College Scholarships for Minority Students

Students of color can utilize a variety of resources to help make college more affordable. This guide will not only introduce a variety of scholarships but also give guidance on how to find and best apply for them.

Scholarships for Students of Color

Paying for college is often one of the biggest factors in choosing which school you'll attend, or even what you might major in. Fortunately, there are a number of different kinds of supplemental income which can help make college more affordable, particularly for students of color. Some of the most common sources of funding include:

  • Scholarships. Scholarships are awards from private organizations, colleges, or other large groups, typically based on personal achievement (particularly in the realm of academics) which are given without expectation to be repaid. They may come with stipulations, such as majoring in a particular subject, and failing to meet these stipulations could lead to the scholarship being revoked.
  • Grants. Grants are similar to scholarships in that they are not expected to be repaid. While scholarships are given based on achievement, grants are generally awarded based on need, although even these are likely to have minimum expectations that must be met to avoid losing the grant. The most well-known grant is the federal government's Pell Grants, which students who meet income guidelines can receive.
  • Work-study Programs. Work-study programs provide students with a flexible way of gaining additional money to cover education expenses. Students who are eligible for work-study can work part-time for the university they attend or other local community service groups on a schedule that allows them time to study and attend classes. Work-study income functions like regular pay, and thus does not need to be repaid.
  • Federal Loans. Unlike the above, student loans through the federal government must be repaid after graduation, with interest. Federal loans typically have lower interest rates and longer repayment terms than other types of loans. Subsidized loans are extended to those who are in need, with the government covering interest for the period in which you are enrolled, while unsubsidized loans are available to all who apply.
  • Private Loans. As the name implies, private loans are loans sourced from private companies and groups, such as banks. While the rules can vary, private loans may need to be paid back while still attending school, and could require a cosigner, typically a parent or guardian. Private loans are generally unsubsidized, and as a result accrue interest as you attend college, even if you are not actively paying it off. Private loans are usually used only to fill gaps between other forms of financial aid and the total tuition cost.

Students should always attempt to pursue any scholarships and grants they're eligible for first, since they do not come with an expectation of repayment. Scholarships and grants often cater toward particular groups, be it a race or ethnicity, a particular profession or field of study, or those who are active in their community. With that in mind, here are some scholarship and grant options which are offered specifically to students of color.

Scholarships for Black & African American Students

Poise Foundation's Agnes Jones Jackson NAACP Scholarship

Named for a prominent member of the organization, the NAACP offers the Agnes Jones Jackson Scholarship to between twenty and forty students each year, regardless of whether they are undergraduate or graduate students. While the amount of the award varies from year to year, it can be up to $2,000. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, members of the NAACP, under the age of 25, and either currently enrolled or have a letter of acceptance to an accredited college or university. Undergraduate students must be full-time students and have a 2.5 GPA or better. Graduate students may be full-time or part-time and have a GPA of 3.0 or better. Applications open in March of 2020 and must be in by May 2020.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship

The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF), honoring the famed baseball player, puts out this national scholarship each year, worth up to $30,000 over the course of a four-year degree. Students who are chosen for the JRF scholarship may attend any university in the U.S., and see many other benefits besides the money, including an invitation to an annual mentoring and leadership conference in New York City, help finding internships, and participation in the 42 Strategies for Success Curriculum. To apply, candidates must be high school seniors, U.S. citizens, demonstrate a commitment to community service, show leadership traits, have financial need, and have a minimum combined SAT score of 1,000 or ACT score of 21. Applications typically open in November and run through February 1.

Ron Brown Scholarship Program

The Ron Brown Scholarship offers enterprising students engaged in their community up to $10,000 a year, for up to four years. Students may attend any university and major in any area. The scholarship is only open to high school seniors, and high school students can seek guidance through Ron Brown Scholarship's GPS program, putting them in contact with previous recipients whose life experiences are similar. Applicants must be African American and either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. To win the award, students should have a history of academic excellence and leadership, participate in community service activities, and show financial need. Early applications should be in by November 1, while the final deadline for applications is January 9 of each year.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund All Around Scholarship

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund honors America's first African American Supreme Court Justice by providing scholarships to college students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). The scholarship amount can vary from year to year. Candidates must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, demonstrate financial need, and have strong leadership qualities. Students need to submit a current resume, their most recent FAFSA report, most recent transcripts (either high school, for freshmen, or the last academic term for college students), and a 500-word essay detailing leadership experiences and any circumstances the approval board should be aware of. Applications are due by March 30.

Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology Scholarship

The Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology provides students at HBCUs studying science, technology, math or engineering with scholarships worth up to $3,000 per year, for up to four years. Students are selected to apply by deans and professors at these universities. Applicants should be African American, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and majoring in a STEM field at an HBCU. Judging is based on academic performance, financial need, recommendation letters, and a personal essay relating topics such as career goals and extracurricular activities. Applications are first accepted beginning April 15, with the final deadline June 15.

Scholarships for Hispanic & Latino Students

Hispanic Heritage Foundation Youth Awards Scholarship

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation sponsors outstanding students in 6 categories each year with scholarships of varying amounts, at bronze. silver and gold levels. To apply, students must be high school seniors of Hispanic heritage with a GPA of 3.0 (unweighted) and accepted to a college or university. They should be able to showcase academic excellence, leadership, and community service. Applicants can be U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or eligible under DACA. If selected, recipients must attend one of 10 ceremonies around the country at their own expense. Applications open beginning in September of each year, and winners are announced starting in December.

PepsiCo Cesar Chavez Latino Scholarship

With support from PepsiCo, the Cesar Chavez Educational Fund puts out this scholarship of $5,000 for up to 10 students. To be eligible, students should be of Latino descent, taking classes full-time, living in Arizona or the central valley of California (with a plan to attend a school there), and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants can be U.S. citizens, permanent legal residents, DACA, California Dreamers, undocumented, and eligible non-citizens, as determined by FAFSA. Candidates must provide a 500-word essay, 2 letters of recommendation, most recent transcripts, a resume, and the FAFSA student aid report. The deadline for this scholarship is typically in July.

Association of Hispanic Professionals, Inc. Scholarship

The Association of Hispanic Professionals offers this trio of $1,000 scholarships to further promote excellence in the Hispanic community. Students applying should be a graduating high school senior of Hispanic heritage, with a B or better record at a college prep program and accepted to an accredited post-secondary school. Applicants should be able to demonstrate financial need, a history of community service, and provide recommendations from teachers or counselors. Students can apply for several other scholarships with the same application, checking all for which they meet the requirements. The deadline for applications is typically in February of each year.

Hispanic Scholarship Fund

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund exists to help students of Hispanic heritage obtain degrees. The scholarship is open to high school seniors, undergraduate students, community college students, and graduate students, and can range from $500 to $5,000. While the fund emphasizes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees, students in all majors are encouraged to apply. To be eligible, applicants should be of Hispanic heritage, have a GPA of 3.0 for high school students or 2.5 for college students, and be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, DACA-eligible, or other eligible non-citizen as determined by FAFSA. FAFSA student aid report must be provided as part of the application. Applications are due by February 15.

LULAC National Scholarship Fund

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) offers this national scholarship each year. Awards are based on academic performance at three levels, with award amounts ranging from $250 to $2,000. Applicants may be high school seniors, full-time undergraduate students, or full or part-time graduate students. They should have their completed FAFSA information, transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and class rank for graduating seniors. Applications should be sent to the nearest LULAC council in their state by March 31. Previous winners may apply again each year, so long as they meet the requirements.

Scholarships for Middle Eastern & Arabic Students

AAIF Helen Abbott Community Service Award

The Arab American Institute Foundation's Helen Abbott Community Service Award recognizes students of Arabic descent who have shown dedication to their community with up to three $1,000 scholarships. Applicants should be high school seniors or currently enrolled undergraduate students, with at least a 3.0 GPA, a resume detailing community service activities, two letters of recommendation, and a 700-word essay describing how their major relates to community service. Completed applications must be turned in by March 1.

ISNA's Dr. Abdulmunim A. Shakir Scholarship

The Islamic Society of North America administers the Dr. Abdulmunim A. Shakir scholarship, which is granted to twenty incoming freshmen each year. To qualify for this $1,000 scholarship, students should be high school seniors with a 3.0 GPA or higher, U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and attending an accredited university. Students can choose any major of study. Applications are due by March 15.

Islamic Scholarship Fund

As part of its mission to increase the representation of American Muslims in media and culture, the Islamic Scholarship Fund offers scholarships to students majoring in film, media, journalism, law, and public policy. Award amounts can vary from $3,000 to $10,000. Eligible students must be Muslim or active in the Muslim community, enrolled at an accredited university, U.S. citizens or permanent residents, majoring in one of the above areas, and have a 3.0 GPA or better. To apply, students should submit a resume, video introduction, answers to essay questions, college transcripts, work samples, and two letters of recommendation with their application. The deadline is March 21.

Iranian Scholarship Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship

The Iranian Scholarship Foundation is dedicated to helping Iranian American students obtain college degrees. The amount of the award varies from year to year and is generally given to one recipient. Candidates should be of Iranian descent, undergraduate students at or accepted to a four-year university in the U.S., be able to show financial need, maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher, actively participate in community service, and submit an SAT score of 1250 or greater or ACT score of 27 or greater, if a high school senior. Applicants should submit high school and/or undergraduate transcripts, 2 letters of recommendation (one from a teacher, one from a volunteer organization), completed essay questions, and a copy of IRS form 4506 along with their application. Applications are usually due by June 30.

LAHC Scholarship Program

Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities (LAHC, formerly the Lebanese American Heritage Club), puts out a scholarship available to high school seniors. The scholarship amount varies, as certain schools may match the award amount. To apply, students should be U.S. citizens or permanent residents living in Michigan, seniors in high school with a GPA of 3.5 or greater and be able to show financial need. Applicants planning to attend universities that contribute to the fund, or who major in certain fields, may be looked upon more favorably. Along with their application, students should submit 2 letters of recommendation, a recent academic transcript, a copy of the FAFSA student aid report, ACT/SAT scores, and a 500-word essay on substance abuse. The deadline to apply is April 22. Winners need to attend two mandatory events recognizing their accomplishment.

Scholarships for Asian & Pacific Islander Students

Asian Pacific Fund Scholarship

The Asia Pacific Fund aims to support the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) community by providing scholarships to exceptional students. The Asia Pacific Fund Scholarship gives out up to three $2,000-$,3000 scholarships each year, with the possibility of renewal. To qualify, students should be incoming freshmen in an undergraduate program, be of Asian or Pacific Islander ethnicity using U.S. Census guidelines, be the first of their immediate family to attend college, demonstrate financial need, have a GPA of 2.8 or better, and reside in California, with those in the San Francisco Bay Area preferred. Applicants need to print the application and fill it out, provide a resume, essay question responses, and two letters of recommendation. Once complete, the application must be submitted, by mail, before March 27.

APIA Scholarship

The APIA Scholars organization offers a variety of scholarships, ranging in value from one-time $2,500 scholarships up to $20,000 multi-year prizes. Eligibility requirements include being of Asian or Pacific Islander ethnicity using U.S. Census guidelines, enrollment as an undergraduate student at an accredited university in the fall semester, a GPA of 2.7 or higher (or hold a GED), a completed FAFSA application, and one letter of recommendation. The scholarship is open to legal citizens or permanent residents of the U.S., as well as citizens of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. Those who live at or below the poverty level; are the first in their families to attend college; and focus on leadership, community service, and academic achievement will have the strongest advantages. Applications are accepted each year between September and January.

USPAACC Scholarships

The U.S. Pan-Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC) works together with corporate sponsors to offer between 10 and 20 scholarships each year, with award amounts ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. Candidates should be high school seniors who are at least 16 years old, of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident, and enrolling in an accredited post-secondary school within the U.S. Students should also be able to demonstrate leadership, community service, financial need, and a GPA of 3.3 or higher. If selected, winners need to attend the Celebrasian Conference in Rockville, Maryland in June of 2020, prepare a 2-minute acceptance speech to give at the event, then write an essay within 30 days of the event, which is to be sent to USPAACC. Winners need to write about their progress through college to USPAACC at least once a year for the duration of their time enrolled. Applications must be sent via mail by March 27, and must include the completed application, a 2'x2' photo, a 250-300 word essay, recent transcripts, a recent tax return (with social security numbers crossed out), two letters of recommendation, and information on their post-secondary institution of choice.

OCA-UPS Gold Mountain Scholarship

OCA, an Asian-American advocacy group, works together with UPS each year to offer the Gold Mountain Scholarship to Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, worth $2,000 for up to 15 winners. Those eligible must be of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, high school seniors, admitted to an accredited university and the first in their family to attend. They must have either a social security number or employment number. Applications are filed online, and need to include three short essays, a recent academic transcript, and two references. The deadline for submission is midnight on April 13.

Dingwall Foundation Korean Ancestry Grant

The Dingwall Foundation's Korean Ancestry Grant aims to support Asian-American students in obtaining undergraduate degrees, with seven awards of up to $10,000, although the amount and number of awards can vary. Qualified applicants must have at least one Asian grandparent, with a preference towards those of Korean heritage, and a minimum GPA of 3.5. Along with the application, candidates must submit a 1,000-word essay supporting their application, two to three letters of recommendation from teachers, an official transcript from their university (or high school, in the event of freshmen applicants), and an academic resume or curriculum vitae. Applications are due by April 1, and any supporting documents sent by mail must be postmarked April 1.

Scholarships for Native American & Alaskan Students

Catching the Dream Scholarship

The Catching the Dream foundation has been providing Native American students with scholarships since 1986, with over 95% of eligible applicants receiving at least some scholarship funds, in amounts ranging from $500 to $5,000. To be eligible, a student must be at least one quarter Native American and a registered member of a U.S. tribe, attending a university within the U.S. on a full-time basis in a program to obtain a bachelor's degree or higher. As part of the application, students need to provide three letters of recommendation and a double-spaced, typed, 5-page essay covering their academic achievements, career plans, service to Native communities, leadership experience and other scholarships applied for/received. Other documents include a financial need analysis, a copy of the student or parent's tax returns, a Certificate of Indian Blood, official academic transcripts from high school and any universities attended, copies of standardized test scores, copy of letter of admission (if incoming freshman), and a 2'x3' color photo headshot of the applicant. Applications must be typed and sent by mail. Deadlines go by semester: March 15 for summer semester, April 30 for fall semester, and September 15 for spring semester.

American Indian College Fund Full Circle Scholarship

The American Indian College Fund's Full Circle Scholarship aims to help American Indian and Native Alaskan students to obtain degrees, whether undergraduate or graduate, from accredited tribal colleges, private non-profit schools, and public universities. Qualified applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Canadians eligible to attend U.S. schools under the Jay treaty, enrolled in any certificate or degree program at a valid institution, able to prove tribal affiliation, and have at least a 2.0 GPA. The application should include the answers to three essay questions; a professional, digital photo (file size of 1.5 MB or greater); a scan of tribal ID card or Certificate of Indian Blood; and most recent, unofficial college transcript (or high school transcript or GED score, for incoming freshmen). Applications are due by May 31 each year.

Udall Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship

The Udall Foundation provides access to scholarships for students of any race planning to study conservation or environmental issues, or for Native Americans or Native Alaskans majoring in tribal policy or healthcare. The scholarship, which can be worth up to $7,000, also includes five days in Tucson, Arizona, for scholar orientation and access to the foundation's alumni network. To apply, candidates need to contact their nearest Udall representative, who can grant access to the application. The form requires answers to 11 questions; an 800-word essay on a work or statement by Morris K. Udall or Stewart L. Udall and how it applies to the candidate's goals; and three letters of recommendation detailing the candidate's leadership experience, community service, and academic accomplishments. Applications are due by March 5.

Wells Fargo American Indian Scholarship

The American Indian Graduate Center works together with Wells Fargo to put out this scholarship to eligible undergraduate and graduate students each year, worth up to $5,000. In order to be eligible, a candidate must be part of a federally recognized American Indian tribe or Native Alaskan group or provide proof that of at least one quarter ancestry from a recognized tribe. Applicants should be college juniors or seniors, majoring in a field of business or banking, and meet the federal government's Pell grant criteria, if undergraduate students, or demonstrate financial need, if graduate students. They will also need to submit a Tribal Eligibility Certificate and Financial Need Form, as found on the AIGC website. Two recommendations and an unofficial transcript are required as well. The application deadline is May 1.

Daughters of the American Revolution American Indian Scholarship

The Daughters of the American Revolution provide this $4,000 scholarship each year to Native Americans of any tribe who are studying for undergraduate or graduate degrees (although undergraduate applicants are preferred). Applicants need to provide proof of American Indian descent, demonstrate financial need, and have a GPA of 3.25 or greater. The application also requires a 1,000-word essay detailing career plans; a copy of the most recent high school or college transcript; financial need information; proof of U.S. citizenship; a list of extracurricular activities, honors, and scholastic achievements; and a 100-word statement about why you are deserving of the scholarship. Applications open August 1 each year, must be turned in by midnight February 15.

How to Find Scholarships

Finding scholarships that are applicable to you can be difficult, but there are resources available that can make this process easier.

Finding Scholarships Online

Using online search engines is often the easiest way to find scholarships, and there are numerous websites designed specifically to help students search and apply for them. Specificity helps with finding the most relevant scholarships; for example, searching 'scholarships' will provide very general results, while 'scholarships for minorities' will find resources more applicable to students of color, and 'scholarships for African American students' will filter those down further to scholarships open to African Americans. As you research, check to make sure the information you find is accurate and up to date - many websites display old information from previous years. Be careful to read the eligibility requirements for each scholarship to ensure that you can meet the organization's expectations.

Seek Help from School

Alternatively, many colleges have lists of scholarships that their students can make use of, available through their student and financial aid offices, or sometimes online. High school students can consult their guidance counselors for help locating resources. Both provide advice and recommendations for finding and applying for scholarships and may be able to use their familiarity with your personal situation to help sort through them.

Third Party Assistance

Scholarships may be restricted to certain majors, demographics (race, gender, LGBT, etc.), schools or school systems, or to people from specific areas or regions. Groups associated with these fields, places, or causes may be able to provide assistance in locating scholarships. For example, a professional organization dedicated to chemistry may be able to help find scholarships for chemistry majors, or an advocacy group could compile lists of scholarships for the ethnic or cultural population they represent. Some of these organizations even have outreach programs designed to help students planning to attend college find funding and receive advice. There are also a number of organizations based specifically around helping students of color afford college, and even if they do not offer scholarships, they may be able to point you toward scholarships and other funding opportunities.

How to Apply for Scholarships as a Student of Color

FAFSA

The first thing you will likely need as you apply for scholarships is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many scholarships, including some of those listed above, are likely to require information from this application, or information you will compile as part of this application. As the name implies, the FAFSA is free, and is necessary to qualify for student aid, such as the Pell grant and federal student loans. To do so, you'll need to accumulate quite a bit of information, including:

  • Your social security number
  • Your parents' social security numbers (if you are a dependent)
  • Your driver's license number (if you have one)
  • An alien registration number (if not a U.S. citizen)
  • Federal tax information for you and spouse (if married) and/or parents (if dependent)
  • Records of untaxed income for you and your parents
  • Details on cash, savings, investments, and other assets.

After completing the application, your information will be reviewed, and you'll find out what kinds of loans and grants you may be eligible for. The results of a FAFSA application can typically be used to demonstrate financial need for need-based scholarships.

Commonly Required Documents

Other common required information will include scores for standardized tests, such as the SAT, ACT, GRE (for graduate scholarships), etc. and transcripts from high school or university. While unofficial transcripts can usually be printed out at-will by students, official transcripts can be more difficult to obtain. They may require a formal request and be sent in a sealed envelope to prove they haven't been tampered with. Be sure to find out whether an application wants an official transcript or not when filing.

Writing Essays

Many scholarships also require an essay component, and essays generally have a specific topic, such as something related to the organization giving away the scholarship, your life experiences or future plans, or your community service and other extracurricular activities. Scholarships aimed at students of color often ask about how your race or ethnicity has affected your life, your connection to your heritage, or about overcoming adversity.

Crafting an interesting essay in a limited amount of words is no easy task. Try using an engaging writing style, one which draws the reader in while remaining professional. You will be relating personal experiences, after all, so choosing evocative words and details to include can help the reader to relate. Essays should maintain a positive or neutral tone, even when telling stories of adversity. Instead of focusing on a negative event, keep the focus of the story on how you reacted to and handled this negative event, in a way that emphasizes positive attributes about yourself. Essays about your future and aspirations should expand on your reasons for wanting to attend college, your intended major, and why you feel that this career can help the world in general or your community in particular. No matter the subject matter of the essay, your goal should be to make the review board feel that you are a candidate deserving of their award, whether that's because of your past struggles or future goals.

Letters of Recommendation

Scholarships also frequently require letters of recommendation. A letter of recommendation is usually written by a teacher or professor, a leader of an extracurricular group, an employer, or even a member of the group offering the scholarship. Approaching these individuals to request a letter of recommendation can be intimidating. Remember to be grateful and understanding, and ideally approach individuals with whom you have an active, positive relationship. Ensure that the individual is familiar with what the scholarship organization wants to see in a letter of recommendation, be that examples of leadership, community service, or academic excellence, and the deadline that you'll need it by. Sometimes you will need to pick up the letter of recommendation and include it in your application, while other scholarship organizations prefer the letter of recommendation be sent directly to them.

It may be possible to use letters of recommendation for more than one scholarship, although some organizations ask that the letter is tailored to their specific goals or mission. Be considerate of the writer's time when requesting a letter of recommendation, and try not to ask for several different letters from one person.

Scholarship Resources for Multicultural Students

Organizations that provide resources for students belonging to various minority groups include:

  • Minority Student Achievement Network - an organization dedicated to changing the institutionalized problems that create opportunity gaps. They provide guides to scholarships, help filling out FAFSA, and more.
  • The United Negro College Fund - a coalition of groups dedicated to providing funding for African American and other students of color. Includes a variety of internship, scholarship, and fellowship opportunities.
  • Sallie Mae's Scholarship Search - Sallie Mae is a provider of private student loans, however their website also contains information on other funding opportunities, including a scholarship search and several pages of scholarships for students of color.
  • National Action Committee for Minorities in Engineering - NACME is a group which exists to promote STEM fields among underrepresented populations. They offer career advice and scholarships to students of color who are studying or planning to study in these fields.
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities - an alliance of over 470 post-secondary institutions across the U.S., Latin America, and Spain. Provides a compiled list of up-to-date scholarship resources and other student programs in addition to its own scholarships and internships.
  • Japanese American Citizens' League - an advocacy group with a goal of bringing up tomorrow's leaders in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Includes a variety of scholarships, internship, and fellowship opportunities.
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