Scholarships for African Students: A Complete Guide
If you are thinking of pursuing further studies but you do not have the financial means to do so, then it is high time you considered looking for a scholarship. A scholarship is a financial or material award that enables students to pursue education at a given institution. Unlike student loans, scholarships are given without the expectation that the student will repay them in future.
According to research by World Education Services, 71% of students from Sub-Saharan Africa struggle to pay tuition and living expenses in the United States. This means that any form of financial assistance is essential for them to complete their studies. There are several reasons why you should consider applying to different scholarships as an African student. Here are just a few:
- Scholarships reduce the burden of paying for higher education – The cost of pursuing higher education has been growing over the last several decades. In some countries, education is so expensive that students are burdened with loans for the rest of their lives. As an example, the cost of attending Harvard in 2021-2022 is approximately $78,000 USD. If you multiply that by four years, the total cost of attendance is above $300,000 USD. For most people, this is completely unaffordable. However, if you win a scholarship, it can significantly help you reduce the cost of pursuing your education at such an institution.
- Scholarships provide great networking opportunities – Most scholarship programs provide opportunities for recipients to grow personally and professionally. For example, the Mastercard Foundation scholarship program organizes regular meetings and professional workshops for its beneficiaries. These give them an opportunity to learn from one another and make connections in their professions of interest.
- Scholarships are a good way to showcase your competence – Winning a scholarship takes time, effort, and a bit of luck. As a result, people who have a record of winning scholarships are generally taken to be competent in their fields. Some scholarships such as Rhodes and Chevening are extremely competitive but also very prestigious, and having them on your CV is a great way to showcase your competence in professional circles.
- There are hundreds of scholarships for African students available – Today, there are countless scholarship opportunities for African students. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, you have a good chance of getting a scholarship that will help you pursue further studies.
While the benefits of winning a scholarship are many, scooping that coveted scholarship requires time, effort, and commitment. For instance, the Rhodes scholarship requires a personal statement, reference letters, academic results, and a round of interviews.
To maximize your chances of winning one of the many scholarships for African students, you need to understand all the necessary steps that go towards completing a successful application. Keep reading to learn what it takes to land the best scholarship for you.
Types of Scholarship Awards
Before you begin your scholarship applications, it is important to understand the different types of scholarships that are available to you. Below are the two broad categories in which scholarships can be classified:
- Scholarships offered by educational institutions – Most universities and other institutions of higher education have a range of scholarships available to students. These scholarships are usually funded by alumni donations, school endowments, and a variety of other sources. For these types of scholarships, the institution determines who is eligible for the award. Keep in mind that to qualify for most of these kinds of scholarships, you may need to submit your application several months before the usual deadlines.
- Scholarships offered by external bodies – These are scholarships offered by bodies that are not directly connected to your university of interest. There are several scholarships of this kind, for example the Mastercard Foundation scholarship, the Chevening Scholarship, and scholarships offered by foreign governments. You can visit our scholarships database to see the full list.
Within these two broad categories, there are a number of smaller categories in which scholarships can fall under. Below are a few examples:
- Need-based scholarships – These are scholarships that target students who are unable to afford paying for their education because of challenging financial circumstances. If you come from a family that does not have the financial means to pay for your education, then this is one of the scholarships that you should consider.
- Merit-based scholarships – These are scholarships that target students who have demonstrated excellent academic aptitude regardless of their financial background. If you are a student who has done very well in your academics, then this is a good scholarship category to explore.
- Student-based scholarships – These are scholarships that target students from a specific type of background. For example, a university or an external body might set aside a number of scholarships specifically for black women, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ, etc.
- Athletic scholarships – These scholarships target students who have excelled in a specific sport. For example, if you are an exceptional football player or track athlete, you should target this kind of an application.
- Career-specific scholarships – These are awarded to students who are interested in pursuing specific career paths. For example, if you want to pursue engineering in a given university, you may find that there are scholarships specifically targeting students who want to pursue engineering.
- Contest-based scholarships – These are scholarships that are awarded based on a contest. An example of such a contest could be an essay contest, a science contest, a math contest, etc.
These are some of the major scholarship categories that will help you narrow down the opportunities that you have.
The Difference Between Partial and Full Scholarships
Partial scholarships help you to cover a fraction of the total amount that you need for your education. For example, if the cost of attending your university of interest is 50,000 dollars, a partial scholarship could cover half or a quarter of that amount. You would be expected to raise the remaining funds from other sources, for example through your family or separate kinds of scholarships.
On the other hand, full scholarships cover all the costs of your education. A full scholarship will typically cover your tuition fee, your accommodation and book expenses, and in some instances, your travel and visa costs. For most African students, full scholarships provide the best experience especially if the universities they are attending are in a country such as the United States where higher education is very costly.
Eligibility Criteria: Do Your Research
Before you begin working on any scholarship application, make sure you carefully review all the criteria for eligibility. You do not want to spend several hours or days working on a scholarship application only to learn that you are not eligible.
Many scholarship programs clearly state the criteria for qualification which may include factors such as:
- Age – Some scholarship programs will only accept candidates who are within a specific age bracket, for example between 20 and 30 years.
- Gender – Some scholarships target specific genders only, and if you do not identify as a member of that gender, then you are not deemed eligible for the scholarship.
- Nationality – Make sure that the scholarship you are applying for allows applicants from your country. Some scholarship programs only accept candidates from specific countries.
- Education level – Confirm that the scholarship program you are applying for is for the level of education you are planning to undertake. Some scholarships cater only for bachelor programs, others master programs, and yet other doctoral programs.
Once you are certain that you meet the eligibility criteria for your scholarship of interest, you can then proceed to the next step. In the event that there is something you don’t understand about the program, you are welcome to seek clarifications from the organizations that offer that particular scholarship. The officers in charge of selecting scholarship winners are generally happy to shed light on anything that you do not understand.
It is also a good idea to connect and seek some perspective from people who have previously won the scholarship you are seeking. These individuals can give you valuable advice on what it takes to achieve what they have successfully achieved.
Gather You Required Documents
All scholarship programs generally expect you to provide a number of documents. These documents will be clearly stated by the scholarship program you are targeting. It is crucial for you to make sure you have the correct documents. Failure to provide the expected documents will often make you ineligible for the scholarship candidacy.
In case you are not sure about the nature of the documents you are expected to provide, get in touch with the scholarship body and seek a clarification. Some of the documents required for most scholarship applications include the following:
- A passport copy
- Letters of recommendation
Get Someone to Review Your Application Package Before Submission
Once you have gathered all the required documents for your target scholarship, it is important to have someone else review your materials. You can choose a friend, a teacher, an education consultant, or a former scholarship recipient to give you a second opinion.
Most scholarship programs have a written component–and in this case, it is even more crucial to make sure that someone else reviews your essays to make sure they are clear, persuasive, and do not contain careless grammatical errors.
The way you present your scholarship application materials says a lot about you. If you impress the selection committee from the beginning, this will greatly improve your chances. A well-prepared application package shows that you are an organized and thoughtful candidate who would make the best use of the scholarship opportunity.
Submit Your Scholarship Applications Early
When you have gathered all the required documents, ensure you submit your scholarship application well in advance. Sometimes, the bodies that offer scholarships do so on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that if you submit your application, you will have reduced chances of getting the scholarship you are looking for.
In addition, applying early to a particular scholarship ensures that you do not make rushed decisions when you are preparing an application package. Some documents, for example certified copies of your diploma, may take some time to be ready, so it is in your best interest to make sure you secure them early. Similarly, essays and other written components are best prepared when you have ample time rather than at the last minute.
Submitting your applications early gives you a chance to pursue other scholarship opportunities. If you wait until the last minute, you may find yourself limited on the number of scholarship opportunities that you can apply to.
Diversify Your Scholarship Search
There are hundreds of scholarships for African students every year. Do not restrict yourself to just one or two scholarship opportunities. Remember that no matter how great of a candidate you think you are, there are thousands of other people seeking the same scholarship opportunities. Some scholarships such as Rhodes and Chevening are highly competitive and they select only a small number of candidates per year, which means you need to look beyond just one or two of these opportunities.
Some scholarship programs will typically allow you to receive funding from multiple sources while others will only support you if you are not getting funding from any other sources. The Mastercard Foundation scholarship, for instance, does not generally expect students to receive funding from other sources because it caters for most of what a student requires in the course of their studies. However, you are allowed to apply to as many scholarships as you wish – once you get selected, you can decide which ones you want to accept depending on their terms.
Appeal for More Funding Where Possible
In some cases, you may be given a certain amount of funding that cannot successfully allow you to pursue your studies. For example, if your total cost of study at a given university is 50,000 U.S. dollars, the university may give you a fifty percent scholarship, meaning you get 25,000 U.S. dollars while you have to pay for the rest. If you cannot afford to pay the remaining amount, you could petition the financial aid office of that institution to consider giving you some more aid that will help you attend the studies there.
While there is no guarantee that your appeal will yield more aid, it is a good idea to try and see whether there are more resources available to you. Even if there is no direct aid available, the officers in charge of scholarship disbursement may be able to point you in a fruitful direction.
Do Not be Disheartened by Rejections
When applying for competitive opportunities, it is common to get a rejection. If you fail to secure a scholarship on your first try, remember it is not the end of the world. Rejection is normal and common. Sometimes you have to try many times before you land the right opportunity for you.
Failing to secure a scholarship is not a reflection of your abilities as a student. Instead, it reflects the stiff competition that you’re facing every time you apply for a scholarship opportunity. For every scholarship, there are thousands of applicants applying for it, and unfortunately, scholarship bodies usually do not have the budget to cater for everyone. When you fail to secure a scholarship on the first try, go back to the drawing board and prepare for another opportunity.
Securing a scholarship is not easy, but the benefits of applying far outweigh the effort you need to put in towards a scholarship application. As we have stated, scholarships will help you defray the costs of your higher education, provide you excellent networking opportunities, and give clear proof that you are a competent and tenacious person.
As you prepare for your higher education journey, keep in mind that there are many scholarship opportunities for African students and if you put in the right amount of effort, you have a chance of advancing your education and professional opportunities at little or no cost.
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