Vocational Education Financial Aid

Scholarships, Grants & Special Programs for Career Colleges
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Charlie Javice View Bio
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Shannon Lee View Bio

Many of the available jobs in today’s economy are highly skilled and require real-world or vocational training – the kind of training found at community colleges, vocational schools or technical schools.

A vocational education can enable students to begin earning a respectable wage after only a year or two of school. Despite this, some students can’t afford to attend a vocational or technical school – and many of them aren’t aware that the same financial aid that’s available for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree is available to them as well. Learn more about financial aid available for those who enter vocational and technical schools and how to get it.

See our comprehensive guide for an in-depth look at vocational schools and career colleges.

Guide on Vocational Training

Vocational Scholarships

Scholarships aren’t just for four-year degrees. Find vocational scholarships in your area of interest below.

AAPT – Larry Nesmith Pharmacy Technician Education Scholarship Award Program

The American Association of Pharmacy Technicians offers a scholarship to students enrolled in a Pharmacy Technician diploma or associate degree program.

Amount: $250

Deadline: June 30

ASAHP – Scholarship of Excellence

Offered by the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions (ASAHP), this scholarship is available to students studying for a career in an allied health profession and enrolled in an ASAHP member school.

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: June 1

DAR – Caroline E. Holt Nursing Scholarship

Sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), this scholarship is awarded to three students who attend an accredited nursing program.

Amount: $2,500

Deadline: Varies

FHN – Healthcare Career Scholarship Program

The FHN healthcare system provides up to three scholarships for students who intend to enter a variety of healthcare careers, including medical assisting, pharmacy, nursing and ultrasound.

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: September 7

NURSE Corps Scholarship Program

Administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, this scholarship program is available to nursing students at all graduate and undergraduate levels. It provides financial assistance for educational costs in return for the student promising to work at a facility with a critical shortage of nurses after graduation.

Amount: Varies

Deadline: June 14

OSHPD – Allied Healthcare Scholarship Program

California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) runs a special financial aid program that provides scholarships to California allied health students. In return, they must promise to work for at least 12 months at a qualified California healthcare facility.

Amount: Up to $8,000

Deadline: February 28

Tylenol – Future Care Scholarship

Tylenol offers a total for 40 scholarships for any graduate or undergraduate student who is pursuing a career in medicine or health education.

Amount: $5,000 or $10,000

Deadline: June 28

Karmin Professional Cosmetology School Scholarship

Three students receive this scholarship each year to help pay for any hairdressing school they decide to attend.

Amount: $500

Deadline: December 31

Professional Beauty Association Minerva Beauty Scholarship

Students currently enrolled in a cosmetology school may apply for this scholarship; ten awards are available.

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: May 31

American Culinary Federation (ACF) Education Foundation Scholarships

The ACF has several scholarships available each year to individual in an apprenticeship, certificate or college degree program in the culinary field.

Amount: Up to $2,500

Deadline: April 30 or October 31

James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program

The James Beard Foundation has an array of culinary scholarships available to students who are enrolled in an accredited culinary program or are training for a career in the food industry.

Amount: Up to $20,000

Deadline: Varies

AAfPE – LEX Scholarship

Up to five students studying to be a paralegal at a school with an AAfPE LEX Chapter are eligible for this scholarship.

Amount: $500

Deadline: January 16

Console Hollawell PC Legal Scholarship

Any student studying to obtain a legal-related degree, including a credential in paralegal studies, will be eligible for this scholarship.

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: July 15

NFPA/Thompson Reuters Scholarship

In conjunction with Thomas Reuters, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations provides two scholarships for students seeking a paralegal education.

Amount: $2,000 – $3,000

Deadline: July 1

NSA Scholarship Foundation

Students majoring in accounting at a two or four-year college program are eligible for this National Society of Accountants scholarship.

Amount: $500 – $2,200

Deadline: April 1

Warner Norcross + Judd LLP Minority Scholarship Program

The law firm of Warner Norcross + Judd LLP provides a scholarship to a Michigan resident who is majoring in legal, secretarial or paralegal studies at an accredited school.

Amount: $1,000 – $2,000

Deadline: April

American Welding Society – National Scholarship Program

Students at an accredited two or four-year school may apply to one of the many scholarships available for those majoring in welding or a related field.

Amount: $2,000 and up

Deadline: February 15

The Andrew Piech Memorial Scholarship

To be eligible to apply for this scholarship, students must be a New Mexico high school senior or college student. They must pursue a degree or certificate in the automotive or technical field from any nonprofit school.

Amount: Up to $2,200

Deadline: June 7

Automotive Hall of Fame Scholarship Program

Students interested in an automotive career are eligible for this scholarship to help pay for vocational, trade, bachelor’s or master’s level educational training.

Amount: Varies

Deadline: June 30

CMAA Mid-Atlantic Chapter Scholarship

Students from Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware who are enrolled in a two or four- year construction management or related field may apply for this scholarship.

Amount: $2,000 for second award and $3,000 for first award

Deadline: April 13

Davis Memorial Foundation Academic Scholarship

This scholarship is available to students who wish to attend a trade school or four-year university to study in a field related to the construction industry. Special preference is given to those with a connection to the roofing industry.

Amount: $5,000

Deadline: April 13

mikeroweWORKS Foundation Work Ethic Scholarship Program

Students interested in the skilled trades and willing to demonstrate a strong work ethic are encouraged to apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Varies

Deadline: June 4

NAWIC Founders’ Scholarship

The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) offers this scholarship to full-time students enrolled in a construction-related program.

Amount: Between $500 and $2,500

Deadline: February 28

PHCC Educational Foundation Scholarship

The PHCC Foundation awards dozens of scholarships each year to individuals in HVAC or plumbing apprenticeship programs.

Amount: $2,500

Deadline: May 1

Union Plus Scholarships

Students who are union members, retired union members or are the child or spouse of a union member may apply for this highly competitive scholarship to help pay for the cost of attending a trade, vocational, technical college or university.

Amount: $500 to $4,000

Deadline: January 31

Foundation for IT Education – William R. Reaugh Scholarship

This scholarship is available to any student who attends an accredited information technology program and has already completed at least one semester of college education.

Amount: Varies

Deadline: May 31

HENAAC Scholars Program

Administered by Great Minds in STEM, which promotes careers and degrees in STEM for the Hispanic community, this program offers a variety of scholarships for students attending a two or four-year school. They must be pursuing a degree in STEM, be of Hispanic heritage, or have made contributions to the Hispanic community.

Amount: Varies

Deadline: April 30

Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Career & Technical Scholarship

Students who have overcome significant challenges and who intend to pursue a technical degree (taking up to two years for completion) may apply for this scholarship.

Amount: Up to $2,500

Deadline: June 15

NSHSS Foundation STEM Scholarship Program

Available to high school seniors with at least a 3.0 GPA who will pursue a STEM field of study (or closely related) in college, including computer science, information science and computational science.

Amount: Varies

Deadline: April 1

VIP Women in Technology Scholarship

Sponsored by Visionary Integration Professionals (VIP), this scholarship is intended for women who are enrolled or have been accepted into a two or four-year college program. They should be planning a career in computer science, information technology or a related area of study.

Amount: Up to $2,500

Deadline: April 1

Scholarship Application Steps

The scholarship application process will depend on the specific scholarship applied to, as each has its own eligibility requirements. However, the majority of scholarship applications will contain these common requirements.

  • Step 1 Confirm Eligibility

    Most scholarships will have some limitations as to who can apply. It might be based on attending an accredited school, being a member of a racial or religious group or only open to students who plan on studying in a particular academic field.

  • Step 2 Assess the Application Components

    Almost all scholarships will have an application to complete. Some of these applications are straightforward, but some will require elements that students must gather from others – and that means the student will have to get the ball rolling quickly. For example, an application that requests an official copy of a transcript or letters of recommendation will take some time to complete; this is why it’s so important for students to start the scholarship application process as early as possible.

  • Step 3 Complete the Basic Application

    At a minimum, the application will want the applicant’s name, address and other contact information, not just for the student themselves, but for the schools they have previously attended as well. Gather information on extracurricular activities, major test scores (such as the SAT or ACT), awards and honors received, and employment information. Having this all on hand will make it easier to complete several applications at once.

  • Step 4 Complete Additional Requirements

    This refers to essays, portfolios and any evidence of eligibility, such as financial background (copies of tax returns, a completed FAFSA application or CSS Profile), proof of ancestry or relation to a member of a particular group or profession, such as the armed forces. Some of these requirements may take some time, like preparing a well-written essay or getting certain documents from government agencies.

  • Step 5 Submit Application by Deadline

    Most scholarships are highly competitive, so if an application is late, it’s almost a certainty that it will go in the “reject” pile or not even be opened. If mailing in an application, mail it via certified mail, return receipt requested. This provides proof of the date of mailing as well as confirmation it arrived at its intended destination.

Grants & Special Programs

Financial aid begins with the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application form requests information that the clear majority of schools, states and the federal government use to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid, as well as how much they can receive. Many students make the mistake of ignoring the FAFSA because they assume they will not qualify for anything; however, they should fill it out even if they believe they won’t qualify. That’s because many scholarship organizations will request the FAFSA as a requirement of the application process.

Prospective college students may complete the FAFSA starting October 1st. They can do so online, by telephone or with a paper application. Deadlines for completing the FAFSA will vary, depending on who requires it. However, students should complete it as quickly as possible as many opportunities for financial aid are available on a first-come, first-served basis. They should also check with their school to see if there are any further deadlines or requirements for financial aid.

State & Federal Government

Just because a student decides to attend a trade or vocational school, that doesn’t mean they aren’t eligible for federal financial aid. Many of the best forms of financial aid (those that don’t have to be paid back) are available to vocational students. Here are a few.

  • These need-based grants typically go to undergraduate students who do not already have a bachelor’s or professional degree. The size of the Pell Grant depends on the student’s financial need, cost of schooling and level of academic study, with a maximum amount of roughly $6,000 (it goes up a bit each year).

  • Schools participating in the FSEOG program administer these grants to students on the basis of financial need. Students can expect to receive anywhere from $100 to $4,000.

  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

    A student who is the child of a parent or guardian who died as a member of the US armed forces during post 9/11 military service in Iraq or Afghanistan may be eligible for this grant. Students must be less than 24 years of age or enrolled in college at the time of a parent or guardian’s death.

  • This federal program, administered in conjunction with participating schools, provides part-time and full-time jobs to graduate and undergraduate students. How much a student can earn depends on the student’s skills, financial need and availability of school funds. Students will always earn at least federal minimum wage.

State Government

For most vocational students, gift-based financial assistance will come from the federal government, the school they choose to attend or private. But those who decide to attend a school in their home state or a neighboring state may receive additional funding from a state-run program.

Each state will have its own set of programs, so interested students should check with their home state’s department or agency to learn what available. A good place to find each state’s respective agency is to visit the US Department of Education’s State Contacts page.

Here are a few example states and what grants and scholarship programs they have to offer:

  • California

    California’s Students Aid Commission administers state-based financial aid programs, including financial aid that does not need to be paid back. These include the Cal Grant, the California Chafee Grant for Foster Youth, the California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program and the Law Enforcement Personnel Dependents Grant Program.

  • Pennsylvania

    The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, or PHEAA, provides a variety of financial aid that students do not need to repay. For example, it has its own Pennsylvania Work Study Program, as well as the Pennsylvania State Grant Program, the Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program, the Postsecondary Educational Gratuity Program, the PATH Program and the Pennsylvania National Guard Education Assistance Program.

  • Oklahoma

    The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, with the help of its okcollegestart.org website, has a number of state-based scholarships available for students, including the Academic Scholars Program and the Heroes Promise Scholarship Program. Oklahoma’s flagship program is Oklahoma’s Promise. This program allows high school students from low-income families who meet certain academic and requirements to earn a scholarship for a public or private Oklahoma college or university.

Department of Education Office of Career, Technical & Adult Education

Here are a few other financial aid options.

  • Perkins Tech Prep Grants

    Federal funding is provided to states to improve the technical knowledge and skills of students. The goal of the program is to help students obtain an associate degree or post-secondary certificate in a high-skill field.

    Perkins State Basic Grants

    States receive federal money to operate and improve their career and technical education programs. These programs may be offered at a two- or four-year college, as well as a local education agency.

  • Federal TRIO Programs

    TRIO is designed to help disadvantaged students, such as those who are low-income and first-generation college students. Funding goes directly to school and employment agencies who serve a significant number of disadvantaged individuals.

    Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Programs

    Schools who serve predominantly minority student populations receive federal funding to help minority students begin a career in science or engineering.

School-Based Funding

Federal financial aid makes up a large portion of the college aid awards given each academic year. But many schools, through state funding, private donations or their endowment, will offer their own financial aid programs. Many of these offerings come in the form of scholarships or grants that do not need to be repaid by the student.

Students must go to the school’s financial aid office to discover what’s available and what the eligibility requirements are. Most of these will be offered to students who demonstrate financial need, academic success and/or decide to study a particular academic field. Some examples of these scholarships include:

  • West Kentucky Community and Technical College Community Scholarship Program

    In a partnership with the Rotary Club of Paducah, WKCTC provides gap funding scholarships to students who come from Paducah or McCracken County high schools and meet certain academic requirements.

  • Thomas E. Butt Scholarship Endowment

    This scholarship is only available to students of Wytheville Community College in Virginia who are enrolled in a dental assisting or dental hygiene program.

  • Western Technical College Foundation

    Students at Western Technical College in Wisconsin may apply for one of the 300+ scholarships available through the Western Technical College Foundation. These scholarships range between $150 and $2,000 and are only available to current or recently admitted students.

  • Lieutenant Kelly Kincaid Emergency Services Scholarship

    Students of Western Piedmont Community College in North Carolina who are also first responders, or have parents or spouses who are first responders, may apply for this $1,000 scholarship.

Veterans

For in-depth coverage of financial aid available to military veterans, see our guide on the Forever GI Bill.

Forever GI Bill Guide
Federal Loans

Federal student loans differ from private school loans because they are offered by the federal government. Additionally, they have several advantages over private school loans, most notably lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options. There are two primary federal student loan programs: the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program (Direct Loan) and the Federal Perkins Loan Program.

The Direct Loan Program consists of three types of loans: the Direct Loans (these can be subsidized or unsubsidized and are also known as Stafford Loans), Direct PLUS Loans and Direct Consolidation Loans.

Direct Loans are available to undergraduate students. Students who demonstrate financial need are eligible for a subsidized Direct Loan, where the student does not typically need to pay interest until six months after graduation. Unsubsidized Direct Loans require students to pay interest at all times; although interest can be deferred, it does continue to accrue while a student is in school.

Direct PLUS Loans are usually only available to those in graduate or professional school, or the parents of dependent students who are in graduate or professional school; therefore, vocational or technical school students likely will not qualify for this.

Direct Consolidation Loans allow students to combine eligible federal loans into a single loan through a loan servicer. Any student with federal loans is likely eligible for this.

Under the Perkins Loan Program, only students who demonstrate exceptional financial need are eligible. These loans are available to both graduate and undergraduate students. The school serves as the lender for the students. The advantage of the Perkins Loan Program is the low interest rate.

From the Expert

Charlie Javice is the founder and CEO of Frank Financial Aid, a startup determined to help students figure out how they can afford to go to college.

Q. Why do so many students think it’s not possible to get the funds they need at vocational or technical schools?

A. Some vocational / technical schools qualify for title IV. That means students and schools get funded just like your typical four-year college. You apply for FAFSA and likely will receive a Pell Grant based on the typical profile of those applying to these types of schools, which would likely mean close to free tuition given the credit cost.

The vocational / technical schools that don’t benefit from federal and state funding leave students begging for scholarships that are few and far between. Credit card or student loan debt are the most likely options here. Most students will work to keep lower balances low.

Q. How can students find special grants, programs, etc. that are specifically designed for students in vocational or technical school?

A. Often, you can check with your current employer for employee matching programs, union stipends, states for specific scholarships on their websites or use a generic scholarship website like fastweb, unigo or scholly and search based on your interests / program type.

Q. How common is financial aid offered directly from the school? What do students need to do to be sure they are considered?

A. It is definitely an option, though not as common as four-year schools. Schools will have their own financial aid forms you can fill out to be considered. Typically, financial aid is need based or merit based. For need, you’ll likely need to prove financial hardship; for merit, have a transcript and recommendation, usually.

Q. Anything else students need to know about financial aid for vocational or technical school?

A. Make sure you ask for employment stats for the school you choose to attend. This helps better understand if it’s worth spending the money for your degree and how fast you’ll be able to pay back your loans.

Student Resources

  • Big Future

    Run by the College Board, Big Future offers a wealth of information for prospective college students, including how to pay for college and an explanation of the financial aid process.

  • CareerOneStop – Scholarship Finder

    Run by the US Department of Labor, this comprehensive resource is for those seeking information about entering a particular career. This website also has an extensive searchable scholarship database.

  • College Navigator

    Run by the National Center for Education Statistics, this website helps students find the right school for them. There are also special tools for determining a school’s affordability.

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – Paying for College

    The CFPB provides information to help students understand how student loans work, as well as choosing the best financial aid option for college.

  • Federal Student Aid

    The Federal Student Aid website is the go-to online location for learning about all the federal financial aid programs available. This website also has information about the FAFSA, preparing for college and how to repay student loans.