HBCUs are Historically Black Colleges and Universities. PWIs are Predominantly White Institutions. Currently, there are 107 HBCUs in the US (full list). And there are thousands of PWIs.
Many college seniors struggle to decide which type of college they should attend. Since there is an ongoing HBCU vs PWI debate, I decided to write this post and explain my views. I am a minority student that grew up in the South. One of my main goals after graduating from high school was to attend college. I ended up attending an HBCU for my undergraduate. A few years later, I continued my education by completing a Master’s degree in a PWI.
In this post, I would like to explain the reasoning to my choices, mainly why I chose an HBCU as my Alma mater. Also, I want to expand on the main differences between HBCUs and PWIs
Why an HBCU?
As a college senior, I applied to several colleges. My applications were a mix of PWIs and HBCUs. First, I wanted to see where I could get accepted and potentially get a competitive scholarship. My heart was not set in any particular school. However, I had an interest in attending an HBCU.
I was admitted to the majority of the schools on my list. However, not all of them offered me funding. Since my state of residence offered scholarships, I decided to pick an in-state school. Then, I could take advantage of both school funding and state funding. In the end, I had to choose between a state PWI and HBCU. My decision to pick the HBCU was based on a few factors:
- Their career services and other professional development departments were highly personalized
- They offered me a scholarship to live on-campus, and I was looking for a full college experience
- I wanted to be part of a school that embraced minorities
A Minority in a HBCU
Not every student attending an HBCU is black. Some students are also minorities, such as Hispanics or Native Americans. Anyone can join an HBCU, yet the majority of students are black or of African descent. As a minority is an HBCU, you will fit right in. You might not even feel like a minority anymore, at least in the classroom. I enjoyed experiencing a feeling of belonging. Also, I was happy with the fact that HBCUs have students of many different races and backgrounds, which brings diversity.
Embrace Tradition: PWI vs HBCU
HBCUs are historic institutions. They embrace tradition in many of their decisions. Also, they value interpersonal connections. While attending an HBCU, I joined several clubs and organizations. Many of those were over 50-old and had strong missions to increase the success of students. Personally, these organizations helped me develop as a professional and ultimately enter the workforce in a seamless manner.
Even though tradition is important, it can also lead to hesitation when implementing new technologies. The HBCU I attended had in-person registration, in-person career services, and mandatory in-person orientations throughout your program. In some cases, it was useful, but I wished they had the option to use an online platform. One summer, I did not get back on-time from an internship to register for the fall semester. I ended up having to look for each professor to add classes one by one.
While attending a PWI, I also experienced a sense of tradition. However, it was quite different, since it did not relate directly to my culture. Also, in a PWI, I did not experience that sometimes excessive requirement for in-person tasks. Most university-related errands were quickly completed online through the website or by sending a couple of emails.
Generally, I experienced an abundance of resources in the PWI. Since the PWI was a large state school, they offered access to resources for athletics, mentoring, development, health, and many others. It could be due to economies of scale or disproportionate funding. But the PWI offered more resources in terms of variety. On the other hand, both PWI and HBCU had competitive career resources. And career services was my most used resource thought both programs.
Career Resources: HBCU vs PWI
The career resources offered by HBCUs and PWIs are very different. In an HBCU, I experienced personalized treatment. When I was looking for an internship or a job, I would go to career services and that same day talk to an advisor to explore current job postings. The office did not refer you to a general career site; they showed you jobs that were recruiting at that very moment. The personalized treatment motivated me to stay connected with the university. But, the personalized approach had a limitation. The university only offered information about a limited number of jobs. They did not always have something available for my major. My strategy was to visit the office often and to apply immediately when finding an interesting opportunity.
At a PWI, I experienced a very different treatment. At the time, the PWI I attended was one of the largest universities in the US. Their career services department was extensive. They organized job fairs a few times every semester, and they always brought companies for development talks of hiring events. Also, they had an online interface to apply for jobs through the university. I attended many of their activities and made meaningful career connections. I also used their portal to apply for jobs. However, I did not find much success by applying through their portal. Some jobs posted in the system were never checked or were out of date. The PWI offered more career opportunities than the HBCU, but not all the postings were applicable; you had to curate the list carefully.
The HBCU Bond
The HBCU bond is a unique benefit. All universities try to build a relationship between students. If you encounter a classmate, you might think highly of them just because you are familiar with the same university, and you share a bond. This alumni connection is present in all types of universities. Nevertheless, HBCUs go a step further. HBCU graduates do not only experience a bond with the university, but also with HBCUs in general (all 107!). Therefore, in the future, you can connect easily with other professionals that attended HBCUs.
Final Decision: HBCU vs PWI
I feel confident in the decisions I made throughout my career. Both the HBCU and the PWI offered many benefits and challenges. I did not make my final college decisions based on the HBCU vs PWI debate since each school provides a unique set of assets (scholarships, mentoring, degree programs).
When you are looking to make such an important decision, you must consider all factors. I would suggest to make a list of essential considerations and put them in relative order. In such a list, you can include specific items into account, such as “I am looking for personalized career development”, “I am interested in cultural associations,” or “I would like to attend a large institution with an abundance of resources”. Then, weight which school will fulfill you the most and lead you to success.