It's well known that the cost of college has increased dramatically over the past two decades.
In fact, the average cost of attending an in-state four-year public university is around $25,615, meaning that a student is likely to spend more than $100,000 by the time they graduate.
While all students have felt the effects of these tuition increases, they’ve hit Black college students particularly hard, as Black students tend to demonstrate greater financial need.
Luckily, plenty of organizations have created scholarships and free resources to address the unique needs that Black students face when applying to college. In this article, we’re rounding up a list of the best scholarships, grants, and free resources for Black students. We’ll also give you a few tips to help you take advantage of them.
The importance of scholarships and resources for Black students
With the rising cost of college, the availability of academic scholarships, grants, and other resources is a critical stepping stone in helping many people earn a higher education. But data suggests that these resources are even more critical for Black and Hispanic students.
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First, higher education has historically been out of reach for many Black students. 2021 data from the Pew Research Center shows that Black and Hispanic college students make up a larger share of first-generation than second-generation graduates compared to other students.
And, individuals whose parents attended college are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than someone whose parents didn’t.
The same study found that more non-first-generation students go on to earn higher incomes and complete an advanced degree than first-generation students.
These trends manifest in the demographics of today’s college students. In 2018, 37% of Black 18 to 24-year-olds attended college, compared to 41% across all races.
One of the reasons that a college education may be more out of reach for many Black students is that the median household income of Black families is lower than that of all other races. This makes Black families less financially prepared to send their kids to college.
As a result, it’s unsurprising that Black students have demonstrated greater financial need and are more likely than any other race to turn to grants and loans to afford college.
Because of these racial disparities in household income and the accessibility of higher education, it’s critical that Black students have access to targeted resources. Luckily, there are a variety of scholarships and other resources available to help Black students make college more affordable and accessible.
Scholarships for Black students
A scholarship is a form of financial aid available through universities, businesses, non-profit organizations, and more. Scholarships are essentially free money, meaning students can use them to pay for school, and they almost never have to repay the funds.
There are many scholarships specifically designed to help reduce the cost burden of college for Black students. Whether you’re a high school senior, an undergraduate, or a graduate student, there’s a scholarship on this list that can help you.
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UNCF Scholarship Fund
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) offers a variety of scholarships to help make college more affordable for Black students.
While there are many scholarships individually listed on the organization’s website, they also have a general college scholarship application to give students the opportunity to receive its many ongoing scholarship opportunities.
Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship
To honor and commemorate the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass, the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship was established to support students attending historically Black colleges or universities (HBCU).
The scholarship is awarded to two students each year in the amount of $10,000. This scholarship is available to students with demonstrated financial needs.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship
The Jackie Robinson Foundation provides a scholarship of up to $30,000 over four years to students who embrace the core values that reflect the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson.
Those values include discipline, integrity, humility, compassion, and courage. This scholarship is available to students with demonstrated financial needs.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) offers both need-based and merit-based scholarships to Black students. These scholarships are available to students of color who are NAACP members. Scholarships range in award amounts from $2,000–$15,000.
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of students at HBCUs.
The organization provides three different scholarships to provide tuition, fees, and room and board for eligible students, with an average award amount of $3,100 per student per semester.
Apple HBCU Scholars Program
Apple has partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to offer the Apple HBCU Scholars Program.
This program provides $15,000 merit-based scholarships and a 12-week internship. Each scholar will also be assigned an Apple mentor. This scholarship isn’t limited to students pursuing a career in technology.
UPS Scholarship Program
The UPS Scholarship Program offers need-based awards of $5,000 to 18 Black and African American students attending HBCUs. This scholarship is in partnership with the United Negro College Fund.
Blacks at Microsoft Scholarship
The Blacks at Microsoft Scholarship is offered as a part of Microsoft’s diversity and inclusion efforts. The company offers 27 awards that total $175,000. Four students will receive $20,000 over a period of four years. Eight students will receive $10,000 over a period of two years.
Finally, 15 students will receive a $1,000 one-time scholarship. This scholarship is available to Black students pursuing a career in technology.
Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship Program
Brown and Caldwell is an environmental firm founded in 1947. The company offers the Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship, which offers $5,000 awards to minority students interested in pursuing a career in the environmental profession.
ACS Scholars Program
The American Chemistry Society offers more than $1,000,000 to more than 300 students each year. This $5,000 scholarship is available to students from historically underrepresented groups in the chemical sciences.
NABA National Scholarship
The National Association of Black Accountants has provided more than $11.2 million in scholarship funds since its inception. The organization awards scholarships each year ranging from $1,500–$5,000 for Black students entering accounting, finance, and business professions.
Gates Millennium Scholars Program
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program was founded in 1999 through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The program provides scholarships to outstanding students of color. More than $1.2 billion have been awarded over the past two decades, and more than 1,000 new scholars are selected each year, with an average award of more than $12,000.
Grants for Black students
Like a scholarship, a grant is a form of financial aid that students don’t have to repay. There are three primary sources Black students can look to for grants.
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Federal Pell Grant
The Federal Pell Grant is awarded by the federal government to undergrads who display exceptional financial need. Students can be awarded up to $6,495 per school year to help reduce the cost burden of college.
To be awarded a Pell Grant, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the application that makes students eligible for federal financial aid. In the FAFSA, students share information about their family’s finances to determine their financial needs.
State government grants
In addition to the federal government, nearly every state government has at least one grant program available to its students to reduce the cost burden of college. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrations maintains a list of state financial aid programs so students can easily find theirs.
The eligibility requirements for these grants may be different from state to state, but, in general, you’ll have to be a resident of the state in question and meet other certain requirements. Like the Pell Grant, eligibility for state grants is often determined by completing the FAFSA.
Finally, like scholarships, grants may be available from a variety of private organizations, including businesses, non-profit organizations, community organizations, and more. These grants are often available to students pursuing a certain field of study or located in a certain geographic area.
Finding and applying for scholarships and grants
The large number of scholarships and grants available can help reduce the financial burden of college for Black families.
However, the task of finding and applying for scholarships can feel overwhelming to even the most prepared student. Below, we’ll address some of the common pain points that students run into during the scholarship and grant application process.
Where to look for grants and scholarships
There are many scholarships and grants available, but to take advantage of them, you first have to know where to look.
First, there are several major databases online that compile scholarships. The U.S. Department of Labor has a free scholarship search tool. Additionally, resources like Fastweb and Scholarships.com compile lists of thousands of scholarships with a wide range of eligibility criteria.
Next, consider contacting your college’s financial aid office or your high school counselor. These offices often either maintain a list of scholarships or even offer scholarships of their own.
Finally, look for private organizations that may offer scholarships and grants. Plenty of companies offer scholarships for their employees’ children. Additionally, many non-profit and community organizations offer scholarships either to local students or those related to a particular field of study.
Common eligibility criteria
Most grants and scholarships fall into one of two categories: need-based or merit-based.
For a need-based scholarship, the primary eligibility criteria is demonstrated financial needs. The Federal Pell Grant is a need-based grant, as are many others.
On the other hand, many scholarships are merit-based, meaning organizations have certain performance requirements applicants must meet to qualify. For these scholarships, organizations may be looking for students with outstanding athletic or academic achievement, community service hours, leadership experience, and more.
It’s also common for scholarships to target a certain academic interest. For example, a scholarship may be available only to students who plan to pursue a nursing degree or a career in education.
Many scholarships also require students to provide school transcripts, essay responses, or letters of recommendation from teachers and other individuals who can speak to their qualifications.
How to apply for grants and scholarships
Getting ready to apply for scholarships? Here’s a checklist you can use to help you start:
- Research scholarships you’re eligible for. Compile them in a word document or spreadsheet so you can easily find them later.
- Read up on the application requirements. If you need letters of recommendation, transcripts, or essay responses, it’s best to know that ahead of time.
- Complete your applications. Set aside time in your schedule to work on each scholarship.
- Have someone double-check your application. A teacher or school counselor can read over your essays and check your application to offer suggested changes.
- Submit your scholarship application. Be sure to submit each application by the deadline to make sure you’ll be considered for the scholarship.
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Staying organized while applying for grants and scholarships
It can easily feel overwhelming to apply to many scholarships in a short amount of time. Not only is there a lot of information to keep track of, but you may be doing it at an already stressful time as you’re nearing the end of your high school education and preparing to head off to college.
Here are a few tips to help you stay organized:
- Create a scholarship calendar: On this calendar, you can record the due dates for each scholarship, as well as when you plan to work on the application.
- Read requirements closely: As you find scholarships, read the requirements closely to ensure you’re eligible and make sure to provide all the information needed.
- Keep track of scholarships you’ve applied to: A spreadsheet can help you keep scholarships organized so that you can record when you submitted your application and when you expect to hear back. You can update the spreadsheet to indicate any scholarships you’ve successfully received.
Additional free resources for Black students
In addition to the grants and scholarships available to Black students, there are plenty of other free resources to help them through their college years.
While these resources may not always come in the form of financial help — though they sometimes do — they can provide networking opportunities, career opportunities, and other forms of assistance.
It’s important to note that the resources below are just a small sample of those that are available to Black students. In today’s digital age, there’s an endless number of resources available to students of all races and backgrounds.
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Historically Black colleges and universities
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) are those whose principal mission is the education of Black Americans. Many of these schools were founded during a time when Black students were often denied higher education elsewhere. They continue to play an important role in higher education and provide resources specifically targeted toward Black students.
The Department of Education maintains a list of HBCUs on its website to make it easy for Black students to find them.
Students at HBCUs can also join the National Association of HBCU Students and Alumni, which connects HBCU members worldwide for opportunities such as networking, development, jobs, mentoring, and scholarships.
United Negro College Fund, Inc.
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is a non-profit organization that aims to create equal access to a college education for students of color, allowing them to pursue fulfilling careers, engaged citizenship, and rich intellectual lives.
In addition to a scholarship fund, UNCF also provides other forms of financial assistance, on-campus resources, professional development, emergency aid, and community support to Black students.
UNCF offers a variety of student programs, many of which are focused on helping students in a particular field, such as STEM, entrepreneurship, economics, and more. The organization also has programs to help Black students prepare for college, apply for scholarships, find internships, and connect with future career opportunities.
Black Career Network
The Black Career Network is a job board for Black job applicants. This job board, managed by the Professional Diversity Network, also provides additional resources, such as a calendar of career fairs and other events targeted at Black workers and other people of color.
Black industry organizations
There are many professional organizations specifically designed for Black students and workers within specific fields. Examples include:
Federal student aid
In addition to the free resources specifically targeted at Black students, there are also other financial resources available to reduce the cost burden Black students face when attending college.
We discussed the Federal Pell Grant earlier, but student loans and work-study are also available.
- Student loans: The federal government offers student loans to help people cover the cost of college. While a student loan must be repaid after graduation, they’re easy to qualify for since they don’t rely on a borrower’s creditworthiness.
They also come with low interest rates, and interest often doesn’t accrue until a student graduates.
- Work-study: The federal work-study program allows students to get an on-campus job to earn money to put toward their education. The money students get through the work-study program is earned through their work hours, meaning they don’t need to pay it back after leaving school.
It’s not unusual to experience a bit of shock as you prepare to head off to college because of its price. The cost of college is more expensive than ever, and the burden falls disproportionately on Black students.
And while college may be expensive, it doesn’t have to be unaffordable. Using the scholarships and free resources shared in this article, you can reduce the cost burden of college and reduce the amount of debt you leave school with.
To learn more about saving and paying for college, check out our ultimate guide.