Community, Education
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Aim High: Scholarships and Lao American students

College education is expensive, but the statistics show that over our lifetimes it more than pays itself back with most graduates earning more money than those who have no degree at all. For the Lao community, we’ve seen the Census 2010 statistics and others that show that barely 1 in 10 Lao successfully graduate college, and fewer still go on to get a Masters degree or higher.

As a community we need to do what we can to make the process easier for our youth and returning students, and one way we can support them is to help them identify good scholarships they’re eligible for.

There are many scholarships that those with a historically Asian Pacific Islander heritage can apply to. One of the most well-known is the Asian Pacific Islander Scholarship Fund. For over a decade, the Asian Pacific Islander Scholarship Fund has been strengthening communities across the country. APIASF’s mission is “to make a difference in the lives of AAPI students by providing them with resources that increase their access to higher education which serves as the foundation for their future success and contributions to a stronger America.” The deadline for applying is January 8th. You can learn more about their criteria at: and they also have many other good leads for college students to consider.

A faster deadline approaching is October 10th for the The APIASF AANAPISI (Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution) Scholarship, which supports full-time Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students at specified institutions. Do your research to see if your student is attending one of these colleges:

The Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund website also has links to many other active scholarships our community members might be eligible for. A few years back, the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland and State Farm Insurance put together a guide to scholarships to consider between 2009-2011, and while it’s now out of date for many of the scholarships, it might still be worth a look, and there are some excellent tips on applying for scholarships in general that can help many in our community, especially when our youth are the first in our famlies to attend college.

The Gates Millenium Scholarship is highly competitive and most of our community leaders agree it’s one our youth should apply to if they’re eligible. The deadline is January 13th, 2016 but it’s an amazing opportunity. Each year they  select 1,000 talented students to receive a good-through-graduation scholarship for any college or university of their choice. Gates Millennium Scholars are also provided with personal and professional development through their leadership programs along with academic support throughout their college career. You need a 3.3 GPA and must be either African American, American Indian – Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American, or Hispanic American.

The Ravens Forward Air Controllers who served in Laos during the Vietnam War have the Distinguished Raven FAC Memorial Scholarship. It’s presented annually to “a qualifying descendent of a Lao or Lao-Hmong individual who served in the Royal Laotian Military or Hmong forces in defense of the Kingdom of Laos between 1960 and 1975.” Their deadline for applying is February 28th. The funds are provided to assist with tuition, lab fees, books, and other direct educational expenses.

In April, the Bruce Lee Foundation Scholarships open, usually closing in June. If you have a child whose journey has been impacted by the example of Bruce Lee, consider looking at this one:

It’s been very difficult to get the word out to Lao community members about the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund. Each year they choose a different state to give funds for scholarships. They just closed the window to apply for Northern California, for example, although it was not widely covered in many of the Lao American media networks. The scholarship’s founders were all Nisei, second generation American-born descendants of Japanese immigrants. During World War 2 they were held in American internment camps because of institutionalized racism and political distrust. The NSRCF honors the Nisei and pays tribute to the individuals and organizations who reached across racial differences and wartime hatred to help the Nisei students. The deadline and region for next year will likely be announced soon, so keep an eye out for it.

For our students who want to go beyond a bachelor’s: The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans is recommended but the deadline is November 1st, so you have to work fast to get your application in for this year. This one is extremely competitive, but the support they give you throughout your program and beyond are outstanding.

Many of our youth will stand the best chance at succeeding in these scholarships if they can build a good balance of community service, an understanding of their family’s journey, our community’s journey, and a sense of what they’d like to do as they study in college.

These are not always easy applications to fill out because there are essay components involved that can seem intimidating. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help to guide you through the applications.

As you look for scholarships, you should also be careful to avoid scams, and in general it’s good to avoid anyone who’s trying to charge you an unreasonable amount to apply to these scholarships. Good luck, and let us know what other scholarships you think we should be looking at.
~Ketmani Kouanchao, EdD
Little Laos on the Prairie


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