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College Scholarships for Black Students Undergraduate and Graduate Financial Aid, Resources & Support

African American students who are concerned about how to pay for their college education will need to know how to find scholarship opportunities to assist them. This guide includes information on specific scholarships, places where students can find grants and how to apply for federal and state financial aid.

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College Trends for Black Students

The college enrollment levels of African American high school graduates have steadily increased in recent years. For example, according to information compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, 70.9 percent of black high school graduates went on to enroll in college. This is up from 59.3 percent the previous year.

This trend is nothing new, however. The agency has been keeping track of data on African American high school graduates who went on to college since 1975. Back then, the amount was only 41.9 percent and by the 1990s, it was up to the 50 percent range.

Tips for African American Students Applying for Scholarships

Just as students need to handle their college admissions applications with care, they need to put effort into every scholarship application they submit. The following tips can increase the chances that students have of being successful when applying for college scholarships.

  • Track Deadlines

    Students who are applying for many scholarships will have to meet deadlines that may be spread out over months. In order to ensure they meet all of these deadlines, they should make a scholarship calendar and keep track of the upcoming dates. However, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to wait until the last minute to complete applications.

  • Compile a Broad List of Scholarships

    The more scholarships students apply for, the more funding they may be able to secure. They should not limit their chances by only applying to one kind of scholarship. Instead, they should do a broad search and apply to every scholarship they are qualified for, no matter what size the award is.

  • Follow Directions Carefully

    Not every organization asks for the same information, so students should pay close attention to each application’s requirements. For example, the suggested length of an essay and whether or not a recommendation is required can differ from one scholarship application to the next.

  • Write Original Essays for Each Scholarship

    Although a lot of the information that scholarship applications ask for may be similar, that doesn’t mean applicants should recycle the same essay over and over again. The organizations that issue scholarships are each looking for something specific and they will be able to tell if an applicant simply reuses an essay.

  • Proofread

    Students want to put their best foot forward when they’re applying for scholarships, so they should remember to spellcheck and proofread every application before sending it out. Better yet, they should have an adept editor look it over and offer feedback.

  • Keep Applying

    Many students stop applying for scholarships after they have entered their freshman year. However, some scholarships are targeted toward students in the subsequent years of their education, so students should remember to apply for funding every year they’re in school.

Black Student Scholarship Directory

Financial Aid for College Students

Students who need financial aid to fund their education are required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This helps schools to determine how much students are eligible to receive in federal and state grants, student loans, and work study aid—which is done by reviewing information about parents’ earnings and assets, as well as students’ earnings if they also work. In order to do this, applicants use information from their latest tax returns.

Students can fill out the FAFSA form online. Those who would prefer to submit a paper copy can download a PDF from the FAFSA site or request an application by calling the U.S. Department of Education at 800-4-FED-AID (433-3243). However, the online form makes it easier to fill out financial information because applicants can transfer data to the form directly from the IRS website.

The Department of Education begins accepting applications on October 1 of each year. Although applications are accepted as late as June, it’s best to send in a FAFSA as soon as possible because some states issue aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information on financial aid, see our Financial Aid for Online Colleges

Financial Aid for Online Colleges

Black College Student Support on Campus

Many colleges and universities around the country work to promote diversity on their campuses by admitting students from different backgrounds. To further this dedication to diversity, schools offer support to students of minority groups in order to help them with their academic performance and make them feel comfortable on campus.

For African American students, there are several ways to connect with each other and get the most out of the campus experience. For example, black students may be able to find chapters of organizations on their college campus, including:

In addition, schools may have worship organizations for religious black students, as well as groups that focus on leadership building, artistic endeavors, and socializing among students.

Historically Black Colleges and Why They Are Important

To address the lack of opportunities for African Americans who wanted a higher education, historically black colleges were created after the Civil War to meet their needs. These schools later became known as historically black college and universities (HBCUs), which the Higher Education Act of 1965 defines as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.”

Today, there are over 100 HBCUs around the country and their significance among black students still remains strong, despite desegregation. Many students choose these colleges and universities in order to not only receive a quality education, but also a quality experience rooted in the unique history that those who attend these schools share. HBCUs such at Talladega College in Alabama and Coppin State University in Maryland offer generous scholarships to qualified students.

Students who are interested in attending an HBCU can apply for the following outside scholarships as well:

Expert Advice on Scholarships for Black Students

Kendrick Kenney is an educator with a background in educational media and intercollegiate sports broadcasting. He earned a master’s degree in organizational communications at Bowie State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Virginia State University. He is currently a full-time communications lecturer at Bowie State University, where he is also a coordinator within the broadcast journalism concentration. He is also a key component in University Trio and Bridge programs helping young people transition into college from high school. Before entering the classroom, Kendrick served as lead video and media coordinator for two intercollegiate sports programs. He has also worked on documentaries and productions with Emmy-award winning producers. Kendrick has a passion for brand management and takes pride in doing community outreach, focusing on young people and media literacy. He is also a first-generation college graduate.

When you work with students looking for scholarships, what advice do you give them?

I tell students to apply to as many scholarships as possible. There is a lot of money and resources out there that are untapped. I encourage students to build the scholarship process into their academic curriculum—meaning applying for scholarships should be like an extra class on your schedule every semester. Look to secure scholarship money throughout your entire time attending school. I also tell students to strategically look for scholarships that fit their academic profile—whether it’s based on where they’re from, like scholarships from alumni from particular cities or regions, or if it’s departmental or discipline/industry based scholarships. That will automatically give them a connection with the entity offering the award.

When applying for scholarships, what can students do to stand out from other applicants?

There are a few things students can do to stand out. The first thing is research the background of the scholarship. Look for things like how long it has been offered, who started it, and who were the last recipients. This will give you a very good idea what type of student is normally awarded this particular scholarship and give you the information to appeal as a quality candidate. Once you gather your intelligence, make sure you are applying to scholarships that fit your student profile like a tailored suit. These techniques will make you very competitive and a deserving candidate every time.

What are the most important things that students should keep in mind when looking for ways to fund their education?

The most important thing for a student to keep in mind is to be very aggressive in applying for scholarships. Again, there are a lot of programs and organizations whose funds are going untapped. It is important to establish yourself academically and make connections in your major or discipline. Once you research scholarships that fit your student profile, the money will come. Scholarships are very beneficial for a student’s academic pursuits and should be looked at with the same importance as picking a major.

Why are HBCUs a good choice for black college students? Why would you recommend them?

As an HBCU graduate and now faculty member, I am an advocate of the HBCU experience. There are many benefits to attending an HBCU especially now, because HBCUs are providing 27 percent of African American students who graduate college with degrees in STEM. This is tremendous because jobs in science, engineering and computer technology are so pivotal in the world we live in today. I also think HBCUs are a good choice for black students because of the quality of faculty and the intimate learning environment that many of these institutions foster.

Are the scholarships offered by HBCUs comparable to those offered by other colleges and universities?

Absolutely! Many HBCUs offer a wide variety of scholarships, especially the state-funded institutions. Most of the institutions offer academic-based scholarships to all incoming freshman, which means if you have a 3.0 or better, you can receive a scholarship award anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000. With one of the selling points for HBCUs being their affordability, earning a scholarship significantly covers costs and enhances your educational experience. There are also many scholarships for returning students that are academic based as well, but others are departmental and some are offered by alumni associations. Lastly, many HBCUs are affiliated with the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, which are merit, plus needs based scholarships designed to address the financial needs of students. The good thing about the Thurgood Marshall Fund is that it is available to graduate and undergraduate students alike. Overall HBCUs offer a variety of scholarships that help many students not only attend college, but matriculate successfully to a degree.

Resources and Black Student Organizations