With the tuition at both public and private colleges skyrocketing, contemplating the total cost of a college degree can be daunting. Luckily there are millions of dollars available in scholarships, grants and other financial aid that you usually don't have to pay back.
And if you're Hispanic, there are many scholarships earmarked especially for you.
"Once you start doing some research, you realize that there are so many options," said Rocío Figueroa, a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate and the first college graduate in her family. "So even if you can't get financial aid, you know the money's out there."
There are several groups dedicated to helping Hispanic students attend college. The dollar amounts of the scholarships and grants vary, and some may require applicants to have specific majors and career goals. Check with each organization for its requirements.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund
The HSF is the largest Hispanic-focused scholarship-granting organization in the country, awarding millions of dollars in scholarship money each year to Hispanic high school and college students. In addition, it offers awards to students at community colleges who are planning to transfer to four-year colleges.
Most of the scholarships require that applicants:
* Be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents
* Be of Hispanic descent (at least one parent must be fully Hispanic or both parents must be half Hispanic)
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* Be currently enrolled full time in school
The above criteria can change depending on the scholarship, so check the HSF Web site for specific details. You can also find a complete list of scholarships, requirements, application deadlines, downloadable applications and tips for applying.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund Institute (HSFI)
The HSFI is affiliated with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, acting as the public policy and awareness branch of that organization. It also administers a scholarship program for community college and university students who are pursuing degrees in environmental science, math, science, computer science and other specific fields. Awards are typically between $2,000-$3,000. Check their Web site for more details.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI)
In addition to awarding their own scholarships for high school and college students who demonstrate strong community leadership, the CHCI also publishes an extensive list of scholarships on their Web site.
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
With approximately 115,000 members throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, LULAC is the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the country. Since 1998, the LULAC National Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $10 million to high school seniors, undergraduates and graduate students.
The dollar amounts of the scholarships vary, and some may require applicants to have specific majors and career goals. Many require a minimum GPA of 2.7 to 3.0. Visit LULAC.org for a list of available scholarships, eligibility requirements and more.
Hispanic College Fund (HCF)
The HCF is primarily geared toward students who plan to study business, but it does offer scholarships based on other fields. You can also find information on other scholarship-granting organizations, along with their contact information. Visit HispanicFund.org for more information.
Corporate/Association Scholarships and Grants
Many professional organizations offer scholarships, fellowships and grants to encourage minority participation in their specialized field. Research the professional associations in your intended career, as well as leading corporations. Even if scholarships or grants aren't available, you may find internship opportunities and networking contacts.
Some corporations ask for a post-graduate work commitment, so be sure to review all requirements before getting involved. Below are two professional organizations that have scholarship programs in place.
Hispanic National Bar Association
The Hispanic National Bar Association is a non-profit association representing the interests of Hispanic American attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students. It offers fellowship and scholarship opportunities for students planning to enter the field of law.
National Society of Hispanic MBAs
They offer several scholarship programs for Hispanic students interested in pursuing a career in business. Some are geared specifically for MBA candidates, but other scholarships are more general.
Many states have developed their own grants and scholarships for minority students, independent of the federal government. Wisconsin, Oregon, Florida and South Carolina are among the many states that have scholarship or grant programs for students pursuing a college degree.
However, eligibility for state aid programs is frequently determined by each college's financial aid office, using data from the FAFSA. Be sure to submit a FAFSA form to maximize your chances for both federal and state financial aid.
There is a lot of financial support available for Hispanic students, much of which can be discovered on the Internet. The main challenge is finding it all. However, taking the time to research and apply for aid programs could mean the difference between graduating from college debt-free or paying off student loans for years.