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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Black Mom and Daughter Beat the Odds, Graduating Debt-Free and Sharing Success Secrets

Audrey Muhammad and daughter, Hasana

Nationwide — Years ago, Dr. Audrey Muhammad asked a friend if she thought it was too late for her to go back to college and get a doctorate degree. Her friend said, “Yes, because you probably won’t finish it, many over 45 don’t complete it.” Luckily, she didn’t listen to her friend, but decided to go to school anyway. She initially took out a loan from her retirement account but hated to lose so much money to taxes and the early withdrawal penalties.

Dr. Muhammad needed to find another way to help fund her education, so she inquired if her employer had a tuition reimbursement program. They did, but it only reimbursed her for $2,000 a year. Her daughter, Hasana, on the other hand, had a full scholarship to the illustrious North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. “Why don’t you apply for a scholarship?” her daughter suggested one day. That is exactly what she decided to do.

After joining the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) and helping to promote their annual conference in 2021, she applied for their competitive graduate scholarship and received it! Along with working a part-time job, the scholarship allowed her to pay for the final year of her doctoral program.

What led to the success of this dynamic mother and daughter team?

1. Get good grades in high school. This helped them to obtain scholarships to fully cover their tuition and other expenses. Both the mother and daughter earned good grades in high school, which opened the door to many scholarships and allowed them to start off debt-free early on. The mother also received a fellowship for her Master of Arts degree in English.

2. Volunteer and obtain valuable experiences (Ex. Be involved in community service, volunteer in area you are interested in etc.) Most scholarships want to see your service to the community, so volunteering can be a valuable asset. Plus, it is a wonderful networking opportunity. Other valuable experiences may be gained by attending conferences or being involved in organizations that deal with an area of study you would like to pursue. For example, her daughter joined Black Girls Code when she was around 12 and learned some valuable skills and experiences.

3. Apply for scholarships… a lot of them. Apply for as many scholarships as you can. If it is a $100 or a $5000 scholarship, apply! Every dollar counts! The scholarships don’t have to be affiliated with a particular school so you may use them anywhere. Search for scholarships in this order: 1. School of interest also check and see if your high school offers scholarships 2. Major (ex. Searching for STEM scholarships) 3. Community (Check and see if local credit union, sorority or fraternity are offering scholarships) 4. Search for national scholarships

4. Attend an early college or a community college to get college credit while in high school. This will cut costs because you do not have to pay for as many classes when you transfer to a university. Her daughter attended Wake County’s Women’s Leadership Academy and early college at Saint Augustine’s University. She graduated at the top of her class as the valedictorian.

5. Check and see if your job has a tuition reimbursement program. Oftentimes, employers want to invest in their employees because it can help advance the company.

In the end, the mother and daughter team graduated one month apart. Her daughter, Hasana, graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science and the mother graduated with her Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education from Wilmington University in Delaware. As a college success instructor and academic advisor, Dr. Muhammad freely shares guidance to students in the community.

Dr. Muhammad is available to speak at schools and organizations to share her tips. For more information and to get tips on preparing for college or a career, contact audrey.a.muhammad@gmail.com or call/text (336) 901-0122.