The price of college has swelled over the past 30 years by more than 200%. To pay for higher education, students across the nation have taken on a staggering $1.7 trillion in student debt.

But there are ways to chip away at the cost. State and local grants can help students pay at least a portion of school — including costs like housing and transit, in some cases. Some programs are more generally open to students in the Pittsburgh region or across Pennsylvania — some based on identity, grades and community work, others prioritizing lower income applicants. Funding is also available for college students interested in particular areas of research, including topics like LGBTQ+ history.

Federal and school-specific aid

If you’re seeking financial aid, an important starting point is the Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] form. FAFSA is used to determine eligibility for aid such as student loans grants and federal work study. Colleges might also use it to determine a student’s financial needs.

Do you have particular schools in mind? Most schools have details online for scholarships and other aid specific to their students. The University of Pittsburgh, for instance, notes that all applicants are automatically reviewed for merit-based scholarships, and Pitt’s site includes an online portal to search for and apply to other funding.

To learn more about options at the school you’re interested in, give a look at their online materials, and you might also want to set up an appointment to talk with someone in the aid office about options and eligibility.

What to consider and how to search

When weighing opportunities, be sure to look at specific application criteria. Is the scholarship limited by demographic or field of study? Does it require you to have a specific GPA or to live in a specific area (or attend a specific school)? Some scholarships might require details on financial need, evidence of extracurricular activities like volunteering as well as letters of recommendation. Be sure to consider those requirements ahead of the deadline.

Don’t know where to start? College Board’s website includes an online tool called BigFuture to search for a variety of scholarships that can be filtered by geography, field of study and the organization behind the funding. Fastweb is another site where students can sign up for a profile to connect to scholarship opportunities across the country. When searching, it’s important to rely on credible resources to avoid scams.

Though the list of scholarships could be endless, here are 12 scholarships or grant programs focused on local students to get your search started. We’ve noted general deadlines based on those posted for the most recent year (including some that have already passed this time around), and it’s important to check ahead of time for any changes next time.

Because dates can vary and some applications require essays and recommendations, it’s a good idea to get your search started early in the school year prior to when you’re expecting to go to college. And remember, just because you don’t fit the requirements of a particular scholarship doesn’t mean there’s not one that’s right for you.

General scholarships and grants

Here are scholarships that offer a range of different awards for students interested in financing post-secondary education.

Pennsylvania State Grant Program
The state offers financial aid awards through grants to eligible students based on financial need. Created in 1963 by the state general assembly, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency [PHEAA] has served millions of students with aid and loans, according to its website. The money offered under the Pennsylvania State Grant Program does not need to be repaid and varies based on guardian income. Interested students must be Pennsylvania residents and meet other requirements, which include making “satisfactory academic progress” and not being incarcerated, according to grant guidelines.
General deadlines: Spring and summer

The Pittsburgh Foundation scholarships
The Pittsburgh Foundation* works with donors and committees to administer over 325 scholarship funds. Each year, the foundation has awarded $2.8 million in scholarships to students throughout the United States. Among them are locally focused scholarships like the Western Pennsylvania Scholarship Fund for Higher Education, a $5,000 single-year award for graduating high school seniors. Scholarships can be found on the foundation’s website, and applications can be submitted through an online portal. Click here to learn more about applying.
General deadlines: Vary by scholarship

The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship
The Pittsburgh Promise offers Pittsburgh Public Schools graduates a $5,000 yearly scholarship (with a maximum of $20,000) for college or technical school. Funding is available to students from the city’s district or eligible charter schools if they’ve been enrolled since at least 9th grade. Students must have a GPA of 2.5 and attendance record of 90% or above. Review the scholarship requirements as the organization continues to update requirements. Students who have an unweighted GPA of 2.0 to 2.49 can apply for the Promise Extension program. If accepted, students must attend Community College of Allegheny County or a listed college, complete 18 credits a year and maintain a 2.0 GPA. The Promise said it is committed to raise funds for students through the class of 2028, and so far, the organization has supported 10,158 students with $154.9 million.
General deadline: May

Scholarships by demographic

Hope Through Learning Award
The Hope Through Learning Award offers $2,500 scholarships to young adults age 24 and younger who have experienced homelessness and live in Allegheny County. The scholarship is part of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund and is available for students pursuing higher education or career training. Applicants must meet the age requirement, be accepted into a college or career program and be a high school graduate. Award recipients can use the scholarship for tuition, school-related expenses like textbooks or a laptop or could use the award for living expenses like transportation or housing. In 2020, nine students were awarded a scholarship.
General deadline: April

Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant Program
This federally funded grant offers a maximum of $6,000 for the school year to Pennsylvania undergraduate students who aged out of foster care and are currently attending a post-secondary institution. Applicants must be Pennsylvania residents and must either be a youth in foster care or youth discharged or adopted from foster care at age 16. Applicants must be younger than age 26 by July 21 of the coming year and enrolled in college as an undergraduate or student at a career school. Those who already received a grant do not need to complete a renewed FAFSA form, though students who transfer should reach out to PHEAA via email.
General deadline: December

The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit NEED provides a number of different scholarships and grants, including Last Dollar Grants for students who still have remaining college expenses that could be barriers to education. According to the website, the program provides nearly $1 million each year to aid students who are Black, first in their families to attend college or are considered low income. Other yearly scholarships and grants range from $1,000 to $5,000 through programs like “Adopt-A-Student” or NEED Lead Scholarship. Click here for more information on funding and eligibility. In 2020, NEED student participants received a total $867,208 in grants, and the organization says it helped over 4,600 students with college and career services.

Pittsburgh Women in Communications Scholarship Fund
This fund was created at The Pittsburgh Foundation to help students attending a four-year college and pursuing advertising, communications, marketing, public relations, graphic design or other similar majors. The award offers $1,000 to recipients for a single year, though recipients are encouraged to re-apply. The scholarship is open to college juniors, seniors and graduate students in Western Pennsylvania. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
General deadline: March

Scholarships for particular areas of study

Allegheny County Medical Society (ACMS) Medical Student Scholarship
Together with the Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the Allegheny County Medical Society offers a $4,000 merit-based scholarship for medical students who live in Allegheny County. Among the requirements to qualify for the one-time award, you must be enrolled or entering the third or fourth year of medical school in Pennsylvania and must be a U.S. citizen.
General deadline: September

Pittcon Undergraduate Analytical Research Program
The Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh offers scholarships and grants, including the Pittcon Undergraduate Analytical Research Program, a grant of $10,000 for undergraduate research in analytical chemistry.

Lynne Layton Fellowship
The fellowship was created by Lynne Layton, a University of Pittsburgh alum, and offers stipends of $1,500 for undergraduate students who are conducting research projects or other work related to the study of gender and sexuality. The stipend could also support research internships as part of the LGBTQ Archives Project, according to Pitt’s website. Interested applicants can read through previous fellows to learn more about the program.
General deadline: May

Thomas J. Peterson LGBTQ Studies Scholarships
Created by University of Pittsburgh alum Thomas Peterson, the scholarship offers support for students researching LGBTQ+ history. Recipients will receive $1,500 to aid research projects related to LGBTQ+ history and supervised by Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies faculty at Pitt.
General deadline: December

The Katharine M. Grosscup Scholarship in Horticulture
With a mission to encourage interest in horticulture and related fields, the Katharine M. Grosscup Scholarship through the Garden Club of America offers up to $3,500 to rising college sophomores, juniors, seniors or candidates pursuing a master’s degree and majoring in horticulture or related areas. Applicants are expected to have a GPA of 3.5 or better and must live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan or West Virginia. Applicants must either be U.S. citizens or permanent residents enrolled at a U.S. institution.
General deadline: January

*PublicSource receives funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Naomi Harris covers higher education at PublicSource, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at

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Naomi Harris was the higher education reporter for PublicSource from November 2020 to October 2021 in partnership with Open Campus.