Across a span of almost 70 years, the number of Asian immigrant students attending American colleges has grown from less than 6,000 in 1949 to nearly 660,000 in 2017, according to the Institute of International Education. In that same time period, the overall makeup of international students in US colleges has jumped from 21 percent of students with Asian origin to almost 61 percent.

From unattainable social expectations to economic roadblocks, Asian immigrant and first-generation students can face many different challenges on their path to — and through — higher education. However, there are ways that hundreds of thousands of students have been able to approach and overcome these obstacles, and a wide variety of Asian American grants and scholarships is one of them.

Unique Challenges for Asian Students

Challenges of being an Asian Immigrant Student

Often, the biggest challenge for Asian immigrant students in the United States is the struggle of learning English as a second language. Because of the hesitancy and misunderstandings that can arise with a significant language barrier, the Asian immigrant student may come across as quiet and withdrawn, even if those characteristics were never previously a part of their nature. In some cases, this barrier can even lead to depression, which can be very detrimental to their educational success.

As the fastest-growing immigrant population in the United States — rising 78 percent in just the last two decades, according to the Census Bureau — Asian immigrants also face certain societal standards that they may be expected to meet. However, because of stereotypical assumptions regarding high intelligence, they may be overlooked for educational assistance that they may very well need.

Challenges of being First-Gen College Students

Those stereotypes, of course, do not end with Asian immigrant students. First-generation Asian college students may not experience the same struggles of the language barrier, but they do still fall victim to the "Model Minority Myth" that says Asian Americans must be hardworking students, yet naturally and effortlessly skilled in fields like science, math and technology. Though these aren't necessarily negative characteristics, they oftentimes are used as a sort of "proof" that Asian students do not need vital resources like tutoring or even financial aid.

Undue pressure can come from within the Asian student's family as well, as cultural standards and unrealistic expectations may be put upon them to achieve flawless academic goals. These ideas can become ingrained in the student, resulting in burnout or a reduced focus on studies. In some cases, the student may be the first in their family to have the opportunity to attend college, which can put even more stress on them to avoid any misstep that could be misconstrued as failure.

Online Education

Due to the roadblocks that Asian students may face on their path to higher education, a slower-paced study option could alleviate the additional stresses brought upon by on-campus coursework. Online degree programs allow for Asian immigrant students to take their studies at a pace that is right for their needs, especially if they are struggling to overcome a language barrier or if they are trying to balance a job along with their classes. There is less pressure put upon them to translate and communicate quickly in class, so they can instead focus on the material at hand. Many Asian students could also benefit from the lower cost of online education, regardless of whether or not they were born in the United States.

Programs and Initiatives

Asian students may benefit from programs and initiatives that have been established specifically for their demographic and the particular needs they may have in common with their peers. Whether provided by the government or private institutions, these initiatives aim to create an affordable and welcoming pathway to higher education for the Asian learner.

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI): This initiative is based on the United States government's belief that education is not a luxury, but a prerequisite to achieving success in America. It focuses on assisting underserved groups with the lowest rate rates of college attainment, namely low-income Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students. This system of AANAPISIs are provided government funds to offer help such as mentoring and language programs with the ultimate goal of fostering retention and increasing graduation rates.

Scholarships and Grants for Asian Students


U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC) Education Foundation: In the past 30 years, the USPAACC has awarded over $2 million in scholarship money to Asian students seeking higher education. Up to 20 scholarships ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 are awarded each year and are funded by major corporations — including PepsiCo and UPS — as well as Asian American businesses. High school seniors must fill out a form, write a 300-word essay, and mail a transcript and other materials in order to apply.

APIA Scholars: Since 2003, APIA Scholars has been supporting underserved Asian and Pacific Islander Americans on their journeys toward higher education. Preference is typically given to those living at or below the poverty line, as well as those students who are the first in their families to attend college. Prospective undergraduates can fill out the online form to apply for scholarships ranging from a one-time $2,500 award to multi-year awards up to $20,000.

Asian Pacific Fund: The Asian Pacific Fund awards financial support to both undergraduate and graduate students through 10 scholarship programs with varying eligibility criteria. For the most recent school year, they awarded a combined $215,000 to 75 low-income students, though individual scholarships amounts may range from $1,000 to $20,000. Many of these scholarships are renewable as well.


Asian American Journalists Association: The AAJA awards a variety of grants, scholarships, and fellowships to Asian-American students seeking a career in either print or broadcast journalism. Students may be awarded up to $1,000 for the Broadcast News Internship Grants, or up to $2,000 for the William Woo Print and Online News Internship Grantor Stanford Chen Internship Grant.

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Organizations and Other Resources

There are numerous helpful organizations and resources available to assist Asian students on their journey toward postsecondary education. Whether Asian-American or an Asian immigrant, the aim of these tools is to provide a support and assistance to students as they navigate the college experience.

Resources for Asian Students

NASPA Asian Pacific Islanders Resources: NASPA has gathered a series of insightful career development tips from the Asian Pacific Islander community and other resources relevant to the API student experience that could be helpful for Asian learners as they work to complete their degree programs.

Resources for Immigrant Students

Southern New Hampshire University's College for America: SNHU is offering affordable, project-based degrees in tandem with community organizations across the country. DACA students may even be eligible to receive a full tuition scholarship to participate in one of these flexible programs in healthcare or business.

TheDream.US: This organization is dedicated to helping undocumented students understand their rights to an education, and advocates for equal rights to access financial aid for DREAMers.

Informed Immigrant: This website assists undocumented students with the resources, support, and knowledge necessary to know their rights inside and outside of the classroom.

Resources for ESL Students

OEDb's Essential Resources for ESL Students: The Open Education Database (OEDb) has compiled an exhaustive list of resources to help ESL students boost their knowledge and confidence in their language skills. Tools include assistance for grammar, spelling, and pronunciation, as well as quizzes and podcasts.

Resources for First-Generation Students

College Guidance: First-Generation Students: CollegeBoard's resources are geared towards guidance counselors, but first-generation Asian students can benefit from these tips and pre-college preparedness strategies just the same.

Finding Resources on Google

Asian students can utilize Google to find more resources by searching terms like "Asian college scholarship" and "financial aid for immigrants" to alleviate the burden of paying for college. Because the term "Asian" casts such a wide net over a variety of ethnic subpopulations, however, they can also try search terms that are specific to their ethnic background or country of origin, i.e. "Vietnamese scholarships" or "Indian student resources" or "Grants for Asian women."