A Community Member Shares HBCU Scholarship and College Application Tips

college application tips

A Community Member Shares HBCU Scholarship and College Application Tips

college application tips

This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow. 

My daughter is now a freshman at a top ten Historically Black College and University (HBCU). 

She didn’t look into HBCUs outside of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) and Howard University until February of her senior year. That’s when my daughter received all her acceptances for the schools she had applied to (New York University, Drexel University, University of Miami, Temple University, Howard, and NC A&T), and I saw what the final cost was going to be after merit scholarships. 

Of all of the schools, Howard and NC A&T had the lowest costs, but they would still leave a bill of around $36,000 a year. I told her we needed to consider some more affordable options such as other HBCUs and state schools. I didn’t even find out about the Common Black College Application until then.

Using our experience as a guide, here are tips for parents to share with students interested in attending one of the nation’s HBCUs. 

Register for the Common Black College Application 

You can apply for 65 HBCUs for only $20. Many high school counselors are not familiar with this application, so make sure you reach out to the counselor and explain what it is and that they will need to create the school account so they can upload your student’s transcripts to the portal.

I had to be persistent with my daughter’s high school counselor to do this, but she eventually did. Please note that not all HBCUs are on the app. You can apply for HBCUs like Howard, NC A&T, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Hampton University through the app, but you’ll need to pay each application fee separately.

Be Aware: Most Full-Ride Scholarships are Based on GPA and Test Scores 

Many HBCUs offer full-ride scholarships that usually require a separate application. You can get automatic merit-based aid for many HBCUs without test scores but not full rides, with the exception of NC A&T, which does offer the Dowdy and Cheatham-White scholarships that you are automatically considered for if you apply early action to their Honors College.

Apply for Outside Scholarships 

You can simplify the process by having your child write five initial essays that cover the most common scholarship topics. Then reuse those same essays for all the applications by making minor edits so that each version is specific to that scholarship. 

Have your student ask three people (teachers, counselors) for recommendations and get a copy of the recommendation letters to have on hand. Then your student can quickly reuse the same letters for each scholarship application.

Once you have the essays and letters on hand, it should not take more than 10-15 minutes to complete each scholarship application. 

My daughter received more than $100,000 in outside scholarships. Please note that demonstrated financial need does not mean what you think it does. We did not apply for any outside scholarships until February because I would see this and think we would not qualify. Yet, many scholarships my daughter won stated demonstrated financial need as one of the qualifications. 

While some scholarships require you to upload a copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) front page or even a copy of your tax returns, most scholarships do not ask for proof of income. If you have a high expected family contribution or adjusted gross income, just skip those that do. 

Find outside scholarships by following scholarship-focused FB groups  

I found many scholarships on our county public school scholarship database. I also found several scholarships on Naviance

Create a Google sheet with the due dates and links to the scholarship applications so your child can easily keep track of the list and deadlines. 

My daughter is a procrastinator and was very busy with other stuff her senior year, and she applied for almost every scholarship right at the due date. It was very stressful for her. Encourage your student to get everything in as early as they can.

Check the School’s Outside Scholarship Policy 

My daughter’s school allows scholarship stacking up to the cost of attendance (COA), but outside scholarships will displace institutional funds. Her outside scholarships reduced the amount of school scholarship money awarded. 

Find out if the School Sends Refunds to Students for Scholarship Overages 

My daughter’s school sends refunds up to the COA only. If she wins outside scholarships that exceed the COA, they will return the funds to the scholarship organization. My understanding is that most HBCUs do this. 

My oldest son attends a public state school in Maryland, and they will send a refund of all overages directly to the student. Some outside scholarship organizations send the checks directly to the students, but you may still need to report this to the school. My daughter’s school said there was no need to report scholarships paid directly to her.

Do Your Research

Many industry-specific scholarships, especially in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, offer mentorship, professional development, internship, and networking opportunities for job placement after graduation.

If your student is majoring in STEM, have them apply for the Future of STEM Scholars Initiative (FOSSI) scholarship, which awards $40,000 over four years. 

My daughter was one of 181 students selected for the scholarship this year, which was the second year of this program. The first year, they awarded 151 scholarships. This program also provides mentorship and internship opportunities for its scholars. We did not find out about this until days before it was due. My daughter applied minutes before the deadline, but still got it in on time.

If your student is interested in majors such as agriculture, food science, or computer science, have them apply for the USDA/1890 National Scholars program, which offers a full ride to one of the 1890 Land-Grant HBCUs.

Not only does it pay full tuition, room and board, and books, but it also provides an internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) each summer, and automatic employment with USDA upon graduation. 

My daughter, who is a computer science major, was selected as a finalist for this award, but she declined due to the required four-year commitment to working for the federal government after graduation. 

She received a similar scholarship from a private company that also provides full tuition, room and board, and fees, in addition to a paid internship, leadership training, and employment with the company upon graduation. This scholarship did not require her to commit to working for the company. 

Be sure to read the scholarship contract details for every scholarship received before accepting. Renewable scholarships almost always have GPA requirements.

Also, register for scholarship portals:

These portals have many scholarships that students can apply for. My daughter did not win any through UNCF or CBCF but won two: a $15,000 Google scholarship and a renewable $8,500 a year scholarship through TMCF.

Visit Schools 

We visited one school that was my daughter’s first pick and then the next day visited another school that we had not even heard of until they reached out to her. 

After visiting the school we had never heard of, my daughter realized that it was the perfect place for her, and that her top pick was not the right fit after all.

If you want to learn which colleges may offer your student merit scholarships, or which colleges you’ll be able to afford, try our College Insights tool. You can also check each school’s Common Data Set for details on how much merit aid is awarded.

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