Scholarships and Grants for Black Students | MoneyGeek

Four years of college can easily cost $40,000 at a state school and $100,000 at a private institution. The price of a college education is a barrier to many people who have dreams of attending college, including African Americans who are underrepresented at many colleges across the country.

There are several organizations, colleges, associations and nonprofits that recognize the desire to attend college but the inability to be able to afford it. They offer scholarships and grants geared specifically to black students to help close this educational gap. Some cover the cost of a full college degree while others provide stipends to supplement expenses associated with higher learning. Some programs blend scholarships with internships and even fast tracks to jobs right after graduation. While requirements and eligibility vary depending on the type of scholarship or grant, the range of options opens up an even wider range of educational possibilities. Below, you will find information to help you get started on finding scholarships and understanding the application process.

Scholarships, Grants & Resources for Black Students

Scholarship Eligibility Where to Apply
The Agnes Jones Jackson Scholarship Open to NAACP members under the age of 25 who is currently enrolled or accepted into an accredited college or university. Must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher and demonstrate financial need. View
Department of Defense SMART Scholarship Open to undergraduate and graduate students pursing a degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Recipient is guaranteed internship and job placement. View
APPLE HBCU Scholars Program Open to students pursuing a degree in business, communications, computer science, technology, public relations or engineering. Applicants have to be in their second-to-last year of study and have a GPA of at least 3.30. View
David J. Stern Sports Scholarship Program Open to students enrolled in a historically black college or university who has a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants have to be pursuing a degree with an interest in sports. View
The Walmart Foundation First-Generation Scholarship Open to high school graduates who have a GPA of 2.5 or more and will be attending a historically black college or university. Applicant must be a first generation student. View
The 100 Black Men Scholarship Open to high school seniors and undergraduates enrolled in college who have a GPA of 2.5 or better. View
The Ralph Johnson Bunche Distinguished Graduate Award Open to incoming, full-time students attending Rutgers, who have a background of substantial educational or cultural disadvantage. View
Hallie Q. Brown Scholarship Open to active members of the National Association of Colored Women's Club who graduated from high school with a C average or better. Applicants must need financial assistance and recommend by an active Club's woman and endorsed by the member's club and the club's region. View
The Tom Joyner Foundation Full Ride Scholarship Open to current high school seniors who have a GPA of 3.5 or better and a minimum SAT score of 2100 or ACT score of 30. Must demonstrate leadership skills. View
Foot Locker Foundation UNCF Scholarship Open to all undergraduates and those recently graduated from high school. View

The Need for Scholarships: By the Numbers

85%

The percentage of black students who took out student loans in 2016, with the average student graduating with $34,000 in debt.

69%

The percentage of white students who took out student loans in 2016, with the average student graduating with less than $30,000 in debt.

48%

The proportion of black college graduates in 2014 who were first-generation graduates. That's down from 77% in the 1970s.

Sources: Gallup Poll, CRL/NAACP Study

Heritage with a Future: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)

Colleges specifically for African Americans were started in the nineteenth century to offer black students access to higher education in an era that largely blocked them from enrolling at existing schools. The Higher Education Act of 1965 defined a historically black college or university (HBCU) as any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964 and whose main mission is the education of black Americans. Now, more than 100 HBCUs in the U.S. are building on their mission, evolving to offer programs uniquely suited to the challenges and hopes of today's African American students.

College students of any race choose schools that offer what they want to study. Cost is a close second on the scale of decision factors. With those priorities in mind, there are compelling reasons to consider attending a historically black college or university. These schools offer a unique setting and cultural context for academic topics, social life and community service. For instance, professors and advisors at HBCUs often have had life experiences that make them empathetic to black students. HBCUs usually offer a richer array of African-American-oriented social groups, venues, events, programs, and community service and internship opportunities. And because of their unique status in American culture, HBCUs actually can be a better financial bet, as they can tap resources earmarked for black students and programs.

Alumni of HBCUs gain additional benefits as they enter the work world with rich and wide graduate networks. Every school has its alumni association, but HBCUs often offer multiple groups to keep graduates connected for a lifetime.

Scholarships, Grants and Resources Offered by Historically Black Schools and Universities (HBCUs)

Scholarship Eligibility Where to Apply
International Education of Students Abroad Historically Black Colleges and Universities Scholarship Open to students who are attending a HBCU school and are a member or associate member of the IES Abroad consortium. Most be attending an IES Abroad fall, spring academic year or calendar year program. View
The Tom Joyner Foundation Denny Launch Scholarship Available for students attending HBCUs who demonstrates efforts to combat hunger. View
Thurgood Marshall College Fund Altria Scholarship Program Open to junior or senior students enrolled in a TMCF member school. Must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Applicants must major in account, business, computers, IT, finance, engineering or human resources. View
Thurgood Marshall College Fund Hershey Scholarship Open to undergraduate students who are attending a HBCU school. Must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must be pursuing a STEM degree, food science or finance and sales. Must be recommended by the school's faculty or staff View

Organizing Your Scholarship Options and Setting Your Priorities

The process of applying for scholarships, grants and programs can be daunting. The good news is there are many resources available to help. The bad news is that you have to sort out which ones are best for you, focusing on those that support your goals and setting aside those that are irrelevant.

Start by making a list of the scholarships, grants and programs that you qualify for, in terms of your own needs and your family's resources.

Grab a calendar and mark the deadlines for each scholarship and grant. This will help you tackle first the opportunities that offer both the most money and that have the earliest deadlines.

It's also a good idea to get all of the necessary documentation in order ahead of filling out the application. That means you are going to want to get your letters of recommendations, transcripts and cover letter in advance.

Writing a strong essay is crucial - and time-consuming. Consider drafting a couple of template essays that address common requests (for instance, one might focus on your personal growth while another might focus on your community service). Customize the appropriate template essay as needed for each application.

Finally, keep track of each application as you send it out, either via certified mail or online submission.

How a Scholarship Coach Got Her Own Scholarships

Rhea Rhea Watson

Rhea Watson, chief scholarship coach at Scholarship Solutions of Las Vegas, Nevada, turned her own student experience into a business. As a freshmen she was awarded one of the largest financial packages that her college, Morris Brown College, a historically black college and university in Atlanta, had ever offered. By the time she completed her education her scholarship awards surpassed $300,000. Watson says that her high grade point average (GPA) gave her a big edge. She recommends that students shoot for an A average and above average SAT and ACT scores.

"Being socially minded and committed is a great way to stand out and get noticed," Watson brought more to Morris Brown than just great grades and top scores. She coupled those crucial accomplishments with participation in volunteer activities and community outreach, two things donors are looking for in their scholarship and grant recipients. Watson suggests that students should try to apply for at least one scholarship per week. Craft a compelling essay by being honest about your journey, seeking to let the awards committee understand how you are growing as a person. "Convey the truth, honesty and purity.  Also, this is not the time to be shy.  If you have accomplished something great, talk about it.  If you have experienced a series of hardships talk about it.  If you have a disability describe it and your challenges with it," she says.

How a Black Tech Innovator Snagged Awards for His Education

Martin Jeffrey Martin

Jeffrey Martín currently attends The Iron Yard coding school in Atlanta. He won the $4,000 O.C3 Scholarship to use toward the school's tuition.

Martín, who is taking the front-end engineering course at the Atlanta campus of The Iron Yard, says that his unique background set him apart from his peers when applying for the scholarship. He started graduate work at The Wharton School, a top business management school, but then pivoted to take a position with Teach For America. Meanwhile, Martin founded honorCode, a start-up focused on increasing the access to coding knowledge in primary and secondary schools in the city. "Hopefully, they knew that their funds would be going to an amazing cause and also have a higher return on investment in the future," says Martín of the support offered by The Iron Yard. "The partial scholarship that I received from them really relieved some of the financial burden to be in the program."

When applying for the scholarship, Martín didn't have one essay to tackle, he had three. He approached the essays with the mission of conveying why he was a great choice. "I honestly believe that my purpose in this world is to help open doors for those who aren't given access to open them alone. Knowing that this is my purpose, this is what I conveyed in my essays. I am very thankful that they believed me," he says.

What advice does Martín have for other students trying to win scholarship money? He says to be genuine, take care of the community and be your best advocate. "It is my honest belief that people want to help other people. Only you know where you are trying to go.If you are being honest with yourself and your aspirations, when you talk and meet with other people, they will be more than willing to make an introduction to help you achieve your goals," says Martín. 

If you are being honest with yourself and your aspirations, when you talk and meet with other people, they will be more than willing to make an introduction to help you achieve your goals

Minority Scholarships: Questions and Answers

Deshundra Walker

Deshundra Walker, a manager of student support programs at Thurgood Marshall College Fund, offers some tips to help minority students succeed at their scholarship applications.

How can college-bound black students maximize the amount of scholarships they receive?

Applicants can maximize the amount of scholarships they can receive by applying to as many scholarships as they are eligible. A college education is an attainable goal, and there are many avenues for funding that are available. Students should avoid not applying because they think to themselves, "everyone is applying or I will never win." Apply for those scholarships that match your criteria and it may increase the odds of their selection. Don't sell yourself short. Apply!

If a requirement of the scholarship is to be African American, are there ways to stand out in how you answer the questions on the scholarship or grant application?

There are minority scholarships available. Applicants should seek out these scholarships and others to increase their chances of selection. They can stand out by being creative and completing the application in its entirety. Be sure to toot your own horn, but be honest — not too modest though.

What about the essay? What should applicants try to get across and are there ways to craft the essay that will get them noticed more?

In writing the essay, the applicant should make sure to carefully read and follow the instructions and take the essay seriously. It's the one aspect in which they can sell themselves, to allow the reviewer to get to know them better and to present their best self. The applicant wants to get across their knowledge of the subject in which they are writing and to convince the provider that they are the candidate they are looking for. A strong essay may rescue the application from the reject pile. Ensure that the question is addressed, explained clearly and given solid support. Read, proofread and most definitely, spell check. Ask someone (a trusted teacher, coach or mentor) to critique as well.

How can applicants create a winning scholarship strategy?

An applicant can create a winning scholarship strategy by being organized. Keep records from ninth to twelfth grade, tracking the organizations involved in, as well as extracurricular activities, awards and honors received, achievements, community service, internships, leadership positions, jobs and academic information. Practice writing essays. Research the organization you are applying too to learn the audience you will submit your application too.

What are the judges looking for in a black student applicant?

Judges look for academic excellence, demonstrated leadership, creativity, story told in a compelling way, success in high school, community service, extracurricular activities and good test scores. Reviewers judge on quality, originality and the merits of the application presented. Supporting diversity at the collegiate level is essential to ensuring a quality education and meeting the nation's growing workforce demands.

What are some mistakes to avoid when searching and applying for scholarships?

Some mistakes applicants can avoid when searching and applying for scholarships are to make sure to adhere to deadline dates. Don't procrastinate. Also, you should not have to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship or pay someone to help you find scholarships for you. Scholarships help you financially and if you have to pay to apply, most likely, it is a scam. You should not provide any financial information, including your social security number on any application. The Federal Trade Commission has good information on scholarship scams. Applicants can locate information on scholarships on their own. Use legitimate websites such as tmcf.org, collegeboard.com, fastweb.com, and scholarships.com. You can visit your local library to see if they offer books that provide a list of scholarships. Other good sources would be the high school guidance counselors, foundations, federal agencies, parent's employers, civic groups, community organizations and your chosen university.

What can students do to get a leg up on the competition and get the process going?

Start the process early. You can shine by getting things done early. Be persistent and stay positive. Search often. Make sure to have multiple copies of transcripts, reference letters, resumes and other documentation. Double-check your applications to ensure that all requested information is supplied and that all supporting documents are included.