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Scholarships and the White Male: Disadvantaged or not? By Susan Borowski

Talk to the parent of a 17- or 18-year-old white male student who is looking for a scholarship, and you may be talking to one frustrated person. “My 17-year-old son is a high B student and an excellent athlete; but we’ve been unable to find any scholarships for him because he’s white,” says Elizabeth (last name not revealed) from San Jose, California. “He even had a teacher tell him not to put his race on any scholarship applications because it would hurt his chances.”  

Elizabeth is not alone in her frustration. Equally disgruntled is Evan Johnson, a senior at West Ranch High School in Santa Clarita, California. “I have worked hard to get good grades, and I haven’t missed a day of school,” Johnson says. “I’m an Eagle Scout. My parents both work hard and are frugal with their money.

“We aren’t wealthy. We don’t take fancy vacations and we do without a lot of things. Yet because I’m white, I don’t get a hand. There are all kinds of nationalities at my high school, whose families have a lot more money than we have, and yet they are getting scholarships.”

According to Maura Kastberg, Executive Director of Student Services at RSC: Your College Prep Expert, there is a lot of confusion about scholarships in general. “If a child does well in school, that is no guarantee of a scholarship,” she says.  
 
Types of scholarships

There are various sources of financial aid available for students short of taking out student loans. There are federal and state government grants and scholarships as well as institutional scholarships available from the college or university where the student is applying or attending school. There are two basic kinds of scholarships: those based on merit, which look at academics, leadership roles, artistic and musical ability, and athletic ability; and those that are based on need due to a family’s financial situation.

There are also private scholarships, which are also need- and/or merit-based, and they are very selective. Many are geared toward minorities because they are looking for something in particular. Says Kastberg, “Because private colleges are funded differently than state schools, they are freer to choose because they don’t operate under the restrictions that state schools do.

“They’re very difficult to get and very time-consuming. They also replace money the college would have given the student. Colleges generally take what money an applicant or student has gotten from a private source and reduce the amount they give.” She acknowledges that many students don’t realize this when they apply for private scholarships.  

Some private scholarships are based on a student’s characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and religion, and some are based on professional affiliations or future career choice. Others are based on a competition and often involve writing an essay or giving a speech. These include civic awards from groups such as the Jaycees, the Kiwanis Club, and professional business associations.

As Johnson found, private scholarships can be extremely selective. “When I research all the grants and scholarships out there, they are all really specific, targeted towards everyone but me,” he says. “Are you a Pacific Islander who plays tuba? There is a scholarship for you. Or a woman from an inner city who works with animals? There's a grant for you. But a hard-working white boy from the suburbs? Nothing.”

According to Kastberg, money is given out by discretion in private schools. State schools don’t have as much aid to give out, so they will fill the school from within their own community and charge higher tuition for out-of-state residents, except where there is reciprocity with neighboring states.

Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance website, has a unique perspective, being half Caucasian and half Chinese. “I have certainly noticed a difference in how my applications have been handled throughout my life,” Schrage says. “I have a mother who is from Hong Kong and a father who is from the United States. When I have applied for various scholarships, I noticed differing responses when I checked off ‘Caucasian’ as opposed to ‘Asian-American.’

“The minority-based scholarships often were very receptive of my status as an Asian applicant. Yet, while it's hard to put my finger on it, I did feel a certain negative vibe when I applied as a Caucasian for other scholarships. I also hear stories from friends who mentioned that their minority friends met with much more success when applying for study abroad scholarships.”

The financial factor

Students coming from a white middle class background may also be at a disadvantage financially. According to Elizabeth, “It seems you need to be either very rich or very disadvantaged to be able to afford college. We are middle class and there doesn’t seem to be any help out there for us. In fact, here in California, it’s cheaper to go to a private college than it is to go to a state school.”

How underprivileged do you have to be to get a need-based scholarship? According to Kastberg, if the combined parental income is $31,000 or less, it creates an automatic zero EFC (Expected Family Contribution), where the family is expected to contribute nothing. Applicants would submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to the government, see what they would be eligible for, and then they would turn to the school to determine how much need a school would meet. Some schools cover expenses by a combination of grants, gifts, loans, and work-study. “Some schools might cover 25 percent, and some might cover 100 percent. It just depends on the school,” Kastberg says.

At the next level, if both parents make $50,000 or more and file a 1040A or 1040EZ tax return, no assets are taken into consideration, only income. If there are multiple children in college, that is also taken into consideration.

Caucasian-only scholarships

Because many white middle-class applicants are having a hard time getting scholarships, there are a few scholarships designed just for them. Some are designed to counter racial imbalance in historically black colleges. Colleges that offer these scholarships include Tennessee State University, Alabama State University, Alabama A&M University, Jackson State University in Mississippi, Mississippi Valley State University, and Alcorn State University.

However, not all Caucasian-only scholarships are designed to achieve racial balance. In 2011, Colby Bohannan, a former Texas State University student and one of the founders of the Former Majority Association for Equality, established a scholarship in Texas that is restricted to male college students who are at least one-fourth Caucasian, have a GPA of at least 3.0, and demonstrate financial need. The organization handed out five $500 scholarships in 2011 out of 180 applicants.

Another scholarship that is restricted to white students is the United Caucasian College Fund, which was initiated in 2008, also in Texas.

In addition, there are other institution-specific scholarships for whites only, such as the Stefan Allan Zweig Memorial Scholarship at State University of New York, Binghamton, which is targeted to white male students pursuing a career in urban planning or a related field.

Other whites-only scholarships had been established but are now defunct.

The perceived inequality in obtaining scholarships may be because there are so many more whites attending college than there are minorities. The number of Caucasians enrolled in college is roughly double the number of minorities, so there is simply less money to go around for white students. But that’s of little comfort to people like Johnson, who says, “I feel like we are being punished.”

Debunking the myth

Is the perception that Caucasians are disadvantaged in getting scholarships accurate? Mark Kantrowitz doesn’t think so. Kantrowitz, publisher of the websites FinAid.org and Fastweb.com and author of Secrets to Winning a Scholarship, released a paper in September of 2011 entitled “The Distribution of Grants and Scholarships by Race” (http://www.finaid.org/scholarships/20110902racescholarships.pdf). This paper, based on data derived by the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) from the National Center for Education Statistics, indicates that Caucasians are, in fact, quite privileged in obtaining scholarships.  In fact, it shows that white students are 40 percent more likely to win private scholarships than minority students.

The NPSAS study is conducted every three to four years. The most recent data looked at figures from 2007-2008 and compared it with figures from 2003-2004 covering over 100,000 students nationwide.

It’s important to note that these numbers focus on private scholarships and non-need-based institutional scholarships. When financial aid is taken as a whole, including loans, the picture is less optimistic, as shown by the chart depicting the percentage of full-time, full-year undergraduates that are receiving financial aid. Except for Asian students, white students received the least amount of financial aid in the form of grants and loans, and that trend is expected to continue into the future.

Figure 25a.
Percentage of full-time, full-year undergraduates receiving financial aid, by race/ethnicity: 2007–08

These statistics, combined with the sheer number of Caucasians enrolled in postsecondary schools along with less money to go around due to budget cuts, would seem to bear out the frustration felt by many whites in attempting to secure scholarships.

What, then, is a white male to do?   

Words of advice

According to Kastberg, “A student should strive to be the best candidate they can be for the school they are applying to.” She believes it’s best to start preparing for college in the freshman year of high school. “It takes four years of high school to prepare for four years of college,” she says.

Students should look at college entrance requirements so they take the right classes. They should also take Advanced Placement classes and study for their SATs. In addition, students should begin researching scholarship opportunities early on.  

Kastberg indicates that the best place to look for a scholarship is at the school or college itself, and because state schools often fill their enrollment from the surrounding community, applicants may have a better chance by staying local.

Kantrowitz’s study indicates that Caucasians may want to concentrate on private merit-based scholarships and grants, and Kastberg agrees. “If you’re an average student and qualify for need-based aid, don’t go searching for private scholarships,” she says. “But if you can’t get need-based aid, then spend the time to look for funding from private sources.”

There are a number of websites with search engines to help students find scholarships, including Finaid.org, Fastweb.com, CollegeBoard.com, Scholarships.com, SuperCollege.com, and Meritaid.com.
Merit scholarships for average students

For students having a difficult time obtaining scholarships due to grades, they are not out of luck. There are many scholarships to be had that don’t rely on a high GPA. Just ask Felecia Hatcher, author of The C Students Guide to Scholarships. She was a C student in high school with a GPA below 3.0, but she managed to win five scholarships and two grants totaling over $130,000.

As she travels the country speaking on this topic and holding workshops, she finds that guidance counselors often reject opportunities that could benefit Caucasian students because of the assumption they don’t need financial aid. She encourages students to look for alternative scholarships. “The most popular workshop I present is on how to use social media and crowd sourcing to find scholarships,” she says.

There are, in fact, an increasing number of scholarships based on social media. CollegeNET.com is a website that uses social networking to help students and college graduates win scholarships. Applicants blog on a topic, and students choose the scholarship winner each week based on the uniqueness and thoughtfulness of each post. The author of the highest-rated blog post wins that week's scholarship. It’s a non-discriminatory method of choosing scholarship recipients.

Other scholarships based on social media can be found at Collegescholarship.org, where scholarships are offered for blogging, using Twitter, and for web design.

Scholarships that are not based on a high GPA are the following:

  • The Discus Awards College Scholarship which, on its website, states:  “Discus Awards scholarships recognize leaders on the dance team, drywall hangers supporting Habitat for Humanity, shift leaders at Starbucks, active youth group members, and social media gurus. Put simply, Discus Awards Scholarships recognize a new category of high school students: the all-around standout.”
  • The AXA Achievement Scholarship, which is based on
  • community service.
  • The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which is based on community service and protecting the health and sustainability of the environment.
  • The Collegiate Inventors Competition, which awards scholarships based on patentable inventions.
  • The J.D. Salinger Award for creative writing.
  • The Ayn Rand Institute scholarships, which offer several
  • essay contests.

Community-service-based awards include:

  • The Do Something Brick Awards
  • The Discover Card Tribute Awards
  • The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
  • The Tylenol Scholarship

There are also awards for overcoming adversity: The Horatio Alger Association Scholarships and the Patricia M. McNamara Memorial Scholarship are both awarded to students who have persevered over adversity to achieve their goals. Many of these scholarships offer awards of $5,000, $10,000, or more.

There are also many essay contests available to win scholarship money. These include:

  • The AFSA National Scholarship Essay Contest
  • The Akademos Essay Contest
  • The Americanism Essay Contest which is open to students as young as seventh grade and is for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel and their families
  • The College Prowler Essay Competition
  • The aBetterEarth Environmental Essay Contest
  • The Holocaust Remembrance Project Essay Contest
  • The MoneyMatters101.com scholarship
  • The Voice of Democracy Essay Contest

More scholarships can be found at the Finaid.org webpage entitled “Scholarships for Average Students” at http://www.finaid.org/scholarships/average.phtml.

Because finding and obtaining scholarships is so competitive, Hatcher has some words of advice: “No matter what your race, with the economy the way it is, everyone has to get creative with their search. Students have to learn to think outside the application.”

For some, pursuing non-traditional scholarships may be just the ticket.  

Susan Borowski is a contibuting writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

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