Scholarships for Asian American / Pacific Islander Students

By Pacific College - June 28, 2021

Adapted from a article by Christina Payne

The term “Asian American” embraces many different ethnicities and a broad range of socioeconomic needs and academic success rates. First-generation and low-income Asian American students face relatively high college dropout rates, but scholarships and grants can provide much-needed financial aid without adding to low-income students’ financial burdens.

Income Disparities

While studies demonstrate that Asian American students achieve above-average educational success overall, many Southeast Asian American students and Pacific Islander students still struggle academically. Southeast Asian Americans,  for example, face greater challenges in education due to the lingering effects of displacement, racism, and xenophobia.

Certain Asian ethnic groups also suffer from the growing income inequality among Asian Americans. Although the majority of Asian Americans enjoy a higher standard of living than other groups in the U.S., this is not true of all Asian Americans. From 1970-2016, the gap in the standard of living between high-income and low-income Asian Americans almost doubled, and low-income Asian Americans tend toward lower academic achievement than their counterparts. Around 20% of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live in poverty.

Unmet Financial Need

Though Asian American enrollment rates remain high overall, a study by the Department of Education found that low-income Asian Americans experience the highest amount of unmet need for college tuition. Unmet need refers to the difference between the overall cost of college and all student resources that need not be repaid. Enrollment rates are also low for Pacific Islanders. While about 49% of the total Asian American population holds at least a bachelor’s degree, only 27% of Pacific Islanders hold that credential.

First-Generation College Students

First-generation college students can face enrollment and graduation challenges from a lack of family support to misunderstandings about how the college process works. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that only 48% of first-generation college students earn a degree from their original institution or an institution of similar caliber. About 19% transfer to a lower-level institution to earn a degree, while 33% never earn their degree at all. By comparison, only 14% of students with degree-holding parents failed to graduate. NCES also noted that first-generation students only comprise 23% of incoming four-year enrollees.


Scholarships for Asian American students can help with many of these issue. Students should begin their search by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Submitting this form helps determine how much aid and which federal programs students may qualify for. Please visit Pacific College’s updated Scholarships page under Demographics for over a dozen scholarships available to Asian American/Pacific Islander students!

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