Outreach Toolkit: Why College Is Worth It

A college education lets you choose a field that truly interests you and earn a living doing something you love.

Why College Is Worth It

Attending college has proven to have many benefits. Numerous studies, including the U.S. Census Bureau have shown a strong relationship to the salary earnings of those with a college degree. College also provides a great opportunity to explore and study a field that you are passionate, and gain hands-on experiences, including possible internships and study abroad opportunities.

*The College Payoff (2011) Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

  • An Associate's degree holder earns nearly one-third more than a high school diploma holders 
  • Bachelor degree holders earn 31 percent more than Associate's degree holders and 74 percent more than high school diploma holders 
  • Obtaining a post-secondary education is a key step to becoming an innovator and entrepreneur

Job Access 

The Great Recession (December 2007-January 2010) caused a loss of 7.2 million jobs. 5.6 million of those jobs were workers with a high school diploma or less. Although, the United States has added 11.6 million jobs during the recession period (January 2010-January 2016) only a small fraction (800,000) of these jobs were for those with a high school diploma or less. 

  • Nearly all jobs created in the recovery have gone to workers with at least some postsecondary education 
  • Bachelor degree holders gained the most (73%) of jobs in the recovery (8.4 million) 
  • Associate degree or some college recovered all 1.8 million jobs and added 1.3 million new jobs as of January 2016

*America's Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots (2016) Georgetown University Center for Education and Workforce 

Cost of College 

The cost of college can be alarming for many students and families. There are many affordable college options and scholarship opportunities for students to make the dream of a degree more obtainable. UNCF has helped more than 450,000 students graduate from college. Each year, UNCF awards more than $100 million in scholarships to more than 10,000 students at more than 1,100 schools across the country, including our prestigious network of 37 HBCUs. Log onto UNCF.org/scholarships to register for scholarship and internship opportunities.




Outreach Toolkit: Rigorous Curriculum

Taking a rigorous course of study ensures adequate preparation for success in college and the work force, demonstrates maturity and gives students a competitive edge for college and scholarship applications.

1. Take challenging courses (including AP, IB and honors if offered).

  •  In the absence of AP or honors courses, take the most challenging, rigorous courses available.

2.  Stay in contact with your school guidance counselor about resources for college. Be persistent in this effort!

3.  Colleges often want to see that a student is well-rounded.

  • Volunteer and become involved with extracurricular activities during high school.

4.  Develop relationships with teachers, coaches, mentors or other adults, as they will provide recommendation letters when applicable.

5.  Do your homework.

  • Thoroughly research colleges and majors to find the right fit for you and your future career goals.

6. Talk to your guidance counselor about any college fairs or universities visiting your high school.

7.  Thoroughly review all admissions applications and complete all parts, including essays.

8.  Seek college application fee waivers where available.

9.  Create folders (virtual or hard copy) for each college application and/or create a college application spreadsheet.

10.  Research scholarships and other funding opportunities. There is plenty of aid available to attend college!

  • Consider scholarships from non-traditional outlets as well, such as local non-profit organizations and large corporations.
  • Some colleges offer institutional scholarships. Be sure to check their websites for deadline and eligibility information.

Outreach Toolkit: Learn Some College Lingo

There is a lot to know before heading off to college, including understanding all the terms you’ll hear between now and then. Is a college the same as a university? Can you study liberal arts even if you don’t go to a liberal arts college? And what is a liberal arts college anyway? Learn some college lingo now.


College vs. University
Credit Hour

Early Admission
Early Decision


Liberal Arts


Private University
Public University

Quarter System

Retention Rate
Rolling Admissions

Semester System
Student Aid Report (SAR)

Trimester System


Wait List

A co-curricular is any activity that is not required to receive a degree. For example, participation in the Spanish Club or on an intramural team is a co-curricular.

College vs. University
A college offers an array of degrees in one specific area, such as business. A university is made up of several colleges that all focus on different core areas. Universities are generally larger and may have more name recognition than colleges.

A course that must be taken during the same semester as another companion class.

Credit Hour
Generally speaking, this indicates one hour of class time per week (i.e., if a student takes a three-hour course, he or she will be in the classroom for roughly three hours each week for that course).

Early Admission
Exceptional high school students may be able to start college after the end of junior year through a college or university’s early admission program.

Early Decision
This means a student can apply early in the fall and find out if you’re accepted long before those who wait until the traditional acceptance deadline. However, if a student applies for early decision and is accepted, he/she must attend.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is used to apply for financial aid at most institutions. It must be submitted every year after January 1.


Liberal Arts
For an education that includes a wide swath of general knowledge, look toward the liberal arts where a student will learn critical thinking rather than a specific career skill. Liberal arts include the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.

A major is an area of concentration in a particular field of study. Usually students choose a major by the end of sophomore year.

A minor is extensive course work in a subject different from one’s major.

Private University
These institutions are not publicly funded—although they may accept funding through government grants and loans. Because these schools are not affiliated with a government branch and not bound by strict regulation, their admissions policies, programs and more may be quite different from those at public schools.

Public University
Public universities are mainly funded by a government entity, like the state.

Quarter System
This system divides the nine-month academic calendar into three equal parts of approximately 12 weeks each. (Summer sessions, if any, are usually the same length.)


This is the college official who registers students, collects fees, keeps records, maintains student files and sends transcripts to employers, other colleges and graduate schools.

Retention Rate
The percentage of students who return for the next year of college. A high retention rate is seen as a sign of a successful college program.

Rolling Admissions
Students can apply any time during the year, since there’s no set deadline. However, students should apply during the first half of your senior year.

Semester System
This system divides the academic year into two equal segments of approximately 18 weeks each. (Summer sessions, if any, are shorter, but require more intensive study.)

Student Aid Report (SAR)
This is a report sent to families in response to their submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It indicates the expected family contribution (EFC).


This is the official record of a student’s course work at a school or college. A high school transcript is generally required as part of the college application process.

Trimester System
This is an academic calendar that is divided into three equal terms or trimesters.

An undergraduate is a college student working toward an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Wait List
This is a list of applicants who may be considered for acceptance if there is still space after admitted students have decided whether or not they’ll attend.

In this federally funded program, students take campus jobs as part of their financial aid package. To participate in a work-study program, students must complete the FAFSA.

Outreach Toolkit: College Prep Time

To maximize students’ college and scholarship opportunities college preparatory actions should begin in the eighth grade. Here are overall guidelines for students in grades 8-12 as well as a year-by-year list of important events and critical deadlines.


Here are overall guidelines for students in grades 8-12 as well as a year-by-year list of important events and critical deadlines.

Grade 8-9
Students should:

  1. Become involved in community outreach programs (AVID, GEAR UP, TRIO, etc.), if available. These programs aim to support students' academic success and provide services to help students get to and through postsecondary education.

  2. Be thoughtful about the friends they make, creating peer groups that encourage them to excel inside and outside the classroom.
  3. Document their academic achievements, leadership activities and the impact they have made in their community. This will make it easier to craft a strong resume later.

Grade 10
Students should:

  1. Review courses with their guidance counselor early in the year to make sure they are preparing to take the most challenging academic program available at their school, and that the courses will fulfill college admission requirements. Colleges usually require four years of English, history, math, science and foreign language.
  2. Start researching colleges at the guidance office and online. In this way they will have time to identify the best matches for their interests and preferences in terms of diversity, location, weather, academic and athletic programs, prestige/selectivity, class size and other criteria. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and Peterson's are great research tools.
  3. Talk with their guidance counselor about whether to take the Preliminary Standard Aptitude Test (PSAT). This test measures critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills and writing skills. Junior-year PSAT scores are evaluated for National Merit Scholarship qualification, but sophomores can take the test for practice.

Grade 11
Students should:

  1. Visit their guidance counselor right after school starts. Review courses to make sure they are the most rigorous possible considering the students' level of academic preparation. Discuss the standardized tests that should be taken this year. According to the College Board, most juniors take the PSAT in the fall and the SAT or ACT in the spring. SAT subject tests, sometimes called SAT II, can be taken this year or next, but not every student takes them.
  2. Keep investigating colleges and begin to prepare for scholarship opportunities. Often there are special qualifying exams or other requirements. Start to investigate possible majors and careers.
  3. Study hard—make that, harder! Junior-year grades are the most important because college admissions officers typically review applications before senior-year grades are available. Students should be sure to put in extra effort this year, looking for AP, IB and Honors courses if available.
  4. Attend college nights and college tours, where college representatives from around the country provide you with information and answers to your questions. Start visiting schools to sit in on classes, talk to students, visit residence halls and experience campus life in person.
  5. Sign up for college mailing lists online.

Grade 12
Students should:

  1. Most important: Avoid "senioritis!" Colleges want to see strong second half grades. In fact, colleges can—and do—withdraw acceptances if final grades are unsatisfactory.
  2. Register to take the SAT or ACT again, if desired, as well as SAT subject tests. Map out a final standardized test plan with the guidance counselor. Review scores from the PSAT or previous SAT tests to see where to improve. Ask for help if necessary. Use this SAT Preparation Booklet from the College Board.
  3. Keep investigating possible majors and careers.
  4. Apply for colleges. Start early in the fall and leave plenty of time to write essays, collect information, contact references, obtain transcripts and take all other required steps.
  5. Apply for scholarships and financial aid, being sure to fill out your FAFSA as soon after Jan. 1 as possible.
  6. Create a resume. 
  7. Apply for scholarships: scholarship resources include UNCF.org, GMSP.org and fastweb.com.

Helpful links

Know How to Go: www.knowhowtogo.com
Explore the site to learn more about the steps you need to take to be college-ready.

ACT: www.actstudent.org/college
Tips and timelines from one of the country's largest college admissions testing companies.

College Board: bigfuture.collegeboard.org
Use the online planning tool to explore majors, schools and more.

Federal Student Aid: studentaid.ed.gov/sa
An office of the U.S. Department of Education, FSA makes it easier to get money for college.

Fastweb: www.fastweb.com/registration/step_1
Fastweb is your connection to scholarships, colleges, financial aid and more.

The Posse Foundation: www.possefoundation.org
Posse is one of the most comprehensive and renowned college access and youth leadership development programs in the United States.

College Goal Sunday: www.collegegoalsundayusa.org
Each year, more than $2 billion of financial aid goes unclaimed. To get this money for college, all students need to do is fill out one form: the FAFSA.

College Navigator: nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
Use the tool to find the right college for you.

Outreach Toolkit: About HBCUs

Today, HBCUs remain one of the surest ways for an African American, or student of any race, to receive a quality education.


Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Congress officially defined an HBCU as an institution whose principal mission was and is the education of black Americans. All HBCUs play a critical role in the American Higher education system. For most of America's history, African Americans who received a college education could only get it from an HBCU. Today HBCUs remain one of the surest ways for an African American, or student of any race, to receive a quality education.

Outreach Toolkit: Write Winning Applications for Scholarships and Internships

Looking for the secret recipe to receive a UNCF scholarship? You already have what it takes, but we can help you tailor your thoughts with a few simple steps.

Check all basic eligibility requirements

One common mistake of applicants is that they do not read through the qualifications of the scholarship or internship. Those who do not read carefully may spend time applying for an opportunity that they are not eligible for.

Beat the deadline and submit all required documents, including recommendations!

Whether you are a planner or a procrastinator, follow these tips for you to beat the deadline.

  • Set YOUR deadline to be earlier than the actual deadline
  • Do the tasks that take the most time first—in other words, write your essay or make your video first!
  • Make sure all required documents are submitted by the deadline posted on the scholarship pages. This includes submitting all your recommendations. Contact the people you asked to write your recommendations and make sure they get their letters to you on time! If the person does not submit the letter of recommendation by the application deadline, your application is incomplete!

Address all components of your essays

Some applications will ask for an essay or personal statement. Most applications will request that you address certain questions or topics in your essay. Make sure you address every question and every topic. Failure to address all components will detract from a winning essay.


Your recommender should highlight skills based on the program

You want your recommender to write the best reference possible. Help them to help you!

  • Send them the link to the scholarship or internship you are applying for.
  • Share with them why you are interested in the opportunity and why you think you are a good candidate (a resume` always helps).
  • Be sure they know the deadline for completing and submitting their recommendation.

Describe your leadership skills and the impact of your activities

Yes! You are wonderful and have demonstrated great leadership skills and have been involved with many activities. Now tell us details about your impact:

  • How many times a week were you engaged in the activities?
  • How many people did you help?
  • What were the results of your leadership actions?


Be realistic with your self-appraisal

Make sure that you articulate realistic goals. For example, if you want to be a medical doctor, don't write that you dislike science! Make sure your statements reflect your goals.


UNCF's Outreach College Readiness Toolkit provides tips on how to apply to colleges, qualify for scholarships and more! 

Outreach: The Guide to UNCF Colleges and Universities

UNCF-member HBCUs: A history of success, a tradition of service. 


It’s time to reach for a college education. Getting a college education is more important today than ever. The challenge is finding the college that’s right for you—and that you can afford. 

(Click the image to download)

Outreach Toolkit: How to Access UNCF Scholarships

A few simple steps will open opportunities to you!

To apply for a UNCF scholarship, you must visit the online application system at UNCF.org/scholarships.

Many UNCF scholarships require applicants to apply for Federal Student Aid; it is recommended that applicants complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The eligibility criteria and dates for scholarships and programs vary, so students should use UNCF’s online portal to narrow down the programs that best suit them.

UNCF Empower Me Tour

  • UNCF engages communities through outreach to various schools and colleges. One of the largest outreach programs is the UNCF Empower Me Tour (EMT), which was created to empower a movement among young people, motivating them toward academic excellence, personal responsibility and fiscal health through relevant program content.
  • The free tour engages young people at crucial life stages through college readiness, career success and financial literacy messaging. The target audience is underserved students grades 9-12, college students, alumni, college administrators, parents, educators and the community at-large.
  • For EMT dates and locations, please visit UNCF.org/empowermetour.


Outreach Toolkit: College Readiness Checklist

Keep these tips in mind as you create your plan for college.



1)  Ensure you have taken all necessary courses to graduate on time.

2)  Sign up to take college placement exams, if necessary.

3)  Take ACT/SAT; seek waiver if eligible via your high school and/or through ACT or SAT websites.

4)  Set up appointments with your guidance counselor to discuss college choices and potential majors.

5)  Research colleges and majors. Set up tours and visits if you able to do so.

6)  Complete the FAFSA (fafsa.ed.gov) as soon as possible. The form is posted annually starting Oct. 1. Many states and colleges have specific deadlines for applying for state and institutional aid. You can find your state’s deadline at fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines and check with your college about other deadlines.

7)  Search for scholarships and financial aid.

8)  Request high school transcripts to be sent to colleges.

9)  Request letters of recommendation for scholarships and college applications that require them. Try to do this at least one month in advance.

10) Draft college essays. Have at least one person review the draft.

11) Complete and send off applications. Start early in the process and submit before the deadline. Apply by the fall of your senior year at the latest.

12) Avoid the summer melt. Stay on top of important information colleges may request, such as forms related to on-campus housing, immunizations, financial aid and new student orientations.


Getting into College: A Readiness Guide (2017)
UNCF’s college readiness brochure provides a comprehensive college readiness checklist, outlines the pivotal steps in preparing for college, and shares additional websites and resources that are useful to students as they prepare for their post-secondary journey.