Affording College: Financial Aid and Scholarships for Black Students

Learn the nitty-gritty of how to find and apply to scholarships for Black and African-American students


Affording College: Financial Aid and Scholarships for Black Students

Learn the nitty-gritty of how to find and apply to scholarships for Black and African-American students

Americans have long proclaimed that education is the great equalizer. And it’s true that earning a college degree is a key to improving one’s social and financial mobility. Research from PEW shows that college graduates are more likely to climb the economic ladder. That’s great news for those who can earn a degree! 

Yet the cost of college, amongst other factors, makes college inaccessible and out of reach for many of us. College affordability is difficult for most families in the US. In fact, 8 out of 10 students benefit from some form of aid to pay their school tuition.

The problem of college access and affordability is exacerbated for Black and African-American students. Despite recent strides in college degree attainment, Black students are disproportionately burdened by the cost of college and the student debt crisis. Black students are more likely to need to take on debt for school and more likely to struggle to repay student loans than white students. This systemic approach to denying Black students access to affordable, quality education has resulted in inequities in graduation rates and degree attainment. No matter how you look at the data, it’s clear that the educational systems in our country, from pre-K through college, are failing Black students. 

Decades of structural racism and systemic disinvestment in Black communities prove it is even more critical to bolster support and direct financial aid resources towards Black education and degree attainment. One important way that education leaders and institutions are trying to level the playing field and improve affordability is by offering scholarships to Black students. Given the impact of structural racism in the education system, scholarships are one strategy you can take advantage of in order to pay for your college degree. 

So, if you identify as Black or African-American, and are looking for ways to access and afford a college degree, then it’s important to consider scholarships as a component of your financial plan for affording college. Scholarships are one way to alleviate the cost of college and the burden of student debt. Fortunately, a number of scholarships exist to specifically support Black and African American students. 

This guide provides an overview of financial aid options, followed by a deep dive into scholarships for Black and brown students that includes deadlines, eligibility requirements, application materials, and amount awarded, so that you can quickly identify which ones are the best fit for you. 

Financial Aid: What’s the difference Between A Loan, Grant, and Scholarship?

Financial aid is the general term for any money that the government and other organizations give you or lend you in order to pay for college. Most students pay for college through a financial aid package that includes a mixture of loans, grants, and/or scholarships. Grants and scholarships are money that goes towards tuition and never needs to be paid back. Loans are different because they need to be paid back. When you pay back a loan, your repayment includes the original amount that you borrowed, plus interest (which is the fee your lender charges for borrowing the money). 

First Step’s First…Completing the FAFSA: 

To begin the process of putting together a feasible financial aid package, you should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the primary way that all students can apply for financial aid and it is what makes you eligible for federal grants, loans and work-study programs. The federal government, private school programs, states, and colleges and universities all refer to FAFSA, so no matter where you're hoping to receive aid from, filling it out can help. For example, even if you don’t qualify for grants, you should still fill out the FAFSA for government-issued student loans. These federal loans usually have lower interest rates and better repayment terms than private student loans, meaning it will help you save money in the long run. 

There are no age restrictions on federal aid, so it doesn’t matter if you are a high school senior or returning to school as a working adult. The application itself is meant to be an easy, accessible process that should take less than an hour. In order to fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to have the following information on hand:

  • Application deadlines for academic year (individual schools might have different FAFSA cut off dates, so be sure to look closely)
  • Social security number/card
  • W2 form 
  • Tax statements
  • If you’re a dependent, you will need this information from your parents. 

While the FAFSA is intended to be a streamlined and standardized process, many students still run into snags. If you find yourself getting stuck, research local college access and college support programs in your area. There are many organizations willing to help. For example, Gateway U provides college coaching and financial aid support. One Gateway U student noted:

“I've always hated applying for the FAFSA. However, Gateway U made the process seamless. The Recruitment and Enrollment Specialist walked me through every step and broke down what FAFSA was asking for. Thanks to him, the whole process was completed with ease.”

If you have questions, run into roadblocks, or think that you should qualify for more aid than you receive, reach out to an expert who can help. Remember that the FAFSA is the first step of coming up with your most affordable financial plan for college, so you want to be sure you’ve taken the time to do it correctly. 

Grants: Grants are money awarded by federal and state governments that never needs to be repaid. Grants are most often distributed based on financial need (whereas scholarships might be allocated based on a more specific set of criteria). The best known example of a federal grant is the Pell Grant, which provides money for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. Students can access Pell Grant money via submitting their FAFSA. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 22-23 school year is $6,895. Another example of a federal grant is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: FSEOG funding offers $100-$4,000 annually to undergraduates who demonstrate exceptional financial need (though not all colleges participate in the FSEOG program). 

Scholarships: In contrast to grants, which are awarded by the government and based on financial need, scholarships are distributed by various institutions, such as nonprofits, employers, foundations, schools, religious groups, and professional organizations. They are usually awarded based on criteria determined by the institution distributing the scholarship. Factors influencing scholarship decisions may include your GPA or grades, SAT or ACT scores, extracurricular activities, and an essay. In addition, many scholarships target specific student groups, such as certain majors, women, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, and other underserved groups. Scholarships are not connected to the FAFSA and require separate applications. 

Loans:  When you apply for financial aid (including submitting the FAFSA), loans may be a component of the school’s financial aid offer. Loans are money that is lent to you with the expectation that you repay it with interest. If you decide to take out a loan, it’s important to know who is making the loan and the terms and conditions of the loan. Loans can come from the federal government or from private banks. Loans from the federal government usually have lower interest rates and better benefits than loans from banks or other private sources. 

Out of the menu of financial aid options, grants and scholarships are best because they don’t require repayment. While grants are mostly distributed via the government and your FAFSA, scholarships are up to you to seek out and apply for. The next section outlines scholarships that are specifically for Black and and African-American students.

Scholarship Opportunities 

Many scholarships exist for Black students, which helps to pave pathways to a college degree and alleviates the unfair debt burden. They may not always cover the full cost, but they are the best option to prioritize in order to supplement other forms of aid. Eligibility requirements for scholarships vary; they can be merit- or interest-based, financially based, or awarded based on your field of study and/or career. 

General Scholarships for Black Students:

The Gates Scholarship 

Deadline: September

Eligibility requirements: This is a highly selective scholarship awarded to minority students who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and leadership abilities. High school seniors must be eligible for the Pell Grant Program and possess a minimum cumulative weighted GPA of 3.3. 

Amount: Full cost of attendance 

Application materials: See here

Ron Brown Scholarship

Deadlines: January 2023

Eligibility requirements: This scholarship is awarded to low-income Black or African American high school seniors who demonstrate a commitment to public service and community engagement.

Amount: $40,000 over four years

Application materials: ​​Application form, (2) essays, (2) recommendation letters, official transcript

Estelle Martin Cartledge Memorial Fund  

Deadlines: Mid-May 

Eligibility Requirements: The applicant must be a high school graduate, have a strong academic record and be accepted or currently enrolled in a 4-year institution of higher education. Applicant should ideally also have a sustained (1 year or more) involvement in humanitarian service projects

Amount: $1,300, awarded by the Poise Foundation 

Application Materials: See here

Dr. Arnita Young Boswell Scholarship 

Deadlines: Late April 

Eligibility Requirements: This scholarship is for African American undergraduate students - both men and women - who have demonstrated academic excellence, concern for their community and the Black family, and an aspiration to continue their education. 

Amount: $1,000

Application Materials: two letters of recommendation; an official transcript from the last college/university attended; if you are a continuing or returning student or official high school transcript; if you are a first-time student; submit a recent photo with your full name printed on the back; and a personal statement.

Allison E. Fisher Scholarship

Deadlines: February 

Eligibility Requirements: Eligible African American students must have a 3.0 GPA or higher. They must be attending an accredited college or university. Finally, they must be majoring in journalism or communications.

Amount: $2,500, awarded by the National Association of Black Journalists 

Application Materials: resume, cover letter, official transcript, (5) work samples, (3) references 

Scholarships for Black Women:

This section highlights scholarship opportunities for Black women. Black women are leading the way in degree attainment, breaking down educational barriers, and creating pathways to education equity. Black women’s leadership in obtaining college degrees is a reflection of the many ways large and small that Black leadership consistently shows up, cares for the community, and envisions a brighter future — revealing the ways that when Black women lead, we all win. 

Wynetta Frazier "Sister-to-Sister" Scholarship

Deadlines: September 30, 2022 

Eligibility requirements: An applicant must be an African-American woman who is a continuing or returning student, whose education was interrupted by family responsibilities or other personal demands and is now ready to complete college or one who is entering college for the first time because of these factors. At least 21 years of age.

Amount: $1,000

Application materials: Two (2) Letters of Recommendation, a recent photo with full name listed on back, personal statement, proof of being accepted to or currently attending a college or university, or an official transcript from the last college/university you attended, if you are a continuing or returning student, demonstrate written communication skills in a 450 to 500-word typed, double-spaced essay explaining the circumstances that qualify you for the scholarship and how receiving the scholarship will impact your post-secondary plans.

Malveaux Scholarship

Deadlines: Mid-April 

Eligibility Requirements: This scholarship is awarded to sophomore or junior African American women candidates who are majoring in journalism, economics or a related field (public policy, creative writing, political science etc.). They must be a U.S. citizen, studying at an accredited four-year college, have a 3.0 GPA or better, and write a 1,000-word career aspirations statement.

Amount: $1,000

Application Materials: transcript, letter of recommendation, 500-word essay 

The Dr. Blanca Moore-Velez Woman of Substance Scholarship

Deadlines: Mid-April 

Eligibility: African American female age 35+ who is a U.S. citizen and has a GPA of 3.0 or higher 

Amount: varies

Application Materials: Unofficial transcript, 1 letter of recommendation, a 300-word essay, application form 

Sherelle T. and Timothy T. Carper III Scholarship

Deadlines: Mid-April 

Eligibility Requirements: African American single mother(age 18-30); must major in a STEM, Aviation, Political Science, Communications, or Business Management related field; must be a U.S. citizen enrolled in an accredited program 

Amount: Varies 

Application Materials: unofficial transcript, one letter of recommendation, application essay, application form 

Ashley Stewart Scholarship

Deadlines: Mid-May 

Eligibility Requirements: African-American female, 3.3 GPA or higher, majoring in a business field 

Amount: $5,000, awarded by United Negro College Fund 

Application Materials: 400-word application essay, demonstration of financial need, reference form, unofficial transcript 

Scholarships for African-American Adult Learners:

Irma A. Fleming Scholarship 

Deadlines: April

Eligibility Requirements: African American student 30-45 years old finishing a degree 

Amount: Varies

Application Materials: Unofficial transcript, letter of recommendation, headshot photo, 300-500 word essay

Anna V. Waters Scholarship 

Deadlines: Begin accepting applications each year in October 

Eligibility Requirements: Our funds support African-American students with a 2.0-2.9 grade point average who demonstrate their desire to pursue higher education.

Amount: Range from $500 - $2,000

Application Materials: online application, official transcript, 2 letters of recommendation

Tips for Applying to Scholarships 

  • Keep track of deadlines in a calendar or personal to-do list. 
  • Read all the requirements early and determine if you need to ask for materials from other people. For example, do you need to request a transcript from your registrar or a letter or recommendation from a teacher? If so, reach out to these people early on in the process to give them enough time to provide the necessary information or materials. 
  • Even scholarships with smaller financial contributions still make a difference! Don’t overlook them. 
  • Find a buddy/editor/coach to support you through the application process. 

Unfortunately, college is expensive. Fortunately, you can make your educational journey a little easier and the price tag a lot more reasonable with a scholarship, grant, or reasonable loans that make a college education closer in reach.

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