Which School Should I Attend? POC Edition
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
School A, B, or C? They're all great choices, but I can't figure out the best fit for me as
a person of color.
After finishing university, here is my personal guide to picking the best school for you!
UNC-Chapel Hill was not my first choice for university. Actually, it wasn't even my second choice. I ultimately decided to attend UNC-Chapel Hill because of the financial benefits. I ended up graduating debt-free and had numerous job opportunities while there. UNC presented numerous resources for study abroad, research, and post-graduate connections. However, there were aspects that I found and fell in love with after I started school there. Such as the school spirit and phenomenal sports, the numerous internship opportunities (both internal and external from the university), and the support services in academics. Additionally, UNC's alumni network within the state is fantastic for students looking to start a career after graduation which helps to set you apart from other applicants.
Though all of these factors are amazing, I wouldn't have known without actually attending and giving the university a chance. This is why I urge students seeking attendance at any school to thoroughly do your research, speak to students, admissions counselors, and read up on departments, career services, and learning center websites for your school. Get a good understanding of what the school has to offer and really know their reputation.
Side Note: Make sure they are an accredited school as well.
Additionally, it wasn't until I started school at UNC that I begin to understand the school's historical issues with race and diversity. There are many things they don't tell you at the campus tour or orientation that are necessary to hear for people of color. As a school in the south and the first public school in the nation, I learned that my university historically did not welcome people who looked like me (which would seem obvious, but as a high schooler these thoughts didn't cross my mind). It wasn't until I was the only black person in class or had to make a grueling walk past a confederate statue that I learn about that history. It wasn't until I started to hear from other students of color the differences in our experiences from our white classmates. We were all Tar Heels but lived a different reality. It was these features that I wish I had known earlier. Would I have chosen a different school before making a decision? I don't know, but it would have prepared me a lot better to initially look for outlets on campus that supported people of color.
Furthermore, I realized just how important it is for people of color to have a unique list of considerations when examining schools which is why I felt it was important to write this post.
This list is here to provide insight into choosing the school that is the best fit for you. I am hoping that it can help you make a more informed decision from the list of schools you are interested in and can help guide you. Especially for people of color, it is important that we consider factors that are a part of our unique experiences while ensuring that we are supported well in a school's environment.
Below is a personal list of factors that I think a potential student should consider:
People of Color Support Systems:
Questions: Does the school support people of color historically? Do they have clubs, programs, and a diversity office for people of color? (Are these entities functioning well? Are there staff and students involved and committed?) What are students who are apart of the school's community saying about their school? What is the school doing to ensure an inclusive and supportive environment for people of color? Are there historical monuments, buildings, etc. present that represent a history of racial discrimination that disrupts your safe space on campus?
Remember: Having places on campus that make you feel unwelcomed as a person of color can inhibit your ability to focus and learn. Make sure that the campus you are going to is open and willing to make changes necessary to ensure a safe space for all their students. Having administration and campus organizations that support you as a person of color is essential.
Questions: Which school is the least expensive? Which offers you the most for your dollar? Which school is giving you the best financial aid package that could help you graduate with minimal debt (scholarships, grants, work-study, etc.)?
Remember: Going to a school that is the right fit for you is the most important. Many people place materialistic weights on a school because of its prestige (which can be important), but not if attending is going to put you $100,000+ in debt. One day you will have to pay back those loans while paying for mortgage/rent, expenses, a family, etc. It can be a lot to pay such a huge student debt, so think carefully about which school to attend. Also, research loan forgiveness programs that could help reduce your financial burden after graduation as well (this is especially important for professional/graduate students).
Questions: Where will you succeed the most? Do you prefer a school that is a bit less rigorous that could allow you the space to grow academically while being supported by faculty and staff? Or would you prefer a more rigorous school that expects you to do a lot of independent self-teaching and self-help? What type of environment do you want to be in? Would you prefer to be around students who are more helpful and relaxed or students who are a bit more competitive? Do you prefer a constant challenge? What place will allow for your mental health to be optimal?
Remember: Your mental health is one of the most important aspects of your wellbeing. The environment you choose to surround yourself with has to be a place in which you are able to thrive. Choosing a school that can meet your needs in academics also includes an area of study. Make sure they have majors, minors, certificates, and coursework that will help you achieve your academic goals.
Questions: Do you want to attend a small, medium, or large school? How big do you want your classes to be? Do you want the professor to know your name? Do you want to know everyone on campus?
Remember: Attending a large school can be great, but remember that it can be a bit more difficult in forming connections with professors. You have to work a bit harder for them to remember you and you have to be strategic about who you want to have a relationship with. You are going to need to have at least 3 good professor relationships for future recommendation letters (if you go on the job market, grad, or professional school), so be wise with who you choose. I specifically chose a large school because I didn't want to know the same group of people everywhere I went. It was nice to always meet someone new and have a chance to start over.
Questions: Do you want to be near family? In a small town or a big city? Do you want the school to have an online component? Is the school's city affordable? Are there organizations nearby that you could network with and potentially gain employment or internship opportunities?
Remember: College is a time when you will be on your own regardless of how close or far you are from home. At first, I wanted to go up north to school to take a break from the south, but circumstances led me to stay. It was one of the best decisions I made. I could go home whenever I felt like it. If I need some help from my family they weren't too far. If I wanted to wash my clothes for free, I could head home and use my family's washer and dryer. It ended up being perfect. College is already a huge transition. You are making new friends, living in a dorm, taking courses, and so much more. Sometimes being near home can be a nice consistent place of peace that allows you to take a break from school.
Post-graduate Connection to Careers, Graduate Schools, or Professional Schools:
Questions: How good is the alumni network? Is there career support from the school? Is there a career center? Do they have survey results that tell you where most of their graduates go after leaving? If you want to work in healthcare, are they affiliated with a hospital or health center? If you want to go to graduate school, do they have a program at the school that is ranked and accessible for you to network with as an undergrad? If you want to become a dentist, is there a dental school at your institution? Do they prepare students for life after graduation?
Remember: Going to college is all about equipping you for the next step. You want to be the best applicant and already have connections within a good graduate program or career. This can set you up to be accepted into a graduate school because you already know the people working in the department or you know someone at the organization you're hoping to get hired with. Be strategic. College is about having fun and going to games, but also keep in mind your life after it.
Sports/ School Spirit:
Questions: Do you want to attend a school with or without sports? What type of division (NCAA-Division 1, 2, 3, or MEAC, etc.)? Is the school big on school spirit? Or is that something that isn't a huge factor for you? Do you like attending games? Are you hoping to pursue a club sport?
Remember: You might wonder why I put this on the list, but school spirit and sports are a huge part of the college experience. For some, it is a dream to attend free games as a student for a high ranking football or basketball team that gets you a chance to be on ESPN as an excited fan. Or you could prefer a life that isn't so sports-focused, maybe you prefer the art scene and expositions instead. Whatever it is make sure the school you attend offers what you need.
Questions: Is there a spiritual community on or near the campus that supports your beliefs? Is there a local church, synagogue, mosque, or temple that is easily accessible? Does it matter to you to have your spiritual connection fed while away from home?
Remember: College is about experiencing new things and meeting new people. It can be confusing. It can also be a time where you are trying to figure out who you are as a person and what you stand for. It's essential to feel supported throughout this process and engage in your own spiritual journey to a healthy lifestyle. However, this process of moving and transitioning to a new environment can be a lot to handle. Thinking about your spiritual and mental health is essential to stay healthy and positive while in college. It can also be a grounding experience that can support you through good and bad times.
Historically Black College and Universities or Predominately White Institution:
Question: HBCU or PWI?
Remember: There are many other websites that can offer you a lot of insight into the differences between these schools (I recommend looking some up). It is completely your choice of what school you think is best for you and where you will thrive the most. They each offer unique experiences that will propel your growth. Think about where you will feel the most supported.
Lastly, remember, Happiness! Are you happy with your decision? Though you go to school for an education, you are still going to be there for a number of years. Being happy is essential to your thriving!
Regardless of where you go there will always be that one school you will have a "what-if" question for: What if I went to X school? Where would I be? How would my education experience differ? You're always going to have these thoughts, but keep pushing through! Don't give up and be excited about how far you have come.
Best of luck on your educational endeavors and may you end up just where you need to be!
Blooming where planted,
P.O.C.= People of Color
Have a specific question? If you would like any advice or have any questions. Feel free to ask me in the comments and I will get back to you. I will try my best to answer what I can!
Graphic: John McCann/M&G
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