I love my H in front of my B, my B in front of my C, I love my HBCU!
Historically Black Colleges and Universities are the most underrated contributors in American history and society. Rising out of the ashes of Jim Crow's segregation, former slaves and Negroes born free were finally able to intellectually advance themselves in America. I graduated from the illustrious Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; a small, private, liberal arts and science HBCU, built by missionaries who wanted people of colour to be given a chance for success in the south. We boast famous civil rights alumni such as Diane Nash and Niki Giovanni, to academic intellectuals such as W.E.B. Dubois, who brought the words kindergarten and gymnasium to the English vocabulary. He was also the first black graduate from Harvard University and had to redo his entire undergraduate degree there, for a place in their graduate level, because they deemed his HBCU education inferior. It was on our grounds that Dr. Martin Luther King addressed the community for peaceful protests and where the police protected us from the Ku Klux Klan, the day King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. We are also the home of the world renowned Jubilee Singers, who placed Nashville on the map as the "Music City" of America. This rich historical background is merely one reason why I love my HBCU and why you should know more about them too.
Rich Personal Identity The HBCU experience is like no other. Many Jamaicans have never heard about them, as we've grown to know the Ivy Leagues or the big Predominantly White Institutions, (PWI), such as Stanford University or UC Berkeley. As an afro Caribbean, HBCUs provide us with a different ethnic, racial and cultural insight that PWIs fail to provide. Instead of fighting to defend your identity, you are the majority and your common issues are known and catered to, so that you can be the best in a country that generally makes it harder for you. A Caribbean background is also advantageous in this environment as we not only enter with a strong sense of self, but can safely learn, understand and embrace ourselves and others in the American perspective of racial differences, within and without. It is certainly an eye-opening experience that leaves you stronger and prouder to be who you are while being a graduate of fine standings.
Scholarships We all know that the US school system is extremely expensive, especially for international students. The provision of scholarships is where every mikkle, really mek a mukkle. HBCUs are very generous for incoming students and this may be a major deciding factor for enrollment. Upon my last minute arrival to Fisk University, I was accepted as a conditional student, which impacted my scholarship availability. However, I was still offered scholarships and grants which covered 50% of my *private school* tuition, while my fellow Caribbean friends who were more prepared for college, entered with full ride scholarships and spare change.
Hidden Academic Opportunities As America finally comes around to respecting minorities, there has been an influx of targeted opportunities that will put you at an advantage. Major companies are recognizing the importance of outreach in our communities, and making a difference by specifically providing certain opportunities at HBCUs. Google for the past 6 years, has deployed software engineers to teach particular Computer Science classes at various HBCUs and has been directly preparing students for internship interviews. They have also funded and organized Hackathons for HBCUs to compete in, and as a “low-key tech nerd”, I thoroughly enjoyed competing in my Hackathons and witnessed many of my friends transition from interns to employees at these major tech companies. Other opportunities that my school in particular provide, includes joint programs and degrees with other universities in the city of Nashville. Fisk University has a Bridge Program where qualified STEM students have the chance to study for their masters at Vanderbilt University while in their Senior year of college, thus graduating with an undergraduate degree and a masters, one year later. We also have joint programs for Art students to study at Watkins College of Art and Design; direct feed-in programs for Pre-Med and Dentistry students at Meharry Medical College, another professional HBCU; as well as joint programs for Music/Business students with Belmont University.
Greek Life Black Greek Lettered organizations, like HBCUs, came about because of racial exclusivity. Needless to say, black greek life is the backbone of HBCUs. These organizations are about scholastic achievements, comradery and volunteerism. They also provide entertainment on campus with personas that cater to different individuals who can see themself in it. Membership is lifelong and people can become members of these organizations after undergrad. This opens up a massive network system, shared with members who entered beforehand. I personally did not join a sorority, but my connection with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. motivated me to participate in activities that many organizations offer to non members. This included pageants, where I became the female face of that organization, bonded with current and alumni members, and carried out activities as an extension of the fraternity. This was one of the best experiences I had at my HBCU. Your campus life will never be short of social or academic engagements that Greek organizations contribute.
Homecoming Beyonce was not lying at Coachella. She almost accurately depicted what an HBCU homecoming is like. This time of the year is a highlight for all HBCUs. Alumni return to the campus; Greek step shows and major sporting events are going on; bands/drum lines and majorette dancers (a form of dance troupe distinct to HBCUs) are performing and the atmosphere is filled with merry feet and music. I have experienced 3 HBCU homecomings in my lifetime, Howard University, Tennessee State University(TSU) and Fisk University. They all vary by different degrees, especially since we are three different sizes; but I hands down give it to TSU for some of the hypest all round experience of homecoming. The entire week is built for fun, networking, cultural engagements and again, non stop excitement!
(Fun fact, Beyonce's dad is an alumni of Fisk University and Solange was about to be enrolled before she decided to do her music tours. Also, Oprah Winfrey went to TSU).
Family oriented No matter the size of the institution, an HBCU will always feel like a family because of our cultural connections and understanding. However there is a beauty in the small sizes of liberal arts schools. Fisk University is probably about the size of 5 american football fields together or less. The small student body allows for optimal academic development, as it is much easier to be engaged with your professors and there is less unnecessary competition, or sense of loneliness that's prominent in larger schools. The environment is more conducive to the cultivation of cultural, academic and socially rounded individuals, just because of its size. Additionally, the familial atmosphere would make any homesick person feel comfortable and accepted because no one is judging or mocking you and everyone knows every face or name, even if they are not friends. As for a security perk, smaller campuses enable students to be more aware of the environment, so we ALWAYS know if a stranger is around.
There are so many more features that come with the HBCU experience, but these are a few highlights from my small, liberal arts background. Whether it be a large school, or a smaller liberal arts setting, at the end of the day, HBCUs provide minorities the opportunity to safely embrace their heritage, advance themselves and find loopholes in the American way of life to succeed beyond our boundaries and beyond what the mass media depicts or expects of our people, in society.
Applying Early Decision (ED) to Bowdoin College was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Getting to that decision, however, was not as easy. Here is the story of how I applied ED to Bowdoin:
Since 8thgrade, I had been involved with a program in Baltimore called Bowdoin Bound, a program run by Bowdoin Alum, Dan Spears. Through this program, I was able, each summer, to go up to Bowdoin for a week and get 75% of the college experience. I was able to live in a dorm, meet with a professor, eat college food and things like that. The other 25% was comprised of college prep work, such as college visits, an interview at Bowdoin, a financial aid meeting, a class with a professor, and college counseling with Dan himself. When it came time to apply for college, with the help of Bowdoin Bound, college visits with my rowing team, and college visits with my high school, I was able to comprise what I called my little black book of colleges with information about each one that I visited, and from there, a list of 15 or so that I wanted to apply to.
I had marked on a calendar when the common app was available to the public and when it was finally time, I raced to it and started filling in blanks, boxes, and submissions, as early as the day after it opened. I wanted to be on top of it and, most importantly, done early! And, for a hot second, I was on it and on top of it. By mid-October, I was completely done the common app and was in the process of writing the little personal statements. However, I still was faced with a quiet dilemma: Bowdoin College. I knew that I had been wanting to go to Bowdoin since 9thCgrade, when I sat on their quad for the first time. But, I was terrified to make the commitment.
Fast forward, and it is maybe 7 days before the ED application was due and I received a text from Dan asking if I was going to make the leap. It was not until two days later that I decided that ED at Bowdoin was the right decision. I knew it in my gut for months that Bowdoin was where I was meant to be, but I was scared. So, I learned that day that there is an entire financial aid application that needed to be completed and submitted the same day as the common app. Houston, we had a problem, because I had no clue what I was doing. So, I spend the next three or four days collecting information, scanning and rescanning documents (which is really hard to do in highschool), contacting the financial aid office, completing the written submissions to Bowdoin, learning and maneuvering IDOC, and completing the FAFSA while still going to rowing practices and completing my school work. On top of all that, I was hounding my recommenders for their recommendations and checking with my college office to see if they’d submitted my transcripts and other important information (they were notoriously forgetful). It was a journey and I may have submitted everything in totality the day it was due, something I swore not to do during the college admissions process.
Looking back, it’s a really funny story that is still a little anxiety inducing. But, it worked out in the best way because not a month later, I received my acceptance to my dream school. Here is what you should take away from my experience:
I know that you are confused, and likely have many questions. We're here with you!
As with every sector and industry, higher education/ college admissions will be greatly affected by the current pandemic. This does NOT mean that you should give-up your dreams of studying abroad, or that you will be forced to take GAP year. It simply means that the current state of admissions is changing, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
We will be providing updates as necessary, but here are some of these major chances you need to be aware of.
1. MORE COLLEGES ARE GOING TEST-OPTIONAL
If you are unsure what test-optional means, you can find an explanation HERE.
According to Bloomberg,"colleges for years have been moving to drop testing, dating back to Bowdoin College’s decision in 1969. Almost 1,100 colleges have already eliminated such scores, including about 50 in 2019. Advocates and researchers maintain that grades are a better predictor of college success. Standardized test scores favor wealthy students who have tutors and can retake tests, which means that eliminating the scores helps level the playing field."
So far, Harvard, Yale and the other high-profile universities of the Ivy League still require them, as do Stanford and highly selective colleges on the West Coast. But many of the schools that compete with those big names are moving ahead to make the tests optional.
Colleges that have now gone test-optional (some only for 2020-2021 admissions cycle) are listed below. We expect many more to follow suit in the next few weeks and will update as necessary.
Case Western Reserve University
University of California System
University of Washington
The University of Oregon
Oregon State University
Texas Christian University
The University of the Cumberlands
2. POSSIBLE CANCELLATIONS FOR FALL 2020
If you were planning to matriculate in September, there is a possibility that you may not be able to be physically present on campus. I know how disappointed you are as you were looking forward to the wonderful adventure of a traditional campus experience. Take comfort (even what little you can) in the fact that this will not be your permanent situation, and that you are going through the same thing as millions of students around the world.
Colleges WANT to open in September, but you need to prepare for the likely possibility that they will remain closed, and have the incoming Freshman class begin classes online.
You can also consider deferring admission for a year, if obtaining the typical four-year campus experience is extremely important to you.
3. FINANCIAL AID & SCHOLARSHIPS MORE COMPETITIVE THAN EVER
College endowments have already taken significant hit from the current crisis. Until borders re-open and economies recover, financial aid will be significantly more difficult to get, particularly for international students. Colleges will likely be looking at foreign students as a source of revenue (i.e. accepting full-paying international students).
With this, international students who need financial aid should focus on creating the most compelling application possible (which we specialize in!) while also applying to budget-friendly schools (and YES, they do exist) in the US and Canada. This is not to scare you, as universities will forever continue to want your diverse perspectives and experiences within their classrooms. However, you have to ensure that (especially if you need significant aid) you provide an application that they simply cannot refuse.
For most people going into your senior year, this time is exciting. It is the last year of high-school where you will experience college admissions, graduation, a long summer, and the list goes on. However, as much as there is the excitement, senior year can be pretty daunting, but it doesn’t have to be!
I believe that you can make the best of your senior year, but the key to this...start preparing from junior year (grade 12/ lower 6th form) . Here are some tips and advice that I hope will help give your high school years the best ending possible!
After two and a half years of running College Quo, I've realized that there is a serious gap in how Jamaican (and international) students approach the university selection process. Students generally focus on either 'brand name' private universities (Ivy League, MIT, Stanford, NYU and the works) or large public universities (USF, UCLA, Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill etc). While these can be great options for you, they are definitely not right for everyone. A small, liberal arts college (LAC) could very well be exactly what you are looking for!