Women are significantly underrepresented in STEM professions and for the few who are pursuing science, technology, engineering or math careers – there are a lot of financial challenges. That's why a lot of companies and organizations are offering scholarships and other financial assistance to help bridge this gender gap in these crucial fields.
Only 1 in 4 people working in computer and mathematical professions and 1 in 6 in architecture and engineering careers are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What's more, for every dollar a man in STEM makes, a woman earns 14 cents less, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"Increasing access to higher education opportunities represents one of the best strategies to narrow the gender gap in STEM fields," said Rachel Morford, president of the Society of Women Engineers. "Scholarships help start that positive trend by helping to fund a woman's access to undergraduate, post-graduate, and doctoral STEM programs. Scholarships are also vital to help ensure success in those programs, as they give students more opportunity to focus on their classwork, design projects, and pursue research or internship opportunities – all of which work to help keep women in STEM fields through graduation and beyond."
Scholarships available for women in STEM
There are a lot of scholarships from organizations, foundations and companies that are available to women pursuing STEM careers.
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is a pioneer in supporting students whose gender identity is that of female and in pursuit of an ABET-accredited (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) bachelors or graduate program in engineering, engineering technology, and computer science. Along with providing on-campus support to students, in 2020 SWE gave 260+ new and renewed scholarships which were worth a total of $1 million to female students around the globe. SWE makes the application process easy, with one application submission allowing for students to be qualified for all applications that are relevant to them.
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Microsoft conducted a study where they found that only 7% of women, compared to 15% of men, graduated college in 2016 with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math. Additionally, women tend to pursue science-oriented degrees instead of engineering, math or computer-based fields, and are lower paid than men. Microsoft offers scholarships for women who plan to pursue a career in the STEAM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) at the college level.
"Having access to scholarships can help to alleviate some of the burden that women face today, and it is vital to them receiving an education that will get them the same seat at a table as their fellow male classmates," said Sasha Ramani, associate director of corporate strategy at MPOWER Financing, which offers scholarships to women pursuing STEM careers. "These can all help close the gaps for not only women – but those in underrepresented communities."
Some other scholarships for women pursuing STEM careers include: The BHW scholarship for women in STEM, the Virginia Heinlein Memorial Scholarship, the Science Ambassador Scholarship funded by Cards Against Humanity, the ABC Humane Wildlife Women in STEM Academic Scholarship, the Girls Who STEM scholarship, the Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship, the Hyundai Women in Stem Scholarship and the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship Program.
Scholarships that are specifically for women pursuing engineering careers include: The Palantir Women in Technology Scholarship, the Lynn G. Bellenger Scholarship and the UPS Scholarship for Female Students.
The application process
Kaylin Moss, a senior at Marist College studying computer science, applied to hundred of scholarships, which she found through databases, social media or internet searches. She won a Generation Google scholarship.
Moss says that the "application process was lengthy" ̶ she had to answer three essay questions and submit a resume and academic transcript. One of her essays was about how she chartered the Marist College chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, the second was about her proposed solutions to many challenges underrepresented groups in technology face when pursuing careers in technology and the third illustrated her financial need.
Applicants were judged based on their financial need, commitment to diversity and inclusion, leadership and academic performance.
Some scholarships require that you write essays, while others ask for videos or artistic works. And, the application process is a time commitment. Moss's advice is to focus on scholarships that best align with your method of communication. So, if you love writing – go for the essays. If you're a natural on camera, go for the scholarships that ask for a video.
An applicant is more likely to win a scholarship if the applicant pool is tiny, so students should apply to smaller, local scholarships in addition to larger national scholarships to increase their chances of winning.
Olivia Haberberger, senior business information systems and accounting student at the University of Pittsburgh, is a recipient of the Pitt Success Grant and the Addison H. Gibson Foundation grant.
The Pitt Success Grant was given based on need so all Haberberger had to do to receive that was fill out the FAFSA (free application for student aid) every year and meet a certain benchmark for cumulative GPA. The Addison H. Gibson Foundation grant was also given based on need. Haberberger wrote a thank you letter to express her gratitude.
Strategies for success
Haberberger's advice to other students is to "advocate for yourself" and to "consider how much time and energy you have to dedicate to applying."
It's important to start researching early and stay organized in order to not miss deadlines, according to scholarships.com, a site where students can search for scholarships and other financial aid.
The Education Quest Foundation warns that procrastinating can cause you to rush at the last minute and then you risk making mistakes on your application. They advise students to always proofread applications to reduce spelling and grammatical errors. And, send it in early – sometimes that can make all the difference.
Rachel Morford stresses that you should "start research and preparation early!" For example, if you dig in to all that the Society of Women Engineers offers, you'll find that there is a main application for scholarships awarded at the organizational level but several of the local professional sections also have scholarship programs that you may be eligible for as well.
"Talk with your school counselors and advisors, as well as the career center at your college or university since they likely know of available opportunities," Morford said.
"Financing is often the largest barrier to education, particularly for international and DACA students," Ramani explained. (DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, referring to a policy to protect children who were brought to the U.S. when they were young from deportation.)
"If you are interested in pursuing a STEM degree, the greatest advice we can provide is to do your research and evaluate the options available to you when it comes to funding," Ramani said. "For example, the Society of Women Engineers has a lot of aid resources on their site, and your university may have resources they can share. Typically, funding is available; it's just a matter of accessing it and evaluating what's right for you when it comes to loan repayment terms, scholarship requirements, work-study expectations, etc."
MPOWER tries to help eliminate barriers for students, Ramani explained. "We evaluate a student's ability to repay their loan through a unique set of considerations on the lending side. This results in better outcomes and lower instances of deferment or defaults. On the scholarship side, we evaluate each student's application against their accomplishments, goals, and needs. "
Grace Ulmer, a senior electrical engineering and linguistics student at Purdue University and recipient of The Palantir Women in Technology Scholarship – North America during her junior year, suggests "regularly looking for scholarships to apply to, and when you find one that interests you, put its date on the calendar!"
Although Ulmer found the application process to not be as rigorous as expected, she did have to answer questions regarding her grades and courses as well as short essay questions about why she chose her discipline and why it's important for women to have these opportunities.
Ulmer decided to write three short essays regarding projects that she was passionate about and how she was able to overcome obstacles to complete them. She wrote about her passion for student organizations that she is a part of including "TEDxPurdueU, which hosts an annual TED conference each year, and PurdueVotes, which focuses on voter engagement and education in our community."
She would also recommend looking for scholarships that play to what you're good at. For example, there are some scholarships that accept presentations or videos about any topic you are interested in.
"These are great options to show who you are and give the selection committee the best view of you," Ulmer said.
In addition to doing your own research online and connecting with your school's career centers and financial aid offices, there are many organizations that are aimed at helping you successfully launch a career in STEM. They provide everything from help with finding scholarships to career development, networking, mentorship and breaking the barriers for women in STEM. They include:
- The Association for Women in Science
- The Women in Engineering ProActive Network
- The Million Women Mentors
- The American Association of University Women
So, don't let the cost of a STEM education or anything else deter you. Figure out what you want to do, apply for scholarships and start networking. There are a lot of people and organizations out there ready to help get you on track for a successful career in science, technology, engineering or math.
CNBC's "College Voices″ is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Allison Martin is a two-term intern with CNBC's product and technology team. She is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, pursuing a dual degree program in computer science with a concentration in data science, and psychology with a double minor in actuarial science and mathematics. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.