Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Resources for African American Students

Millions of students complete undergraduate degree programs each year, but African American students graduate at a significantly lower rate than many of their peers. While 62% of white students finish their degree within six years of initial enrollment, 44.6% of black students drop out of college before graduating, and remain unenrolled within the same timeframe, according to a 2017 study about graduation rates conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Black students make up 14% of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program, but represent just 9% of bachelor’s degrees obtained by young adults.

African American woman standing in front of a whiteboard.

There are a host of factors that contribute to this discrepancy, but one of the biggest challenges African American students face when getting an education is a lack of financial support. Even when going to a public college, black students borrow more money and borrow more frequently than white students to pursue a bachelor’s degree. This, combined with the rising costs of college, can make it incredibly difficult to successfully complete your degree.

Regardless of what you want to study, there are a variety of financial aid programs and scholarships intended to provide assistance to African American college students. This guide from Maryville University Online will provide an overview of different aid and scholarship options available to you, so you can get the financial support you need to finish your degree.

Why Scholarships for Black Students Are Important

African American students have historically been, and continue to be, underrepresented in all forms of higher education, and cost of attendance remains a significant barrier to this day. College expenses take up an average of 63 percent of an African American family’s income (or 48 percent for those who receive federal financial aid). Because college can take up such a large percentage of income and black students typically take out more loans, scholarships and financial programs specifically geared toward African American students are a necessity to make college more accessible.

These programs are intended to improve African American representation in certain fields as well as higher education as a whole by ensuring students in need of aid receive it. Scholarships, in particular, can mitigate or eliminate the need to take out student loans, leaving you free to focus on your education instead of worrying about how to pay for it.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Scholarships

A historically black college or university, or HBCU, was defined in the Higher Education Act of 1965 as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.” Though their primary purpose is to support and educate African American students, HBCUs admit students of all races. In 2017, there were 102 HBCUs in the U.S., evenly divided between public and private.

HBCUs may offer students a greater sense of comfort and community than other major universities. Further, they may also have a greater number of financial aid opportunities available. There are a number of scholarships specifically aimed at African American students attending HBCUs, including:

  • National Black McDonald’s Operators Association And Dr. Pepper Scholarship: This scholarship offers 12 recipients a total of $5,000 for the 2020 fall semester. Eligible students will be full-time sophomores, juniors, or seniors at a TMCF member-school, with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • TMCF/Lowe’s Scholarship: This scholarship provides support to undergraduate college sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are at risk of leaving school due to financial complications. The amount awarded depends on your level of need, and you must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher to be eligible.
  • ETS/TMCF Presidential Scholarship Program: This scholarship covers all of the college expenses of one student attending an HBCU. It is highly competitive; you must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, provide two letters of recommendation, answer multiple essay questions, and demonstrated leadership abilities to apply.
  • Wells Fargo Scholarship: This scholarship offers a total of $5,000, split between two semesters, to college sophomores, juniors, and seniors. You must demonstrate financial need and academic merit to be eligible for this award.

General Grants and Scholarships for African American Students

There are a number of need- and merit-based scholarships available to African American students that are not tied to a particular school, major, or field. African American students are less likely to receive merit-based aid than white students, and scholarships and other programs that are open only to African American students can help bridge that financial gap. Further, general scholarships that are available to all black students, regardless of major or the type of institution attended, can open up an even greater number of financial opportunities.

  • EGIF Scholarship: The Edward G. Irvin Foundation Scholarship awards $5,000 over four years to each recipient. To be eligible for this scholarship, you must be an African American male, a graduating high school senior, have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and actively participate in community or extracurricular activities. You must also meet certain criteria to maintain this award during your time in college.
  • The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship Program: This award grants students up to $30,000 in financial aid over four years of college. You must demonstrate financial need, meet certain academic criteria, and prove your leadership and community service skills to qualify.
  • The Ron Brown Scholarship: Recipients receive $10,000 each year, over the course of four years, to pay for college. You must be a high school senior who has financial need, excels academically, and participates in extracurricular and community activities to apply.
  • The Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund: The Shawn Carter Foundation provides financial grants directly to educational institutions to help offset the cost of going to school. You are free to apply for this scholarship each year during your undergraduate education. You must be 25 years old or younger and have at least a 2.0 GPA.
  • UNCF Achievement Capstone Scholarship: African American college seniors are eligible for this scholarship by proving high academic achievement throughout your college career. You must be nominated by your academic institution to qualify for this award.

Scholarships for Black Women

There are even more scholarships available exclusively to female African American students. Though each of the following scholarships has its own eligibility requirements, they are all open to black women, regardless of major or field of study:

Field-Specific African American Scholarships

Further, there are scholarships awarded to help African American students to participate in specific fields, especially ones from which these students have been historically excluded. Whatever your field of study, you can likely find scholarships designed to support students in your preferred major. This extra financial incentive, however, can make historically exclusive fields all the more appealing or feasible for interested black students. Fields in which African Americans have been severely underrepresented — such as STEM and business — offer many awards to black students to motivate you to bridge the racial divide and encourage you to seek out the career you want.

STEM Scholarships for Minorities

STEM is an acronym that refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It encompasses a wide variety of majors and careers that fall under this larger umbrella, from emerging subjects like computer science and software engineering to traditional subjects like mathematics and physics. Often, students who complete a STEM degree have a greater number of career options open to them and earn a higher salary than those who have a non-STEM degree.

However, many populations have been historically discouraged from majoring in STEM subjects, including women and people of color. Black students account for less than 10% of students in a number of STEM majors, including general engineering and mathematics.

Many programs and scholarships exist specifically to bridge this racial STEM gap:

  • ACS Scholars Program: 350 minority students who study chemistry or a related discipline receive up to $5,000 from the ACS Scholars Program each year. You must already be majoring in, or intend to major in chemistry, as well as plan to pursue a career in chemistry, to apply.
  • AMS Minority Scholarships: The American Meteorological Society offers scholarships to rising college freshmen who plan to study and seek a career in atmospheric, oceanic, or hydrological sciences. Recipients are given a $6,000 scholarship, split between their freshman and sophomore years of college, and must be part of a racial minority to qualify.
  • The Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship: This scholarship provides $5,000 to racial minority students who are in their junior or senior year of college, or enrolled in a master’s program. You must major in civil, chemical, mechanical, electrical or environmental engineering, or one of the environmental sciences, to apply.
  • ESA Foundation Scholarship Program: The Entertainment Software Association provides up to 30 scholarships each year in the amount of $3,000 — 15 to graduating high school seniors and 15 to current college students — to minority students who are studying or plan to study computer and video game arts. You must have a GPA of 2.75 or higher to be eligible.
  • Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program: 500 African American students who plan to major in a STEM subject in college are chosen each year to receive this award. Funding can vary between students, but all applicants are required to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher to qualify.
  • NACME Scholars Block Grant Program: The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering offers block grants to institutions, which then award aid to academically excellent minority students. You must be enrolled in an engineering major and maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA to be eligible for this award.

African American Art Scholarships

Though the benefits of a liberal arts degree are often not as widely discussed as those of a STEM degree, majoring in art or a related field remains a valuable economic and educational investment for all students. For those creatively inclined, there are also a number of scholarship opportunities open to black students who want or plan to study art:

  • Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids Minority Scholarship: This scholarship is open to all students of color who are majoring in visual or performing arts. You must demonstrate financial need, plan to attend college in Western Michigan, and have a GPA of 2.5 or higher to apply.
  • CBC Spouses Performing Arts Scholarship: This scholarship, in the amount of $3,000 and offered by the Congressional Black Caucus, is open only to black students who are enrolled in full-time performing arts programs at an accredited college. You must maintain a 2.5 minimum GPA and actively participate in community service to be eligible.
  • CBC Spouses Visual Arts Scholarship: Also provided by the Congressional Black Caucus in the amount of $3,000, this scholarship was created to support African American students who specialize in the visual arts — even those pursuing degrees in digital media and graphic design are eligible. You’re required to maintain a 2.5 minimum GPA and demonstrate leadership skills to qualify.
  • MPower Artist Grants: Open to graduates of the Sphinx Organization in Detroit, this scholarship grants funds to students who study the performing arts. The average grant awarded is $10,000. To apply, you must prove financial need and demonstrate artistic excellence.

Minority Nursing Scholarships

A nursing degree can prepare you for a host of careers in the healthcare field. From earning your BSN and working as an RN to earning a more advanced or specialized nursing degree, a certification in nursing can provide you with the education you need to enter a stable career in a continually growing field.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that over 80% of nurses are white, while less than 10% are black. The following scholarships were created specifically to support and encourage African American nursing students:

  • National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) Scholarship Program: NBNA offers multiple scholarship programs for qualified African American nursing students. You must be a member of the association, have at least one full year of school remaining, and be in good academic standing to apply to any of its scholarship programs.
  • The National Medical Fellowship: In part with the Aetna Foundation, the National Medical Fellowship has designed two different scholarship programs for minority students in healthcare fields, the Healthcare Leadership Program (which awards outstanding second or third-year students with $5,000) and the Primary Care Fellows Program (a $10,000 scholarship to participating students). You must be a doctoral-level student to be eligible for either program.

Scholarships for African American Business Majors

African American students are also underrepresented in business, finance, and other related majors. In fact, only 7% of finance and marketing majors are African American. You may be able to pursue additional educational and financial opportunities that can increase your earnings — enrolling in an MBA program, for instance, can make you an invaluable asset in the workplace and provide countless advancement options — but you need a relevant undergraduate degree first.

There are a number of scholarships devoted to black students who major in business that will help ensure these students receive the financial support they need — as well as encourage more African American students to pursue this major in the first place.

  • AICPA Scholarship for Minority Accounting Students: This scholarship was created to support and encourage minority students who major in accounting. This award is renewable, meaning you can re-apply for it each year you’re in school, and recipients are given up to $5,000 each year.
  • Minorities in Government Finance Scholarship: The Government Finance Officers Association offers this scholarship to minority students who major in business administration, economics, political science, or governmental accounting or finance. If chosen, you will receive a one-time $10,000 award. This program is open to both full- and part-time students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) Scholarship Program: The NABA provides a $1,500 scholarship to black students who major in accounting, business, or finance. You must be an active member of the NABA and maintain an overall GPA of 3.3 or higher to qualify. In addition, you must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher in your major classes.
  • The ELC Scholarship Programs: The ELC offers seven undergraduate scholarships: three geared towards students targeting business degrees, two aimed at students pursuing degrees in STEM, Business Management, or related fields, one pointed towards students interested in business insurance and risk management (or related fields), and one for students currently in a mechanical or chemical engineering program.

On top of your studies, job, and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to find time to apply for scholarships. You might need to write a scholarship essay, obtain letters of recommendation, and gather additional application materials to even apply to multiple awards and programs. Balancing that work with the demands of your day-to-day life as a student can challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Take advantage of these opportunities to better ensure you have the necessary financial support to complete your education.