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4 Things You Need To Know Before Choosing an HBCU

An HBCU is a historically black college or university. To those fortunate enough to attend, it’s a place where the Black community can immerse themselves in our culture, find refuge from a predominantly white country, and connect with like-minded people. There are a total of 107 HBCUs in the country, so it’s imperative that you do your research to make sure that you find your perfect match. Before you apply to colleges this fall, here are four things I wish someone told me before attending an HBCU:

Scope out the Campus Life

Whether you’re looking to be a lacrosse player at Howard or a band member at Jackson State, always look into what you want to do and where. College is a time of self-discovery and expanding your horizons, but also a time of cultivating your strengths.

Ask yourself, “What do I love to do? What brings me joy? What am I already good at that I can keep working on?” Before you choose your HBCU, it is important that you reflect not only on your strengths, but also on what sort of campus would suit you best.

Would you do better at an all women’s HBCU? If so, Spelman and Bennett Colleges would be great options for you. Do you need to be at a larger HBCU? If so, NCAT or Howard might be the move. Do you prefer a rural area or an urban area? Questions like these are crucial as you make your final decision on the HBCU for you.

The importance of Tradition

HBCUs are deeply rooted in tradition. From Greek Life, to the induction ceremonies, to the monuments on campus, there is never a day in the life of an HBCU student where they aren’t reminded of the campus culture and its impact on the discovery of who they are.

At my HBCU, Hampton University, we sing the Alma Mater before every sporting event and ceremony. In addition, we have a system of bigs and littles where an upperclassman will help guide an underclassmen through freshman year and beyond.

There are several spots on campus such as the Emancipation Oak and Legacy Park, where we are reminded of the remarkable nature of those who came before us. No matter what HBCU you plan on attending, understanding the campus culture and traditions to the best of your ability will aid you in making your first few months at your HBCU much smoother.

One more tip: if you plan on attending an HBCU next fall, familiarize yourself with Swag Surfin’ and, “Dreams and Nightmares,” by Meek Mill (trust me)!

Keep a “Work Hard, Play Hard” Mentality

As much as you are here to make new friends and have a good time, the ultimate goal at your HBCU is to study hard, be the best student possible, and to walk across that stage in four years. The professors at HBCUs are here to help you with your academic success, which at times means some tough love from them.

If you plan on attending an HBCU, keep your dreams and ambitions in mind all week so you can party hard on the weekends. Hand in your assignments on time, show up to class even if you don’t like your professor or the subject, and create a study plan to help you do well on exams.

Don’t procrastinate or wait until the last minute to complete assignments. If you’re looking for a college where it is acceptable to goof off, an HBCU is not the place for you. As a professor once told me, “don’t waste momma and daddy’s money.”

Have Fun

As cliche as it may sound, your time at your HBCU is truly what you make of it. These next four years can be the best or worst years of your life. Remember to prioritize your mental and physical health while keeping a healthy balance between schoolwork, free-time, and your social life.

One of the greatest things about attending an HBCU is that students and alumni, despite what school they attend, become family.

Remember that there is always someone looking out for you, whether it be an RA, an upperclassman, or a professor. Attending an HBCU provides you with a network of people unlike none other. College is an exciting and exhilarating time that is not without its challenges, so you want to start it on the right foot. Happy college application season!


A well educated and properly cultivated HBCU student

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Zoë Westlund

Hampton U '25

Zoë Westlund (she/her) is a first-year, pre-nursing major at Hampton University from White Plains, New York. She enjoys traveling, running, and going to the beach. She aspires to become a neonatal nurse after graduating from Hampton University.
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