition reimbursement program, employees of a participating corporation or organization may take college courses that are paid for by their employer. Employers may pay up to $5,250 in tax-free educational assistance per student per year. While these funds may be awarded to students who are non-degree-seeking, they can only be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment as related to direct education costs.

Use A Common App

Hundreds of colleges and universities allow students to submit an application to several colleges at once using a single, centralized application submission platform. Students only need to pay a one-time application fee to participate, which can save them hundreds of dollars on application fees and time spent submitting applications.

Additional Resources for African American Students

  • United Negro College Fund (UNCF): The country’s largest minority education organization awards scholarships and internships for low-income and moderate-income students at more than 1,100 colleges throughout the U.S.
  • Black Excel: Provides a comprehensive list of scholarships for African Americans and minorities, including black women.
  • HBCU Network: HBCU Network provides resources for students at HBCUs including a comprehensive listing of HBCUs in the United States, events, and career information for graduates or internship seekers.
  • Black Career Network: Job board for African American graduates or those seeking internship opportunities while in school.

Additional Resources for First Generation Students

  • First In the Family: This comprehensive site features planning checklists, links, videos, and books for first-generation students seeking advice.
  • ImFirst.org: Students can join this online community to get support and find resources to plan their college career as a first-generation student.
  • FirstGen Fellows: Provides information about community, nonprofit, and other programs across the country that support low income and first-generation students.

In the twenty-first century, a college degree or vocational training beyond high school are necessary tools to obtain a well paying job. The days when a person graduated from high school, entered the workforce, and stayed with the same company until he or she retired are over. However, the cost of college tuition and books is prohibitive for many people in low income households who wish to better themselves by furthering their education. For low income women, college may be out of reach for them. Many low income women are single mothers who cannot afford to lose their income while attending school. There is another group of low-income women who were in the workforce for years, but because of corporate downsizing and manufacturing jobs moving overseas, they must learn new skills to find employment.

Many colleges and universities wish to achieve a diverse student body. They believe that a diverse student body and exposure to other points of view helps to create a well-rounded student. Other organizations and foundations, as well as the Federal government, wish to aid in assisting those who have the desire to earn a degree but may need help in achieving their goals.

Grants and scholarships are monetary awards given to students who meet certain criteria. These awards do not have to be paid back when the student finishes school. In an effort to encourage non-traditional students, minorities, or people who are pursuing certain majors, foundations will offer scholarships and grants to help offset the burden of tuition.

General Scholarships and Grants

These types of scholarships and grants can be awarded to anyone who meets the income requirements.

Federal Pell Grants

The most widely available form of financial aid is the Federal Pell Grant. Pell Grants are available to students who are pursuing an undergraduate degree. The amount of a Pell Grant is based upon these criteria: financial need, cost of tuition, and full or part-time status. The maximum amount that can be awarded is $5,500.

Any student whose parent or guardian died while serving in either the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts after September 11, 2001 automatically receive the maximum amount. However, the student must be less than 24 years of age to qualify.

To apply, visit FAFSA on the Web.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

For those students with exceptional financial need, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is available. A student must first qualify for a Pell Grant and have the lowest expected family contribution before they can qualify for a FSEOG. Awards are based upon need. Awards range from $100 to $4000.

For more information visit Ed.gov

Unmet Needs Scholarship

The Sallie Mae Fund offers an Unmet Needs Scholarship program. The purpose of this scholarship is to help low-income students help cover the cost of tuition not met by other scholarships or financial aid packages. A student must be enrolled in a fulltime undergraduate program through an approved, accredited institution to qualify for this scholarship. The student must have a minimum grade point average of 2.5 and be a US citizen or permanent resident. The program is available to families with a combined income of $30,000 or less. The amount awarded is based on need, but the student must have at least $1000 of tuition costs that are unmet.

Grants and Scholarships based upon Areas of Study

The following scholarships and grants are not available to just anyone. They are available to those who meet unique requirements. Requirements range from a specific area of study to membership in an organization.

Horizons Scholarship

The Women in Defense (WID) National Security Organization is the provider of the Horizons Scholarship. The funds are awarded to women who are pursuing careers related to defense or national security. In order to qualify for this scholarship, the applicant must be a woman, demonstrate financial need, attend an accredited college or university, carry a GPA of at least 3.25, and be a United States citizen. They must also be a graduate student or an undergraduate with a minimum of 60 credits.

Majors that meet the career criteria include economics, political science, engineering, government relations, computer science, physics, military history, and mathematics. A law or business major that relate to national security is acceptable.

Applicants must also provide transcripts to show their grade point average. They must also write an essay and provide two letters of recommendation.

To download an application, visit NDIA.org

Society of Women Engineers Scholarships

The Society of Women Engineers website offers a list of scholarships to female students who are studying engineering. Criteria vary between each scholarship, but there are a number that have a preference for underrepresented groups. To apply, visit the Society of Women Engineers scholarship application page to create an account.

Grants or Scholarships Based upon Student’s Age

Not all low income students are fresh out of high school. Many of these women have been in the workforce and wish to return to school for job retraining or work towards a career change. Others have finished raising their families and wish to return to school. Older women who wish to pursue higher education are sometimes overlooked when awarding scholarships and grants. A few organizations have recognized the insight, point of view, and diversity older women bring to the table and now offer grants and scholarships to women who wish to return to school long after they have left high school. There are scholarships and grants available to these non-traditional students.

Talbots Women’s Scholarship Fund

Clothing retailer Talbots offers a scholarship to any woman who earned a GED or high school diploma at least ten years earlier. For 2012, Talbots will offer $200,000 in scholarships, including 17 $10,000 scholarships and one $30,000 scholarships.

Prospective applicants must be pursuing an undergraduate degree at an accredited two or four year institution of higher learning. They must also have at least twenty-four credit hours remaining.

The application window for the upcoming academic year opens in April. Visit Talbot’s.com to apply.

Jeannette Rankin Foundation Women’s Scholarship

Jeanette Rankin was a proponent of women’s rights. In 1916, she was the first woman elected to Congress. Upon her death, Rankin left a portion of her estate to assist “mature, unemployed women”. This money became the seed money for the Jeanette Rankin Foundation. The foundation awarded its first scholarship in 1978.

The Rankin Foundation Scholarship is available to women at least 35 years old and enrolled in an undergraduate or vocational program at an accredited university and are pursuing technical or vocational training, an associate’s degree, or their first bachelor’s degree. They must also meet income requirements and be a United States citizen.

To apply for this scholarship, visit rankinfoundation.org.

Emerge Scholarship Fund

The Emerge Scholarship is geared towards the female non-traditional student such as the woman whose education was either delayed or interrupted. It is also meant for those women who have a vision to succeed in spite of obstacles.

In order to qualify for this award, the applicant must be at least 25 years of age and accepted into a program of study at an educational institution. Applicants must furnish either their acceptance letter or current transcript. Along with the application form, applicants must complete an essay and furnish two letters of recommendation.

While no preference is given to race, religion, physical impairment or national origin, preference is given to those who live in the state of Georgia.

Visit the Emerge Scholarships Website for more information on how to apply.

Scholarships for Single Mothers and Low Income Women with Children

Many low-income women are also single mothers. These women are often discouraged from furthering their education because they believe that an education is out of their reach. Tuition may be one reason, but many single mothers feel that they cannot afford to quit working or work part time in order to juggle school, work, and caring for their children. This is true for women who lack a support system of friends or relatives who are willing to help them out. Fortunately, there are scholarships available especially for women in their situation.

Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation

Patsy Takemoto Mink, former Hawaii representative, was a staunch Title IX advocate. Title IX is the federal law passed in 1971 which states, “No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”. The Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation awards five scholarships of up to $2000 each to low income mothers who are pursuing their education. The applicant must be enrolled in skills training, English as a second language course, or GED program. The applicant may also be pursuing a technical/vocational degree, associate’s degree, first bachelor’s degree, or a professional/masters/doctoral degree in an accredited program. Applicants must also meet income requirements to qualify.

Visit the Patsy Mink Foundation website for an application.

Association of American Indian Affairs Displaced Homemaker Scholarship

To encourage more Native Americans to pursue higher education as a means to combat the poverty that occurs on the reservations, the Association of American Indian Affairs offers a $1500 scholarship to any Native American who meets the criteria of displaced homemaker. The applicant should be age 35 or older and has never attended college or completed college due to family responsibilities. The funds are dispersed on a semester basis. The funds can also be used for child care, day to day living expenses and transportation.

Association of Non-Traditional Students for Higher Education Scholarship

The Association of Non-Traditional Students for Higher Education (ANTSHE) is a group consisting of students, academic professionals, institutions and organizations whose mission is to assist and advocate for non-traditional students who wish to further their education. The scholarships are funded by donations. Three scholarships are awarded every spring for the upcoming school year. Forms for the 2013 academic year are available beginning in June of 2012. For specific information, contact ANTSHE at info@antshe.org.

This is just a small sampling of scholarships and grants available to low income women. There are other websites that list hundreds of different scholarships for every available need. This website is not affiliated with any of the sites listed.

College Scholarships.org Not only does this website list a variety of scholarships, but also gives valuable information on a range of topics from completing the essay portion of the application to how to avoid scholarship scams.

ED.gov is the United States Department of Education’s website, which has a section containing information on financial aid available to students.

With the availability of scholarships and grants, higher education may not be as out of reach as previously thought. A student has peace of mind knowing that they can receive financial aid that does not require it be paid back. This can go a long way towards knowing that the burden of student debt is lessened.

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