There are billions of dollars awarded every year for grants and scholarships that target specific students based on ethnic, gender, religious and other clearly-defined backgrounds.
Businesses, community organizations, clubs, churches and universities recognize the value of educating a diverse population and have been increasing their financial support to open the door to college for just about everyone. Women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Lesbians are just a few of the minority groups that have scholarship funds set up specifically to help overcome the financial hurdles of student debt.
The challenge is to determine what characteristics or skills you have that distinguish you from classmates and start researching online to see if there is a scholarship or grant opportunity that asks for those qualifications.
Minority Scholarship Programs
Programs aimed at ethnic minorities are the most popular and financially rewarding student-specific scholarships. The qualifications typically require that you share the cultural or national heritage required and have some combination of merit achievement and financial need.
For example, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund is for students who are at least one-quarter Hispanic/Latino. The decision is based on merit and applicants must have at 3.0 or better GPA to qualify for awards between $500 and $5,000. Though financial need is not part of the selection process, it is taken into account when they determine how much money to provide a student.
The Blacks At Microsoft (BAM) scholarship is one of hundreds of opportunities that target African Americans. The BAM scholarship gives $5,000 to students of African descent who have an interest in technology. The scholarship is renewable for four years, bringing the value to $20,000. This award also serves as a recruiting tool for future Microsoft employees.
The Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) is the biggest supporter of scholarships for Asian American and Pacific Islander students. APIASF has 13 scholarship programs involving sponsors like Coca-Cola, Toyota and Federal Express, who have provided $80 million in grants since 2003.
Then there is the Ronald McDonald House Charities scholarship for students of African-American, Hispanic or Asian descent, who demonstrate financial need and academic achievement. RMHC has given out $62 million in grants in 35 years to qualified students.
Grants For Women
Women represent 57 percent of college graduates in 2014, so its not surprising that nearly every segment of the grant-giving population has scholarships aimed directly at women.
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is a perfect example with more than 75 scholarships sponsored by companies as diverse as Chrysler, Cisco, Bayer and Caterpillar. If you are a woman with entrepreneurial or leadership skills, you qualify for SWE grants that total more than $500,000 a year.
There are huge numbers of scholarships available for women in the STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) fields, which are still dominated by men. Companies like Google, IBM and Vanguard give out STEM scholarships worth $10,000 or more to women studying in these fields.
The grants are not limited to high school seniors. The AARP offers scholarships for women over 50 and the Linda Lael Miller Scholarship rewards women over 25 who demonstrate how getting a degree will enhance their future and that of their family.
More Student Specific Scholarships
There are thousands of other student specific grants and scholarship opportunities. For example, several organizations and foundations target single mothers, who havent finished their college degree. The P. E.O. Program for Continuing Education seeks women who have two years left to complete their degree and expect the degree to be the difference in gaining employment.
If you are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) community, you can turn to the Pride Foundation, which has more than 50 scholarships available to pursue a degree. Children of members of the LGBT community also are eligible.
Native Americans have a chance to tap into federal and state resources as well as private grants to help fund their college careers. Most of the government grants are specific to careers in professions that are underrepresented in the Native American community. The Indian Health Service Scholarships for Native Americans pursuing careers in the healthcare industry is a good example.
Dont fit one of the categories mentioned so far? Not a problem. The list of categories for student-specific scholarships is limited only by your imagination, or skill set.
Are you a vegetarian? The Vegetarian Resource Group gives out $20,000 a year in scholarship money to three students (one for $10,000, two for $5,000 each) who demonstrate a commitment to promoting a peaceful world through a vegetarian lifestyle.
There is even a scholarship for being a redhead or left-handed.
The point is that while the majority of scholarships go to high academic achievers, opportunities abound that dont require high SAT scores or amazing GPAs. Online research is the easiest way to find them, but before you get started, make a list of personal attributes that separate you from the crowd.
Type those descriptions into the search engine and add company names, large community organizations and even the colleges you hope to attend to see if there isnt something that opens the door to a scholarship or grant that you never knew existed.