20 HBCU Graduates On Why They Attended Historically Black Schools

Litus Marshall

With HBCU enrollment on the rise, graduates from historically Black colleges and universities — from Howard University to Bethune-Cookman University — share their unique experiences while offering advice to incoming students. 

In an increasingly intense political climate, historically Black colleges/universities have become more crucial than ever. 

Enrollment at various HBCUs has shown that to be true, as nearly a third of these institutions have seen at least a 20 percent increase over the past three years, according to ABC13

It is through the doors of HBCUs that some of the nation’s top professionals across various fields are created. All-male Morehouse College is currently the top producer of Black physicists while New Orleans-based Dillard University has recently become the second, as one of the smallest HBCUs with fewer resources than other institutions. 

North Carolina A&T State University graduates more Black engineers with Bachelor’s degrees than any other college in the country. According to The Greensboro News & Record, the University ranked No. 1 across the country in the 2015 edition of the Top 100 list by Diverse Issues in Higher Education for the sixth consecutive year. 

Founded on the premise of providing Black students with a higher education and an opportunity to advance, after nearly two centuries, HBCUs still remain an integral part of the Black community.

If you’re a high student considering an HBCU or just someone who wants to learn more about the authentic experience, here’s what you can learn from these alumni:

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"I entered the gates of Dillard University with a locked box missing its key. Throughout the course of my four years, EVERY experience I had was molding the master key needed to unlock the very woman I am today. Dillard helped me find my voice in a world where everyone seems to talk about the same thing. Most importantly, it showed me the significance of community, and how I should LIFT as I climb the corporate ladder. For that, I am forever indebted," Watson told ESSENCE. 

2 of 20 Litus Marshall

"As the visionary for Mister 1890 of Savannah State University in 2016, I created a paradigm and platform for driven, accomplished and charismatic young men that will live on throughout time. Attending an HBCU taught me the power of self-empowerment. As an HBCU graduate I can encourage dreamers wanting to attend college to believe in their dreams. Don't just reach for the stars. Be a star," Reid told ESSENCE. 

3 of 20 Courtesy of Taylor Stewart

"My HBCU taught me I could do anything I set my mind to. The best advice I could give to high schoolers thinking about HBCU's is to be proactive! Each HBCU is filled with activities from SGA, Sports, Dance, Greek Life, Band, Modeling clubs. Get out there be involved and most of all keep your grades up and GIVE BACK to your HBCU," Stewart shared with ESSENCE. 

4 of 20 Travis Ellison (TravieTravPhotography)

"North Carolina A&T shaped who I am because coming into college, there were a lot of insecurities and doubts that I had about myself. Not only did I graduate with a sense of community but also an ability to make something out of nothing and learned the importance of networking," Leeper told ESSENCE. 

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"The best advice I can give a high school student is to be open-minded because you'll meet a lot of new people and have new experiences. The change always takes getting used to, but if you allow it to influence you in the right way, you will do well," Coles told ESSENCE. 

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"For high school students who are considering an HBCU, do thorough research to determine which school is going to best position you to achieve your career goals. Also, find out what the GPA and SAT/ACT requirements are to earn freshmen scholarships as early as possible so that you can position yourself to earn them and reduce your college debt," Smith told ESSENCE. 

7 of 20 Colin Myers

"Throughout my undergraduate experience, I met so many people from all over the world that I still keep in contact with today. My HBCU experience at South Carolina State University gave me the tools I needed to go out and conquer the world. DREAMS DON'T WORK UNLESS YOU DO!!!" Williams shared with ESSENCE. 

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"Spelman College is the best place on Earth for Black women pursuing their undergraduate education. I experienced first hand how diverse "Black" can be, and also how Black women understand, support, and encourage each other like only we can. Spelman showed me how to be confident and unapologetic about my excellence, while also celebrating it in others," Johnson told ESSENCE. 

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“Leadership, character, and responsibility are the greatest takeaways from my time at Morehouse. However, brotherhood and the extensive network I have gained are the greatest takeaways since graduating. All of these fundamentals put together, as well as a deep and abiding commitment to excellence in my given field, are key elements to the foundation for who I am grateful to be today,” Carlos told ESSENCE. 

10 of 20 Premier Studios

"As a first generation college student, my HBCU experience prepared me for life after college and showed me true examples
scholastic prosperity among black Americans in all professional fields. If you're considering attending an HBCU this fall, consider reaching out to relatives who may have attended the school. While your priority is to get a superior education in the field of your choice ...keep in mind that there's a level of care, compassion and positive challenges you will ONLY find at an HBCU," Burney- Clark told ESSENCE. 

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“As a first generation college student, I was able to accomplish goals that I would never imagined. "North Carolina A&T helped shaped my career and the person I am today by using my voice and understanding my worth as an African American male in today's society. High school students that are interested in attending an HBCU, should pick the best HBCU that aligns with their major, career goals and to maintain a high GPA to apply for scholarships to cover the cost of school," Smalls told ESSENCE. 

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"Attending an HBCU, like Howard (The Mecca), gave me the opportunity to be in an academic setting with other like-minded students of color that were motivated to, not only achieve academic goals, but make positive impacts on our communities. Aside from academic success at The Mecca, I gained a true sense of the diversity within the Black community. I soon learned that "Black" does not equate to one culture but rather, embodies a plethora of cultures and diaspora," Hayes told ESSENCE. 

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“Cheyney played a strong role in my development. Being so closely knit and family oriented, I felt comfortable enough to step outside of my comfort zone," Saunders told ESSENCE. 

14 of 20 Robert Brown IV

"Going to Claflin gave me the knowledge, support and confidence I needed post graduation. They understood the challenges I could possibly face in the real world as a Black Woman, and worked with me to ensure that my skills and resume were competitive. I would absolutely recommend that high school students apply to HBCU's. The history is so rich, the campuses are so close-knit, and the culture is amazing," Hill told ESSENCE. 

15 of 20 bclassicphotography©

"HBCUs have the legacy. For me, several family members attended Morgan State, and all left with a mind rich in history, a wealth of knowledge, and experiences full of culture.  For those students considering an HBCU, It will guarantee you a home away from home that includes diversity, community support, nurturing faculty, irreplaceable friendships, and most importantly, an incomparable education," Edwards told ESSENCE. 

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"I always wanted to attend an HBCU from my early years of watching “A Different World”. Although this was a sitcom, NBC’s depiction of an HBCU sparked my interest to want to learn more about black equality. After graduating from Virginia Union University I’d learned to love my brown skin as a black woman, and also how being true to myself is more important than anything," Minus told ESSENCE. 

17 of 20 Alex Jones

"You don’t simply attend an HBCU, you experience an HBCU and the beauty of it is that the experience is for a lifetime. There, I learned about who I wasn’t. Being among students who may have looked like me didn’t always ensure that we were the same. I would tell anyone considering an HBCU that it’s an environment that fosters to the student in a very holistic way and celebrates not only your accomplishments but celebrates you," Jones told ESSENCE. 

18 of 20 Brittany Gardner

"Bennett College being one of the two HBCUs that is an all women's college, there was a sense of happiness I felt when walking through those gates. I didn't only learn a lot about myself but also that sisterhood amongst Black women is real. Advice I would give to a high school student who is thinking about attending an HBCU is to be open to meeting people from different backgrounds, get involved, study abroad," Nunnery told ESSENCE. 

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"I wholeheartedly believe one of the most important solutions in rebuilding America's middle class, particularly the African American middle class is ensuring our HBCUs are fiscally healthy and have the best resources to educate the next generation of change agents. I knew that prior to attending Hampton University, enrolling at an HBCU could be the best decision as it relates to personal development and career advancement. Fast forward today, I can confidently say that attending an HBCU is the best decision I ever made." Qadree told ESSENCE. 

20 of 20 Courtesy of Walter Griffin

"The time I spent at SCSU was more than an academic gift... it was the gift of experience that was essential to my development as a man, husband, father, and teacher. The experience at an HBCU like South Carolina State University was invaluable to me. There is nothing like it," Griffin told ESSENCE.