Scholarships •

April 4, 2023

Complete guide to the Ron Brown Scholarship

The Ron Brown Scholarship helps Black students overcome financial barriers to college. Learn how to apply and discover other relevant scholarships.

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According to the Economic Policy Institute, the median household income for Black households in the United States was $48,297 in 2021. In the same year, white households had a median household income of $77,999—over 34% more than Black households. 

Racial disparities in household income stem from a variety of factors, but access to higher education is one of them.

So, it’s clear that the financial barrier to attending college can be even higher for Black students.

But fortunately, plenty of scholarship funds—such as the Ron Brown Scholarship Program—have been established specifically to help Black students afford an education.

Below, we’ll explain how the Ron Brown Scholarship works and how to apply. Then, we’ll list similar scholarships and offer tips on increasing your winning chances for any scholarship you apply for.

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What is the Ron Brown Scholarship?

The Ron Brown is a scholarship designated specifically for Black/African American college students.

Ronald H. Brown accomplished many “firsts” for Black Americans. He was the first Black member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the first Black American to lead a major political party when elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1993. 

He also played a big role in helping Bill Clinton get elected president in 1992. Clinton appointed him as Secretary of Commerce—becoming the first Black American to earn that position. 

Unfortunately, Ron Brown died in a 1996 plane crash while on the way to Croatia for government business.

Several academic scholarships and other programs were created to honor Ron Brown’s life and historic accomplishments for Black Americans. The most well-known is the Ron Brown Scholarship, which has been awarded to over 500 students since it was established in 1996. 

And it’s doing important work. According to the Education Data Initiative, Black graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student debt than white graduates. 

Black student financial barriers

This scholarship program was designed for Black high school seniors with financial need that demonstrate high intellectual promise and an interest in public service. 

Every year, the program gives out 45-50 4-year, $40,000 scholarships—$10,000 per year of school—to help close this gap. To apply, you have to fill out a 2-page application, write a few essays, and get 2 letters of recommendation.

How to apply for the Ron Brown Scholarship

This scholarship is designed for Black high school seniors with high academic achievement and exceptional leadership potential who demonstrate an interest in community service activities. It also considers financial needs.

Ron Brown Scholarship requirements

Below, we’ll go into detail about eligibility requirements, applying for the scholarship, and how winners are chosen.

Eligibility requirements

To be eligible for the Ron Brown Scholarship program, you must meet the following requirements:

  • US citizen or permanent resident

  • Black/African-American

  • High school senior at the time of application (current college students are not eligible)

The application

The Ron Brown scholarship has an application available on its website. On page 1 of that application, you’ll provide several pieces of personal information, such as your name, address, citizenship status, and date of birth.

You’ll also write down information about your high school and standardized test scores.

The next page has 2 sections: 1 for your school counselor or academic advisor to fill out and another for a parent or guardian.

Page 3 has a few questions you must answer:

  1. List your extracurriculars, community, employment, or other activities in their order of importance to you. You must also include the dates over which you did these activities, hours per week spent on each, and leadership positions held.

  2. List any significant awards or honors you have received during high school for academic or extracurricular achievements.

After that, you’ll have to include 2 500-word essays. The first asks you to choose the activity you listed as most important in question #1 and explain why it’s significant.

The second asks you to include an essay you wrote on any topic as part of a college application. If you haven’t written an essay for a college application, you can write one on a topic of your choice.

You need 2 letters of recommendation: the first from a teacher, high school guidance counselor, or your principal. 

The other can be from anyone besides parents that can attest to your academic achievement, character, or leadership potential. For example, a teacher, coach, or mentor can write this letter.

Finally, you’ll need an official high school transcript with your most current semester course load. You’ll also need a school profile—an information sheet about your high school that includes info like:

  • School location

  • Student enrollment

  • Types of courses offered 

If your school doesn’t offer a school profile, however, you won’t be penalized.

All of these application materials should be sent in together. There’s no online application—you can send them in by mail or via email:

  • Mail: Submit it all in the same package. Make sure your transcript is in a sealed envelope from your school.

  • Email: Submit everything in a single email message to The Ron Brown program recommends having a school counselor do this, so your official transcript and recommendation letters are sent.

Applications are due January 9 each year. If that’s a Saturday or Sunday, your application must be postmarked by Monday following the date.


The Ron Brown program’s staff evaluates applications from November–February. They’ll only notify semifinalists of their status, which happens in mid-February.

Then, they’ll notify finalists in March. Finalists are invited to an expenses-paid weekend selection process in Washington DC. During this process, the finalists are interviewed by the National Selection Committee.

Scholarship winners are notified by April 1. Then, their names will be posted on the Ron Brown Scholarship website in May.

Other scholarships like the Ron Brown Scholarship

The Ron Brown Scholarship clearly goes a long way in helping its winners overcome financial barriers to college.

But if you don’t win, don’t fret—many prominent organizations have created scholarship programs that award $10,000+ in free money to each winner every year.

Here are some of the top Ron Brown Scholarship alternatives to look into:

Ron Brown Scholarship alternatives

1. The Gates Scholarship

The Gates Scholarship is designed to help high-achieving minority students. To enter, you must meet the following criteria:

  • High school senior

  • Be African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander, and/or Hispanic American

  • US citizen, legal permanent resident, or national

  • Cumulative 3.3 GPA on an unweighted 4.0 scale

  • Be eligible for a Pell Grant

  • Plan to enroll full-time in a 4-year (bachelor's) degree program at an accredited, not-for-profit US college or university

To enter, you’ll make a profile on the scholarship’s website and then compile information proving you meet all of the above requirements.

You’ll also need to list your:

  • Leadership roles and experience

  • Community service experience

  • Job experience

This scholarship has 2 phases. The first phase is a questionnaire and lasts from July until September each year. Semifinalists are announced in December and move onto Phase 2, which has a denser application.

Phase 2’s application is due in January. Finalists are announced in March. The finalists go through interviews, and the scholarship committee picks the winners from these. 

2. Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship

The Jackie Robinson Foundation awards scholarships worth up to $30,000 for 4 years to high-achieving minority students that serve their communities.

You must meet the following to be eligible:

  • Graduating minority high school senior

  • US citizen

  • Be able to prove financial need

  • A record of academic excellence

  • Leadership potential and dedication to community service

  • Plan to attend an accredited and approved 4-year college in the United States or affiliated with a United States-based college or university

  • Not have a degree from, or be enrolled in, a 2- or 4-year college when applying

You’ll also need to submit your SAT or ACT scores.

Applications open September 1 each year and close mid-January the following year. Semifinalists are invited by region to virtual interviews in the spring. If you win, you’ll be notified by early in the summer.

Find more information at the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s website.

3. McDonald’s Black and Positively Golden Scholarship

McDonald’s partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in 2020 to help students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) through the Black & Positively Golden Scholarship program. 

Each year, the program awards 33 students a scholarship worth up to $15,000 for an academic year—$7,500 per semester.

To be eligible, you must meet the following:

  • Enrolled full-time as a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior at an HBCU during the 2021-2022 academic year

  • Cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.7 or higher

  • Ability to demonstrate leadership abilities

  • Ability to demonstrate financial need

  • Be a US Citizen or legal permanent resident with a valid permanent resident card or passport stamped I-551

To apply, you’ll record 2 separate videos—1-2 minutes each—answering the following 2 questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself a changemaker? An individual that helps institute positive growth for your school? For your community? If so, how & why?

  2. How do you demonstrate Black & Positively Golden at your HBCU or community?

Learn more at the TMCF’s website.

How to find more scholarship opportunities

The Ron Brown Scholarship is highly competitive and only available to high school seniors. Don’t worry if you don’t qualify—there are tons of other scholarships available. 

Here are some tips on how to get a scholarship:

Scholarship tips

Fill out the FAFSA every year

The FAFSA is a government form you can fill out every year to see your eligibility for a variety of scholarships and other aid.

It’s free and doesn’t take that long, so there’s little reason not to fill it out for each year you go to school.

Contact your school’s financial aid office

If you’re in college already, you won’t be eligible for the Ron Brown Scholarship. However, you can contact your financial aid office to get help finding more scholarships designed for Black or minority students.

Use scholarship aggregator websites 

Many websites act as scholarship search engines. They let you search by keyword, then sort and filter to find scholarships you’re eligible for. This can make your scholarship search much faster.

If you don’t want to do this manually, you can use Mos to gain instant access to the largest scholarship pool in America. Plus, Mos users can get a personal advisor to help you find more sources of free money to fund your education.

Use Mos

Mos gives students access to the largest scholarship pool in America—over $160 billion worth of scholarship opportunities! Plus, Mos members can work 1-on-1 with a financial aid advisor to get personalized scholarship recommendations.

Sign up with Mos today to see why hundreds of thousands of students are using Mos to help navigate their college finances.

Ron Brown Scholarship FAQs

Have more questions about the Ron Brown Scholarship program? Check out our FAQs below.

Who can write my letters of recommendation?

One of your letters of recommendation must be written by a teacher, high school guidance counselor, or your principal. 

The other can be from anyone who knows you well aside from your parents and can attest to your academic achievement, character, or leadership potential. That could be another teacher, your coach, a supervisor at work, or a mentor.

What essays are required to apply?

Your first essay has to answer a question the application gives you. For 2022, that question is “Choose the 1 activity you listed as most important in question #1 [of the application] and tell us why it is significant.

Your second essay must be an essay on any topic you plan to include in a college application. If none of your college applications require essays, it can be on whatever you want, as long as it’s relevant.

What kinds of schools can I use my Ron Brown Scholarship at?

If you win a Ron Brown Scholarship award, you can use it at any degree-granting 4-year accredited college in the US. There are no restrictions on majors or fields of study at these schools.

However, you cannot use your scholarship winnings to cover vocational or technical training programs.

What is the Ron Brown Captain program?

If you don’t win the Ron Brown Scholarship but are in the top 2-3% of remaining applicants, the program might name you a Ron Brown Captain.

As a Ron Brown Captain, you get access to exclusive personal and professional development services shared only with the Ron Brown Scholars.

Plus, you can network for job and internship opportunities with the Ron Brown program’s corporate partners in the Ron Brown Leaders Network.

So even if you don’t win the scholarship itself, you still have a shot at fantastic opportunities for developing your future career.

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Closing the Affordability Gap For Black Students

Although many Black students still face additional financial barriers to attending college, scholarships like the Ron Brown program are trying to tear down these historical barriers and helping Black students get the education they deserve with less debt than before.

If you qualify for this program, you should apply, even if you think the chance is small. 

But don’t worry if you don’t win—there are plenty of similar scholarships available. Check out our list of other niche scholarships for some places to look. And don’t forget to explore Mos memberships to find scholarship opportunities, get help navigating financial aid, and much more.

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