More women are going to college in the United States now than during any other time in history. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics, just 41 percent of all students attending college in 1969 were women. 
As of 2005, women made up 57 percent of the U.S. college student body.  Those are great strides, to be sure, but one problem still remains: finding the cash to pay for college.
With more women attending colleges and universities, not only on campus but online, there is more competition for scholarships, grants, and other sources of financial aid. Add to that the growing number of women who are raising children in single parent households and the necessity for student aid becomes even more important.
Financial Aid from the Government
For women who plan to attend the college and live in low-income or single-parent households, their first stop should be GovBenefits.gov.
This is a U.S. government website which was designed with the sole purpose of connecting people with any federal benefits for which they might be qualified. Not only can you find government loans and grants for education through this site, but also financial assistance for childcare, counseling, food, housing, health insurance, health insurance, and utility payments.
Loans and grants listed on GovBenefits.gov can help low-income families pay for things like:
- Health Insurance
For some of these benefits, you must meet low income guidelines, but if you qualify and are attending college to improve your financial situation, you are the person these benefits were designed to help.
Not sure which benefits you might be eligible for? Simply fill out the online questionnaire at GovBenefits.gov, and it will compile a list of programs for which you might be qualified.
The next source of funding everyone, not just women, should check out is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
The FAFSA can also be completed online, and can point you to federal grants and loan programs. Even if you do not live in a low income household, you will still want to complete a FAFSA.
There are many different kinds of student aid available from the U.S. government such as Pell grants, Stafford, and Perkins Loans, as well as campus-based and work-study programs. Even if federal aid doesn’t completely cover the cost of tuition every bit helps. Chances are you will be pointed to the FAFSA through the GovBenefits.gov website.
Funding at the State, Local Level
The federal government isn’t the only source of government-based aid.
Most states also offer grant and scholarship programs. In fact, some states will write off a student’s entire cost of education in an effort to fill critical job areas such as law enforcement, teaching and nursing.
The only catch is once a student has their degree they must work in that state for a specified period of time, but if you are enrolled in a online degree program in the state in which you love that probably won’t be an issue for you.
Searching on the Web
If government assistance falls short, there are other options as well.
One of the largest databases of scholarships is located at FastWeb.com. Do you belong to a civic group, volunteer for a charity, go to church or have a knack for writing essays? FastWeb.com can match you to scholarships offered by hundreds of organizations.
There are many scholarships listed here that are not based on merit (grades), but rather a student’s ties to their community and their ability to express their education goals in an essay. Scholarship awards range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Remember, scholarships, unlike loans, do not need to be repaid, so FastWeb.com is definitely worth checking out.
Funding Just for Women
Of course, there are many scholarships and grants which are aimed specifically at women and helping them achieve their goal of higher education.
The AAUW (formerly American Association of University Women) offers several grants, fellowship and awards to help women:
- change careers
- advance in the workplace
- re-enter the workforce
- enter a degree program in which participation by women has traditionally been low, such, as architecture, computer science, and engineering
Other fellowships are further restricted to women of a specific age group and economic background.
Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund offers a scholarship to women who are accepted at or enrolled at a regionally or ACICS accredited institution earning a "technical or vocational education, an associate's degree, or a first bachelor's degree." Scholarship recipients must be at least 35 years old and demonstrate financial need.
Funding by Career Field
Are you interested in a particular career field? There is usually a professional organization for each technical or skilled career, and they are a good place to check for scholarships. For example, if you are interested in engineering, there is:
- the Society of Women Engineers
- the Association for Women in Science offers scholarships and fellowships for women interested in studying physics or geoscience
- the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting has a list of awards for women who are interested in crunching numbers.
If you have a pretty good idea of which college or university you would like to study with online, don't forget to ask them about any college-based aid which might be available. There are many grants and scholarships available through colleges and universities with campus-based programs, and many also offer financial assistance to their distance learning students as well. In fact, some scholarships are available ONLY to distance learning students, so spend a few minutes checking the school's web site or ask your admission counselor about college-based aid. Even colleges which are considered strictly "online" schools offer some forms of financial aid. Excelsior College, for example, offers several different scholarships based upon financial need, area of study and grade point average.
Protecting Yourself from Fraud
Despite advertisements for scholarship search services, there is no such thing as student aid which goes "unclaimed". There is a lot of competition for grants, scholarships and fellowships. The key is to find the money that is being offered to prospective students, apply to as many different funding sources as possible and apply early.