Guest Author: Zahida Sherman
Liberal arts colleges are hidden gems for Black students, though most Black families don’t know it.
Only 3% of American students will apply to liberal arts colleges, and the figure is even lower for Black students.
And yet, with all the anxiety about how to pay for a college education in an unstable fluctuating economy, liberal arts colleges offer some of the best financial aid packages and support services for Black students.
Liberal arts colleges are small, mostly residential colleges that offer only a bachelor’s degree. Their curriculum is broad and emphasizes critical thinking, effective communication, and thinking across disciplines. Liberal arts colleges attract students who love learning about multiple subjects and community involvement.
With regards to financial aid, liberal arts colleges are very affordable for families with high financial need. After the college subtracts your family’s contribution from the overall cost of attendance, the college will pick up the remaining balance.
If your student is a good fit for the college—academically and socially—they will fund their education with grants, scholarships, low loans, and work study.
It is often the case that liberal arts colleges give better financial aid than state schools.
One of the best things about liberal arts colleges for Black students is the support they offer students. Because liberal arts colleges are much smaller than state schools, and because they have historically underserved students of color, they have a ton of support programs (summer bridge programs, peer and alumni mentoring, tutoring etc.) for students of color.
These resources, in addition to a student’s academic advisor and professors, make the Black graduation rate nearly 30% higher at a liberal arts college than at a state school.
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Having worked as a college recruiter for students of color and first-generation college students at a selective liberal arts college, I was often shocked at how little Black families know about these institutions. Hopefully these tips will give your student the best chance of getting accepted by a liberal arts college, and getting it paid for.
1. Challenge your student academically.
Liberal arts colleges offer only challenging courses, so enroll your student in a demanding high school curriculum (honors classes are the minimum). This includes English, science, math, social studies, and foreign language courses.
Browse your school’s website or contact your student’s guidance counselor to figure out what your school offers. Once enrolled, make sure your student earns A’s or B’s in those classes.
2. Make the most of your student’s summer.
While your student will likely be involved in extracurricular activities during the school year, don’t forget about summer enrichment opportunities. Whether it’s an outdoors programs, service project, or college-prep program, keep your student’s mind active and engaged. Admissions officers will view this as a commitment to learning and growth.
3. Have your student visit campus on a travel grant.
Liberal arts colleges fund students they believe will return the investment, so show them the love. One of the best ways to demonstrate that your student is seriously considering attending a college is to have them apply for a travel grant. If your student meets their academic requirements, the college will pay for it and will likely offer them a sweet financial aid package later.
With the right high school curriculum, summer enrichment, and a free campus visit, your student is likely to gain admission to a liberal arts college. And with a liberal arts college education, they’ll receive the support they need to graduate on time and become effective thinkers, communicators, and leaders. The sweetest part? You won’t have to break the bank to make it happen.
BMWK, What are some other great colleges for African Americans?
Zahida Sherman currently works as Assistant Director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Kenyon College, in central Ohio. Prior to this, I worked for three years as Director of Multicultural Admissions at Kenyon. I have also worked as a college counselor for a college access program in Madison, Wisconsin. I earned my M.A. in African history with a minor in African American Studies from Northwestern University. I have lived and worked in Seattle, Madison, Ithaca, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.