Career Guide for HBCU Students

Are you an HBCU student looking for a job? Check out this career guide for advice on entering the workforce as an HBCU graduate.
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Updated on August 31, 2023
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Over the past several decades, enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) has grown. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of Black students enrolled at HBCUs increased by 15% between 1976 and 2019. In 2019, HBCUs conferred 48,400 degrees. Tens of thousands of HBCU graduates enter the workforce each year.

Even with the workforce preparation provided by an HBCU education, embarking on your job search can be intimidating. This guide aims to demystify the process. It offers job search advice and breaks down how to prepare for your career and where to look for internships.

What to do Before Your Job Search

When you're in college, your career might seem far off in the future. In reality, graduation day will arrive sooner than you think. These tips will help prepare you before you apply to jobs.

Determine academic and career interests: Consider what career you want to pursue based on your major. Even if you don't land a job within your area of study, you can utilize the skills you've learned. For instance, many English majors don't become literature professors or writers. Instead, they might use their critical thinking skills to land a job as a marketing specialist or project manager.

Develop job search strategies and documents: Job search strategies might include regularly looking at job boards or career search engines. You may also maintain a LinkedIn presence and directly check company websites for open positions. Keep your resume up to date, and practice writing cover letters.

Prepare for potential interviews: Interviewing for a job is a skill. You should practice if you want to excel. Your school may have a career services department that offers mock interviews and feedback. Alternatively, you can find a list of common interview questions online and ask a friend to practice with you.

Network and build connections with professional contacts: Entering the workforce can be intimidating, especially if youfeel you need to compromise your authenticity in the workplace. Over 35% of African American and Hispanic individuals and 45% of Asian people reported feeling this way, according to a 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review.

Networking and meeting experienced people in your industry can help you feel less lonely and lead to job opportunities.

Tips for Your Job Search

Attend career fairs: Many companies attend HBCU career fairs to recruit students for internships and jobs. Take advantage of these opportunities.

Tap into HBCU networks: People at HBCUs maintain connections across industries. Your professors or advisor may be able to introduce you to an alumnus in an industry you have your eye on.

Know your worth: Unfortunately, Black employees still tend to make less than their white peers. When applying to jobs, make sure you research the average wage professionals in similar positions earn —and negotiate your salary when you apply.

Ask your mentor to help with your job search: Chances are, you have a professor who cares about you as a mentee. In fact, in 2015, Gallup found that 58% of Black HBCU students thought their professors cared about them as people — compared to 25% of Black students at non-HBCU schools.

Harness your purpose: Advice to "know your purpose" may seem like a vague suggestion, but considering this idea can give you direction when starting out in the workforce. According to the same 2015 Gallup survey, about 51% of HBCU graduates reported they like what they do each day and are motivated to achieve goals, as compared to 43% of non-HBCU graduates.

5 Internship Programs for HBCU Students

Internships can help you develop your professional skills before you enter the workforce full time. Plus, they look great on resumes. The list below includes internship opportunities for HBCU students.

HBCU First Internship Programs: Specifically for HBCU students, interns in HBCU First's programs can earn experience in many roles, including as researchers or commercial music producers. Internships last 10-12 weeks, depending on the program.

  • Application Deadline: Varies
  • Compensation: Varies

HBCU Heroes Internship Programs: HBCU Heroes supports and empowers students at HBCUs to succeed in the entertainment, sports, tech, and other big industries. The organization runs a remote internship program for students interested in social media, advertising, public relations, and other fields.

  • Application Deadline: Varies
  • Compensation: Varies

HBCU in LA Internship Program: The Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program, a nonprofit educational arts workforce program, runs internships for HBCU students interested in the entertainment industry. This 8-10-week program includes a welcome week orientation and mentorship opportunities.

  • Application Deadline: Varies
  • Compensation: Varies

National Diversity and Inclusion Internship Program: Offered by Minority Access Incorporated, this year-round scholarship provides opportunities for students in many different fields. Participants work in positions within the federal government and other entities. They also receive pre-employment training.

  • Application Deadlines: December, March, July
  • Compensation: $450 per week for college sophomores and juniors; $480 per week for college seniors; $550 per week for graduate students and professionals

North Carolina Governor's HBCU Internship Program: This program targets students in North Carolina, which is home to 13% of the country's HBCUs. Interns can participate in work experience programs at partner companies like Coca-Cola, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lenovo, and Wells Fargo.

  • Application Deadline: Varies
  • Compensation: Varies

Employment Opportunities for HBCU Students

HBCU graduates are in relatively high demand. A 2021 LinkedIn report found that the hiring rate for HBCU graduates grew by an average of 5.9% a year between 2016 and 2019. During the same period, the hiring rate for graduates from non-HBCU schools increased by an average of 1.3% per year.

Recruitment efforts in large fields, like the accounting and automobile industries, have contributed to this hiring boost. Companies like PwC, BMW, and Boeing continue to develop relationships with HBCU faculty and visit campuses to recruit students.

Education and public administration are two of the biggest sectors hiring HBCU graduates, according to the aforementioned LinkedIn report. About 16% of HBCU alumni are employed in the education sector, compared to 12% of all graduates. Plus, about 6.3% of HBCU graduates work in public administration, versus 3.2% of all new bachelor's degree-holders.

Finally, many HBCU students look for opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. In 2020, the National Science Foundation reported that 18% of STEM bachelor's degrees earned by Black students are awarded by HBCUs — even though only 8.5% of Black undergraduates attend HBCUs.

Additional Career Resources for HBCU Students

This job board lists opportunities for HBCU graduates in many fields, including STEM, education, and the arts. Visitors can also get tips about conducting a job search through the site's career resources page and blog. This site publishes job postings and scholarships. It also runs a marketplace and forums — all for HBCU students and alumni. Job seekers can upload their resumes directly to the site. This nonprofit organization aims to help HBCU graduates transition from college into the corporate workplace. Students can look for positions at the annual job conference and career fair with opportunities from over 120 companies. The White House Initiative on HBCUs hosts this annual event, which advertises both public and private professional positions for interested job seekers. This organization connects HBCU students and alumni with companies through an online portal and in-person job fairs. Individuals can search through thousands of potential jobs.

Meet the Professional

Portrait of Yvette Clayton

Yvette Clayton

Yvette Clayton is a student affairs administrator and director of the Career Development Services Center at Alabama A&M University. She has nearly 20 years worth of experience working at historically Black colleges and universities, connecting students with experiential professional development opportunities and positive career outcomes.