It was a Girl Scout troop leader that shifted how Nitiya Walker looked at the way the higher education system worked. In colloquial terms, she put her onto the game.
“I was really involved in the community as a teen and always wanted to go to college but I wasn’t really well-versed on how to maximize my options to fund my education until one of mothers of the girl scouts told me how she helped her daughter secure a $150k scholarship to go to Spelman,” Walker explained to ESSENCE. “After that, I never viewed the process the same way.”
After working with the scholarship guru for a few months, Walker was able to fully fund her education at Babson College, graduating debt-free in 2014.
That same year she dedicated herself to paying by founding her non-profit Seeds Of Fortune, an organization that provides focused mentorship and resources for young women of color looking to go to college without going into debt. Beyond that, Walker is at the helm of teaching the girls about how the real world works.
“I think we encourage them to deeply think about why they want to go to college,
because now that it costs as much as basically a house would, at the very least, a down payment on a home, this is a really serious financial investment. This is not the 13th grade,” Walker said she explains to the participants, which are all 11th-graders. “You’re not just going to figure out why, you have to think it through.”
Walker said the organization takes the students through an end-to-end curriculum that helps them identify the colleges they want to attend, which majors would mort closely align with their career goals, and securing funding. But it doesn’t stop there. Once the young women are enrolled in school, Seeds Of Fortune serves as their coach and mentor the entire time.
“In the beginning, we do explain the financial return for college education, and later, we show them.”
Walker said they have connected the early college students with professional development opportunities with Fortune 500 companies that span several industries including healthcare, fashion and law.
“We have an innovation research program with Mount Sinai Hospital, Chanel and Denton’s Law Firm, which allows the girls to act as executives for the summer while also getting college and scholarship prep,” Walker explained.
Seeds of Fortune also provides an intensive 6-week college prep leadership program where participants receive support with their admission essays, scholarship resume, among other skills. They also convene students for an all-expense paid trip to New York City’s Columbia University, to learn more about their financial journey together, in-person with experts.
She shared some of her key tips to keep in mind when preparing students for the college application and scholarship journey.
Take full advantage of FAFSA
“I think that students definitely have to tap into the free aid resources that are available to them. So almost every single state across the United States, there’s the FAFSA, which is federal government money. Then there’s the aid the state provides. A lot of times students only fill out the FAFSA, but they don’t fill out their state aid, and they miss out on thousands of dollars of money.”
Consider 100% needs-met schools
“There are 100% need-met schools, which means that they will cover 100% of what you need to be able to attend their institution,” Walker explained. “And there’s about 100 colleges across the country that have this funding. Traditionally, we have not enrolled into those institutions, but they’re doing great efforts to be able to make sure that our presence is on their college campuses. And it was a big discovery to me when I was an undergrad, that there were all these institutions that produced top=performers that had high career placements and they would pay for you to go to college. It just did not fathom to me that that was a possibility.”
Consider opportunity programs.
“In almost every state across the country, they have their own variation of opportunity programs that are targeted towards low income households, and they have a big support system built into those programs to help the students be able to graduate from college,” Walker said. “So between the university and the government, they help to be able to also cover most of the college costs for students. And a lot of times, all the parents need to do is provide a parent income verification for the students to be able to afford that institution.”
Stay connected to the college scholarship websites.
“Once you apply for the college, there’s additional scholarship events that you’d want to attend, or information on their websites that would be good to stay abreast. And a lot of those deadlines happen between November 1 and December 1.”
Signing up to the college’s newletter, following them across all their social platforms or just giving their admission office a call every so often is highly advised. This tip, especially, is what she likes to impress upon her participants and aims to meet the digitally-savvy teens where they are.
Bringing it all together.
Overall, Walker describes Seeds Of Fortune’s programming as a “hybrid experience between our tech platform and in-person cultivation for six months to a year.”
This level of dedication and investment has clearly worked, and led to more than $30 million in scholarships and grants. That’s an incredible feat. But more than anything, Walker is proud of upholding a mission she set out for herself as a young teen growing up in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
“When I was younger, I was just amazed at the idea that there’s some people that have so much wealth and then there’s others of us that have to struggle to try to figure it out. I’m helping these young leaders figure it out.”