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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by Staff Writers

Published on October 19, 2021 · Updated on June 27, 2022

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Career Guide for HBCU Students

Make the Most Out of Your HBCU Experience

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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.

How to Prepare for Your Future Career

When you're in college, your career might seem far off in the future. In reality, college will probably end sooner than you think. You can take several steps to strategize for your future.

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.

When is the best time for students to begin thinking about internships and careers after college? question-mark-circle
Portrait of Yvette Clayton

Yvette Clayton

“In their freshman year. We have seen an uptick in employers recruiting freshmen and sophomores. We recognize that freshmen need time to adjust to campus life and rigorous coursework. However, if they start thinking about internships and careers in their freshmen year, it will inspire them to set goals, get better grades, develop leadership skills by joining clubs and organizations, and connect with Career Development Services sooner. Our university’s tagline is "Start Here. Go Anywhere." To get there, the students must start early.”

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 10 internship opportunities for HBCU students.

AAAS Diverse Voices in Science Journalism Internship: Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this summer internship allows students to work for 10 weeks at Science Magazine in Washington, D.C.

BET Networks Internship Program: Black Entertainment Television offers several internships throughout the year that last a minimum of 10 weeks. Students can find opportunities in production, law, design, and technology through this program.

Greening Youth Foundation HBCU Internship Program: Students interested in conservation can apply to this internship program, which places learners in various positions within the National Parks System. Students with a variety of majors — including biology, engineering, history, and business — are encouraged to apply.

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.

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.

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.

HBCU/MIHE Summer Internship Program: The HBCU and Minority Institutions of Higher Education Internship Program offers students 10 weeks of summer work experience in North Carolina. Students focus on professional and leadership development, as well as networking.

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.

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.

Student Arts and Culture Internship for HBCUs: Run by the National Endowment for the Arts, this program offers work experience in government, federal arts and culture policy, and administration. Interns build their project management skills and work across various arts and culture offices.

Based on your experience, what is the one skill employers look for in potential internship or job candidates? question-mark-circle
Portrait of Yvette Clayton

Yvette Clayton

“Most employers look for candidates to have the ability to solve problems, because they are inevitable. Effective problem-solvers have strong critical thinking and communication skills. They don’t run to their manager whenever problems arise. They think about solutions and resolve problems when they can, and escalate as needed. I encourage students to use a version of the STAR method (situation, task, action, and results/recommendations) when providing an overview to their supervisors about problems that require escalation. This ensures clear, succinct, and results-oriented communication.”

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.

What advantages do HBCU students have when it comes to internship and job search? question-mark-circle
Portrait of Yvette Clayton

Yvette Clayton

“One positive outcome of the George Floyd tragedy is that many employers have taken a candid look within and determined that they should be more intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion. HBCU students embrace diversity and can comfortably work with people from diverse spaces. For an employer that is committed to DEI, this could be considered an advantage.”

Important Tips for a 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.

Additional Resources for Career Assistance

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.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Dr. Pamela “Safisha Nzingha” Hill, Ph.D.

Dr. Pamela “Safisha Nzingha” Hill, Ph.D.

Dr. Pamela "Safisha Nzingha" Hill, Ph.D., is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant; Afrocentric scholar; activist; journalist; educator; student development practitioner; and life student of Africana studies. For over 20 years Dr. Hill has worked in higher education in both student development and academic affairs. She has served as a mid-level student affairs administrator in positions of assistant dean of students, diversity director, and assistant vice president, as well as adjunct assistant professor teaching in the areas of higher education, humanities, developmental writing, African American studies, and social work. As a student-centered educator/consultant, she is experienced at developing culturally based curricula and conducting specialized professional development sessions on cultural competency and sensitivity educational training within academic and organizational settings. Additionally, she has lectured at a number of colleges and universities across the nation on issues pertinent to the Black experience and multiculturalism in higher education.

Dr. Hill is a proud graduate of Langston University — Oklahoma's only Historically Black University — where she received a bachelor of arts degree in broadcast journalism. Additionally, she holds a master of science in college teaching/student personnel services from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, and she earned a Ph.D. in higher and adult education with an emphasis in student development and minors in Black studies and educational counseling psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia — one of the nation's top-tier Research I institutions.

She holds membership in the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Langston University Alumni Association, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She is the proud mother of a daughter, Safisha Nzingha, who is a student at Langston University.

Dr. Hill sees her life mission as moving people forward through the vehicle of culturally grounded education.