College Guide for Minority Students
On college campuses across the nation, we are seeing an increasingly diverse student population. Although data shows that about 43% of today's college students identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, and mixed race, there are still a number of disheartening demographic statistics that point to inequities.
Racial Disparities in Higher Education
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To help multicultural students address some of the common barriers that may make it more challenging to complete a college degree, we've created this resource guide. We asked two experts—Dr. Amber Williams, vice provost for Student Success at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Jannatul Pramanik, program coordinator for Multicultural Student Services at the University of Virginia—to share their advice on everything from overcoming obstacles to navigating financial aid to locating minority scholarships and grant programs.
Meet Our Experts
Common Barriers for Minority Students
Many in post-secondary education have conducted studies in an attempt to identify and find solutions to the most common obstacles faced by minority students. Our experts have had first-hand experience in assisting students overcome these barriers. Says Williams, "Every student has the opportunity to be successful in college. Every one of them deserves it, and they shouldn't—no matter what obstacles are in front of them—allow those obstacles or those barriers to stop them from pursuing success." Here are the suggestions our experts have to offer for three of the most commonly reported issues
Here are the suggestions our experts have to offer for three of the most commonly reported issues:
Sense of Belonging
Many multicultural students report a sense of isolation after they arrive on campus, and this manifests on different levels. For some students who come from close-knit families and communities, they feel homesick. For others, especially students of color attending predominantly white schools, it's more a feeling of cultural isolation, as if they don't belong in that space.
"I think identity-based centers, support services, and programs are such a great way to start off building your connections. They have a very specific mission to prioritize and centralize the experiences of those who have been marginalized."
Program Coordinator for Multicultural Student Services (MSS) at the University of Virginia
Williams explains that students often arrive at college with different expectations. Sometimes there are "misalignments" between students' expectations of how things work at the college level because they're in a new environment. Likewise, they're not accustomed to their instructors' expectations of them.
This can be particularly true for some students who come from lower-income public high schools that couldn't provide them with enough resources. Research has shown that some of the resulting problems due to wealth gaps among high school students entering college include poor computer and technology skills, little support in preparing for college placement tests, and a reluctance to ask for help because they've never had access to resources in the past.
Understanding Financial Aid
Although there are many financial resources available to minority students, it is not always easy to find them or to understand how to use them properly. Many experts agree that the financial aid process is not as transparent or easy to navigate as it could be, especially for first-generation students who've never applied for financial aid before.
Advice for First-Generation Students
In addition to overcoming the obstacles that are common for many minority college students, first-generation students may struggle with a few more issues. Because she was a first-generation student and is a woman of color, Pramanik is intimately familiar with these challenges. Drawing upon her experience as an undergraduate, she advises:
Don't let "imposter syndrome" ruin your college experience. "Being surrounded by people who just had a greater amount of knowledge around how college works—the different facets, from the academic side to the social side—it led to a lot of questioning whether I belonged there. Imposter syndrome affected my ability to fully enjoy my first year of college," she acknowledges. Thus, it's important for first-gen students to always remember they deserve to be in college because they've earned it.
Be open to learning by asking questions. "You may feel some pressure to hide that you don't know something. It almost feels like you're a step behind everyone else. But it's not your fault that you don't know this information, and there are going to be resources out there for you to learn," she assures students.
"Fit, to me, is feeling like you can be your authentic self and that you are at your best. You want to feel that this campus has high expectations for you, but simultaneously, they assume you can meet those expectations with the right resources. Fit is when a student feels valued and wanted."
Dr. Amber Williams
Inaugural Vice Provost for Student Success at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville
In addition to applying for funding from the government and from the schools themselves, which is accomplished by filling out the FAFSA, some students may also want to apply for privately funded scholarships for minority students. Each opportunity requires a separate application, but the more time and energy a student devotes to a scholarship search, the higher the rewards.
Landing more scholarship money allows students to minimize out-of-pocket payments and the amount of student loans they accept, which in turn decreases the amount of interest that will have to be paid after graduation. Even the smallest scholarship awards are worth the application process, notes Williams. "One may only be for $500, but that's a couple of books that you don't have to pay for."
Our list of college scholarships for minorities has been divided into several sections (all minorities, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, women), so an individual student may be eligible for scholarships on several of the lists below. Most are based on financial need, although some give preference to applicants who have demonstrated academic achievement and/or service to their communities. Many of these scholarships are geared toward U.S. citizens earning undergraduate degrees at two-year and four-year schools, but there is also a list of minority graduate school scholarships.
Minority Grants and Scholarships
Scholarships for Asian-American Students, Asian Students, and Pacific Islander Students
Scholarships for Native American Students
Scholarships for Minority Women
Scholarships for Minority Graduate Students
Other Scholarship Opportunities
Checking with professional organizations related to a student's field of study. Many organizations want to promote diversity within their professions by funding minority scholarships. Some of these include the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (accounting), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (STEM subjects), the American Chemical Society (chemistry), BRAG (fashion design and retailing), the Radio Television Digital News Association (journalism), the Architects Foundation (architecture), and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (engineering).
For multicultural students who are also low-income students, following up on Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which provide up to $4,000 extra in grant aid. Students automatically file for this when they file their FAFSA, but low-income students should be aware that this possibility exists.
Many of the organizations that provide scholarship funding to diverse students also function as advocacy or networking associations. Some that may be of particular interest are: