Home Financial Aid for Social Workers and Students

Paying for the Pursuit of Your Dream: Financial Aid for Social Work Students

Kayla Hines

Featuring tips from MSW student Kayla Hines for finding and winning a scholarship

Paying for a degree in social work can feel like a daunting endeavor, especially with higher education costs that have been going up for decades. If you need financial assistance to pay for your degree, you first have to navigate the maze of financial aid terms, programs, and requirements.

This guide can help you. It breaks down types of financial aid, including federal aid, and provides a comprehensive listing of scholarship opportunities for social work students—whether you are aiming for an MSW, BSW, associate degree, or doctoral degree.

Overview of the Types of Financial Aid for Social Work Students

You have a number of options when it comes to financial aid. It’s wise to explore as many as you can to ensure that you can manage your education expenses.

Federal Student Aid

The first place to start in your search is with the federal government, which offers grants, loans, and work-study funds. It’s easy to apply—just fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Applying is fast and free, so even if you aren’t sure if you will qualify for much aid, you should definitely give it a shot.

The federal government offers three types of assistance:

  1. Grants: Grants are a type of financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. The federal government offers a variety of grants, including Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
  2. Loans: A loan is money that is borrowed, in this case from the federal government. You need to pay back the money borrowed, with interest. Interest rates for federal loans are usually lower than for private loans.
  3. Work-study: Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students who meet the financial need requirements. The money they earn can be used to help pay education expenses.

Scholarships and Grants

This “free” money is offered by private and nonprofit organizations. Although the terms are sometimes used synonymously, typically scholarships are based on merit and grants on need. Below you will find a list of scholarships available for social work students.

Private Loans

Private loans are offered by financial institutions such as banks and credit unions. They need to be repaid, along with interest. Note that you may need to pass a credit check and fulfill other requirements. Also, it’s likely that funds borrowed with private loans won’t be eligible for loan forgiveness programs.

Loan Forgiveness Programs

Loan forgiveness programs help students pay back loans in exchange for working in a high-need or shortage area for a period of time. For example, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment to social workers who commit to working two years in a shortage area. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program provides loan repayment to students who work full-time in public service jobs.

17 Scholarships for Social Work Students

Following is a comprehensive list of scholarships available for undergraduate and graduate social work students. Many of the scholarships listed are not exclusive to social work students, but are looking for applicants with qualities highly aligned with those pursuing social work and related helping professions.

Undergraduate Social Work Students

Expand All
Pilot International Scholarship
Deadline: March Up to $1,500

This scholarship is for undergraduate students preparing for a career working in youth leadership or caring for families during times of need. Scholarships are awarded based on financial need, academic success, and application contents.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by Pilot International

Degree Required: Bachelor’s
Awards Available: Varries
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: N/A, though academic success is considered

This scholarship is renewable (you may reapply for up to three additional years).

Graduate Social Work Students

Expand All

This highly competitive award is offered to up to one nominee per state, plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and one for the U.S. Island territories. You can’t apply for this award yourself—you must be nominated by an approved faculty representative. If your school doesn’t have an approved representative, a faculty member can apply to become one. The scholarship is reserved for third-year undergraduate students (juniors and those in three-year programs) who plan to pursue additional higher education. The award places a heavy focus on social justice and awards students with a passion for becoming “change agents.”

Apply for this scholarship
provided by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation

Degree Required: Awarded at bachelor’s, used for graduate or professional school
Awards Available: 55–65
Essay Required: Yes—both a personal statement and a policy proposal
GPA Required: N/A, though rigor of coursework will be considered

This scholarship is not renewable.

This scholarship is for MSW degree candidates who are members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and who have experience or an interest in serving Black communities. Applicants must be accepted to or enrolled in an accredited MSW program.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation

Degree Required: Master’s
Awards Available: 4
Essay Required: Yes, one time
GPA Required: 3.0 mimimum

This scholarship is renewable.

This is available to master’s students who are NASW members and demonstrate an interest in serving Latino/Hispanic, Alaska Native, or Native American populations. They must plan to work in local grassroots organizations or with voluntary or public nonprofits. Both those who are enrolled in or have been accepted to MSW programs are eligible.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the National Association of Social Workers Foundation

Degree Required: Master’s
Awards Available: 10
Essay Required: Yes, one time
GPA Required: 3.0 mimimum

This scholarship is renewable.

Applicants must be currently enrolled in an accredited mental health master’s or doctoral program, including social work. They need to prove they’ve participated in volunteer, research, extracurricular, or other career-related activities and plan to work in communities in need of mental health professionals who exhibit “compassion, generosity, respect, and honesty.”

Apply for this scholarship
provided by The Melanie Foundation

Degree Required: Master’s
Awards Available: Varies
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: N/A

This scholarship is not renewable, but you can apply for a new award.

This scholarship is for first-year graduate-level social work students and is awarded based on a submitted paper about an intervention they’ve completed in their fieldwork. The winners’ papers will be published online. Applicants must be members of EPICC and follow their strict style guidelines.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by EPICC Social Work

Degree Required: Master’s
Awards Available: 2
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: N/A

This scholarship is not renewable.

This scholarship is available to social work graduate students in their final year of study. Applicants must be members of EPICC and follow strict guidelines for writing an essay about an intervention they completed during their fieldwork.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by EPICC Social Work

Degree Required: Master’s
Awards Available: 3
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: N/A

This scholarship is not renewable.

Merit-Based Scholarships for Social Work Students

Expand All

Students who are in their final year in a CSWE-accredited undergraduate or graduate social work program are eligible. Applicants must anticipate graduating no later than the summer after receiving the fall-dispersed award. Although it’s open to anyone who has U.S. citizenship or is a noncitizen national or permanent resident, ethnic and racial minorities receive preference, and the award is open only to those who can demonstrate a commitment to social justice.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the Council on Social Work Education

Degree Required: Bachelor’s and master’s
Awards Available: 2
Essay Required: No
GPA Required: 3.0 mimimum

This scholarship is not renewable.

Need-Based Scholarships for Social Work Students

Expand All

Highly accomplished undergraduate students under the age of 30 and graduate students younger than 40 can apply for this need-based award. They must show that their degree programs prepare them for “careers aimed at improving the human condition” and that they have financial need. They must also be willing to travel to New York City to interview, which is not paid for by the foundation.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the Leopold Schepp Foundation

Degree Required: Bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D.
Awards Available: Varies
Essay Required: No
GPA Required: 3.3 minimum

This scholarship is renewable.

Students must be currently enrolled in or accepted to an accredited four-year undergraduate school and demonstrate financial need to win this award, which also includes a paid 10-week summer research experience. You must be willing to work for an NIH research lab after graduation—one year of employment for every year you accepted the scholarship.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the National Institutes of Health

Degree Required: Bachelor’s
Awards Available: 15-20
Essay Required: No
GPA Required: 3.3 or be in the top 5% of their class

This scholarship is renewable.

This scholarship is for students who have been active in social justice—for example, the struggle against racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Applicants must submit a statement about their goals and activity related to progressive social reform.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund

Degree Required: Bachelor’s or master’s
Awards Available: Varies
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: N/A

This scholarship is not renewable.

Scholarships for Minorities Pursuing Social Work Careers

Expand All

Jewish students who were born and raised in the Chicago metropolitan area or have worked full-time in that location for a minimum of one year may apply. Applicants must intend to remain there after graduation, demonstrate need and aptitude, and be pursuing careers in “helping professions” like social work. Only graduate or junior or senior undergraduate students are eligible.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago

Degree Required: Bachelor’s or master’s
Awards Available: Up to $500,000 worth
Essay Required: No
GPA Required: N/A

This scholarship is renewable.

Black students who are members of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) and studying for their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees full time are eligible. They must have previous experience in social work, an impressive history of achievements and honors, plan to work in a social work career relevant to NABSW’s goals, and, at the master’s and doctoral levels, be interested in research done within the Black Community.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the National Association of Black Social Workers

Degree Required: Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorates
Awards Available: N/A
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: 3.0 mimimum

This scholarship is not renewable.

This scholarship is available to black students who can demonstrate a record of serving the Black community.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the National Association of Black Social Workers

Degree Required: Bachelor’s and master’s
Awards Available: N/A
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: 3.0 mimimum

This scholarship is not renewable.

Geography-Based Scholarships

Expand All

These need-based awards are specific to students who are Maryland residents. Available only at the graduate level, they’re open to specific majors, including social work.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the Maryland Higher Education Commission

Degree Required: Master’s and professional
Awards Available: N/A
Essay Required: Varies by school
GPA Required: Varies by school

This scholarship is renewable.

Texas residents pursuing an MSW in any one of the state’s 18 graduate programs that are either accredited or pending accreditation are eligible for this award. All applicants must be personally nominated by the dean or head of the department. They must also demonstrate financial need, have completed or are about to complete their first year of the program, and commit to serving underrepresented populations.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health

Degree Required: Master’s
Awards Available: Up to 1 per university per year
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: N/A

This scholarship is not renewable.

Applicants must be New York state residents who intend to pursue a career such as social work, behavioral sciences, healthcare administration, and management related to the field of intellectual or other developmental disabilities such as behavioral.

Apply for this scholarship
provided by The Arc New York

Degree Required: Bachelor’s and master’s
Awards Available: 2
Essay Required: Yes
GPA Required: N/A

This scholarship is not renewable.

Kayla Hines’s Tips for Applying for and Winning a Scholarship for Your Social Work Degree

Kayla Hines

Kayla Hines is a second-year MSW student at the University of Houston—she is on a clinical track and hopes to get her LCSW. She recently finished her internship as a wellness counselor intern at Memorial High School through Communities in Schools Houston. Before pursuing her master’s, Kayla worked as a resident advocate at a family abuse center, where she conducted assessments and provided referrals on a crisis hotline for victims of domestic violence. She also worked at a 24-hour shelter to provide residents with assistance in areas such as crisis intervention, meal preparation, and intake.

1. Get to know your program’s staff who work in financial advising

You will likely begin getting emails from them regarding FAFSA and other information about school funding once you have been accepted (pay attention to these emails because they often include scholarship opportunities). Do not be afraid to personally reach out to this staff member and ask them to give you recommendations for local scholarships and financial aid specifically for you. If you have time, request a face-to-face meeting and come prepared with questions. This will prove to be a very worthwhile relationship, as they can help connect you to funding throughout your time in the program.

2. Look locally.

While sites like Fastweb are certainly helpful, you are more likely to receive local scholarships as the pool is smaller and scholarship providers appreciate seeing the fruit of their investment. Personally contact the college’s financial aid staff, check your program’s homepage, and look at the university’s financial aid page for these opportunities. To go one step further, research scholarship opportunities in your city/town of origin. It can be an advantage to show how successful you have been (and will continue to be) as someone native to that location.

3. Scholarship applications can be a bit overwhelming, so something that proved to be helpful to me was setting aside two workdays to complete all of my applications.

Scholarship opportunities will come at various times throughout the year, but it is helpful to have essays already on hand when you receive alerts that a new opportunity has come up. You will just have to adjust the content you have already created to fit that particular application.

4. On your actual application, be specific about your intention for getting your MSW.

It is okay if it changes later, but scholarship providers like to see that you have a vision and are able to articulate your goals clearly. Each scholarship will require different content, but including the “why” behind your choice to pursue social work as well as the specific area you want to go into is very important. Social work can be very broad as far as types of jobs, but when applying for scholarships avoid being vague. Scholarship providers are looking to award applicants with well thought out goals.

5. Save some time and keep all of your essays!

This includes papers that you have written in undergrad, papers you write in graduate school, and essays that you have written for other scholarships. A lot of assignments in social work are self-reflective and/or social issues-focused where the content is transferable to scholarship applications.

6. Lastly, apply for the smaller scholarships!

While $200 may seem like a drop in the bucket, with that can buy you 2-4 textbooks, cover a month of food, or put a significant dent in your rent payment. Often times, these opportunities get missed, but they are well worth the application!