Five Best Ways to Recruit a High School Senior to an HBCU

Over the next three months, a majority of high school seniors throughout the country will be making choices about where they will attend college in the fall. And if you consider yourself to be a stakeholder or influencer in their decision, and you want to them to consider an HBCU, there’s five steps you should take to position black colleges as a viable option for the near future. 

5. Research actual campuses to fit with career goals AND personalities. Don’t be one of those relatives who starts telling a kid about the fun you had, the relationships you made, and how much you treasure HBCUs. Those were your experiences, and if that students can’t quickly or easily recreate the bill of goods you sold, they will be miserable.  

Create a narrative about HBCUs that involves the student’s interests, personality and career goals. Don’t look at your introverted kid and think “he’ll come out of his shell if he goes to North Carolina A&T or Clark Atlanta.” Don’t try to convince your niece, an aspiring broadcast journalist, that Fisk is the best place for her. And don’t try to convince your cousin to attend a private HBCU in a rural town when you know he may have to work to afford school and needs access to jobs. Put in the work to triangulate the best fit between cultural, economic and academic fit.

And most importantly – tell the truth about everything they will experience when they arrive. Explain why and how HBCUs lack resources on campus, and how this demands a higher caliber of maturity from students to understand customer service, technology gaps, and facilities issues. 

4. Sell the sexy. Don’t avoid conversation about the different kinds of people your student will meet, the fun they will have, and the memories they will create. 18-year-olds hear enough from counselors, teachers, and society about preparing for the future with a commitment to academics and professional training. But freedom is what is really on their minds, so you should be sure to sell the cultural benefits of an HBCU, while keeping the mantra of ‘everything in moderation.’

3. Emphasize the network. Many black students coming out of high school don’t yet realize the power of networking, so explain to them the professional benefit of being taught by professors who look like them, and how this can translate into professional contacts with others who look like them. Explain that diversity doesn’t just mean “going to school with white people,” and that when corporations actively seek out African American talent, they tend to go to the schools where they are most easily and likely to run into black talent walking across campus.

2. History and tradition are the icing, not the cake.  Talk about the history and tradition of HBCUs as an added benefit of attending, not the primary reason. A legacy of student protests, access when PWIs discriminated against blacks, and the baddest homecomings will not move a student who cares more about what the school is doing today than what HBCUs were great at doing 40 years ago. Most black students, especially those who grew up in HBCU communities, understand the HBCU legacy. And outside of those who want to carry on family tradition, or to meet a personal cultural goal by attending an HBCU, the legacy of our schools does not mean that much in 2016. 

1. Exposure to HBCUs is greater than badmouthing PWis First, young people tend to want exactly what older people say they shouldn’t pursue. Second, talking down about a school with more academic programs, more modern facilities, better-supported athletics and at least two generations of pop cultural messaging about HBCU inferiority will make you look stupid to a student who is on the fence about college choice.

Finally, it’s easier and cheaper to take a kid to walk across an HBCU campus than it would be to bad mouth a PWI without any facts beyond the headlines students have already read and heard about over the last six months. 


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6 comments
  1. In all sincerity, the premise of this piece is flawed. The problem that many HBCUs face is that they recruit seniors, when they should be recruiting sophomores and juniors, so by the time a student becomes a senior, the choice is obvious. That is what PWIs do, and they do it well. Also, the vast majority of HBCUs have very inept or non-existent approaches to yielding their incoming class. Yield is the name of the game and it’s the method in which PWIs consistently enroll top African American students who would’ve considered an HBCU had it not been for what happens AFTER the acceptance letter arrives. Admissions Yield and Summer Melt are where HBCUs lose their classes annually and it’s where they need to devote a great deal of time, effort, creativity and resources. The minimal price for a yield campaign pays for one student at most HBCUs, and a successful yield campaign generally nets hundreds of students. A methodical, tartgeted and integrated Yield campaign is the best investment an admissions office can make.

    1. So this piece was discussing the way stakeholders (alumni, supporters) could help to recruit high school students to HBCUs, not HBCUs themselves. You are correct about what institutions should be doing, but that is not the premise to this article at all.

  2. This article could not have been timed more perfectly for myself and my alumni chapter. We are actively trying to recruit high school students in our community.

  3. I agree that it’s important for stakeholders, Jarrett. My point is that even stakeholders can do all of the things that you mentioned when a student is in 9th-11th grade, so that by 12th grade it’s simply a decision. Thank you for posting the article and your response.

  4. GREAT piece–GREAT. As a former HBCU admissions and PR director, this is very similar to the philosophy I had when I spoke to students. High school students who are serious about success respond to the steak, not the sizzle. It’s about integrity. For example, I would tell students that our campus was not like the shiny PWI across town but I would follow up by asking them what kinds of relationships they wanted with their professors. After giving the STUDENT the opportunity to say he/she wanted a professor that cares, I would sell that point and let them come to their own conclusion. And it’s awesome that someone from an alumni chapter plans to take these points with him. Go for it!

  5. First, this is a great article!

    I have banked my career on Step #5. Research actual campuses to fit with career goals AND personalities.

    As a college counselor in a school system and vocal HBCU advocate (Howard U Class of 05!), number five has been my most effective tool in not only encouraging students to apply to HBCUs but changing the participation of HBCUs in school systems. When I’ve matched students with HBCUs that met their projected major and career interests, they didn’t need much more conceiving. Pointing pre-med students to XULA, engineers to NCA&T, pre-law and policy to Howard, and guiding future veterinarians to Tuskegee, has gotten the students, parents, and schools excited about their students application to our Black Colleges. After applying Step #5, 3 and 2 just seal the deal. Why, because Black students want to attend schools with a proven track record of placing Blacks into sought after professions and they want to contact to Black professional networks!

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