If you’re a high school senior of Hispanic or Latino heritage, you should definitely learn more about the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. There are over 150 types of scholarships available through this program, so there’s a lot to learn.
When you submit an HSF award scholarship, you’re actually submitting yourself for consideration for many different awards (much like when you submit a FAFSA). I’ll talk about all the details you’ll need to take into consideration before submitting your own application for Hispanic scholarships. Then, I’ll focus on application strategies for current high school seniors.
What Is a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Award?
The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) is a large organization that oversees many scholarship programs. It forges partnerships with both philanthropic and corporate organizations to fund scholarships for Hispanic students. Since 1975, the HSF has awarded over $470 million in scholarships, with over 5,100 new scholarships awarded every year. Overall, it's a real powerhouse of an organization - it wants to ensure that every Hispanic household in the US includes at least one college graduate.
In essence, there's no one HSF award; instead, the HSF offers many different scholarships with different funding sources, eligibility requirements, and award amounts. The great thing about the HSF is that you only have to submit one application every year to be considered for all available scholarships.
These scholarships are merit-based, which means they're awarded based on academic and personal achievements and not based on financial need. However, financial need is taken into consideration when determining the amount of the award.
Most awards are not renewable, which means that you only receive one annual award amount. Like I mentioned earlier, however, you can submit an HSF scholarship application every year. Re-submitting applications in the future may help your chances of getting more scholarship funding. The HSF really values building community, and slightly favors past award winners when reviewing scholarship applications.
Because there are so many different types of awards, and because financial need is taken into consideration when award amounts are decided, I can't give a set award amount that you could win by applying for an HSF scholarship. What I can tell you is that an HSF scholarship offers more than just funding for school. Here's a list of benefits that comes along with a HSF award:
- Career center platform to help you look for jobs and internships
- Mentor match program
- Online course system to augment your normal college studies
- HSF newsletter with extracurricular & volunteer opportunities
- HSF events and programs, like Latinos United and Networking for Advancement (LUNA) and National Leadership Conference (NLC)
- An extra "point" on future HSF scholarship applications! If you've won a HSF scholarship in the past, you'll be more likely to win one in the future.
All in all, an HSF award is a really great resource in more ways than one. Because one application means you're considered for countless scholarships, it's well worth your time to apply for an HSF award. So let's get started!
How Do You Know if You're Eligible?
In order to receive an HSF award, you must meet all of the following eligibility requirements:
- Must be of Hispanic heritage (defined as being at least 1/4 Hispanic or Latino)
- Must have a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale
- Must plan to enroll full-time at an accredited nonprofit 4-year university or graduate school during the fall of the scholarship cycle year
- Must be a US citizen, permanent legal resident, DACA, or eligible non-citizen as defined by the FAFSA
- Must complete the FAFSA
- Must complete the State Dream Act financial aid application, if applicable
Students of all majors are considered, although there is an emphasis on STEM fields. This is likely because students of Hispanic heritage are especially underrepresented in STEM fields of study.
What Information Do You Need to Apply?
Before you start working on your application, it would be wise to gather the following information and reports. To complete your app, you'll need:
- Your FAFSA and Student Aid Report - get complete instructions
- School transcripts - you can get these from your guidance counselor
- Enrollment verification from your school - you can check with the admissions office about this
- Financial aid award letter from the college you're enrolling in. The HSF uses this to determine your award amount, but not to determine whether you receive a scholarship.
- Letters of recommendation - you'll need at least one academic recommender, but additional writers can be academic or non-academic.
Your school guidance counselor should be able to help you gather the paperwork you need.
How Do You Submit an Application?
The application for the 2017 - 2018 academic year opens January 1, 2017 and closes March 30, 2017. The timeline for the every round of applications is similar.
Although you'll submit just one application, you'll be considered for a variety of awards. Even though you may be eligible to receive multiple scholarships, you can only be awarded one scholarship per year. Remember, though, you're encouraged to submit an HSF scholarship application every year that you're in school.
If you submitted an HSF scholarship application, you'll learn whether you did or did not receive an award via email in July 2017.
How Can You Use Hispanic Scholarship Fund Award Money?
HSF scholarship funds can be used for tuition, books, fees, and other academic expenses. You can also use award money for room, board, and transportation expenses.
Strategies: How to Increase Your Chances of Winning a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Award
HSF scholarships are highly competitive; unfortunately, not all qualified applicants receive a scholarship each year. It’s important, then, that you dedicate yourself fully to the application process if you’re serious about an HSF award. I'll address some long-term and short-term strategies here.
Long Term Considerations
As you prepare for scholarship applications, keep in mind that students are evaluated on the following criteria:
- Academic achievement
- Personal strengths
- Commitment to giving back to their communities
The HSF also strives to help students achieve particularly in areas where Hispanic/Latino students are underrepresented: namely, STEM fields.
You'll be considered an even stronger applicant if you plan on going into sciences, tech, engineering, or mathematics.
You should also keep in mind that HSF scholarships are looking for students who are ideally “well-rounded.” They’d prefer a student who has a slightly lower GPA + an impressive resume/list of experiences than a student with a perfect GPA and no activities. That being said, the strongest applicant will demonstrate both academic excellence and involvement in extracurricular activities.
If you're a younger high school student, you can start working on making yourself a stronger applicant both for scholarship and college applications - there will tend to be a lot of overlap. Here's a list of general activities that make applicants more competitive according to the HSF:
- Taking honors or advanced classes. This speaks to your academic achievement. Students who challenge themselves with a more difficult course load will present as more ambitious and tenacious.
- Consistent involvement in extracurricular and volunteer activities. Depending on what activities you’re involved in, your participation in extracurriculars/volunteer activities can speak to all of the qualities that applicants are evaluated for.
- Academic achievement: Activities like Science Olympiad, Mock Trial, and Debate can augment what you’re doing in class. Participation demonstrates intellectual curiosity.
- Personal strengths: Your success in various activities and organizations will speak to your personal strengths. If you win any awards, honors, or accolades through participation in extracurriculars, they'll get you brownie points on applications.
- Leadership: If you hold a role as club officer, or even started your own club or volunteer organization, you’ll demonstrate to application readers that you are a strong and effective leader.
- Commitment to giving back to the community: Generally, any volunteer or school-related activity will demonstrate a commitment to your community.
- Demonstrating experiences that have contributed to your growth. You might be questioning what, exactly, this is supposed to mean. Experiences that contribute to personal growth will definitely be different for everyone. In general, any experience that challenges you, or forces you out of your comfort zone, will contribute to growth. Here are some examples of how you can demonstrate these types of experiences in the domains relevant to the HSF application:
- Academics: Again, difficult course work, especially in your weaker subject areas, will challenge you intellectually. If you approach the challenge productively by seeking extra help from teachers and keeping up with your work, you’ll come across as a strong applicant. Letters of recommendation from appropriate teachers can really shed light on whether you seek out challenging academic experiences.
- Leadership: No one starts off as a leader in any club or activity; you have to work your way up by proving yourself and earning respect over time. Volunteer to take on new and challenging learning experiences in your activities. You can do this by leading a group, proposing an independent learning project, or even starting up your own club or organization.
- Commitment to giving back to your community: How do you demonstrate commitment or passion to giving back? You do more than what’s required or expected of you. Do you feel that your school or community is missing a particular type of service group? For example, maybe you’ve noticed that the younger kids in your school community don’t have access to tutors or mentors for homework help, and you have a passion for education and teaching. This would be a great opportunity to give back to your community while also demonstrating real initiative and leadership.
Take every opportunity to describe personal growth and development - scholarships (and colleges) love to see this upwards trajectory.
Sometimes, leadership and community commitment go formally unrecognized. Although I know it’s difficult for some students to toot their own horns, formal awards, honors, and accolades can really help you boost scholarship and college applications. Work on taking my advice above over the long term, but also try to actively seek out awards opportunities in your community. Check with your school guidance counselor, or do a Google search for awards in your area.
Short Term Considerations
If you're ready to start working on your applications, this section will be especially helpful. I'll break down the best ways to approach each component of your application to optimize your chances of winning an HSF award.
The actual essay prompts for the HSF scholarship application aren't available yet, but the HSF lists some ideas for personal statements that will likely overlap with its own application essays. You can use the following prompts to brainstorm before you have access to the actual application in January:
- What are your goals? Why did you choose these goals?
- Why did you choose to apply for HSF fund scholarships?
- What are your values and philosophy about education? Why?
- Are there any accomplishments (either in or out of school) that you're particularly proud of? What have you learned from these experiences?
- Do you have a time-management system? What is it?
- How do you schedule your time to include both academic and social activities?
- What difficulties or disadvantages have you faced in your life and how have you overcome them? What is one area in which you are weak and how have you or do you plan to overcome that weakness?
- Identify a leadership experience and talk about the most important lessons of the position and experience.
- What makes you unique?
Your actual scholarship essay will be evaluated on a few different factors:
1. Length. There’s a maximum word count for each essay. The best essays will use all the space available to them. You don’t need to write the exact max number of words, but strive to get as close as possible to the maximum.
2. Content. The essay prompts will be focused and direct; make sure your response is as well. If the prompt includes multiple parts, make sure you’re answering each part of the prompt.
- Highlight the qualities that the HSF values in scholarship recipients: academic achievement, personal strengths, leadership, and commitment to giving back to the community. Reference the section above for examples of activities, experiences, and challenges to highlight.
- If there are any apparent weaknesses in your application (e.g. a lack of leadership experiences, or poor academic performance), use your essays to explain yourself. Don’t make excuses - keep your tone matter-of-fact, but optimistic.
- If you’ve experienced any extraordinary hardships or obstacles, mention them in your essays. It’s important that application readers have a full and comprehensive understanding of situational factors that could have affected different aspects of your application.
3. Use of Examples. The examples you use should be personal (without being confessional) and relevant to the prompt. Your essay responses will be more engaging if, for example, you begin your writing with an anecdote or personal story.
4. Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation. Errors are distracting and detract from the quality of your writing. Avoid mistakes by giving yourself plenty of time to complete the essay. Have a trusted teacher or mentor edit and/or proofread your work.
This sign doesn't make a great first impression - make sure your essay does!
If you’ve prepped for the SAT, you might recognize that these scoring factors are pretty similar to the ones you might have seen for the SAT essay. It might be helpful to think of the HSF application essays as more developed, personal versions of the SAT essay.
Letters of Recommendation
Your academic recommender must be an instructor, an adviser, or someone who is able to evaluate you academically (e.g., academic performance, motivation, plans and goals). Additional recommenders can be either academic or nonacademic. Secondary recommenders must be able to evaluate your community service and extracurricular activities (e.g. leadership, work ethic, and commitment). Recommendations from family members, family friends, and other close friends are discouraged by the HSF.
Strong letters of recommendation are so important for any sort of application. Here’s how you go about getting the best letters possible for an HSF award application:
1. Ask the Right People. Ideal recommenders are individuals in educator/mentor positions, with whom you have a long and positive history. The best recommender will be excited to vouch for you.
If you have someone in mind, ask them to write your letters in such a way that they have an “out” if they’re not comfortable doing you the favor. If they don’t have very positive things to say, they’ll end up writing a lukewarm letter - this will really hurt your application. Ask if they’d be comfortable writing you a “very strong” or “glowing” - if they decline or even hesitate, you’re better off asking someone else.
You can ask more than one person to write you a letter of rec - this is potentially a great opportunity to present yourself as a well-rounded applicant. I’d say you should ask for letters from 2-3 people; any more than that and the scholarship evaluators will have too much to read.
2. Give Your Letter Writers Plenty of Advance Notice. Aim for 10-12 weeks - so, if your deadline is March 3, ask for letters of recommendation by mid-December at the latest.
Although the HSF application means you'll be considered for many scholarships, you shouldn't stop there! If you want to optimize your chances of getting scholarship funding, you should apply to as many programs as possible. The good news is that we have comprehensive guides to submitting the best possible applications for some of the nation's top scholarships. Read more about how to get the Gates Millennium Scholarship, the Ronald McDonald House Charities scholarships, the Walmart Scholarships, and the Coca-Cola Scholarship.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.