Career Guide for HBCU Students

Learn what it takes to be successful on the job market, including the importance of networking and finding paid internships.
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Updated on October 2, 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 14% between 1976 and 2021. In 2020-2021, HBCUs conferred 48,200 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 clarify 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 can help prepare you before you apply for 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.

Visit the Career Center on Campus

Your college wants you to be successful. That’s why most schools, including HCBUs, have career or professional development centers to help students prepare to land full-time jobs. In fact, students who utilize career centers receive more job offers than students who don’t use any career center services, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Not sure what to do after graduation? Talk to your career center staff. They may have career assessments that will give you ideas of jobs that could be a good fit based on your interests. From there, you can work together to craft your degree plan to prepare for that job upon graduation.

Get an Internship

Internships are a great way to meet potential employers and determine if a role is a good fit while still in school. Yvette Clayton, a student affairs administrator and the director of the Career Development Services Center at Alabama A&M University, recommends students start thinking about internships as early as their first year, as she’s seen an increase in employers recruiting first-year students for internships.

Network and Build Connections With Professional Contacts

Many companies are pausing hiring as they navigate high inflation and a potential recession, making for a tough job market. Professional networks are critical during these times, as they can lead to job referrals or introductions to hiring managers.

If you’re just starting out in your professional career, consider starting at your college’s career center or reaching out to Greek Life members or alumni working in your dream field and inviting them to lunch to learn about their path to employment. According to Clayton, Deans, department chairs, and faculty can also be a resource for helping students to prepare for their internship or job source. Some have research opportunities and employer contacts.

Find Companies That Align With Your Values

According to Clayton, many employers have taken a candid look within and determined that they should be more intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). You can learn about what a company values by reviewing its mission statement. Once you start landing interviews, you can ask questions about their latest DEI initiatives.

Update Your Resume

Your resume should include both your academic achievements, like degrees or certifications obtained, and any work or internship experiences you’ve completed. Make sure to highlight the impact you had in each role.

Don’t forget to tailor your resume to what employers want. Clayton elaborates, Most employers look for candidates to have the ability to solve problems. Effective problem solvers have strong critical thinking and communication skills.

Once your resume is up-to-date, utilize a resume scanner to see if your resume will get through applicant tracking systems and make it onto a hiring manager’s desk.

Find more HBCU resources.

Tips for Your Job Search

The job market can seem intimidating, but there are several things both students and new grads can do to prepare for the process and improve their chances of landing a job.

Tap Into Your HBCU Network

Once you’ve built up a network of HBCU connections, share your career goals and the skills you bring to the table as an HBCU grad. Leave contacts with a business card or your updated resume, and make sure they know that you’re open to introductions, referrals, or job opportunities in your chosen field.

Networking like this can serve another purpose, too. It helps students improve how they communicate, which is a key skill in the workplace. Clayton expands, The multigenerational, multidimensional — virtual, on-site, hybrid — tech-driven workplace mandates that interns and full-time staff communicate clearly, effectively, and in a timely manner with a professional tone, verbally and in writing.

Develop Job Search Strategies

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

Attend Career Fairs

Your career center may host one or more career fairs on campus throughout the school year to connect students with prospective employers. These career or job fairs are a great way for students to get familiar with the companies in their community, see who is hiring, and even network for internships or future job opportunities.

Mock 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. Additionally, you can find a list of common interview questions online and ask a friend to practice with you.

Negotiate Your Salary

You did it. You updated your resume, utilized your network, nailed the interview, and got the coveted job offer. The work is over, right? Not quite. This is a critical time to set yourself up for future financial success.

Unfortunately, pay disparities exist, negatively affecting women, people of color, and other historically excluded groups. Nationally, Black workers make an average of 76 cents per every dollar that white workers make. Negotiating your salary can bring you one step closer to equitable pay.

7 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 various internship opportunities for HBCU students.

1. Boeing’s Engineering and Business Internships

Boeing, a global aerospace company, is hiring HBCU students for various internships in the fields of business and engineering. In the summer of 2024, the company is offering paid 10-12 week internships at locations across the United States.

  • Application period: Deadlines vary, but they typically close in October 2023
  • Compensation: Varies, but estimated around $28 per hour

2. SiriusXM Internships for HBCU Students

Audio entertainment giant SiriusXM has open internship opportunities throughout the year.

  • Application period: Summer internship opportunities in engineering and technology open in October 2023, while additional summer internship opportunities in sales and marketing open in January 2024
  • Compensation: Varies, but students can receive compensation and course credit for internships

3. Department of Defense Summer Internship Programs

Students looking to work in research or national security should explore the Department of Defense’s (DOD's) research internships. The internships begin in May and end in August before the fall semester.

  • Application period: Applications for the 2023 summer program closed Jan. 6, so interested applications should monitor the DOD site and have application materials ready to submit by January 2024
  • Compensation: Bi-weekly stipend of $1,200 per week

4. HBCU First Internship Programs

Specifically for HBCU students, interns in HBCU First's programs can gain 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

5. HBCU Heroes Internship Programs

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

  • Application Deadline: Varies
  • Compensation: Varies

6. 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: Nov. 20, 2023
  • Compensation: Varies

7. 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: Dec. 1, 2023; March 1, 2024; and July 1, 2024
  • Compensation: $450 per week for college sophomores and juniors; $480 per week for college seniors; $550 per week for graduate students and professionals

Employment Opportunities for HBCU Students

HBCU enrollment increased from 223,000 in 1976 to 287,000 students in 2021, according to NCES. HBCUs granted nearly 50,000 degrees in the 2020-2021 academic year.

And HBCUs provide excellent opportunities for these enrollees and grads to network with alumni and rub shoulders with industry professionals who can help them land high-paying jobs. HBCU students now have more opportunities to build their STEM backgrounds, for example, thanks to a $7 million investment from the U.S. Department of Energy. Employers are also supporting STEM training by offering STEM internships specifically for HBCU students.

Employment rates rose for Black talent from 2021 to 2022. Recently, there has also been a significant jump in monthly hiring of HBCU grads in industries like consumer services, education, arts and recreation, and hospitals and healthcare.

Companies that Recruit HBCU Graduates

As companies continue to understand the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce, there will be more hiring opportunities specifically carved out for HBCU students. Below are just seven of the many companies that are actively recruiting HBCU students for full-time jobs or internships.

  1. Boeing
  2. SiriusXM
  3. Airbnb
  4. Sandia National Laboratories
  5. FanDuel
  6. Visa
  7. Children’s Defense Fund, in partnership with the NBA

Additional Career Resources for HBCU Students

HBCU Career Center

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.

HBCU Connect

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.

HBCU Career Market

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.

HBCU Career and Recruitment Fair

The White House Initiative on HBCUs hosts this annual event, which advertises both public and private professional positions for interested job seekers.

The HBCU Foundation - Career Center

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.