Ron Brown Scholarship- Introduction

Applying to college can be a stressful and intimidating process, especially when trying to cover college costs. Navigating the scholarship search can be confusing for students. Since this process can be so challenging, we want to take some time to highlight opportunities for Black students navigating the process of securing merit-based scholarships like the Ron Brown Scholarship for college.

In this article, we will discuss yet another exciting merit-based scholarship opportunity for high school seniors, the Ron Brown Scholarship (also referred to as the Ron Brown Scholar Program). We’ll cover what the Ron Brown Scholarship is, who is eligible, the funding it provides, and how you can apply.

What other scholarships for college has CollegeAdvisor helped students apply for?

Check out our guides on the Coca-Cola Scholarship, Vanderbilt Scholarship, National Merit Scholarship, and many more!

Unsure where to begin your scholarship search? You’re already in the right place! offers step-by-step resources to guide your scholarship search. These resources highlight ways to find scholarship opportunities alongside a masterclass on ultimately winning these scholarships to help cover college costs.

So, let’s jump in. 

What is a merit-based scholarship?

Merit-based scholarships for college are sums of money provided by institutions and organizations available to students based upon their demonstrated talent, success, and excellence in a particular area. Unlike need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarship distribution is often not influenced by a student’s financial background. So, your scholarship search can include merit-based scholarships no matter what your financial circumstances are. 

Merit-based scholarships for college are offered for excellence in a wide range of areas, from academics and community service to athletics and the arts. Merit-based scholarships are a great way to cover college costs, as they do not need to be repaid like loans do. There are also specific minority scholarships and scholarships for African Americans that fall under that category of merit-based scholarships. So, if you’re wondering “what is a merit-based scholarship?”, keep reading for some examples. 

Where does the Ron Brown Scholarship fit?

The Ron Brown Scholarship is one of many scholarships for African Americans pursuing undergraduate education. The Ron Brown Scholar Program falls under the categories of both merit-based scholarships and minority scholarships.

Minority scholarships provide greater access to college for students of various backgrounds. Minority scholarships are give to a student based upon a particular facet of their identity. So, qualifications for these types of scholarships for college may include gender, racial/ethnic background, representation in a particular field of study, international context, and first-generation status, to name a few.

Minority scholarships help to acknowledge the systemic and structural barriers facing a particular group of students. These scholarships are often awarded to students who have been historically excluded from a particular institution or opportunity. Minority scholarships for college are awarded with knowledge of the value diverse candidates bring to campuses nationwide. 

In the case of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, this means that a student’s selection is based upon their academic excellence as well as their experiences as a black student. So, the Ron Brown Scholarship is one excellent example of scholarships for African Americans. 

What is the Ron Brown Scholarship?

The Ron Brown Scholar Program was founded in honor of Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown in 1996 as a scholarship for African Americans to help cover college costs. Ron Brown was the first Black person appointed as Secretary of Commerce, as well as the first to serve as Chair of the Democratic National Convention. Mr. Brown is remembered for the depth of his advocacy, strength of his leadership, and excellence as a negotiator, collaborator, and value-driven decision maker.

In the spirit of Mr. Brown’s legacy, the Ron Brown Scholarship for college is awarded to a select cohort of talented black students each year. Thus, Ron Brown Scholarship winners are students who demonstrate a commitment to the four pillars of the organization and a clear need for economic assistance to support them on their college journey. Since its inception, the Ron Brown scholarship has been awarded to over 500 students. As such, it is one of the best scholarships for African Americans. 

How is the Ron Brown Scholar Program Funded?

The Ron Brown Scholar Program is made possible due to the support of generous donors and partners who firmly believe in the scholarship’s mission. These partners also serve as mentors for Ron Brown Scholarship winners as they begin making a powerful impact on their communities.

But wait, there’s more!

In addition to the funding, mentoring, and guidance provided to Ron Brown Scholarship winners, those who rank in the top 2-3% of applicants have the opportunity to become “Captains” in the Ruth and Norman Rales Leadership Network. This experience provides students with career services and professional development support as they progress in their college careers. Additionally, no extra application is required for the Leadership Network. Students are automatically placed into consideration via their submissions to the Ron Brown Scholar Program.

The Four Pillars of Ron Brown Scholars: 

Ron Brown was motivated by a mission grounded by four unique pillars to uplift communities of color. These pillars are: 

  • Public service
  • Community engagement
  • Business entrepreneurship
  • Global citizenship

How much is the Ron Brown Scholarship?

Ron Brown Scholarship winners receive $40,000 total over the course of their 4-year college experience. Winners are awarded $10,000 each year. In addition to financial support, Ron Brown Scholarship winners are also the recipients of valuable mentoring, community engagement, and leadership opportunities. As you can see, this is one of the larger scholarships for college available. 

Scholarship Conditions

Ron Brown Scholarships for college may be used alongside any financial aid offered by the 4-year degree-granting institution of the student’s choosing. While Ron Brown Scholarships are not limited to any particular field or area of study, winners may not use these funds toward vocational or technical training.

For example, scholarship funds can be used toward the costs of tuition, fees, books, room and board, computers, health insurance, study abroad, and other college-related expenses. However, the Ron Brown scholarship cannot replace the aid awarded by an institution or be used to cover family contribution fees.

Who is eligible for the Ron Brown Scholarship?

 Basic Requirements 

  1. The Ron Brown Scholar Program is one of many minority scholarships designed to support students who identify as members of Black/African American communities.
  2. All Ron Brown scholarship winners must be US citizens or permanent residents.
  3. Finally, students must be current high school seniors at the time of their application submission.  College students are not eligible to apply.
Ron Brown Scholarship

Standing Out

In addition to the basic requirements for the the Ron Brown Scholarship, here are some other important aspects that will help you stand out.

Academic Achievement – Students selected for the Ron Brown Scholar Program are able to demonstrate that they’ve taken full advantage of the challenging courses available to them in a wide variety of subjects.

Leadership Ability – Leadership can look like working part-time, caring for family members, running a student organization, starting a business, or even advocating for community members.

Community Service Activities – Students should highlight the ways they’re gotten involved in the world around them, and how they’re trying to make an impact.

Demonstrated Financial Need – There is no specific income cutoff for the Ron Brown Scholar Program, so students should apply no matter what their financial circumstances.

How many Ron Brown Scholarships are available each year?

Like most merit-based scholarships for college, the Ron Brown Scholar Program draws applications from a highly competitive group of high school seniors. So, you’ll want to do a comprehensive scholarship search, as the more merit-based scholarships you apply for, the more likely you are to receive one. 

Each year over 5,000 applicants pursue entry into the Ron Brown Scholar Program. Of this larger group, 45 Ron Brown Scholarship winners are selected to receive the award. There have been 534 Ron Brown Scholars named since 1996. This is one of many prestigious scholarships for African American students, so if you qualify, apply for it!

Ron Brown Scholars: Highlighting Past Successes! 

Now, let’s take a look at how previous Ron Brown Scholars have taken advantage of their scholarship opportunity. With such a prestigious award, you can expect that the recipients will be highly motivated and successful individuals. For example, past participants in the Ron Brown Scholar program have had 100% involvement in extensive community service projects. Furthermore, two Ron Brown Scholars were elected to be the First Marshals of their Harvard graduating class. Additionally, one Ron Brown Scholar has been named a Harry S. Truman Scholar and four Ron Brown Scholars have been Rhodes Scholarship finalists. That’s a pretty good track record for Ron Brown Scholarship winners!

Past Ron Brown Scholar: Katori Hall

One alumna of the Ron Brown Scholarship we’d like to highlight by name is Katori Hall, class of 1999. Katori was among the Ron Brown Scholarship winners in the 1999 cohort. She received her BA in African American Studies at Columbia University. Katori then went on to earn two graduate degrees, an MFA at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University in 2005 and an MFA from Juilliard four years later.  

Katori Hall is currently an American playwright and actress. She is the book writer and co-producer of the West End and Broadway hit Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. She’s also the executive producer and showrunner of the popular Starz show, P-Valley, based on her original play. Curious about where other Ron Brown Scholarship winners are doing? Browse the website to see more alums of the program. 

Ron Brown Scholarship winners also have a strong connection to Ivy League schools. Of the 584 Ron Brown Scholars named to date, more than 60% of them have attended Ivy League Universities. And, with a 99% graduation rate out of all of the Ron Brown Scholars, 54% go on to complete graduate studies. So, I bet now you’re wondering how you can become a part of these statistics? Well, you’re in the right place!   

So, if you’re interested in learning how you can join the legacy of these impressive Ron Brown Scholarship winners, keep reading! Additionally, if you want to read more about the program winners from 2022, read the press release here

How do I apply for the Ron Brown Scholarship?

In this section, we will take a look at all of the required materials needed to become one of the 45 Ron Brown Scholars.

Ron Brown Scholarship Application Materials

First, applicants should download and fill out the application form provided on the website. Be sure to read each section carefully, as there are portions that must be completed by a parent/guardian, high school or college counselor, and of course, the applicant.

Now, let’s look at the additional materials you’ll need for your application: 

  • Transcripts: An official copy of your transcript is required to apply. You can request this from your high school guidance counselor.
  • Letters of recommendation: You will need to submit two letters of recommendation with your Ron Brown Scholar Program application.
  • Test Scores: Due to Covid and recent national trends toward test-optional admission policies, standardized test scores are no longer a requirement for the Ron Brown Scholarship. 
  • Two essay questions: The Ron Brown Scholarship application requires two 500-word essay submissions.

Below, we’ll go into a bit more detail about each of these application components. Firstly, let’s start with your letters of recommendation. 

Letters of Recommendation for the Ron Brown Scholarship

The first letter should come from a high school teacher, counselor, or principal. The second letter may come from a recommender of your choosing. We suggest selecting someone who can speak in detail about your academic achievement, leadership ability and potential, commitment to community, and/or character. This recommender may be a coach, religious leader, supervisor, mentor, etc. However, recommendations may not come from a parent, guardian, or any other member of your family.

When considering who to ask for a recommendation, ask yourself a few questions. Does this person know me well? What is the nature of our relationship? What can they add to my application that may not be seen elsewhere? Where have they seen me succeed, or recover from a setback? Take on a new challenge? Demonstrate initiative?

Ask early

In addition to selecting a recommender, the timing of your request is important. In the same way that students juggle several responsibilities, the adults around you also manage duties that you may not see. So, be sure to leave enough time for recommenders to write a strong and thorough letter on your behalf. As such, we recommend requesting a letter of recommendation far in advance of the application deadline.

Need a little extra guidance on asking for letters of recommendation? CollegeAdvisor has a great webinar to guide you through the process!

Testing Requirements for the Ron Brown Scholarship 

Although standardized testing submissions are optional, students are more than welcome to submit ACT, SAT, SAT II (subject test), and/or AP results if they’d like. If you test exceptionally well or feel that your test scores are strong enough to contribute positively to your application, consider submitting them. If you have a lower GPA, for example, high test scores can strengthen the academic side of your application. 

However, the absence of test scores will not negatively impact a student’s chances for selection. With that in mind, please note that competition for scholarships remains fierce. Candidates for the Ron Brown Scholarship possess a strong academic record as demonstrated by the rigor of their curriculum, performance in courses, rank, GPA, and writing submissions.

Writing the Ron Brown Scholarship Essays 

The first essay must be in response to a specific question. This essay can be pulled from your college application or an assignment written for a class in school. You are also welcome to write a new essay for this requirement. For the second essay, you decide!

As you’re writing, remember that essays are the scholarship committee’s opportunity to hear directly from you in your voice. Consider a topic that showcases who you are and/or what you value. This can range from ideas such as familial relationships and academic interests to new hobbies, friendships, passions, anecdotes, etc. And finally, remember, be honest, be creative, and let your personality shine. Readers want to get to know who you are as they evaluate your application. 

Ron Brown Scholars Program

The goal of the essays is to share your story with others. The committee is hoping to get to know you as holistically as possible. Your writing will give them the chance to do just that.

That being said, we recognize that it can be intimidating to stare at a blank page on which you need to distill your story down to just 500 words. 

So, if you’re in need of a little inspiration or simply seeking a bit of guidance, CollegeAdvisor is here to help with free essay guides that can be used throughout your scholarship search. Happy writing!

What is the selection committee looking for?

Similar to other merit-based scholarships, the Ron Brown Scholarship requires a strong academic performance. Thus, committee members will be looking for students who have taken advantage of and performed well in some of the most challenging courses available at their schools. Rank and GPA are among the many factors that will be evaluated.

Submitting your Ron Brown Scholarship Application

Once you have each piece of the puzzle polished and ready to roll, it’s time to compile and submit your application. This can be done in one of two ways. You may send in your materials either by mail or email. Please note that there is no online application option available. Additionally, applications may not be faxed.

Your first option is to submit it by mail. In order to submit your application by mail, print all pages of the application from the website and send all materials in one package. Before mailing your package, ensure that each section of the application has been completed by the appropriate person. Official transcripts sealed in a separate envelope by your school staff are acceptable to include in the package with all other materials.

Your second option is to submit by email. Email submissions should be sent in one message. Application materials must be emailed to [email protected] If possible, the email should come from your high school/college counselors so that they can provide the transcript and letters on your behalf at that time.

And before you drop that envelope in the mailbox or hit “send”, review everything one last time! Incomplete applications will be removed from consideration for the Ron Brown Scholarship.

Ron Brown Scholarship- Application Deadline

The Ron Brown Scholar Program begins accepting applications after August 1 of your senior year of high school.

Regardless of whether you choose to send your application via mail or email, all submissions for Ron Brown Scholar candidates are due January 9.

Subsequently, all materials including your official transcript(s), essays, and letters of recommendation are to be submitted by the final January 9 deadline. If submitting by mail, the postmarked date on your materials should be no later than January 9. However, there is no advantage to sending your materials overnight through a delivery service. In the event that January 9 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, your materials should be postmarked for the following Monday.

If you find yourself worrying about the deadline, keep in mind that applications can be submitted early with no penalty. So, it may be worth it to finish your application as soon as possible and submit it well ahead of the deadline. That way, you won’t be sweating on January 8th! 

When are Ron Brown Scholars selected?

After all applications have been submitted, materials are reviewed by the National Selection Committee. There are three selection rounds for the Ron Brown Scholar Program: First Round, Semifinalist Round & Finalist Round.

When will I hear back?

Given the large number of applications, only those students who advance to the semifinalist and finalist selection rounds will be contacted by members of the National Selection Committee.

Also, a self-addressed stamped envelope may be included with your submitted application in order for the Program to acknowledge receipt of your application. Semifinalists will be contacted by mid-February. Finalists for the Ron Brown Scholarship receive notification of their status in early March. At that point, finalists will be invited to Washington, DC, (at no cost to the student) to be interviewed by the National Selection Committee. Finally, the names of the Ron Brown scholarship winners will be posted on the website in early May.

Students selected as Ron Brown Captains (top 2-3% of Ron Brown Scholarship winners) are chosen based on the initial materials submitted to the Ron Brown Scholar Program. Subsequently, captains are notified in late March/early April.

Coca-Cola Scholarship vs. Ron Brown Scholarship

The Ron Brown Scholar Program is one of many merit-based scholarships for college available to students. Let’s see how it compares to another popular merit-based scholarship, the Coca-Cola Scholarship.

What is the Coca-Cola Scholarship?

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation provides a $20,000 scholarship for college to 150 talented, innovative, and academically exceptional high school seniors each year. This award is among the most prestigious you will come across in your scholarship search. In addition to the monetary award, winners also gain access to a unique and impressive network of alumni.

However, unlike the Ron Brown Scholar Program, the Coca-Cola Scholarship is not one of the specifically designated minority scholarships or scholarships for African Americans. 

How is the Coca-Cola Scholarship similar to the Ron Brown Scholar Program?

  • Both are merit-based scholarships dependent upon a student’s talents, achievements, and demonstrated excellence in one or more areas
  • Both scholarships for college are open to high school students and can be used for undergraduate education
  • Both are scholarships for college awarded to students who demonstrate significant community impact and engagement
  • Both applications involve interview components for those who advance to later rounds of the selection process

A few key differences between these merit-based scholarships: 

Coca-Cola ScholarshipRon Brown Scholarship
Can be used toward a 2-year or 4-year degreeCan be used toward a 4-year degree only
Open to students of all ethnic/racial backgroundsCan be categorized as one of many minority scholarships or scholarships for African Americans 
Interview for finalists is regionally specificAll finalists are flown to Washington D.C. to interview
GPA cut-off of 3.0 required for eligibilityNo GPA cut-off specified
One-time award of $20,000$40,000 award distributed over the course of 4 years

Ron Brown Scholarship Additional Questions 

How can my Ron Brown Scholarship be used? 

To recap, Ron Brown Scholarship winners may use their funding in the following ways: 

  • To supplement financial aid offered by the institution you plan to attend
  • Tuition, fees, books, room and board, computers, health insurance, study abroad, and other college costs

This scholarship can not be used for:

  • Replacing aid offered by a school
  • Covering parental contribution portion of a financial aid package 

What kind of financial information do I have to provide? 

  • In the first stage of the application process, please list the income of both parents or guardian(s) if it is available to you. This includes the non-custodial parent. If you are unaware of a parent’s whereabouts, please list this on the application.
  • Should you advance to the next stage, information about your non-custodial and stepparent’s income will be requested and will be taken into account in determining financial needs.
  • The application asks your parents for their adjusted gross income on last year’s federal income tax return, that is, the return that they filed when you were a junior in high school. By their signatures, they also agree to provide proof of income, including copies of income tax returns, if required.
  • If you advance to the next stage in the application process and become a semifinalist, verification of income will be required.

How and when are Ron Brown Scholarship winners notified? 

Due to the high volume of applications, the Ron Brown Scholar Program is only able to notify students who move on to the semifinals and finals. Ron Brown Scholarship winners will see their names posted on the website in early May. Ron Brown Captains are notified in late March/early April.

What are my chances of winning a Ron Brown Scholarship?

Merit-based scholarships can be very competitive. That’s why we recommend a broad scholarship search, and if you qualify for scholarships for African Americans and/or minority scholarships, be sure to include those in your application list. Only 45 Ron Brown Scholarship winners are chosen from a pool of 5000 applicants.

Have more questions about the Ron Brown Scholar Program? Find their program FAQ here!

Tips on How to Win a Ron Brown Scholarship:

Ron Brown Scholarship

Start early

The application opens in August. You have four full months to put your story on the page. No one likes to feel rushed. Getting a headstart will allow you to be as thorough and creative as you like without the pressure of racing the clock.

This also gives others (recommenders and parents/guardians) ample time to complete their portions of the application.

Highlight various forms of leadership

The Ron Brown Scholarship is named in honor of an impactful community leader and advocate. Your extracurricular involvement and community engagement should speak to your alignment with these values.

What you do can be a useful part of sharing the story of who you are. Show the selection committee what you’re passionate about and why it matters to you.

Bring your voice

Take advantage of the essay space to bring your application to life. Your voice, your personality, your story are your greatest assets. Write about something that matters to you. It will come across authentically to the reader.

Make a checklist

Staying organized will help you keep track of all the necessary pieces as your application comes together. Circle back to this list before mailing or emailing your final materials.

Proofread, proofread, proofread AND get a second pair of eyes

This is a time to put your best foot forward. You want to represent yourself well. It can be helpful to have another set of eyes on our work to catch small mistakes you may not see. A second reader can also help ensure your story is reaching your audience the way you intended.

More CollegeAdvisor Merit-Based Scholarship Resources

Here are some more helpful guides as you continue your scholarship search: check out our guide to Vanderbilt University’s Merit-Based Scholarship, and our guide to winning the Merit-Based Scholarship at USC

CollegeAdvisor is here to help your scholarship search and application process with additional resources, including: 

  1. Essay Guides like this one for Vanderbilt University
  2. Engaging Webinars like these on financial aid, parts 1 and 2, this one on merit-based scholarships for college, and this one on merit-based scholarships for domestic students. 
  3. Our robust 12th-grade CollegeAdvisor Program

How to win the Ron Brown Scholarship- Final Thoughts

The challenge of paying for college is one facing many students across the nation and around the globe. It can be intimidating to think about winning merit-based scholarships, minority scholarships, and other scholarships for college. But, scholarships for college can be extremely helpful when it comes to covering college costs, so don’t be discouraged!

The Ron Brown Scholarship is among the most competitive scholarships for African Americans. With $40,000 and a lifetime of support, leadership development, and community engagement opportunities at stake, here are our best tips for becoming one of the 45 coveted Ron Brown Scholarship winners.

So, we hope that your questions surrounding, “What is a merit-based scholarship?” have all been answered. Remember to start your scholarship search early, as scholarships for college can be a super helpful part of covering the costs to attend a university. Good luck!

Zell Miller Scholarship

This article was written by Kyra Green. If you want to get help with your college applications from Admissions Expertsregister with today. Also, check out our other guides to Merit-Based Scholarships as you embark on your college application journey!