A high school education equips students with critical knowledge and life skills, whether they choose to go into higher education or not. However, with almost two-thirds of U.S. high schoolers going to college or university after graduating, it’s clear that preparation for the next step in education is a big part of the high school experience.
Since higher education can be very expensive, many high school students apply for a scholarship, a type of financial aid package given by various organizations to help ease the economic burden of education. Students participating in STEM subjects can benefit from STEM scholarships, which may be awarded based on academic achievement in their subjects, diversity, or financial need.
This article looks at how students can find and apply for STEM scholarships during the latter years of high school.
Notable STEM Scholarships for High Schoolers
Although only a select group of STEM students may end up receiving scholarships (around 7% of all college students who apply are accepted) there are several options out there. Here we look at some major national awards and a handful of programs created especially for minority STEM students.
National STEM Scholarships
National Merit Scholarship Program
One of the most notable scholarship programs in the United States is the National Merit Scholarship Program. Started in 1955, the program is open to all students taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which works out to around 1.3 million high schoolers per year. Application to the program is automatic for all students taking the test.
Each year, roughly 8,000 students receive a National Merit Scholarship worth $2,500, but the program also facilitates college-sponsored scholarships worth up to $2,000 per year and corporate-sponsored scholarships worth up to $10,000 per year. There are three rounds of competition in the program: the screening PSAT/NMSQT test (from which less than 1% of participants progress), a round of semifinals, and then a round of finals. However, simply reaching the semifinal stage is an achievement in its own right, and several colleges offer funding for students who have reached this stage or beyond.
Scholarships for Minorities in STEM
National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships
The National Science Foundation offers several opportunities for high school STEM students. Its scholarship programs include funding for students doing scientific research during high school and seniors seeking funding for college or university.
Pre-college opportunities for STEM students include Research Assistantships for High School Students (RAHSS) funding, available in the fields of biological sciences and physical sciences. Meanwhile, the S-STEM program for higher education, available to up to 90 students per year, aims “to enable low-income students with academic ability, talent, or potential to pursue successful careers in promising STEM fields.”
National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) Scholarships
Formed in 1974, the National Society for Black Engineers is a student-governed organization that supports black engineers in high school and college. It is one of the largest student-governed organizations in the world.
Through its NSBE and Corporate Scholarship Programs, the organization provides individual scholarships of $500 to $5,000 per year. Although the scholarships promote academic achievement, not all scholarships have a specific GPA requirement. The organization also hosts the RaiseMe platform, available to students from 8th grade onwards, through which colleges offer micro-scholarships to prospective applicants.
Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Scholarships
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers is a national association for Hispanics taking STEM subjects. Through its ScholarSHPE program, it offers a variety of scholarship options for high school seniors.
SHPE offers scholarships for Hispanic students at various stages of their academic life, including graduating high school seniors planning to pursue a STEM undergraduate career at a community college or 4-year university. This particular SHPE scholarship, worth $1,000, is available to SHPE members with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5.
Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) STEM Scholarships
Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions are colleges or other educational institutions with significant representation (10% or more) from students with an Asian American or Native American Pacific Islander background. One such institution is California State University, Los Angeles.
Various STEM scholarships are available to students attending AANAPISIs via organizations such as APIA Scholars. APIA Scholars offers a handful of programs, including the AANAPISI Scholarship (one-time $2,500 awards to multi-year $10,000 awards), which does not have a minimum GPA requirement, and the APIA Scholarship, which offers higher awards but requires a minimum GPA of 2.7.
4 Tips for High Schoolers Applying for STEM Scholarships
Applying for a STEM scholarship can seem daunting, especially during a busy time like senior year when students already have lots on their plate. However, by approaching the application process strategically, students can minimize stress and maximize their chances of success.
- Plan schedules and note deadlines: Different scholarships have their application deadlines, and students should plan their applications carefully to ensure they have enough time to submit. For example, the National Merit Scholarship takes place over 18 months, from the fall of a student’s third year of high school until the spring of their final year, while the ScholarSHPE application period spans November until the following April.
- Take part in activities that could benefit the application: Most scholarships aren’t purely about a student’s GPA. Taking part in extracurricular programs, sports, and other community activities can bolster a STEM scholarship application, especially if these activities are relevant to STEM or to specific aspects of the program.
- Allocate plenty of time for essay writing: Many scholarship applications include an essay writing portion, which can be different from a college admission essay. These essays should be highly focused on the scholarship’s needs and requirements; if the program pertains to a specific branch of engineering, for example, the student should demonstrate their knowledge of the subject; if the scholarship is offered to minority students, the applicant might emphasize their background or relationship to their community.
- Cast a wide net: Only a small percentage of students receive scholarships, so applicants should not hesitate to apply for multiple STEM scholarships where possible to maximize their chances of receiving funding. That said, each application should be tailored to the specific organization.
How Educators Can Encourage STEM Students to Apply
Educators teaching high school juniors and seniors have much more to think about than simply delivering effective lesson plans and preparing their students for SAT/ACT exams. Teachers should also consider whether their students will apply for scholarships and think about how they can help their class with this process. Support can range from the general (fostering a warm and supportive learning environment) to the specific (holding intensive scholarship workshops where students can hone their applications).
A teacher’s role in STEM scholarship applications should be broad and varied. Perhaps the most important starting point is ensuring that a student is getting the best STEM education possible — in a way that can be demonstrated clearly on a scholarship application. This might involve inviting specialist guest speakers on certain topics or running extracurricular activities.
Another part of an educator’s role is to offer specific guidance on the application process. This work might be divided between a teacher and a guidance counselor and could involve both group activities, in which the educator can offer universal guidance on certain application procedures, and individual support, in which they might revise an individual student’s essay or help them discover programs that are relevant to them.
High school STEM educators can use Sphero Edu for lesson plans in robotics, programming, and beyond. Browse our free activities for grades 9–12.