Whether you're attending an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) or a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), a community college or a four-year, there are just some things every college student should be aware of to make the college journey smoother. Even more specifically, I've found that there are even more things that Black girls should know in order to keep their sanity, navigate sexism and racism, and ensure that they reach success in spite of all of the odds stacked against them. I want to share some tidbits of knowledge I wish I had been well-equipped with when I headed down the Jersey shore to a PWI, Catholic women's college in 2004.
Honestly? I have quite a few regrets about my college experience. Over the course of the past four years since I finished graduate school, I've had LOTS of time for reflection. There are so many tools that were not available when I was student. There are many others that were available but hidden to most of us for DECADES. Everything from safe spaces for survivors to scholarships for those of us who would rather not graduate with college loan debt to knowing how to manage friendships. I didn't always do as well I could have, didn't always make the best choices, didn't always have the right information. But looking back, I've learned so much because of those errors.
This is all the more reason I want to share my top tips with you.
TOP 7 TIPS FOR THE COLLEGE-BOUND #CAREFREEBLACKGIRL
1. Search for and apply for every doggone scholarship you can. THEY ARE OUT THERE BY THE THOUSANDS! FREE MONEY!
Full transparency: My college loan debt is upwards of $50,000. Did I need money in order to go to college? Duh! My parents had no college fund for me. My father was a blue collar worker and my mother was just settling into a career as a NJ teacher. Governor Christie has SCREWED NJ teachers financially, but I digress. Yes, I needed money. Did I need the government's loans? NO. There were plenty of scholarships available, I just didn't know where to look. I was one of many Black girls who came from a fairly financially illiterate family. We lived from check to check, just trying to keep our heads above water. We thought loans were the only way I would be able to go to college. We were wrong.
Luckily, today, all the information is at your fingertips, thanks to the internet, smartphones, all the awesome people creating apps to make our lives a little bit easier, and the good stuff a little more accessible. Doing the research has become 10 times easier in 2015!
Scholly is one of - if not THE easiest way to access thousands of scholarships in every field, state, major, whatever! You plug in your information and it generates a list of scholarships that are compatible with you! So easy. Best of all, it was created by a Black college student. :-)
2. Ask your professor(s) for help AS SOON AS you know you're struggling.
One thing I failed to do in a few of my classes was to ask for help as soon as possible. I didn't want to be singled out for not knowing when it seemed that EVERYONE ELSE knew what was going on. Especially in Stats class. I had taken Stats in high school and only passed by the grace of God and mercy of my teacher. I had been the butt of quite a few jokes from white, male classmates at my mostly white private high school. I wanted to stay as far from the spotlight as possible, even if it meant struggling through a class I didn't have to struggle through. Funny thing is, more often than not, other people have the same question and are relieved when someone else asks the question.
Professors, for the most part, just want to know that their students are paying attention and being proactive with the material they are given. The instances when I immediately raised my hand to ask for clarification or emailed my professor to set up a time to discuss a homework problem, were the instances where even if I didn't pass with an 'A' my professors looked out for me because I put forth visible, REAL effort in TRYING to grasp the material. Stats won't going to come easily to everyone. Neither will AP English or Chemistry or whatever it is you may struggle with. But the effort? The desire to learn? That'll take you far. Ask the questions. Show your effort.
3. Don't let folks talk you out of your passion/purpose and into a lifetime of sacrifice. That doesn't have to be the Black woman's story anymore.
We are not our ancestors. We have the opportunities they prayed for. Kerry Washington said it best,
"We are the answer to a slave woman's prayers."
We don't have to abandon our dreams for the sake of "getting by." Staying true to what is in our hearts, in our spirits, that thing we can't seem to shake no matter how much we try -THAT we cannot abandon. Too often, especially within the Black community, we discourage or shame one another out of our dreams and passions because we're fearful of any number of oppressive systems swallowing us whole in pursuit of those dreams; because we were shamed out of fear and so we subconsciously continue the cycle; because as Black women we have been fed the broth of "unworthiness" for so long that we start to believe it.
Get that out of your head. We are WORTHY of everything that has been divinely placed into us to desire and dream and hope for because it's BIGGER than us and we are DESTINED for greatness. Take that up and carry it with you. Block the naysayers. Make a plan. Carry it out. You already are great. So, just BE.
Which leads me to #4....
4. Affirming yourself is not silly, it is survival. Embrace it!
AFFIRM YOURSELF. Remind yourself of all of your best qualities. Encourage yourself to work on the areas where you need growth. Mary Jane your room with Post-It Notes full of inspiring quotes, Bible verses, and adjectives describing who you are and who you want to become. Look up what God says about you in the Bible and declare that to yourself. Reflect on the times that the most honest people in your life told you good things about yourself. Believe them.
College is hard enough, no need to make it harder by allowing society's constant message that we are inadequate to be the loudest voice in your ear. Make God's voice, your voice, and the voices of your supporters the loudest voices in your ear by daily affirming yourself in whatever way feels most natural and comfortable to you. There's no right way, per se.
5. Steer clear of the mean girls.
And there WILL be mean girls. Until we dismantle patriarchy, oppression, internalized racial oppression and all of the subsets, there will be mean girls and the "crabs-in-a-barrel" stereotype will play out again and again to some degree. But the most important thing to remember is that you have control over how/if it plays out with you.
I succumbed to my inferiority complex during my sophomore year of college and became friends with the mean girls. I don't know how the friendship materialized, exactly, but I do know it made me feel whole to some degree to be friends with the most liked (READ: hated) girls on campus. That is until they turned on me. I was humbled with the quickness and learned one of the most valuable lessons. Erykah Badu said it best:
"I pick my friends like I pick my fruit."
You have the RIGHT to be selective. You're not "actin' brand new" or "sadiddy." You understand that friendships are not stagnant. They will either lift you on their tide or suck you into their undertow. Choose your friendships wisely. Choose those who will lift you to your highest self, not drag you toward the worst elements of human character.
6. Intern and/or work while you're in college as much as possible without burning yourself out.
Know the field you want to pursue? Volunteer, intern, or work in that field in some capacity as soon as you get the swing of things in school. I had my first internship as a college senior and nearly collapsed because exhaustion and the flu not too long before graduation.
Spread out your experience over the course of the four years and don't forget your summers! Not only will this give you experience but it will also get you acclimated to how to craft your resume, cover letter, how to be your most productive, etc. Always be interested in getting experience, it will change your life and make you that much more marketable for a full-time position when you graduate. Some great sites to check out for volunteer positions, internships, and PT/FT jobs: My Creative Connection, Her AGENDA, The Muse, Volunteer Match
7. Master the art of delaying gratification.
You'll get the urge to slack off. Trust me. If I'm honest I skipped whole days of class for Special Victims' Unit marathons. I ditched study sessions for days at the beach (the Jersey Shore was a very distracting place to go to school). But where I slacked, I felt the sting of it later when friends were making the Dean's list and I was pleading with my professor to let me slide by with a C.
There will ALWAYS be a party, a date, a movie, or nap that seems more urgent than putting in the work but it's always important to keep things in perspective. What's your end goal? What does it take to get there? Is a night out with the girls more important than studying for your Econ final? Is it worth it to create a daily schedule to keep yourself on task if your goal is to be more productive? Whether your goals, you've got to see them as an extension of yourself and learn the discipline of doing what you have to do now so you can do what you want to do later. Put your time in. It'll be so worth it. I promise.