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Meet the Woman Who Created Scholarships 371 Years Ago

Christine DiGangi

You know what’s awesome? Someone giving you money to go to college. Student loans can be very helpful, but you have to pay them back, which can be really expensive (I mean, really expensive). Scholarships, on the other hand, are these wonderful gifts you get all because you’re smart, do a lot of volunteer work or have one of thousands of characteristics someone wants to see in students who go to college.

And for this glorious concept, we can thank Harvard University. (Don’t get too cocky, Harvard. You’re still in the doghouse over that whole creating-student-loans thing.)

Scholarships to American universities actually pre-date the U.S. Harvard was founded in 1636, and in 1643, the first scholarship was established. It was a donation of 100 pounds from Anne Radcliffe, the widow of Thomas Mowlson, a former Lord Mayor of London. The couple managed an inn in London, and upon her husband’s death in 1638, Radcliffe received half his estate. Historical documents indicate she was a savvy businesswoman who managed the estate well and increased its value.

The endowment Radcliffe made in 1643 not only established the first scholarship, it also marked Radcliffe as the first female donor to Harvard University, and in 1894, the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women — the counterpart to the all-male Harvard — became Radcliffe College. The college merged with Harvard in 1999 and is now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

So it wasn’t so much Harvard that’s responsible for academic scholarships in this country — instead, we can all tip our hats to a seemingly awesome British businesswoman. Thanks for getting it going, Lady Mowlson.

Here we are about 370 years later, and scholarships are a huge part of paying for college. If you need help paying for your education, scholarships are a great place to start — but make sure you’re not falling into the hands of scammers. Keep in mind that scholarships are often very competitive and difficult to get, but student loans aren’t an easy-way-out alternative. Loans can be incredibly helpful to those who can’t afford college on their own, but borrowing more than you can reasonably expect to repay (i.e. graduating with debt that exceeds your starting salary) can weigh you down financially for years.

If you’re worried about how student loans are affecting your credit, you can check two of your credit scores for free and get a personalized action plan for building credit on Credit.com.

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