Scholarship Program FAQs

You will find the answers to most of your questions below. If you have further questions about the NFB scholarship program, please email the chair of the NFB scholarship committee, Cayte Mendez, at scholarships@nfb.org or call 410-659-9314, extension 2415, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET. Our mailing address is NFB Scholarship Program, National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.

General Information

1. Who is eligible to apply?
2. Do I have to be an NFB member to apply?
3. Do I have to show financial need to be eligible for an NFB scholarship?
4. If I have previously applied for a scholarship, can I apply again?
5. How many applications should I submit?
6. When is the application due?
7. When will I know if I am a finalist?
8. When will finalists receive their scholarships?

Completing the Application

9. What constitutes a complete application?
10. How do I navigate the online application?
11. How do I know my application has been received?

Questions about Eligibility

12. What is meant by “legally blind” and “blind?”
13. Who is a “qualified authority” who can certify that a student is legally blind?
14. Do I need to be a U.S. citizen to apply?
15. Can I apply if I live outside the United States?
16. Am I eligible if I am studying abroad?
17. Am I eligible for these scholarships if I am participating in correspondence courses through an online university?
18. Am I eligible if I am working toward a certification?
19. Do I have to attend the entire national convention?

Supporting Documents

20. What file formats will you accept?
21. Essay Requirements
22. Transcript Requirements
23. Letters of Recommendation
24. Interview with Your Affiliate President

Additional Opportunities and Information

25. What is the HumanWare/NFB STEM internship and how can I apply?
26. What is the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?
27. State Affiliate Scholarships
28. Can my NFB scholarship award be considered when calculating disability benefits?
29. What other NFB services can benefit me, a blind student?
30. How can I learn more about the NFB?

General Information

1. Who is eligible to apply?

You are eligible to apply if you meet all of the following four requirements:          

  1. You are legally blind in both eyes (see questions 12 and 13).
  2. You are a resident of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico (see questions 14 and 15).
  3. You will be enrolled in a full-time degree program at an accredited college or university during the fall semester of 2020. Note: One scholarship annually may be given to someone who is working full-time and pursuing a degree at an accredited university if they meet all other eligibility requirements (see questions 16, 17, and 18).
  4. You are able to attend the entire national convention of the National Federation of the Blind to be held in Houston, Texas from July 14 through July 19, 2020, with the financial assistance of the NFB (see question 19).

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2. Do I have to be an NFB member to apply?

You do not need to be an NFB member to win. Some of our finalists, including some who have won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, had never heard of the National Federation of the Blind before they discovered the NFB's scholarship program.

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3. Do I have to show financial need to be eligible for an NFB scholarship?

All thirty scholarships are awarded based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. It is not necessary to demonstrate financial need, and financial status is not considered when the scholarship committee makes its decisions.

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4. If I have previously applied for a scholarship, can I apply again?

Yes. If you have applied in a previous year, you are welcome to apply again as long as you meet the eligibility requirements laid out in question 1. Many students apply more than one year before they win, so please apply again. 

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5. How many applications should I submit?

Only one, please. One correctly completed application is sufficient.

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6. When is the application due?

The scholarship application form and all other required documentation must be submitted online or postmarked by the deadline, and applicants must have requested AND accomplished an interview with their NFB affiliate president or their designee. The interview may take place after March 31 ONLY with the consent of the affiliate president. You can find your state president’s contact information here: nfb.org/about-us/state-affiliates (see question 24).

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7. When will I know if I am a finalist?

After all thirty finalists are personally notified by a member of the scholarship committee, the complete list of finalists is posted on nfb.org/scholarships. If you are not called and your name is not on this list by May 15, you did not win in this competition year. You should also look for an email sent from scholarships@nfb.org.

Last year's scholarship program of the National Federation of the Blind received over 600 applications from which our NFB scholarship committee chose thirty finalists—only thirty out of all who applied. Many students apply more than one year before they win, so please apply again next year.

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8. When will finalists receive their scholarships?

Finalists must attend the entire convention of the National Federation of the Blind to be held in Houston, Texas from July 14 through July 19, 2020. On the final night of the convention, each of the thirty scholarships will be publicly announced at the annual banquet. Scholarship checks will be mailed to the winners in mid to late August.

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Completing the Application

9. What constitutes a complete application?

  • A completed NFB scholarship program application form (online or print) (see questions 9 and 10)
  • Your essay (see question 21)
  • At least one letter of recommendation (see question 23)
  • Transcript(s) (see question 22)
  • Proof of legal blindness (see questions 12 and 13)
  • For high school seniors only—ACT or SAT reports, if available (see question 22)
  • One interview with your NFB affiliate president (home state or school state) by the deadline; one exception—the affiliate president may choose to schedule an interview later than March 31 (see question 24)

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10. How do I navigate the online application?

Open the online application form, which is linked to the scholarship program's webpage (nfb.org/scholarships). Create a simple password. Complete the required three pages of the online application form: 

  • Page 1 - Provide basic information.
  • Page 2 - Upload required documents.
  • Page 3 - "Save" and/or "Submit" the application.

You may change, delete, or replace the answers in the application and delete or replace the uploaded documents by logging in with your username and password until March 31. Each time you make a change to your application, remember to go to page 3 and "Save" it. Also, please note that until you hit the "Submit" button on page 3, your application will not be officially submitted in our scholarship program database.

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11. How do I know my application has been received?

After you submit your application, a confirmation email is automatically sent to your inbox. It will contain a copy of your completed application with attached copies of any documents that you've uploaded. If you do not receive this confirmation email, your application has not been received. You should go back and make absolutely sure you have hit the “Submit” button or contact scholarships@nfb.org.

We strongly suggest that you verify that all of your uploaded files are intact. Some large files in the past have had the name without the contents. Documents that are very large may have problems and then must be resent via attachment to an email or sent in print. Remember, until the deadline of March 31, you may return to your online form to make additions and/or changes or to check that all of your documents are in order in our database.

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Questions about Eligibility

12. What is meant by “legally blind” and “blind?”

The NFB considers these two words as interchangeable. Among legally blind persons, only 20 percent are totally blind; the other 80 percent have some degree of vision. The United States Code's definition of blindness is the NFB's definition for our scholarship program. This federal definition is also required for most disability services and for special consideration from the IRS, Social Security, and other federal, state, and private organizations. The federal definition of "blindness" in the Supplemental Security Income program under Title XVI of the Social Security Act currently states:

(2) "An individual shall be considered to be blind for purposes of this title if he has central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. An eye which is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than twenty degrees shall be considered for purposes of the first sentence of this subsection as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less.” ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title16b/1614.htm

NFB Translation: If you wear your glasses or contacts (or both) and then are measured on an eye chart as seeing 20/200 or less, or if the width of vision for both of your eyes totals an arc of twenty degrees or less, then you are legally blind according to this federal definition.

If you are legally blind in only one eye, you do not qualify for this scholarship program.

If you are not legally blind but you are running into some problems in college because of a visual impairment, we can often help you find workable solutions. Join the National Association of Blind Students listserv at nfbnet.org to ask about their work-arounds as problems come up.

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13. Who is a “qualified authority” who can certify that a student is legally blind?

Qualified authorities include a professional in eye care or a medical doctor, a professional in the education or rehabilitation of persons who are legally blind, or the president of an NFB state affiliate. Do not send us actual medical records full of abbreviations that only another doctor can understand. If we cannot tell from the document sent to us whether you are blind in both eyes according to the legal definition, you will not be considered eligible for our scholarships. You may send a copy of an original document which certifies that you are legally blind, or your qualified authority may fill out and use our PDF form (Confirmation of Legal Blindness).

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14. Do I need to be a U.S. citizen to apply?

No, you do not need to be a U.S. citizen to apply. If you live and attend school in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico, and intend to remain in the U.S. after graduation, you may apply.

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15. Can I apply if I live outside the United States?

Our national scholarships are restricted to blind persons who live and attend school where we have an affiliate of our organization, which includes all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. If your home is anywhere else, you are not eligible.

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16. Am I eligible if I am studying abroad?

To be eligible, during the fall semester following the award program, you must be enrolled in an accredited university located in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico. You are still eligible if you attend a program or course this college offers outside the United States.

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17. Am I eligible for these scholarships if I am participating in correspondence courses through an online university?

Is your online university accredited? Students must be attending a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited university or attending part-time while working full-time.

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18. Am I eligible if I am working toward a certification?

A certification program for a profession or trade does not qualify as a university degree program, and as a result, students pursuing these kinds of credentials are not eligible for this scholarship program.

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19. Do I have to attend the entire national convention?

To be eligible for any of the thirty scholarships, you must attend the entire convention—no exceptions. If an internship or similar obligation comes up, we may be able to help you negotiate time off with your employer or your school. The NFB assists finalists to attend the convention as one of the valuable gifts we give each finalist in addition to the monetary award. Scholarship finalists will be mentored by and have the opportunity to network with blind professionals employed in a variety of fields, from engineering to education, law, and human services, among many others. The announcement of individual scholarship awards is made at the convention’s evening banquet on the last day. Finalists in the past discovered the benefits they received from attending the largest convention of the blind in America endured well beyond the one-time monetary check.  

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Supporting Documents

20. What file formats will you accept?

We can accept DOC, DOCX, RTF, and PDF files. We do not accept faxes.

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21. Essay Requirements

Write 700 words or less. The topic is you. The committee members want to know what sets you apart from other applicants: Who are you? What are your outstanding qualities? How do you handle your blindness? What makes you unique and qualifies you for a scholarship on the national level? We recommend using Arial 12-point font and having someone proofread your essay before you submit it. 

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22. Transcript Requirements

We will accept copies of your transcript; however, we will not be able to return documents we receive. All students must supply a copy of any postsecondary transcripts for current and past colleges. If you have attended less than one year of higher education, provide your high school transcript as well. You or your school or an online transcript service may mail or email a transcript directly to our office, or you may upload a copy to your online application. If available, proof of college entrance exam scores, such as final ACT or SAT scores, should be sent for high school students entering their freshman year of college.

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23. Letters of Recommendation

At least one letter of recommendation (LOR) is required; more letters are permitted. The best letters come from an authoritative source and provide verification of your excellence with examples of your level of scholarship, ability as a leader, community involvement, or fineness of character. The person writing the LOR may send the letter to us (via email or mail). If the author grants permission, students may upload a letter to their online application form, or attach it to an email, or send it in print by mail.

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24. Interview with Your Affiliate President

Applicants must have requested AND accomplished an interview with their NFB affiliate president or their designee by the application deadline of March 31. The interview may take place after March 31 ONLY with the consent of the affiliate president. You can find your state president’s contact information here: nfb.org/about-us/state-affiliates

Please note, it is your responsibility to contact your affiliate president to set up the interview. You may contact them via email or by phone. Make sure your initial contact includes your phone number and email, so that they know how to reach you. You can contact either the president of the state where you live or the state where you attend school. You do not need to set up an interview with both affiliate presidents; one is sufficient. 

NFB presidents are volunteers working out of their homes in the evening or on weekends, and presidents may appoint a designee to conduct the interview if they are unavailable. Some affiliate presidents choose to conduct all of their interviews after March 31. Note: If you wait until near the deadline to make your request, we may have a problem assisting you to complete this requirement on time, so please make your initial contact with your affiliate president in a timely fashion.

Most interviews are by phone. If a state president has not responded to your request for an interview within seven days, email your request to the president with a copy to scholarships@nfb.org and ask our help to make contact.   

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Additional Opportunities and Information

25. What is the HumanWare/NFB STEM internship and how can I apply?

HumanWare and the National Federation of the Blind share the same values and beliefs that blind people should be able to live the life they want. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields offer incredible employment opportunities, and we believe that blind students should be excited and confident to go into these fields for employment. Because of this shared belief, HumanWare and NFB have collaborated to offer the STEM internship opportunity.

HumanWare is a leading assistive technology company that designs and manufactures products to help blind people to participate equally in society. The National Federation of the Blind and HumanWare have collaborated to offer two HumanWare/NFB STEM development internship opportunities. If you are a technically-minded student with aspirations of a career in product testing and/or marketing, we invite you to apply. These two internships will be based in the United States and in collaboration with the HumanWare U.S. product specialist team. The internships will take place from approximately June 15 to August 14, 2020. The two winning interns will also be required to travel for a few days during the last week of the internship to the HumanWare headquarters in Montreal, Canada.

To apply, check the checkbox on the first page of the online application that says, “Yes, I would like to complete an additional application for the 2020 HumanWare internship.” Once you have checked this box, you will continue to complete the NFB scholarship application as described above in questions 9 and 10. However, before you submit the application, there will be an additional page where you will be given an opportunity to complete the HumanWare internship application. 

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26. What is the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship?

The NFB's Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship fund assists NFB members who need some financial assistance to attend their first national convention. See the January issue of the Braille Monitor magazine for details. This program is completely separate from the NFB’s national scholarship program, and has its own set of requirements and a separate application. Find out more here: nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention/kenneth-jernigan-convention-scholarship.   

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27. State Affiliate Scholarships

NFB state affiliates often have their own statewide scholarship programs with similar application requirements to the national program but a different deadline. Please check the website of your state affiliate to find out if your state NFB affiliate offers additional scholarships. 

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28. Can my NFB scholarship award be considered when calculating disability benefits?

Our "merit-based" scholarships may not legally be considered as income. The NFB obtained a ruling from the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) based on Title 29 of the United States Code, which defines labor in the United States. It specifies that any “merit-based scholarships” you win may not be considered as “comparable benefits” when state agencies are deciding how much college funding to give to you. Contact us immediately if your agency is unaware of this ruling, and we will provide documents to help you educate them. We can also provide an advocate if necessary. Federal law states that comparable services and benefits means:

(i) Services and benefits that are-
         (A) Provided or paid for, in whole or in part, by other Federal, State, or local public agencies, by health insurance, or by employee benefits;
         (B) Available to the individual at the time needed to ensure the progress of the individual toward achieving the employment outcome in the individual's individualized plan for employment in accordance with § 361.53; and
         (C) Commensurate to the services that the individual would otherwise receive from the designated State vocational rehabilitation agency.

(ii) For the purposes of this definition, comparable benefits do not include awards and scholarships based on merit.

Authority: Sections 12(c) and 101(a)(8) of the Act; 29 U.S.C. 709(c) and 721(a)(8)  

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29. What other NFB services can benefit me, a blind student?

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30. How can I learn more about the NFB?

  • Contact the president of your state affiliate to locate the NFB chapter closest to you. NFB meetings are open to the public, and visitors are welcome.
  • Read our national magazine, Braille Monitor, in large print or Braille, on thumb drive, online (back to 1957), or by free email subscription.
  • Explore nfb.org.
  • Like us on Facebook: facebook.com/nationalfederationoftheblind
  • Follow us on Twitter or Instagram: @NFB_Voice
  • Watch our videos: YouTube.com/NationsBlind
  • The KNFB Reader Mobile app is available for iPhone and Android.
  • Download the NFB Connect app in the iTunes app store.

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