Scholarships, grants, and fellowships can help minimize student debt. These nine specifically target Black and African-American students and are accepting applications right now.

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Black and African American students seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree have their work cut out for them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics' data on postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal financial aid programs, since the mid-1970s, Black students have seen a comparative backslide in educational attainment when tracked against other minority groups. For example, in 1976-77, in a pool of 917,900 Bachelor's degrees total attained across the country, white students took home 87 percent of those degrees (917,900) and Black students took home just 6 percent (58,636).

However, Hispanic students represented just 2 percent of graduates (18,743), Asian students just 1.5 percent (13,793), and Native students a mere .003 percent (3,326). Over time, Hispanic graduates have leapfrogged to the front of the class, leaving Black graduate numbers lagging. For example, from 2017-18, Black undergrad graduates numbered 195,014 of 1.98 million graduates (9.8 percent). Hispanic graduates reached a jaw-dropping 267,065 (13 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islanders were not far behind with 150,999 graduates (7.6 percent).

The Postsecondary National Policy Institute site states that "while Black students are catching up to their white counterparts in terms of college enrollment, there has been less progress in closing the degree attainment gap." 

An image of a graduation cap with pencils in a bottle.
Credit: Getty Images.

What's worse is that a recent study by the Brookings Institution found that college degrees don't eliminate the income gap between white and Black employees. This is principally because Black students finance their education through debt. Racial income disparities filter down to family members who might only be able to assist by taking out personal loans or co-signing on student loans, rather than offering personal funds to offset costs. Thus, Brookings found that college degrees—and their accompanying debt burden—make middle-class existence more fragile for Black graduates than white.

"Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family, while white college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates," the study reads. 

The hope is that student loan forgiveness may eliminate some of the disproportionate burden, but there's no way to know when or if relief will ever come. Instead, for Black students, it is imperative that their search for funding continue well beyond college admission. In the intervening years, searches for scholarships and fellowships can minimize debt and improve graduates' likelihood of holding onto their earnings after graduation. These nine scholarships specifically target Black and African-American students and are accepting applications from current students right now.

The Arthur and Evonne Whitmore Scholarship for 2021

The Arthur and Evonne Whitmore Scholarship for 2021 is accepting applications. According to the United Negro College Fund website, applications are open to full-time enrolled Black students attending a UNCF Member Historically Black College or University (HBCU).  Scholarship recipients will receive a $2,933.32 merit scholarship for the 2021-2022 academic year. Eligible students must identify as Black and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Act fast to learn more about the application requirements; this one closes on September 8, 2021.

The Go On Girl Book Club

The Go on Girl Book Club is awarding $1,000 to both an aspiring writer and an unpublished author. Each awardee must attend an HBCU. In 1991, the organization started as a reading club dedicated to literary works by authors of the African Diaspora, and has now grown to 51 chapters across the U.S. The applications do not appear to have a deadline, but only one winner will be awarded in each category.

The Synovus Bank/Calvin Smyre Endowed Scholarship

The Synovus Bank/Calvin Smyre Endowed Scholarship assists Black students attending colleges and universities within Synovus' regional footprint of Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina. One scholarship annually will be designated for a student enrolled at Georgia House of Representative Calvin Smyre's alma mater Fort Valley State University (FVSU), an HBCU in Fort Valley, Georgia, where he serves as Chairman of the FVSU Foundation.

Applicants must be residents of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, or Tennessee who are focusing their studies on finance and banking-related fields. Black sophomores with both an unmet financial need (complete the FAFSA form) and a cumulative GPA above 2.5 (as a full-time student) at any accredited four-year institution in the above-mentioned states are encouraged to apply. Essays, transcripts, and recommendation letters are required before October 11, 2021.

Ceiba Diversity Scholarship

The Ceiba Diversity Scholarship at University of Wisconsin-Madison helps fund the study abroad costs associated with the tropical conservation semester, typically held in Ecuador or Belize. Awards range from $1,000 to $20,000 depending on need and length of study period. These awards directly enable minority students with a financial need to gain international experience in biological and conservation research. Students applying for the Spring 2022 Tropical Conservation Semester have until October 15, 2021 to apply for this funding opportunity.

The Social Change Fund

The Social Change Fund was founded by NBA veterans Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade to address some of the most pressing social issues facing the Black community in America. While their causes vary—from voting rights to gender pay equity—funds are distributed both to individuals and organizations. The current cause is mental health, and the target recipients are students of color seeking a degree in mental health, social work, and psychology-related fields.

According to bold.org, there are two available awards of $5,000. Applicants are asked to complete a 400- to 600-word essay response to the question, "what is your utopian vision for optimal mental health for the Black community? How can mental health care and advocacy help achieve social justice for communities of color?" The deadline is November 1, 2021.

The American Psychology Foundation's Queen-Nellie Evans Scholarship

The American Psychology Foundation's Queen-Nellie Evans Scholarship offers $4,000 scholarships to "outstanding minority graduate students who have a demonstrated commitment to improving the conditions of marginalized communities." This award committee has a stated preference for students preparing for a career in academia, clinical service delivery, or public policy—and who anticipate a career improving the condition of marginalized communities after the completion of their graduate studies.

Candidates must provide a statement explaining how they plan to fulfill the purpose of the scholarship (no more than five pages, one-inch margins, no smaller than 11-point font), an abbreviated Curriculum Vitae (10 pages maximum), and a letter of recommendation from a faculty advisor. Enrolled Masters and Doctoral students must apply by November 15, 2021. 

Iowa State University's George Washington Carver Tuition Scholarship

Iowa State University's George Washington Carver Tuition Scholarship awards 100 full-tuition scholarships to incoming freshmen (directly out of high school) who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native, African American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino/a, or Multi-Racial on the application for undergraduate admission at the university. To even be considered, students must rank in the top 25% of their high school class, have a 3.5 GPA, and score above stated minimum ACT and/or SAT scores.

Students are encouraged to apply for admission before December 1, since most of these awards are distributed by January 1. The scholarship is renewable annually, for up to three years, as long as the student maintains a cumulative 2.5 GPA and completes 24 new credit hours at the university each academic year. Applicants must file a FAFSA and apply for admission. The scholarship has no additional application requirements.

Ron Brown Scholars Program

The Ron Brown Scholars Program is focused on Black leadership in public service. These generous scholarships are awarded to 45 students annually; each Ron Brown scholar receives $10,000 annually for four years, for a total of $40,000. They may attend any four-year accredited college or university within the United States. 

Eligible applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, Black/African American, and current high school seniors at the time of their application. Applicants should demonstrate academic achievement, leadership ability, a track record of community service activities, and a financial need. This application package is quite comprehensive. Luckily, applications are not due until January 9, 2022.

Spectrum Scholarships

Spectrum Scholarships are accepted through the American Library Association (ALA) Scholarship Clearinghouse, which allows applicants to apply to multiple ALA funding opportunities at the same time. Applications are accepted annually from September to March 1. Based on last year's timeline, around December there should be a webinar for aspiring applicants. Yet, the 2020 recording remains live for early birds. The website states that applicants must be a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. or Canada and identify as American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern/North African, and/or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.

Students must attend an ALA-accredited graduate program in library and information studies or an AASL-recognized School Library Media Program, be enrolled (full or part-time) in an accredited program, begin no later than September 1 or Fall Semester, and plan to maintain a minimum course load of two classes per semester during the scholarship award period. Official transcripts, an online application (with personal statement), and three professional references are required. Last year, each scholar received $5,000, in addition to leadership training and professional mentorship.

To get a head start on 2022 opportunities, these organizations are also expected to open applications soon:

Last, don't forget to check our roundup of scholarship for Latinx students, which also includes some scholarships open to all students who identify as ethnic or racial minorities in the United States.