For many families, the hardest part of attending college is paying for it. Here's how to get the financial assistance you need.
According to the Education Data Initiative, Black students are the most likely to borrow federal student loans at a rate of 76.1 percent. The study further found that Black college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than white college graduates and that Black bachelor's degree holders have an average of $52,000 in student loan debt, much of it acquired to pay for grad school.
Dr. Christie Murray, a college and career expert and the author of the free eBook, "Ten Secret Scholarship Strategies Every Student Needs to Know to Get a College Education Without Going Broke," says applying for scholarships is essential.
"There is money out there," said Dr. Christie Murray, who adds there are hundreds of scholarships catering to students from underrepresented groups.
"Unless a student is allergic to free money, they should keep applying for scholarships until their education is fully funded!" Murray said. She attended Hampton University on a scholarship and majored in electrical engineering.
Where To Look
Knowing where to look for scholarships is a major part of the equation. First, students will want to check with the college they selected to see if they've been offered an academic merit scholarship. From there, they should seek out other scholarships to foot the rest of the bill.
"No student should rely solely on a college institution's scholarship funding, " Dr. Murray said.
To avoid student loan debt, a great place for Black students to apply for scholarships is with historically Black fraternities and sororities. This includes Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated, and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Incorporated.
Don't be afraid to apply for scholarships from more than one chapter of the same organization unless their application says otherwise. Often these organizations offer scholarships ranging from $500-$1,500 a piece and are desperate to find quality candidates, as it's part of their mission to serve the community and promote education. You'll want to find out the scholarship requirements before senior year because many of these organizations have a weekly program the student must attend to qualify for their scholarships.
Another great place for Black students to look for scholarships is within professional Black organizations such as the National Association of Black Journalists. Their local chapters provide scholarships to students who want to study journalism. Two other organizations to check out are the National Society of Black Engineers and the National Association of Black Accountants.
Don't forget to check with foundations related to the careers the student is seeking. One of the most amazing scholarships is through the Emma Bowen Foundation. It is a paid internship with a matching scholarship, dedicated to students of color interested in careers in media. ABC correspondents Rachel Scott, Gio Benitiz, and Faith Abubey are all graduates of the program.
Scholarship experts also advise students to check with their guidance counselor for a list of local scholarships, parent's employers, churches, doctor's offices, and local credit unions. Even some family reunions like mine offer a scholarship. Also, check with the collegiate alumni chapters of the school the student wants to attend to see if they offer scholarships.
There are also national scholarships catering to Black students such as The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship, The Ron Brown Scholar Program, and Congressional Black Caucus Spouses Education Scholarship.
"Students have the best chances [of success] when they assess what makes them unique and different and target scholarships that may limit the competition or applicant pool," Dr. Murray said.
How To Be Proactive
Tiffany Blessing, a college admissions counselor with Ivywise, suggests searching for scholarships before senior year.
"Since many scholarship organizations rarely change their due dates or qualifications, underclassmen can search early and make a shortlist of possible scholarships they should target in a future season. The most competitive nationwide scholarships have applications due as early as October of senior year," said Tiffany Blessing, who also worked as an assistant director of admission at MIT.
To find national scholarships, Blessing suggests using search engines such as Bold.org. A glance at their site shows at least 34 scholarships that cater specifically to Black students.
To have the best chance at success, students should maintain above a 3.0 grade point average, and take the SAT or ACT even if the universities they're applying to don't require it. The score may be considered when awarding merit scholarships, education experts say.
However, not all scholarships are looking for students with a high grade point average.
"There are various types of scholarships available for students that have nothing to do with grades or standardized test scores. For example, there are scholarships for students of military parents, low-income families, by college major, disabilities, talents, hobbies, interests, military ROTC, and much more," Dr. Murray said.
To be prepared for scholarship applications, students should have their transcripts, people on standby for letters of recommendation, and a headshot; some applications may even ask for a video.
How To Make a Plan
Applying for scholarships isn't a one-time thing. Students should plan to work on the applications weekly.
"Set aside a dedicated 30-60 minutes each week, one day, every week, to sort through the long list, then make a game plan for applying on the weekend," said Thomas Jaworski, a college counselor with Quest College Consulting.
Dr. Murray recommends students apply for 3-5 scholarships a week. She tells her clients to create a "scholar profile" to ease the application process. It's a one-page resume that tells the story of the student, including their "educational goals, academic progress, employment, extra-curricular activities, honors, awards, and interests." She recommends creating it at the beginning of high school and updating it each semester.
Authenticity is key when writing essays. Chiante Deal, who worked as a high school guidance counselor for 18 years, said students need to tell their unique stories.
"Students…forget to tell how they've grown from their obstacles. They need to tell their story but they also need to tell how it's shaped them or challenged them to grow," said Chiante Deal.
Blessing said students should always remember to provide examples when conveying their message.
"A great essay not only tells the reader but shows the reader your point," Blessing said.
Also, allow adequate time to review and edit the essay before turning it in. If the student has trouble typing, Dr. Murray recommends using the voice dictation function in Google Docs to transcribe their thoughts. When using this method, it's important to go back and edit to ensure accuracy.
"Students who write compelling essays increase their chances of scholarship awards significantly," Dr. Murray said.
Scholarship advisors warn that while parents may suggest essay ideas or help their children come up with topics, it's essential the student writes the essays, not their parents.
"Scholarship committees can read hundreds of essays, getting familiar with the warmth and communication style of the age-appropriate generation. On top of it all, some scholarships require interviews where candidates must elaborate on their essays. It's hard to replicate! " Blessing said.
IvyWise offers free services through its IvyWise Scholars program. The program connects high-achieving, low-income students with IvyWise experts for guidance, helping them reach their college goals. The program assists students with college applications and the selection process, as well as assisting them with applying for scholarships. Applications for this program will be released in the Spring.
Dr. Murray hosts a "Scholarships for Scholars" exclusive Facebook group where she dishes out college tips and scholarships. She also is the author of "College Funding Strategies I Wish Someone Had Told Me."