Free Scholarships for Minority Students
If someone offered you a chance to win hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an hour or two of totally legitimate work, would you take it? If you answered yes, then filling out a few college scholarship applications should be on your to-do list.
For many students, a free scholarship is welcome relief from college costs and often means one less loan to shoulder upon graduation. For minority students in particular, free scholarships awarded in part based on ethnicity are a financial bonus and a validation of their hard work.
“The scholarships for minority students are important because they serve as recognition of the struggles minorities go through,” says Mysee Chang, a senior at Saint Catherine University (www.stkate.edu) and a recipient of several scholarships, including some from the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund. “It is important to have that as a reminder and to invest in the leaders of tomorrow.”
Small investment, great reward
Although it may take some time to find and apply for scholarships for minority students, the rewards are enormous. “Sometimes it makes the difference between students going on to a higher education,” says Mary Payne, college relations counselor at Lowell High School in Lowell, Massachusetts.
More than grades
You don’t have to be class valedictorian to win significant scholarships. The Association on American Indian Affairs gives out annual scholarships that are not based entirely on either merit or financial need, says Lisa Wyzlic, director of scholarship programs. “We understand the roadblocks that are unique to native students,” she says, noting that often students are the first generation to apply to college. “We look at how active they are in their community and how they give back to the native community,” Wyzlic remarks.
Katie Tran-Lam, director of communications and marketing at the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, says some students can’t take on leadership roles at school because of commitments at home, but that does not mean they do not have leadership experience. “We are more focused on students who are active in their communities and leadership, including nontraditional leadership like acting as a translator for family members or taking care of siblings,” says Tran-Lam.
Beginning your search
When you start looking into scholarships for minority students, start with your school guidance office and the internet. At Lowell High School, students receive a bulletin list in late winter of all the scholarships provided directly to the students in that school and listing all the criteria for consideration. Minority students can keep an eye out for anything specifically for them. Students at smaller schools may not have such an exact list to help them, but Payne says you should look at all the literature your school offers. Investigate scholarships that are not widely known, but make sure they are reputable. “If they are asking for money, chances are it is not legitimate,” advises Payne.
Organization is key
Stay organized with your scholarship applications, suggests Wyzlic. Keep applications in separate folders and with an individual checklist on the front that includes contact information, deadlines and required paperwork. Check off each requirement as you go so you know you are sending the right information to the right place.
If you find the applications overwhelming, break down the process into small steps so you do not fall behind. “Seek out someone who has been to college before,” Wyzlic advises. People can help with the application and major components like the essay. “Have several people read it,” says Wyzlic, and inspect it for any mistakes, like not addressing the envelope to the correct person or failing to have your recommendation letters include essential information (like your relationship to the person and contact information).
Keep an eye on the scholarship season and make sure you start early. Even starting the search as your junior year wraps up is not too early. Look around so you know what is available and what the deadlines are.
Don’t limit your options
Some students prefer to apply for just a few scholarships, but it never hurts to take your chances with several possibilities. “It is totally worth it,” says Brendan Flores, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin (www.utexas.edu) and a recipient of several scholarships for minority students, including those from the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium in Austin, Texas. “You may hate filling out the scholarship applications,” Flores says, “but when the money is coming in, you can pat yourself on the back. If you get a couple of $500 scholarships, that pays for your books for a semester.”
Why create free scholarships for minority students?
Many organizations recognize the unique obstacles minorities face and offer not just funds, but also support for students. Octavio Hinojosa Mier, executive director of the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium, says meeting the financial needs of students is foremost, but funding is not a ticket to success. “We provide mentorship opportunities and a supportive staff," he says. “Our students are much more comfortable reaching out to us to request assistance or guidance. Students are hesitant to open up to someone who they interpret as not being culturally competent to understand where they are coming from.” And for the first-generation college students, navigating the path can be confusing, so any guidance can keep them on track to graduation. “Supporting this generation is a strong investment,” says Mier.
Tran-Lam notes that students are thankful for the funding, but also for something else. “It's having somebody believe in their potential,” she says. “Then we see a lot of scholars giving back, so the circle continues.”
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelancer who writes for many local and national publications. She is always impressed with the enthusiasm and drive of today’s high school and college students.