Forbes reported that the total amount of U.S. student loan debt, owed by more than 44.7 million borrowers, reached $1.56 trillion in 2020. The high cost of college and the resulting debt make it difficult for everyone who wants to attend a college or university, but it makes it especially hard for students of color.
Relative to income, students of color pay a higher price to attend college. Wealth disparities mean a much greater portion of their income goes toward tuition and school-related expenses. The high cost of college can leave families and students strapped. It can also easily deter students of color from enrolling in higher education in the first place.
However, despite these challenges, scholarships for people of color can help offset the high cost of college tuition and minimize the need for student loans. Scholarships, monetary grants, and awards that don't have to be repaid can prove invaluable to racially and ethnically diverse students who need help paying for college.
What is a scholarship?
Scholarships are financial awards to help you pay for higher education that do not need to be repaid. However, to keep them, you may have to meet set requirements, such as maintaining a certain GPA or taking a certain number of classes per semester.
You can receive scholarships based on factors such as:
Other forms of financial aid also exist to help students pay for college. However, they differ from scholarships in significant ways worth noting.
A grant, like a scholarship, is a form of financial aid that you don’t need to repay. However, grants are typically awarded based on financial need alone. The federal government awards grants, as do states and higher education institutions themselves. Businesses and organizations may also offer students grants, sometimes to cover costs such as books, laptops, and tuition.
Students can borrow money in the form of loans to pay for college. Unlike scholarships, student loans require repayment. The federal government offers both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans give the borrower better terms for paying them back, but you must qualify for subsidies based on financial need. Students can also take out student loans from private sources or their schools.
Work-study programs help college students defray their costs by offering them part-time jobs. Work-study jobs are often on campus and include positions such as research assistantships, or they may be community service oriented. They tend to offer flexible schedules so that students can meet their academic obligations.
What type of scholarships are available?
Many types of organizations award scholarships, including the following:
Students can also seek scholarships from the universities and colleges where they apply.
Many available scholarships are based on identity: Qualifying students must come from a particular background. That could mean a student must belong to a certain racial or ethnic group; have an association with a specific institution, such as the military; or have a family member who works for a particular organization.
Students of color have access to various types of scholarships worth looking into.
Top grades and a high ranking in their graduating class can open up academic scholarship opportunities to students of color. These financial awards are targeted for students who have demonstrated academic success. A portion of these academic scholarships are for people of color exclusively.
To qualify, you may need to meet a number of requirements, including the following:
● A specific GPA
● Competitive scores on the ACT, PSAT, or SAT exam
● Membership in an honorary society, such as the National Society of High School Scholars
● Participation in extracurricular activities
Community service scholarships
Community service scholarships award college money to students who can show a meaningful record of community service. The organizations that award these scholarships want to see time spent toward worthwhile causes. Your service can range from working with an environmental group that cleans local parks to volunteering at an animal shelter.
Students who excel athletically and wish to participate in college sports can apply for athletic scholarships. These awards are based on your athletic abilities and what you can contribute to a team. Some of these scholarships cover all student expenses. To maintain these awards, students must participate on a college sports team.
Scholarships for hobbies
Bird-watching, hiking, quilting — these and other hobbies can offer students extra money to pay for college. Scholarships for hobbies essentially give financial assistance to students for participating in activities that interest them. Various organizations offer scholarships for specific hobbies and ask applicants to demonstrate their skills and devotion to those hobbies.
Students from low-income economic backgrounds can apply for needs-based scholarships. These scholarships are awarded based on family income and intended to make sure that all students can attend college regardless of financial limitations. Foundations, businesses, associations, religious institutions, and a host of other organizations offer needs-based scholarships.
Employers often sponsor scholarship programs for employees and their dependents. Students may be eligible for a scholarship simply based on their relationship to a specific employer. However, other considerations may be taken into account, such as financial need and merit.
Service members, veterans, and their families can qualify for military scholarships, in addition to financial aid military benefits. Each branch of the military offers its own scholarships to active service members and their spouses and dependents. Also, organizations such as the American Legion Auxiliary offer scholarships to veterans. Military scholarships may cover full tuition or help with expenses such as books and fees. You can receive this financial help based on merit, need, or a combination of the two.
Why are scholarships for people of color important?
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education opened the doors for diversity on college campuses by ruling that segregation in public schools violated the right to equal protection under the law. Prior to the landmark case, students of color found themselves kept out of most higher education institutions. However, realizing the promise of Brown v. Board of Education has been a long process of eliminating barriers.
Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 played a key role in further expanding diversity in college by helping college students access financial resources in the form of federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. This had an especially positive impact on assisting racially and ethnically diverse students attend college.
For the most part, college enrollment rates have grown in the past two decades for people of color. Consider the shifts in enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds between 2000 and 2018:
● Enrollment of Black students increased from 31% to 37%
● Enrollment of Hispanic students increased from 22% to 36%
● Enrollment of Asian students increased from 56% to 59%
● Enrollment of American Indian/Alaskan Native students increased from 16% to 24%
According to a 2020 Sallie Mae report, scholarships contributed an average value of $6,866 for Black students and $2,748 for Hispanic students.
25 Scholarships for people of color
Racially and ethnically diverse students can find many types of available scholarships that support their educational goals. We’ve created a list of 25 scholarships with brief descriptions and links to their websites to help.
1. The Actuarial Diversity Scholarship supports students of color interested in pursuing actuarial careers (risk management, insurance). Judges select winners based on merit and need.
2. Café Bustelo El Cafe Del Futuro Scholarship awards funds to Latinx students of all majors. Applicants must be enrolled at a Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities member institution to qualify. Other requirements include at least a 2.0 GPA and an essay.
3. The American Chemical Society (ACS) Scholars Program offers awards to students of color entering the field of chemistry. Applicants should have at least a 3.0 GPA and demonstrate financial need.
4. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) Minority Scholarship Program provides funding to students of color, who have historically been underrepresented in the sciences. Applicants should plan to pursue careers in atmospheric or related oceanic and hydrologic sciences.
5. The Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) Scholarship offers support to Black students pursuing undergraduate degrees in engineering; computer science; computer information systems; and certain business programs, including finance, business administration, and marketing. Applicants should have at least a 3.3 GPA and demonstrate financial need.
6. The Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program supports students of color planning to study transportation, math, science, engineering, architecture, environmental design, premed, psychology, or Spanish language or literature. Applicants must have at least a 3.5 GPA and demonstrate financial need.
7. The Mae & Mary Scholarship Fund gives financial assistance to Black students planning a career in health care. Funds are available for two-year, four-year, and technical schools.
8. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) Scholarship offers awards to students of color pursuing studies in engineering or computer science. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA and plan to attend a NACME partner university.
9. The National Press Club Diversity Scholarship supports students of color with $5,000 awards that winners can renew for three years. To qualify, applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA and plan to study journalism.
10. The Ron Brown Scholar Program helps Black students with financial aid and mentorship support. Applicants must excel academically, demonstrate financial need, and participate in community service to receive the $40,000 scholarship.
11. Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship winners receive up to $30,000 in financial help along with hands-on mentoring, internships and job placement, year-round webinars and workshops, and leadership conferences. Students of color who can demonstrate financial need should apply.
12. The Association on American Indian Affairs Scholarship provides financial awards to Native American students who can attend college full time and maintain a 2.5 GPA. Applicants should plan on using the degree they earn to serve their tribal nation in some way.
13. The Catching the Dream Scholarship supports Native American students who excel academically, demonstrate leadership, and want to return to their communities after graduation to help others. To qualify, students must be enrolled members of a federally recognized U.S. tribe.
14. The Gates Scholarship awards recipients with funding for the full cost of their degrees that financial aid does not cover. Students of color from low-income households with at least a 3.3 GPA in good academic standing can apply.
15. The American Planning Association (APA) Judith McManus Price Scholarship awards women and students of color in a program that the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) has approved funds to help pay for college. Applicants need to demonstrate financial need.
16. The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) / Koch Undergraduate Scholars Program offers up to $5,000 a year for four years of undergraduate school to Black students interested in principled entrepreneurship. Applicants need at least a 2.7 GPA.
17. The HBCU CONNECT Minority Scholarship Program awards between $500 and $5,000 for books and tuition to winning applicants. To qualify, students must attend a historically Black college or university.
18. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) Scholars Program supports qualifying Hispanic students with funds for college. The program is open to graduating high school seniors, undergraduate students, community college students transferring to four-year universities, and graduate students.
19. The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program offers scholarships to students of color along with mentorship support. Applicants are evaluated on academic achievement, community service, and leadership potential.
20. Sallie Mae Fund’s Bridging the Dream Scholarship Program provides funding to students of color facing financial challenges. Scholarship winners receive $10,000 to help pay for college or vocational-technical school.
21. NAACP scholarships include both merit and need-based awards to students of color. Applicants must be members of the NAACP.
22. Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) American Indians scholarships award $4,000 to winners to help pay for undergraduate or graduate degrees. To qualify, applicants must be Native Americans who demonstrate financial need and academic achievement.
23. The APIA American Scholarship Program awards recipients with college funding ranging from $2,500 to $20,000. The program focuses on students who come from low-income Asian or Pacific Islander households and are the first to attend college in their families.
24. The Charles Shelton Foundation Scholarship Program awards $2,000 to Black students pursuing a career in veterinary medicine or technology. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA and prepare an essay among other requirements.
25. The Art Career Project Scholarship for Minority Artists supports students of color with $2,000 to help fund their education in art.
How to apply for scholarships
The requirements for each scholarship vary. Here are important tips to keep in mind when applying.
Each scholarship has different eligibility requirements. For example, merit scholarships usually require a minimum GPA, while an identity-based scholarship requires you to belong to a certain group. Needs-based scholarships can have limits for family household income. Finally, some scholarships only support students in specific fields of study.
Study previous winners
Studying previous winners gives you insight into what the organization awarding the scholarship looks for in an applicant. With this knowledge, you can formulate and tweak your own application to make it more competitive.For example, you might learn that an organization appreciates candidates who do volunteer work in their community or participate in extracurricular activities. Highlighting your own involvement in these areas can help you stand out from candidates with similar academic achievements.
Develop a list of scholarships to apply for
When considering scholarships, compile a long list of options. While focusing on one or two strong applications may work, you’ll likely have more success if you send out a number of applications. Also, don’t overlook less competitive scholarships. They may offer less money, but your chances of winning them are higher, and combining smaller-value scholarships can cover your entire tuition.
Closely follow instructions and requirements
Scholarship applications vary in their requirements and instructions. Read the instructions carefully and follow every step. Fill out and complete all sections of the application. Include everything you’re asked to, but don’t add extra materials.
Prepare necessary materials
Letters of recommendation, financial documents, transcripts, essays — scholarship applications ask for various items that you need to prepare and track. Some require others’ cooperation, such as transcripts and recommendations. For that reason, organization is key. Create a folder for each application, and track deadlines and requirements in a spreadsheet.
Reach out to people for recommendations
Many scholarship applications ask for letters of recommendation. Think about who will write you a glowing recommendation — teachers, coaches, religious leaders, employers — and reach out to them well in advance. Four or more weeks is ideal. Make sure that they have clear information about the type of scholarship you’re applying for as well as the interests and motivations of the scholarship sponsors.
For example, if a scholarship sponsor promotes social justice issues, make sure that your recommenders are aware so they can tailor their letters appropriately.
Take time to write the best essay possible
Strong personal essays set winning scholarship applications apart, so give yourself enough time to write the best essay possible. Consider the prompt carefully and brainstorm approaches that will make your response creative and showcase what’s unique about you. Strive to make your passion lift off the page, and always edit your work to eliminate errors and redundancies and improve clarity.
As with most applications, scholarships have firm deadlines. To meet deadlines, approximate how long it will take to complete an application, and block out time in your schedule to work on it. Organize deadlines by date and mark them on a calendar or set reminders for yourself.
Follow up where possible
After submitting an application, confirm that all necessary materials were received with a quick email. Additionally, before impending deadlines, check in with those writing your letters of recommendation. A friendly reminder and a follow-up thank-you note can go a long way.
Get started early to find the right scholarships for you
Getting started early in the scholarship research process gives you a powerful leg up in securing outside funds and offsetting the need to use your own money and loans to pay for college. Luckily, many resources exist to help you along the way.
Resources for locating scholarships for people of color
The following links offer helpful information and advice to students searching for scholarship opportunities:
● CareerOneStop — Search for scholarships organized according to deadlines and use keywords and filters to customize results.
● Fastweb — Create a profile that matches you with scholarships.
● Let’s Get Ready — Find links to several websites designed to help you navigate and organize your scholarship search.
● Scholarship America — Browse scholarship options and get help navigating financial aid.
Take Steps to Secure the Scholarship You Need
Scholarships empower students to realize their educational goals. The high cost of college, which has soared past inflation rates for decades, makes securing funds critical. Fortunately, scholarships for people of color can help offset rising tuition rates and expenses, which for the 2020-2021 academic year averaged:
● $10,560 for in-state residents at public colleges
● $27,020 for out-of-state residents at public colleges
● $37,650 at private colleges
College Board reports $9,850 as the average scholarship or financial grant amount that undergraduate students have received. Clearly, making the scholarship research process a core part of your college application journey pays off.