No matter who you are, determining how to finance a college education is a complex decision involving many factors. For Hispanic and Latino students, specific considerations may include their citizenship and their parents’ citizenship statuses, their parents’ employment, and whether they’re the first in their family to attend college.
This guide is designed to help Hispanic and Latino students navigate the financial aid process, with a general overview of different types of financial aid, how to apply for federal student loans, and advice from college admissions counselor Dana Marvin.
It also includes information specific to Hispanic and Latino students, including grants and scholarships for different populations within these demographics, including Hispanic/Latina women, children of migrant workers, and first-generation college students.
Hispanics and Latinos in Higher Education
In 2019, enrollment of Hispanics and Latinos at four-year colleges hit a high of 3.8 million students, compared to 1.5 million in 2000. Considering that the Latino population in the U.S. is expected to hit 111.2 million by 2060, this number will likely continue to rise in the coming years.
A rise in the number of Hispanics and Latinos who have obtained degrees has naturally coincided with this increased enrollment. Below is a look at the percentage of degrees Hispanic/Latino students have earned since 2000.
|Percent of degrees earned in the U.S. by Hispanic/Latino students|
|Type of Degree||2000-2001||2010-2011||2019-2020|
Preparing for College
Whether you’re a high school student heading directly to college or a working professional wanting to earn a degree, there are some key steps to help you prepare for your higher education experience.
A top priority is determining what you want to study. You may already know your intended area of study based on prior educational or work experience or a planned career path. If you’re still uncertain, there are many ways to explore potential careers, including job shadowing, networking, volunteer work, and skill assessments.
You’ll also want to be prepared for the academic rigors of college. For high school students, this often means taking a college preparatory track, which typically includes courses in math, English, foreign language, biological/physical sciences, and social sciences. Working adults who have been out of school for a while can reacquaint themselves with academia by taking free or paid online classes through organizations like EdX or Coursera.
Students should also be mindful of standardized tests they must take as part of their college applications. Although an increasing number of schools are moving towards test-optional policies for undergraduate standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, these scores still have some benefits. For example, many schools and organizations may consider SAT/ACT scores for academic scholarships. Fee waivers are available for both the SAT and ACT.
Financial Aid Options for Hispanic/Latino Students
In the U.S., the funding options available to pay for higher education are generally the same for all students. These include student loans (both federal and private), work-study, scholarships, and grants.
Federal student loans
A federal student loan is money students, or their parents borrow from the federal government to pay for eligible postsecondary education programs. The U.S. Department of Education administers the program, which offers several different types of loans. This money must be paid back, with interest, regardless of whether students complete their program. However, there are multiple repayment options available. Students apply for federal student loans using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Private education loans
Students can also borrow money to pay for college through private education loans from lenders like banks, credit unions, or state agencies. Private education loans differ from federal loans in that each lender sets their own terms and conditions, including interest rates and repayment plans, typically based on the borrower’s credit. Marvin says that students and families may find less favorable terms with private loans, which is why they should only be used as a last resort. “If a private loan is needed, shop around for the best rate,” she says. “Keep an eye on different lenders, so you know which ones have the best interest rates, and remember that things may change by the time you’re ready to commit.”
This type of funding is awarded through the federal student loan program, although it’s not a loan, and students don’t have to pay the money back. Rather, the Federal Work-Study program pays students for working part-time jobs at their institutions. To be considered for work-study funding, students must complete the FAFSA. Students who are eligible for work-study will be notified when they receive their financial aid award from their school and are generally responsible for securing their own work-study position. Salaries for work-study jobs vary, although students earn at least the current federal minimum wage.
Scholarships are a highly valuable form of educational funding, as they are essentially free money to pay for tuition, room and board, and other expenses. Scholarships come from a variety of sources, including institutions, academic programs, employers, nonprofits, community groups, private companies, professional and social organizations, religious groups, and more. Many organizations offer scholarships to particular student groups, including Hispanics and Latinos, children of migrant workers, or first-generation college students. Generally, scholarships are awarded based on merit, but some schools and groups also offer need-based scholarships. In these cases, students must typically complete the FAFSA to be considered.
Like scholarships, grants are considered “gift aid” or money for school that students don’t have to repay. Grants are typically awarded based on need and can come from various sources. The federal student aid program offers multiple grant opportunities, including grants for Iraq and Afghanistan vets and aspiring teachers. Schools, private companies, and groups may offer grants specifically for Hispanic/Latino students or specific demographics within those groups.
Employer tuition benefits
If you plan on working while attending college, it’s also worth checking if your employer offers tuition assistance benefits. While specifics may vary, generally speaking, companies that provide tuition assistance benefits pay for some or all of a student’s education expenses, either upfront or by reimbursing students after they’ve completed their courses. This type of job perk is becoming increasingly common, with companies like Comcast, FedEx, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and more offering tuition assistance benefits to employees.
FAFSA Guide for Hispanic/Latino Students
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as the FAFSA, is the key application students need to complete to be considered for most types of financial aid, including federal student loans, grants, work-study, and more.
The FAFSA collects demographic and federal income tax for students, their parents (if students are dependents), and spouses (if students are independent and married).
“All of the information that’s collected through the FAFSA is sent directly to the colleges the student includes in their application,” Marvin says. “Schools then use this information to determine how much financial aid they’re going to offer you. Some colleges have other applications for financial aid that students also need to submit, but the FAFSA is universal for the majority of U.S. colleges and universities.”
The application typically becomes available on October 1 for the following academic year. For example, the FAFSA for the 2024-25 academic year will be available on October 1, 2023.
Individual schools set their own deadlines for when the FAFSA is due. You can learn more about your school’s deadlines by contacting their financial aid office. Generally speaking, it’s wise to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as you and your parents have their federal income tax information for the previous year, as some forms of financial aid are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“If it’s your first time filling out the FAFSA, I recommend carving out about 90 minutes, although it may not take that long,” Marvin says. You can also save your FAFSA and return to it later, so you don’t have to complete it all at once.
Information for undocumented students
Citizenship status also plays a role in students’ eligibility for financial aid and how they complete the FAFSA.
The main requirements to qualify for financial aid through the FAFSA are:
- Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible noncitizen
- Have a valid Social Security number
- Demonstrate financial need (requirements may vary)
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress
- Be currently enrolled in or plan to enroll in an eligible degree or certificate program
- Have a high school diploma or recognized equivalent (such as a GED diploma or homeschooling certificate)
Students who have a Social Security number but whose parents are undocumented can complete the FAFSA. “In this case, for the parents’ information, a student should enter 000-00-0000 for their parent’s Social Security numbers. This won’t put the parents in any danger or flag anything on the student’s application,” Marvin says. However, she recommends that students in this situation contact their school directly to find out if there are specific protocols they should follow.
“Unfortunately, students who are undocumented and don’t have a Social Security number are not eligible for federal student aid,” Marvin says. However, these students should still complete the FAFSA, as they may be eligible for aid from other sources that use information from the FAFSA.
“Depending on what state the student lives in, they may have access to state financial aid,” Marvin says. “For example, New York State has the Jose Peralta DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students living in and attending school in New York State to receive financial aid directly from the state.”
As of 2022, the following states offer state financial aid to students who meet specific criteria, regardless of their immigration status:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- District of Columbia
Grants Guide for Hispanic/Latino Students
- Federal Pell Grants: Awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial needs and without a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. Students must be U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens.
- Award amount: Maximum grant amount for the 2023 – 2024 academic year is $7,395.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): Awarded directly by a student’s school to undergraduate students with exceptional financial needs. Not all institutions participate in this funding option; you can find out if your school participates by contacting the financial aid office.
- Award amount: Maximum grant amount is $4,000 per academic year.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher (TEACH) Grant: Awarded to undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate students pursuing teaching careers in elementary or secondary education. Recipients are required to complete a minimum of four years in a school or education-related agency for low-income students within eight years of completing their degree. Failure to fulfill this obligation will result in the grant turning into a loan that must be paid back.
- Award amount: Maximum grant amount is $4,000 per academic year.
- Jose Marti Scholarship Challenge Grant Fund: A need-based merit scholarship that provides financial assistance to eligible undergraduate and graduate students of Hispanic origin who will attend Florida public or eligible private institutions.
- Award amount: Maximum grant amount is $2,000 per academic year.
General Scholarships for Hispanic and Latino Students
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund: HSF selects 10,000 students annually to participate in its HSF Scholars program. Participants receive support services, including scholarships, career services, mentorship, leadership development, knowledge building, and wellness training.
- Eligibility: Students must be of Hispanic heritage; U.S. citizens, permanent legal residents or DACA; have a minimum 3.0 high school GPA or 2.5 college GPA; enrolled full-time in an accredited, public, or not-for-profit four-year university or graduate school in the U.S. and submit the FAFSA.
- Award amount: Maximum scholarship amount is $5,000.
- The Gates Scholarship: Awarded to outstanding minority high school seniors from low-income households who are exceptional student leaders.
- Eligibility: Students must be high school seniors; Hispanic American, African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, and/or Asian & Pacific Islander American; Pell-eligible; a U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident; in good academic standing with a minimum cumulative weighted GPA of 3.3, and plan to enroll full-time in a four-year degree program, at a U.S. accredited, not-for-profit, private or public college or university.
- Award amount: Scholars receive funding for the total cost of attendance not already covered by other financial aid and the expected family contribution, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the methodology used by a Scholar’s college or university.
- The Dream U.S. National Scholarship: Awarded to highly motivated undocumented students with significant, unmet financial needs, with emphasis placed on a commitment to community services and the ability to overcome challenges faced by undocumented students.
- Eligibility: Students must be undocumented and came to the U.S. before Nov. 1, 207, and have lived continuously lived in the U.S. since or have DACA or TPS; have significant unmet financial need; minimum high school or cumulative college GPA of 2.5; plan to enroll full-time in an associate or bachelor’s degree program at a Partner College.
- Award amount: Varies based on the cost of tuition and fees based on enrollment status.
- NBCUniversal Media Scholarship: Awarded to outstanding undergraduate Latino students attending a U.S. postsecondary institution with interest in the media and entertainment industry.
- Eligibility: Students must be college sophomores or juniors enrolled full-time in an accredited college or university; at least 18 years old; minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0; a U. S. Citizen, Legal Permanent Resident, or have legal authorization to work in the U.S. without requiring sponsorship now or in the future; have an interest in the media and entertainment industry; all majors are welcome.
- Award amount: $5,000; award is non-renewable.
Scholarships for Hispanic and Latina Women
- Chicana Latina Foundation: Selects 40-45 students from Northern California to be part of the yearlong Leadership & Scholarship Program.
- Eligibility: See guidelines for full eligibility requirements
- Award amount: $1,500
- ACS Scholars Program: Awards renewable scholarships to undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups in the chemical sciences, majoring in chemistry-related disciplines, and intending to pursue chemistry-related careers.
- Eligibility: U.S. citizens or legal permanent U.S. residents; of African descent or Black, Hispanic or Latina/Latino/Latinx, or Indigenous (e.g., Native American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Alaskan Native); graduating high school seniors or first-year college students, sophomores or juniors (must be enrolled full-time); plan to major or are already majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, chemical technology, or another chemistry-related science AND plan to pursue a career in a chemistry-related science as well; demonstrate high academic achievement in chemistry or science.
- Award amount: Maximum award amount is $5,000 per academic year.
- Illustrating Awesomeness Scholarship: Awarded to young women or gender non-conforming individuals of color actively working to change the world.
- Eligibility: Must be young women or gender non-conforming individuals of color who are currently enrolled or will begin college/university in the spring semester as undergraduate students; must attend college in the U.S.
- Award amount: $750
Scholarships for First-Generation Hispanic and Latino Students
- Education Dynamics Minority First Generation Scholarship Contest: Awards one scholarship annually to minority applicants who are the first in their families to attend college.
- Eligibility: Must be a minority student who is the first in their family to attend college; at least 17 years of age and are pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree at an accredited postsecondary institution of higher learning or a certificate program
- Award amount: $10,000
- Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program: Awarded by a Southern California-based, family-owned trucking company to help future community leaders pursue higher education.
- Eligibility: Must be a first-generation high school senior who is underrepresented, needs financial assistance, and is passionate about furthering their education as a means to help their family, community, and themselves; is attending an accredited 4-year institution in the U.S. and pursuing an undergraduate degree in one of the following areas: Transportation Management, Math, Science, Engineering, Architecture, Environmental Design, Pre-Med, Psychology, Spanish Language/Literature; minimum GPA of 3.5; does not need to be a U.S. citizen.
- Award amount: $5,000
- Dorrance Scholarship Program: A need-based award for first-generation college students from Arizona.
- Eligibility: Must be an Arizona resident and current graduating senior attending a public, private, charter, or home school; will be a first-generation college student (neither parent, stepparent, or legal guardian holds a four-year degree from any country); have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA AND one minimum test score of 1110 SAT, 22 ACT, 72 CLT, or 1050 PSAT; demonstrate financial need by completing the FAFSA; and plan to attend one of Arizona’s public universities and agree to live in on-campus housing during freshman and sophomore year
- Award amount: $12,000 per academic year; renewable for four years
Scholarships for Migrant Workers and Their Children
- Frank Kazmierczak Memorial Migrant Scholarship: Scholarship assistance for migrant farmworker students who wish to pursue a career in teaching.
- Eligibility: Must have a recent history of migration for agricultural employment; Teaching as a career goal; demonstrate academic achievement and financial need.
- Award amount: $1,000
- Berrien Fragos Thorn Arts Scholarships for Migrant Farmworkers: Creative arts scholarships designed to foster and encourage the creative talents of individuals with a history of migration to obtain work in agriculture.
- Eligibility: Must demonstrate an interest in pursuing further development of their talents in visual arts, performing arts, literary arts, media, or crafts; be at least 16 years old and have a history of movement to obtain work in agriculture.
- Award amount: Maximum award amount is $2,500
- College Assistance Migrant Program: Assists students who are migratory or seasonal farmworkers (or children of such workers) enrolled in their first year of undergraduate studies at a higher education institution.
- Eligibility: Must be seasonal or migratory farmworkers (or the children of those workers) in their first year of an undergraduate degree at an accredited university in the U.S.
- Award amount: Varies
- Jean DeGrace Crandall Memorial Scholarship: Awarded for postsecondary assistance to a migrant farmworker or child of a migrant farmworker (with a preference for those from Mexico) with a history of migration to Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, or Westchester Counties in New York State. Students with a demonstrated interest in traditional Mexican art and culture are especially encouraged to apply.
- Eligibility: Must be a migrant farmworker or child of a migrant farmworker with a history of migration to Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, or Westchester Counties; current high school senior with an intent to pursue postsecondary education or current undergraduate student.
- Award amount: $1,000
Guide To Landing a Scholarship
Researching and applying for scholarships should be a top priority when determining how you’ll pay for college.
“Students should look into all avenues for scholarships, both from their school and outside organizations, before they move on to taking out loans,” Marvin says. “Scholarships and grants can lower the cost of the loan the student needs to take out, or best-case scenario, completely cover the cost of school.”
However, there’s often significant competition for scholarships, which is why it’s important to stay on top of deadlines and requirements and submit the strongest application possible.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help you tackle scholarship applications:
- Find scholarships tailored to you: With so many scholarship opportunities available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel compelled to apply for everything. While applying for more scholarships means better odds of receiving money, you want to make sure that you’re only applying for scholarships for which you qualify. Use filters to search scholarship databases like FastWeb and Scholly to target your search, and carefully read all eligibility criteria to ensure you meet all the requirements for a scholarship before you start applying.
- Review application materials needed: The materials required for a scholarship application package can vary widely. In some cases, it’s as easy as filling out an application with basic information. In others, you’ll need to submit essays, recommendation letters, transcripts, and other documents. When you review requirements early, you will be able to begin gathering the necessary materials and working on your application well in advance of the deadline.
- Keep track of application deadlines: Each individual scholarship opportunity will have its own application deadline, which can be a lot to keep track of. However, missing an application deadline can mean leaving money on the table. It’s helpful to develop a system to keep track of application deadlines, such as a spreadsheet or calendar reminders.
- Request recommendations from trusted sources: Many merit-based scholarships require one or more recommendations from those who know the student well, like teachers, counselors, coaches, or employers. When deciding who you’ll ask to write your recommendation, consider individuals who know you well, who you expect will say positive things about you, and who will take the time to write a thoughtful, detailed letter to help you land scholarships.
- Review essays carefully: Another key component of many scholarship applications is a personal essay, which is your chance to demonstrate to scholarship committees why you deserve the money they’re offering. Therefore, you’ll want to give this part of applications the time and attention it deserves. Be sure to have at least one other individual, such as a teacher or guidance counselor, read your essay before submitting it to check for clarity, consistency, spelling, and punctuation. (This is a good tip for college application essays as well!)
- Complete the FAFSA: Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for any federal financial aid, submitting a FAFSA is often required to be considered for scholarships. Most scholarships will specifically state if filling out a FAFSA is part of their requirements but contact the awarding organization to clarify if you’re unsure.
Choosing a School
Many postsecondary schools in the U.S. are designated as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). These are accredited institutions whose undergraduate full-time enrollment is at least 25% Hispanic.
Using data regarding schools’ Hispanic/Latino student enrollment, undergraduate resident per-credit tuition rate, and national rankings, we compiled this list of the top 15 most affordable HSIs in the U.S. for 2023. (Please note, many of the schools on our list are part of state university systems that have multiple locations charging the same tuition for resident and non-resident students.)
Note: Many of the schools on our list are part of state university systems that have multiple locations charging the same tuition for resident and non-resident students.
|Institution||Location||Type of School||Total Enrollment||% of Enrolled Hispanic Students||Cost Per Credit (Undergraduate)||Cost Per Credit (Graduate)|
|South Texas College||McAllen, TX||Public||19,348||95%||In-District: $77
|Miami Dade College||Miami, FL||Public||74,937||74%||Resident: $82 – $91
Non-Resident: $331 – $448
|Eastern New Mexico University||Portales, NM||Public||5,106||36%||Resident: $174
|Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi||Corpus Christi, TX||Public||10,778||47%||Resident: $182 – $396
Non-Resident: $611 – $808
|Resident: $200 – $396
Non-Resident: $650 – $847
|Florida International University||Miami, FL||Public||55,687||61%||Resident: $205
|University of Texas of the Permian Basin||Odessa, TX||Public||5,316||47%||Resident: $249
|University of Houston Downtown||Houston, TX||Public||14,208||55%||Resident: $258
|New Mexico State University||Las Cruces, NM||Public||14,268||54%||Resident: $261
|California State Polytechnic University, Pomona||Pomona, CA||Public||29,103||95%||$277 – $478||$347 – $598|
|California State University, Los Angeles||Los Angeles, CA||Public||27,032||62%||$277 – $478||$347 – $598|
|University of New Mexico||Albuquerque, NM||Public||21,982||48%||Resident: $283
|CUNY Lehman College||Bronx, NY||Public||15,091||50%||Resident: $305
|California State University, Fresno||Fresno, CA||Public||21,924||57%||Resident: $410
|University of Texas, El Paso||El Paso, TX||Public||23,880||84%||Resident: $420 – $453
Non-Resident: $933 – $967
|Resident: $495 – $573
Non-Resident: $1,021 – $1,099
|National Louis University||Chicago, IL||Private, nonprofit||10,068||34%||$430||$685 – $1,162|