Finding funding for college is often a difficult job that requires much time, attention, patience and persistence. The federal government is usually the best place to start, followed by your particular state government. These sources are open to all, so competition is fierce and success is not guaranteed.
There is another avenue available to many students, though, that narrows the field considerably: minority grants and scholarships. Some financial aid in the form of grants (that do not have to be paid back) is reserved for students of a particular heritage or race.
The word “minority” usually refers to a segment of the population that is smaller than the majority and has been marginalized or receives less benefits than the generally accepted majority. Minority status is usually determined by race, ethnic heritage or gender. Other factors such as religion and sexual orientation can also define minority groups. The most represented and largest minorities are usually African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans and more recently, LGBT citizens.
Grants are often offered to these groups by ethnic foundations, private corporations and government agencies. These grants try to address some of the difficult and unique challenges confronted each day by members of these minority groups. These students must still show they need the financial help, but their competition for available dollars will necessarily be less in a more-limited pool of applicants.
Minority grants are generally offered in two different categories:
Ethnic Minority Grants
These grants offer funding dollars to students based on their heritage – African American, Native American, Hispanic, etc.
Non-Ethnic Minority Grants
These grants are aimed at people who are otherwise limited in their pursuit of higher education because of some kind of physical barrier. Students with physical and mental disabilities would fall in this category. Women’s grants also make it easier for women to enter fields traditionally dominated by men.
All minority grants share the purpose of advancing diversity and multiculturalism. They also have the ability to make higher education possible for students who otherwise may never have gotten to go to college.
If you are a minority student, the first thing to do is complete the same applications as everyone else (start with the FAFSA) for federal government grants, state government grants and individual college grants. Once you have done this homework, keep digging to find specific groups you belong to and which have money to give away for college.
Federal Grant Sources
The best place to start your search for minority grants is with federal and state government grants. None of the funds these grants award to college students are set aside specifically for minority groups, but they are the best sources of funding for everyone seeking to go to college. Even if you think you have access to specific funding because you are a minority, start with these broad-based grants:
Federal Pell Grants – usually awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2015-2016 academic year is $5,775. The final amount a student receives depends on his or her need, the cost of the college and more. Students can receive Federal Pell Grants for up to 12 semesters.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) – awarded to undergrads with exceptional financial need. The amount is determined by the college’s financial aid office and depends on how much funding the college has.
Academic Competitiveness Grants – These grants are given in addition to Pell Grants. In fact, recipients must be Pell Grants recipients as well. The Academic Competitiveness Grants focus on math, science, engineering and other technology-based education. Students must have taken rigorous classes in high school to qualify for this grant, which is given to first- and second-year college students.
National SMART Grants – These awards are just like the Academic Competitiveness Grants, but are given to third- and fourth-year college students instead of first- and second-year students.
Minority Grants for STEM Studies
STEM subjects are science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These areas of study have traditionally been dominated by white males, with little competition from females and minorities. With so many now recognizing the value of diversification in these vitally important fields, many grant and scholarship programs have popped up to encourage all minority groups, particularly women, to find a way to focus on these subject areas.
Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Education began working with a dozen universities to create the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program, which provides grants to minority college students to fund their projects in these areas. This focus builds a stronger path for women and minorities to make their way into STEM careers.
Filing your FAFSFA as soon as possible is one of the biggest keys to getting the financial aid you hope to receive. For Hispanics and Latinos, a Spanish-language version of the test is also available, so not being able to read the form is not an excuse for Spanish-speakers.
State Grants for Minority Students
Some states offer specific grants to minority students who reside in that specific state. For example, Iowa runs a program called Iowa Minority Academic Grants for Economic Success (IMAGES). This need-based program award grants to Iowa residents seeking to obtain their first undergraduate degrees. The program lasts for a maximum of eight semesters for qualified students.
Once you have exhausted all possible government resources, it’s time to look for what kinds of private help may be available. Minority foundations are well-known organizations which administer grant and scholarship programs for ethnic minority students. A few examples:
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs, or the American Indian College Fund
- The Hispanic College Fund
- United Negro College Fund – This group promotes education for African American Students through grants, scholarships and aid programs. They help African American students all across the United States, but their particular focus is promoting Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Vocational Groups and Corporate Entities
Because some industries often have trouble attracting new knowledge workers through their doors, they have launched their own grant programs to fund a college education for these students. Interested students will have to seek out these individual grant opportunities on their own, but they do exist. In fact, here is a sampling of some of those opportunities:
- Indian Student Assistance Grants are for Wisconsin residents who are at least 25% Native American.
- Minority Undergraduate Retention Grants help minority students enrolled at least half-time in Wisconsin Technical Colleges. Maximum grants of $2,500 annually are available to students.
- For Wisconsin residents who are deeply affected by hearing or vision loss, Hearing and Visually Handicapped Student Grants are available.
- The Connecticut Office of Higher Education gives minority tuition help to minority juniors and seniors pursuing teaching degrees. The state’s Minority Teacher Incentive Grant Program offers up to $5,000 each year to such students.
- Raise the Nation is a not-for-profit organization with the goal of giving financial support to single-parent women who want to continue their education or repay student loans.
- The Women's Independence Scholarship is a project of The Sunshine Lady Foundation (SLF) of North Carolina. This program helps survivors of domestic violence earn an education, which will help lead them out of poverty, enable them to obtain a well-paying job and learn independence and self-sufficiency.
- The American Anthropological Association – Minority doctoral candidates in anthropology can apply for dissertation fellowships that last a year. The Association’s goal is to show their support for minority students and increase the overall diversity in the study of anthropology.
- Gilbert Rios Memorial Award — $5,000 is given every year to one male and one female Puerto Rican or Latino undergraduate students.
- Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Minority Summer Grant — An unnamed grant is awarded each year to one Hispanic or other minority heritage undergraduate student.
- Jose Marti Scholarship Challenge Grant Fund — $2,000 is awarded each year to 63 Hispanic-American students.
- Koniag Education Career Development Grant — Two grants are awarded each year to one Alaskan Native freshman for career development. The amount of the grant is determined by application.
- National Leadership Development Grants — $500 to $5,000 is awarded each year to minority undergraduate students who are members of the United Methodist Church.
- Osage Higher Education Grant — $300 to $1,200 is awarded three times per year for a varying number of undergraduate and graduate students Osage Indian descent.
- Sons of Italy National Leadership Grants Competition General Scholarships — $4,000 to $25,000 is awarded to 10-13 undergraduate and graduate students of Italian descent.
- Ciri Foundation - This foundation has a select audience for educational grants. The grants are solely for Alaskan natives and specifically for Cook Inlet natives and descendants. Funds are awarded for vocational development and for advancing cultural heritage.
- Blackfeet Nation is a supporter of college grants for Native Americans, including the Montana Community Foundation Grant for juniors and seniors currently enrolled in four-year colleges.
- The American Geosciences Institute offers small cash awards through their Minority Participation Program.
- The American Bar Association publishes this list of aid for aspiring minority lawyers.
- The East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church offers minority grants to pre-seminary students through its Board of Ordained Ministry Ethnic Minority Grant Program. Applicants to the program must be studying to become ordained as Methodist ministers.
- The Asian American Journalist Association gives grants and scholarships to help Asian students compete in both broadcast and print journalism. Eligible students include those of Asian and Pacific island heritage who have industry internships and need help meeting living expenses.
More of these types of grants are available for those minority students who are willing to look.
Grants for Women
While women may not technically be a minority group, they have long been under-represented in higher education and in some industry-specific careers. Grants are available for women pursuing programs in some of those under-represented careers as well as grants for economically disadvantaged women.
Another category of grants is for women who are single mothers. Being the sole provider and parent can often put the brakes on a woman’s opportunity to go to college. Grants are available to help women in this situation. Here are two examples:
Other Minority College Grants
Many other grants are available to minority students who are willing to keep looking when others have stopped. Persistence is one of the biggest keys to getting your college education funded, whether you are a minority or not. Most of these awards are not overwhelming in and of themselves, but a few of them added together can make a significant contribution to your college fund. A few of these potential grants are listed here:
And here are yet a few more:
A couple more tips
If you are looking for funds for minorities to attend college, try professional organizations and associations such as the American Association of Hispanic Certified Public Accountants and the National Black Nurses' Association. Organizations like these can supports students who may enter their fields – the support usually comes as scholarships and grants.
Another idea: don’t overlook local businesses and organizations in your own town. Many small local organizations have a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars to give to students who are looking for help to go to college.
Money is out there for college if you know where to look for grants. If you are a minority student on the hunt for college grants, you might actually have a better chance at obtaining certain funds than a member of the majority race since so many smaller sources are available strictly for members of certain races or groups.
The biggest key – we cannot mention this enough – in trying to obtain minority grants for college is persistence. If you’re persistent, you can accomplish anything simply because you will find access to funds that no one else knew were there.
The process of looking for minority grants can be long and time-consuming, but in the end, it is worth it to be able to attend college, learn a marketable skill and obtain a job as a productive member of society.
Happy grant hunting!