Attending college and completing a degree are important academic goals for any student. Unfortunately, there is a pronounced racial gap in enrollment rates at top colleges and universities around the country. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that African American students only accounted for 14% of total undergraduate enrollment in 2016, while whites accounted for 56%.
Affordability is a concern for all college-bound students, including African Americans. Fortunately, a number of scholarships and financial aid opportunities are earmarked specifically for their demographic. Several organizations offer even more specific aid opportunities, such as scholarships for African American women.
According to a report the NCES, African American students borrow money more often to complete their bachelor's degree at a public college than whites. Additionally, Demos.org reveals that nearly one in four black borrowers drop out of college, leaving them both in debt and without a degree. Obtaining financial aid can also be challenging. According to a study in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, whites are more likely to receive merit-based scholarships, even after accounting for different enrollment rates between the demographics. These statistics underline the importance of African American scholarships. These awards can help offset the cost of a college education, and leave students less dependent on loans. They also offer African Americans a unique opportunity to pursue financial aid without any strings attached, and without any racial biases favoring another demographic, intentionally or otherwise.
Since many African American students are also first-generation college students — a report by Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy reveals that 32% of undergraduates are the first member of their family to attend school — they may feel more pressure to succeed academically and complete their degree in four years or less. Between the financial strain and the added pressure, many students drop out: three out of five first-generation college students do not complete a degree or obtain a credential within six years. Part of the problem is again financial: many first-generation students come from poor families and must rely on loans to fund school, placing them in seemingly-insurmountable debt with each passing year.
A scholarship is a monetary gift for students to use for funding their postsecondary education. Scholarships do not need to be paid back, making them a desirable alternative to student loans. Scholarships may be used to pay for education-related costs including tuition, books, and other course materials. Some scholarships may also be used to cover food, room-and-board, laundry, and day-to-day expenses.
Thousands of different scholarships are available. Merit-based scholarships are typically given to students with high GPAs or an extensive record of community service. Other scholarships may be allotted to certain groups of people, including women or minority students. There are also scholarship options for students who demonstrate financial need. Nonprofits and organizations that support the African American community, some colleges and universities, and even some major employers offer scholarships exclusively for African Americans and minorities.
In order to qualify for most scholarships, students must first complete an application. While the nature of these applications will vary by award, most will include the following general criteria:
- Grades and Transcripts
- Most scholarships (merit- and non-merit-based) require a minimum GPA for consideration; this minimum is usually 2.5 or higher. Additionally, some impose minimum scores on the SAT, ACT, or other college admissions tests.
- Many scholarships require applicants to complete an original written testimonial explaining why they deserve the award.
- Letters of Recommendation
- A scholarship application may ask for letters of recommendation from teachers, school counselors, former employers, and other people who have interacted with the student in an educational or professional environment. These letters should not come from friends, relatives, or family acquaintances.
- College Information
- Many scholarships will only award money to applicants who have enrolled or plan to enroll in an accredited postsecondary institution within the following year. Some are only allotted to students who plan to pursue certain fields of study.
- Other Financial Aid
- For needs-based scholarships, applicants may need to prove they are not receiving federal financial aid, additional scholarships, grants, or other forms of monetary support.
External Scholarship Resources
Students who are unfamiliar with scholarship applications should seek advice from educational experts. Here are a few online resources for scholarship applicants to peruse:
More tips on how to apply for a scholarship from The College Board.
Tips for finding and applying for scholarships.
Tips for perfecting the scholarship application process, including advice on people to reach out to.
Tips for finding scholarships and screening available scholarships to find the most worthwhile and effective match for your interests and strengths.
Tips and Tricks
Students have plenty on their plate during their last two years of high school, but they shouldn't neglect applying for scholarships. Below are a few useful tips for students sifting through a variety of scholarship opportunities:
- Outline Application Priorities - All scholarships have different eligibility criteria and requirements. Some ask for an essay on a particular topic while others require letters of recommendation. It's important for students to adhere to all requirements; submissions that ignore instructions will be discarded.
- Create a Checklist with Due Dates - Make a checklist of to-do items for each scholarship, recording submission deadlines and specific instructions. Regardless of how many scholarships you are applying for, breaking down the applications into specific tasks can help you keep everything on track.
- Make Time for the Essay - When a scholarship-granting organization asks for an essay, they want applicants to take their time reviewing the question and articulating an answer. It's important that students conduct the necessary research, and to write, edit, and proofread the essay before submitting it.
- Follow Instructions to the Letter - This one speaks for itself: applications that do not follow instructions will be discarded, so be sure to provide whatever information and materials the award requests.
- Make Copies Of All Submissions - Students should make copies of all materials they submit, in the event that the organization loses all or part of your application. Submitting applications early is advisable, in case your submission is returned or gets lost in the mail.
Scholarships for African American Students
- The Jackie Robinson Foundation
Who's Eligible? The Jackie Robinson Foundation provides resources and scholarships for underserved minority high school seniors who plan to attend an accredited four-year institution in the United States.
Award amount: $30,000 for four years
Deadline: February 1
- EMPOWER Scholarship Award
Who's Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to medical rehabilitation students. It is administered by the Courage Center and funded through the David M. Hersey Endowment Fund. Applicants must show interest in the field and complete at least 200 hours of career-related volunteer service to be eligible for this scholarship.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: April 15
- George Washington Carver Scholarship
Who's Eligible? This award is intended for freshman African American and minority students at Simpson College.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: December 1
- American Bus Association (ABA) Diversity Scholarship
Who's Eligible? This scholarship supports underrepresented groups, including African Americans, pursuing careers in management and operations in the transportation, travel, and tourism industry.
Award amount: $5,000
- ACS Scholars Program
Who's Eligible? These scholarships are intended for African Americans and minorities studying in chemistry and chemistry-related fields. Qualified students must demonstrative high academic achievement in science subjects and be planning a career in chemical sciences.
Award amount: $5,000
- African American Network of the Carolinas Scholarship Fund
Who's Eligible? The African American Network is a Duke Energy employee resource group and provides scholarships to college-bound students from North and South Carolina pursuing degrees in engineering, math, science, computer science, accounting, finance, or business administration.
Award amount: $2,000
- AMS Minority Scholarships
Who's Eligible? Underrepresented student populations are eligible for this award through the American Meteorological Society. The AMS provides scholarships through donations made by members of the AMS Giving Program. These are two-year scholarships distributed once per year.
Award amount: $6,000 ($3,000 each for freshman and sophomore years)
- Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship Program
Who's Eligible? Brown and Caldwell supports diversity in the workplace and provides a minority scholarship program for African American students and other underrepresented student populations in environmental engineering.
Award amount: $5,000
- Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship Program
Who's Eligible? Xerox strives to promote diversity in its workplace and awards up to $10,000 to qualified minorities enrolled in a technical degree program at the undergraduate level or above. Applicants can submit their information online along with an electronic version of their resume.
Award amount: $1,000 to $10,000
Deadline: September 30
- Ron Brown Scholar Program
Who's Eligible? Intended for African American high school seniors, this program rewards applicants with a record of academic excellence, exceptional leadership potential, and active community members with a demonstrable financial need.
Award amount: $40,000 ($10,000 for four years of college)
Scholarships for African American Women
- The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs Scholarship
Who's Eligible? The NANBPWC awards the National Scholarship to a female African American graduating high school senior with a 3.0 GPA or higher. An essay is required.
Award amount: Varies
- Dr. Arnita Young Boswell Scholarship
Who's Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to African American students currently enrolled at an accredited college or university. Applicants must provide three letters of recommendation and an essay demonstrating their social commitment and involvement within the African American community.
Award amount: Varies
- Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier 'Sister to Sister' Scholarship
Who's Eligible? This award is reserved for African American female students who are at least 21 years old and returning to college after their education was interrupted by 'family responsibilities or other personal demands.' Applicants must be currently attending or accepted to a college or university.
Award amount: Varies
STEM Scholarships for African American Students
- National Society of Black Engineers
Who's Eligible? The NSBE offers several private and corporate-sponsored scholarships and awards for black engineering students. Applicants must be active NSBE members and are required to submit transcripts to the main office before the due date.
Award amount: Varies
- NACME Scholars Block Grant Program
Who's Eligible? This program provides minority college scholarships to eligible students as a lump sum grant. Students must demonstrate academic excellence and enroll in an engineering program at a partner university.
- Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) Program
Who's Eligible? This program was developed specifically to encourage diversity in atmospheric sciences. Black students interested in STEM careers may consider a career in this field and be eligible for an award after completing at least two years of college.
- Morris A. Esmiol, Jr. Scholarship in Engineering in UCS
Who's Eligible? This scholarship is funded by The Sachs Foundation and is designed specifically for African American undergraduate students pursuing a career in engineering. Applicants must be attending or have been admitted to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs College of Engineering and Applied Science Program.
Amount: $6,000 per year
- ESA Foundation Computer & Video Game Scholarship Program
Who's Eligible? Women or minority students pursuing computer and video game art degrees are qualified for this award. High school seniors interested in the field are also eligible.
Scholarships for First Generation African American Students
- Bay Area Minority Law Student Scholarship Program
Who's Eligible? Aspiring black lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area are eligible. Applicants must be a current or incoming law student at an accredited law school in San Francisco.
Amount: $10,000 per year
- Colorado Christian University World Changers Scholarship
Who's Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to minority students whose parents did not attend college or obtain a Christian college degree. It provides financial support for minority students, including African American students, as well as leadership development activities and personal mentoring.
Amount: Full tuition (up to eight semesters)
- Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program
Who's Eligible? This program is open to underrepresented, low-income first generation students interested in attending college and studying one of the following fields: transportation management, math, science, engineering, architecture, environmental design, pre-med, psychology or Spanish language/literature. The scholarship is provided by a family-owned trucking company located in California.
Deadline: March 15
In most cases, grants are awarded to further an organization's research efforts or to support a student that may have a vested interest in the organization itself. Grant recipients are not always limited to students and are not awarded based on need or merit. The U.S. Department of Education offers discretionary grants, formula grants, and student loans or grants, such as the Pell grant. Like scholarships, they do not need to be repaid.
Federal Pell Grants
Pell grants are federal need-based grants designed to support low-income students. These grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Grants from State Governments
Individual states may award state grants for local residents. These are typically awarded by institutions, such as the state's Department of Education, state Department of Grants Program, and other non-profit organizations.
Private foundations, community organizations, and individuals may award grants to support students. They are also awarded to those seeking a research grant that would benefit the organization.
Grants for African American Students
Much like scholarships, grants are monetary gifts for students to use for tuition, course fees, and living expenses while enrolled in a college program. Grants are usually need-based, and in some cases the recipient may be required to pay back unused funds upon graduation.
- AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students
Who's Eligible? As part of its diversity initiative to increase representation of ethnically diverse CPA professors, the American Institute of CPAs provides scholarships and fellowship opportunities for minority doctoral students. Eligible students must have applied to a doctoral program and have at least three years of full-time experience in the field.
Amount: $12,000 awarded annually
Deadline: May 15
- Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs
Who's Eligible? The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine offers this fellowship to underrepresented students and provides awards for approximately 60 predoctoral students annually. These support recipients for three years while they complete their degree.
Amount: $24,000 per year
- Carl Albert Rouse Undergraduate Research Fellowship
Who's Eligible? Offered by the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), this fellowship is designed specifically for black physicists who will be conducting research with the LIGO Laboratory. It is awarded annually to undergraduates.
- Lydia Donaldson Tutt-Jones Memorial Research Grant
Who's Eligible? These grants are intended for graduate students and professionals dedicated to researching African American success in education. Grant applications must include six sets of materials.
Other Ways to Save
- Fee Waivers for Entrance Exams
Low-income high school students who are applying for the SAT and ACT exam can pursue a fee waiver. Eligibility criteria includes enrollment or eligibility to participate in the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRPL) and meeting certain income eligibility requirements.
- Apply for Early Admission
Students who already know which school they would automatically go to if they were accepted can apply early so they can get an answer before they start applying (and paying application fees) to other schools.
- Employer Tuition Reimbursement
Through an employer tuition reimbursement program, employees of a participating corporation or organization may take college courses that are paid for by their employer. Employers may pay up to $5,250 in tax-free educational assistance per student per year. While these funds may be awarded to students who are non-degree-seeking, they can only be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment as related to direct education costs.
- Use A Common App
Hundreds of colleges and universities allow students to submit an application to several colleges at once using a single, centralized application submission platform. Students only need to pay a one-time application fee to participate, which can save them hundreds of dollars on application fees and time spent submitting applications.
Additional Resources for African American and First Generation Students
The country's largest minority education organization awards scholarships and internships for low-income and moderate-income students at more than 1,100 colleges throughout the U.S.
Provides a comprehensive list of scholarships for African Americans and minorities, including black women.
HBCU Network provides resources for students at HBCUs including a comprehensive listing of HBCUs in the United States, events, and career information for graduates or internship seekers.
Job board for African American graduates or those seeking internship opportunities while in school.
This comprehensive site features planning checklists, links, videos, and books for first-generation students seeking advice.
Students can join this online community to get support and find resources to plan their college career as a first-generation student.
Provides information about community, nonprofit, and other programs across the country that support low income and first-generation students.