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Scholarships for BIPOC Students Attending Trade Programs

Many kids grow up being told the only way to succeed is by attending a four-year university. This belief can make postsecondary school seem out of reach, particularly for underresourced and marginalized groups like the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) population.

The BIPOC community is often at a disadvantage when it comes to financial resources and societal barriers. However, vocational and trade school programs can also provide excellent career opportunities and long-term financial stability.

This guide investigates statistics about postsecondary education and race and why some students may want to consider vocational school instead. Learn about 13 vocational school scholarships and additional resources that can help you on your educational journey.

Editor’s Note: We use language from individual studies and scholarships throughout this piece. For instance, if a study says “American Indian” rather than “Indigenous” or “African American” instead of “Black,” we use those terms. Here are a few words and acronyms you may need to know:

  • AAPI: Asian American/Pacific Islanders; may include Native Hawaiians
  • Associate: Degree program taking about two years
  • Cosmetology: Programs focusing on hair, skin, nails, etc.
  • Hispanic: People whose backgrounds are from Spanish-speaking countries
  • Latinx: Gender-neutral term for those from Latin America or their descendants
  • Postsecondary: Any schooling after high school
  • Vocational/Trade School: Training for a specific applied career like carpentry or cosmetology

BIPOC Students and Barriers to Education

The good news is postsecondary education is becoming more diverse. The bad news is the diversity doesn’t reflect the country’s diversity, especially regarding who finishes postsecondary school. Here’s a deeper look at who’s enrolled in college, who completes college, and why.

College Enrollment and Race

This table shows the percentage of the postsecondary community college population by race vs. the standard college-aged population by race.

RacePercent of Postsecondary PopulationPercent of Overall Population Ages 18-24
American Indian/Alaska Native1%1%

*Asian students only. Pacific Islanders aren’t included in these statistics.

Postsecondary data comes from the American Association of Community Colleges (2022). Overall population estimates come from the National Center for Education Statistics (2020), rounded to the nearest whole number (accessed May 2022).

This data may not look so bad. After all, the percentage of BIPOC in the population is fairly similar to the numbers in a typical community college population. However, this doesn’t take into consideration how many BIPOC complete their postsecondary education.

College Graduation and Race

The number of college attendees doesn’t tell the whole story, and enrollment doesn’t necessarily lead to completion.

According to EducationData.org, “College graduation statistics indicate graduation among minority groups has become more attainable over time, but disparities still remain in terms of attainment.” They say white men are most likely to graduate with a degree of any level, while American Indian/Alaska Native men are least likely to do so.

In fact, college dropout rates are surprising across the board:

  • American Indian/Alaska Native:36.2% for four-year colleges; 52.9% for two-year colleges
  • Asian:10.44% for four-year colleges; 35.4% for two-year colleges
  • Black: 30.6% for four-year colleges; 52% for two-year colleges
  • Hispanic:21.4% for four-year colleges; 40.6% for two-year colleges
  • Multiracial:22.8% for four-year colleges; 43% for two-year colleges
  • White: 17.6% for four-year colleges; 42.3% for two-year colleges

Note: Two-year program “dropout” rates include all who don’t finish a degree, including those who move on to four-year programs.

So, even if some groups enroll in college at higher rates than their overall population, they’re generally less likely to complete school than their white peers.

Why Are There Racial Disparities in Postsecondary Graduation Rates?

It would take an entire book to dig into the nuances of why there are racial disparities in postsecondary enrollment and graduation rates. Two reasons stand out among all others, though: poverty and prejudice.

Poverty is a significant reason for racial disparities in higher education attendance and graduation rates. As of 2020, 11.6% of the general U.S. population lived at or below the poverty level.

But poverty isn’t divided evenly. Poverty levels within individual groups are:

  • AAPI: 8%
  • American Indian/Alaska Native:21.4%
  • Black: 19.8%
  • Hispanic: 17.1%
  • Multiracial:12.7%
  • White: 3%

Many spend their kindergarten through high school years being told college costs are worth it in the long run. But, if you must choose between a potential career four years from now or risking living out of a car today, which would you pick?

If someone at a higher risk of poverty starts school at all, they may need to drop out because they can’t continue to pay related costs without substantial financial aid.

Then, there’s prejudice. It comes in many different forms from many different places, both purposefully and unconsciously.

BIPOC may feel forced to enroll in majors that don’t align with their interests because of assumptions about their backgrounds or abilities—which could ultimately result in dropping out. Additionally, classes often exist to “weed out” certain students, and many experts believe this disproportionately harms BIPOC students.

Many BIPOC learners feel they don’t belong on campus because many campuses are overwhelmingly white to begin with. This feeling may be exacerbated by a lack of relevant mentorships or community organizations allowing them to explore who they are as they transition to adulthood.

And, of course, there’s racism from classmates, professors, and others to contend with. It can be frightening for BIPOC students to come forward about these challenges, so leaving may seem safer.

Benefits of Vocational Training

Fortunately, vocational schooling can be a perfect fit for students of any race, including BIPOC. You may want to consider vocational school if you plan to pursue a trade (such as cosmetology), aren’t interested in attending a traditional college, or want a program you can complete comparatively quickly and inexpensively.

As EducationData.org points out, “vocational and trades jobs [are] often overlooked” when discussing postsecondary education and future outcomes. They observe how other countries value vocational training while American high schools push for four-year degrees.

However, a degree isn’t always worth it. About 40% of those with college degrees ultimately have jobs that don’t require degrees. Further, the number of graduates whose degrees aren’t relevant to their careers is astronomical.

Chances are you’ve heard those lines before and still feel pressure to go to college immediately after high school—even if you know you want to do something that requires certification or license. Keep in mind that people who don’t complete college average $4 less per hour than those who complete a certificate or vocational program.

If trade school sounds like a better “risk” than starting a degree you’re not passionate about or may not be financially able to finish, check out these vocational scholarships specifically for BIPOC students.

13 Vocational Scholarships for BIPOC Students

Below is a list of scholarships for people who identify as BIPOC and want to attend a vocational, certificate, or associate degree program. Remember, not all cosmetology programs end in associate degrees, so make sure the coursework and scholarships you’re applying for line up.

These aren’t the only scholarships BIPOC cosmetology or other vocational school students may be eligible for. Many individual schools offer their own scholarships, and there are also general scholarships available that aren’t specifically for BIPOC students. Don’t limit yourself!

Expand All

American Indian Education Fund: Undergraduate Scholarships

Apply by: April 4 Amount awarded: Up to $2,000 per year

Native American and Alaska Native students may apply for these scholarships so long as they can provide documentation of tribal enrollment (self or parent) and enroll full-time in an accredited technical, college, or university program.

The fund prefers a GPA of 2.0-3.5 and an ACT score of 14+. But anyone who’s otherwise eligible is encouraged to apply.

Apply for this scholarship

This scholarship is open to current high school seniors who plan to enroll in a vocational, technical, certification, associate, or undergraduate program. All applicants must be “diverse,” encompassing race, ethnicity, gender, disability, and belonging to an underserved group.

Eligible students need a minimum GPA of 2.75, demonstrable leadership abilities, and good moral character. They must also be eligible for Pell grants and be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Applications include a two-minute video about goals.

Apply for this scholarship

This program is open to any BIPOC high school senior or undergraduate student with a minimum GPA of 3.0. You must demonstrate academic merit and financial need and submit an essay regarding how the recent social justice movement has impacted you or those around you.

Apply for this scholarship

Postsecondary students who are members of federally recognized tribes and enrolled in a full-time vocational, diploma, associate, or higher program may apply for this scholarship. This program is both need- and merit-based. Applicants must prove need, tribal enrollment, enrollment in a postsecondary program, transcripts, and a photograph.

They prefer vocational students to have a minimum of a 2.0 GPA or demonstrate strengths in other areas.

Apply for this scholarship

Puerto Rican high school seniors are eligible for this scholarship. You don’t need to be in Puerto Rico, but you need to plan to pass your cultural traditions down to future generations. You must create a one- to two-minute video about your family’s traditions and what you plan to do to continue them.

Apply for this scholarship

High school or undergraduate students who identify as Hispanic are eligible to apply for this scholarship. You need to fill out some basic information and submit your application.

Apply for this scholarship

NBA player Jae’Sean Tate created this scholarship to help BIPOC who work in the coffee and food service industries afford their educations or pay off debts. There is no degree level requirement—you must have the drive to complete or have completed a postsecondary program that would otherwise result in debt.

This application requires an essay telling your story and explaining why you deserve this scholarship.

Apply for this scholarship

Hair product manufacturer JCS Beauty awards two $5,000 scholarships to people who identify as Black/African American. Applicants must be 18 or older and be newly or currently enrolled in a cosmetology program leading to U.S. or Canadian licensure.

Apply for this scholarship

This set of five scholarships is for BIPOC committed to ensuring people of all ages, styles, and hair types can get quality hair treatments. The goal is to support forward-thinking innovators who believe in forming a more diverse haircare world.

Apply for this scholarship

This scholarship is for people of color who are enrolled or plan to enroll in a cosmetology program leading to licensure. Applicants are rated based on academic merit, financial need, community involvement, and a commitment to equity, justice, and diversity.

You must complete the online application, turn in proof of enrollment or an acceptance letter to a cosmetology program, and a progress report. A three-minute YouTube video discussing your reasons for attending cosmetology school and your goals is also required.

Apply for this scholarship

This scholarship is open to learners who identify as LGBTQ and BIPOC and plan to attend a community college or higher program. Applicants must be “out” and attend classes full- or part-time for the entire school year. Considerations include need, academic merit, community involvement, work experience, and personal history.

Apply for this scholarship

This scholarship is for BIPOC students pursuing esthetics, skin care formulation, or cosmetic chemistry. You need to prove enrollment in or acceptance to an accredited esthetics program, fill out an online application, and upload a three-minute YouTube video answering specific questions.

The video is the primary means by which your application will be judged, so take your time on this!

Apply for this scholarship

If you came to the United States before November 1, 2016, at under 16 years of age and are undocumented, you may apply for this scholarship. TheDream.US considers GPA and test scores, but they focus more on a history of overcoming obstacles and performing acts of service.

You don’t need to be a member of any specific BIPOC community for this scholarship. You don’t necessarily need to be BIPOC. You do need to be an undocumented young person.

This scholarship is for associate and bachelor programs only, and you must attend one of their 70+ Partner Colleges.

Apply for this scholarship

Scholarship Resources for BIPOC Students

The information and list of scholarships above aren’t the only resources for BIPOC students interested in attending vocational or trade programs. Below are a few other places to find scholarships, general aid, and more.

Beauty Changes Lives
This nonprofit advocates for the beauty industry, encouraging those interested in the field to pursue beauty professions as their first-choice careers. They support aspiring beauty professionals every step of the way, including via a mentorship program.

Beyond the Salon: Unexpected Jobs in the Beauty Industry
Whether you’re unsure about your future career or want to take a unique path after seeking licensure, this article can help you find unique career paths.

This massive scholarship search site has options for nearly everyone and makes it easy to apply directly from their pages. People can also donate to scholarships they’re passionate about.

Cappex College Greenlight
College Greenlight helps historically underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income students navigate the higher education process, from school choice to graduation. They also may help with finances.

This free college advising service is for lower-income students who excel in academia. They provide advisors to help these learners and their families learn about the college application process and even help them apply.

Federal Student Aid FAFSA FAQs
You need to fill out the FAFSA for many types of tuition aid. This is the official FAQ page about how to do this, and it includes contact information so you can ask any additional questions.

Financial Aid for Cosmetology School
This article provides further information about scholarships and other forms of beauty school financial assistance.

NAACP Scholarships
The NAACP offers several scholarships to help Black students and early professionals graduate with less debt. The rest of the NAACP site also supplies excellent information on current events and helpful resources.

Scholarhips.com—Minority Scholarships
Scholarships.com is one of the largest scholarship roundup sites on the internet. Though this links directly to their page for BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ+ students, remember to look through the general pages as well!

Scholarships360 is a scholarship database offering a personalized scholarship matching quiz. After taking the quiz, they send weekly emails detailing scholarships you may be eligible for.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund
TMCF scholarships are for students who meet specific needs and merit requirements. Though the fund awards scholarships without regard to race or any other protected class, most go to BIPOC students.