From tuition and fees to books and supplies, an undergraduate degree amounts to a staggering investment. These expenses may make college out of reach for many students and families without the assistance of grants and scholarships. For some African-American students, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is an important resource for need-based scholarships.

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The United Negro College Fund is an alliance of historically black universities providing qualified students with scholarships to attend college. While the organization manages an array of awards, many of which require separate applications, the general application has clear requirements: U.S. citizenship, demonstrated financial need, an on-file FAFSA application, minimum 2.5 GPA and full-time enrollment in one of UNCF's 37 member schools.

What Is the United Negro College Fund?

The economic hardships associated with the Great Depression and the wartime shortages that accompanied World War II left many Americans reeling. During this time, colleges that served African American students faced intense financial problems because many sources of charitable donations dried up, and many students were unable to pay tuition unassisted.

To address these problems, some of the schools, under the leadership of the president of Tuskegee Institute, Frederick Douglas Patterson, decided to join forces to consolidate fundraising and ensure the collective survival of the participating colleges. The result was the formation of the United Negro College Fund, which now includes 37 member colleges and is the most enduring organization dedicated to assisting and advocating for African American students. The organization awards over 10,000 students with more than $100 million in scholarships every year and has helped over 450,000 students achieve college graduation since its inception.

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Applying for UNCF Scholarships

Because the organization manages a general scholarship fund as well as a wide array of separate scholarships with individual requirements, deadlines and online applications, it is a good idea to use the organization’s website to search for specific United Negro College Fund scholarships. Some of these include the Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars program, the UNCF/Koch Scholars program and the Walton K-12 Education Fellowship.

For UNCF scholarships that do not require separate applications, students should complete the general application online. This application functions as a matching tool that searches the database for grants and scholarships for which the applicant is eligible. To use the general application, applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States and must attend one of the organization’s 37 member schools full-time (or plan to upon graduation). Students should also demonstrate financial need, file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and show at least a 2.5 grade point average (GPA).

While students can access information about the United Negro College Fund via the website or by talking with a guidance counselor, the organization also offers a text-based service to update potential applicants about new scholarship opportunities and pending deadlines. Interested students who text "FUNDS" to 50555 opt in for real-time updates on UNCF scholarships.

About the Author

Melissa Mayer is a freelance writer specializing in science, sexuality, and parenting. She worked as a science blogger (proteomics and microbiology) for a major biotech company for five years and has been published in print and online in Bitch, Mental Floss, Healthline, ParentMap, Geez, and Hip Mama. She also authored a YA non-fiction guide to coping with sexual violence. Prior to freelancing, Melissa taught public and private school for ten years.