Updated on 12.15.16

Scholarships for Women Returning to College

No matter why you left college in the first place — to raise children, to care for aging parents, to work full-time, to figure out your goals — if you’ve decided that now’s the time to crack open the books again and head back to the classroom, you’re not alone.

About 4 million of the approximately 15.5 million undergraduate students in America were 25 years or older in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And if you’re a part of that nontraditional demographic, there’s double the likelihood that you’re a woman.

College bills can hurt no matter when you enroll, so we suggest that — in addition to seeking out financial aid and student loans when appropriate — these five scholarships for women might help take some of the sting out of the tuition and fees you’ll owe, or at least open you to opportunities you hadn’t before considered.

Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund

More than 900 women have received scholarships totaling more than $2.5 million from the Jeannette Rankin Fund over the past 40 years to support their educational dreams.

  • Eligibility basics: Women, U.S. citizen or permanent resident, age 35 or older, low-income pursuing an undergraduate degree at an accredited college or university
  • Application process: Opens Nov. 1 for the 2017-18 school year
  • Selection notes: Decision makers want to know your goals, your plan for reaching your goals, and how you will use your education to give back to the community. Be prepared to complete a detailed application. Awards are typically around $2,000.
  • Learn more: rankinfoundation.org

Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation Education Support Awards

Longtime U.S. Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink was the first woman of color elected to the U.S House of Representatives. Her foundation continues to support issues that were of great import for her during her political career (and beyond): “educational access, opportunity, and equity for low-income women, especially mothers.”

  • Eligibility basics: Low-income women, 17 or older, who are mothers with minor children. Must be enrolled in a non-profit accredited institution or program.
  • Application process: Applications are typically due Aug. 1.
  • Selection notes: Five awards of up to $5,000 each are given out every year to women based on 1) financial need; 2) personal circumstance; 3) educational path; 4) vocational or occupational goals; and 5) service or activist or civic goals.
  • Learn more: patsyminkfoundation.org

Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards

Soroptimist awards more than $1.6 million each year to approximately 1,200 women, and scholarships through them can be used to pay any expenses related to attaining a higher education, from tuition to books, to childcare and transportation.

  • Eligibility basics: Women who provide the primary financial support for themselves and their family, already enrolled in or accepted to an undergraduate degree program or a vocational/skills training program. Applicants cannot already be Soroptimist members.
  • Application process: Open through Nov. 15 for current awards cycle.
  • Selection notes: There are three levels of cash awards — local, regional and international. Selection starts on the local level. Awards range from a few hundred dollars at the local level, up to $10,000 at the international level.
  • Learn more: soroptimist.org

SR Education Group Community College Scholarship

SR Education may only award two $2,500 scholarships a year, but it’s one of the easiest applications around. And while the program has recently been opened to both women and men, a basic search of finalists and winners shows that the majority of the awards are still given to women.

  • Eligibility basics: Students who are U.S. residents and enrolled at a public community college, junior college, technical college, or city college, and working toward a certificate, diploma, or degree. Applicants, however, cannot live in Rhode Island, Guam, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.
  • Application process: Applications due Nov. 5 for the 2017 cycle.
  • Selection notes: Aside from some basic personal information, applicants need to write 300-500 word responses to two questions about their goals and financial need.
  • Learn moresreducationgroup.org

Women’s Independence Scholarship Program

Created in 1999, WISP focuses on helping women survivors of intimate partner violence who want to pursue education in order to provide for themselves and their children.

  • Eligibility basics: Direct survivors, in “desperate financial situations,” must have been separated from their abusive partner for a minimum of one year to a maximum of five years.
  • Application process: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis.
  • Selection notes: Funder gives priority to those seeking education from state-supported colleges or universities and technical/vocational schools. And they note that the application is lengthy: “Do not be discouraged!” Awards are typically around $2,000.
  • Learn more: wispinc.org

Final Thoughts

The five scholarships above are some of the most well-known and longest-running programs around, and they’re pretty general — in that you can apply no matter your area of study or where in the U.S. you reside. But let this be just a jumping-off point for your research. Many businesses, foundations, and community organizations offer smaller scholarships if you live in their ZIP code, or want to study a certain field.

The Rankin Foundation’s resources section is a great starting point for other options, including more than a dozen other scholarships for women. Seek out local women’s societies that may apply to your educational pursuits, such as the Society of Women Engineers or the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting. And of course, don’t limit yourself to scholarships for women – apply for any and all you might qualify for; our scholarship guide can help.

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