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Choosing The Right College For You: HBCUs & PWIs

Depending on where you come from, life at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) could be a breeze. It might just feel like your old highschool or even the town you grew up in; however, it might be a little more like my experience. This isn’t meant to downplay PWIs at all. As a Black Woman from a predominantly-minority area, the change was definitely a cultural shock. Would I choose PWIs again if I was given the chance? Maybe. But I would definitely make some important changes.

Now, I don't want to sound dramatic by any means, but my 3+ years at my PWI (University of Georgia) has been “meh” at best. Nothing “horrible” has happened, but also, nothing “great” has happened either. At best, I would call it a shrug-worthy experience. Now, if I were to tell this to my parents...they would likely attribute my lackluster experience to the type of college I chose to attend. While I do believe my experience at UGA is related to its lack of cultural diversity, I know that many other minorities have overcome this obstacle and have formed meaningful connections with several like-minded people. However, if you don't take an active role in putting yourself out there and meeting new people, it may be harder to find a community right for you than it would be if you attended a more culturally diverse university. Telling my parents this would undoubtedly support their believe that I would have a more inclusive and enjoyable experience attending a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). And maybe they were right.

Prominent HBCUs through the country.

The first HBCU was founded in 1837 in Cheyney Pennsylvania, aptly named Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. During the 19th century, segregation made HBCUs a necessity for black Americans to receive a higher education. Almost two centuries later, the U.S. now has over a hundred HBCUs. Because of its prominence throughout history, the topic of attending an HBCU is still common in many black American households. In my case, it was all my parents ever talked about towards my later years in high school. They boasted how inclusive the environment would be and how I would immediately feel like a part of something bigger. They also argued that it would be easier to form meaningful relationships with peers and professors, and that overall I would have a more enjoyable time. Though that may be true, their opinions are a bit biased, considering most of my family attended an HBCU and don’t have the counter-experience of a PWI.

The arch at The University of Georgia.

Harvard University is the oldest private institution in the U.S, established in 1636.

Over 200 years after they opened their doors to white men, The first black student was admitted as an “experiment”; however, black students were banned from living on campus until the 1960’s. The first public institution in America happens to be the school I attend, The University of Georgia. Opening its doors in 1785, it took a little under two centuries before the first two black students registered for classes in January of 1961. Although a few hundred years have passed since some of the oldest schools in the U.S opened their doors, black students were only granted the opportunity to attend these colleges within the past sixty years. With that said, we live in the modern era, where minorities can attend PWIs and find a community for themselves while enjoying their time at their university of choice. Although relatively new to the game, PWIs still promote different cultures and endorse inclusiveness among minority groups.

In the end, your college experience is almost entirely dependent on your attitude going in. You get out what you put in. Everyone has the potential to make their college experience great by getting involved and putting in the effort to meet new people. Attending an HBCU might be an easier way to form a community, but that doesn’t mean there’s no community for you at a PWI. Consider joining clubs that peak your interest or cultural student organizations to bond with people from similar backgrounds and cultures. I certainly don’t regret my experience at the University of Georgia, but if I could make any changes, I would put in more effort to find different culturally-similar clubs. Don’t let your college experience be just shrug-worthy. Choose the college of your liking, whether it be a PWI or an HBCU, and make sure to find your group of people. There’s a group for everyone; you just have to go out and find it.


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