AS A BLACK high school student, you bring a special set of needs and concerns to the college selection process. You
are concerned about your psychological as well as your academic survival. For that reason, matching your special circumstances with what a college offers-- especially predominantly white schools--takes a different path than the process used by nonblack applicants.
But that matching process can be made easier if you concentrate first on taking inventory of yourself and then determining what you need in three crucial areas: academic support services, general climate and social life.
The first part of that process requires your asking who you are and what do you want? A single-sex versus a coed institution, large as opposed to small, liberal arts or technical, private versus public, East or West--all are factors which must be narrowed down according to your special makeup. Don't forget to ask what you can offer the school, and how you can contribute to it.
Although the historically black colleges are struggling for survival, the issue of black versus white colleges is becoming more crucial as black applicants consider the financial and other advantages of these schools. Have you lived in an integrated or all-black neighborhood, and do you want to reverse or expand on these life experiences? Do you get along with all kinds of people? If your background has been with mostly black circles, enrollment at a predominantly white school may result in the same "culture shock" a University of Georgia undergraduate experienced. She arrived on campus to discover 785 blacks (or 4.5 percent) among the 17,300 undergraduates.
One strong case made by black students at predominantly white colleges is that they are learning about the white world they will be entering after graduation.
Although black colleges can't offer this daily interaction, and although their facilities may be less modern and their faculty too overworked to publish regularly, they can provide a warmer emotional tone that will assist your academic progress. The sense of mission and unity permeates the black campus. And it is unlikely that students will undergo any of the racist slights that have occurred to their brothers and sisters on white campuses throughout the country.
The second part of the matching process should focus on what you will need as a result of the kind of preparation your high school has or has not given you. Will you need to beef up certain skills and establish certain nonexistent ones? Support services like those offered at the University of Maryland, College Park, may interest you. They include a wide range of counseling and tutorial services and minority peer advisers and study skills labs. But highly selective William and Mary may require you to fend for yourself more: it provides a summer transition program for entering black freshmen and high school juniors, but little in the way of year-long services. Virginia's six-week summer program aimed at enhancing poor academic skills is well-regarded, and Johns Hopkins' services encompass tutoring, study-tips packets, review sessions and even an exam file kept by the Black Student Union.
If anything, the extent of the school's support services is an indication of the commitment the college has to helping black students weather the academic storms long enough to earn that degree.
General climate, a catchall phrase, embraces matters like the existence of cliques, interaction between students and faculty and students and administration, alumni contact and overall racial climate. It is especialy important for blacks considering predominantly white schools to get a sense of the climate, for feeings of isolation may be stronger there than on black campuses.
You should not expect any predominantly white school to be a racial paradise, and you must keep in mind that you are attending college primarily to obtain an education. In other words, you will need the same kind of maturity about the general climate as students at the Rhode Island School of Design. They are there because it is one of the very best art schools in the country, and they overlook what many say is an insensitive mood toward blacks. However, relations between blacks and whites seem unusually smooth at Oberlin College in Ohio and at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Try also to find a school that is strong in nonacademic areas that are important to you. Brown has one of the most active black alumni groups in the Ivy League: it produces a newsletter, helps in recruiting and sponsors commencement forums. Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh has a President's Minority Student Advisory Committee that addresses the needs of black students.
When you review historically black colleges, you will note a climate of pride and tradition, even at the "Mecca" --Howard University--which has a reputation for being a party school and cliquish. Perhaps no chests are stuck out further than those of Morehouse men in Atlanta. Close faculty-student interaction, a commitment to the race and the knowledge that Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond and Maynard Jackson are among its graduates give the campus an air almost of mysticism.
Finally, you will want to match your social temperament with what the school offers. Your primary role is that of student, but you must enhance your personal and intellectual qualities through nonacademic pursuits also. Howard, known for its many distractions, is no place for the undisciplined. At Hampton Institute, on- and off-campus parties are plentiful, and are supplemented by bazaars, picnics, art exhibits and watermelon feasts.
Extracurricular activities at black schools may be more service-oriented. For example, Tougaloo College students in Mississippi have parties only on the weekends, and other respites from study include noonday prayer, community activities and game room events. Known for its fraternity parties, Morgan State also allows for a wide range of community-outreach activities.
The social scene at predominantly white schools will differ depending on the number of black students and the school's location. At Ivy League Dartmouth, tucked away in New Hampshire, the 253 black undergraduates seem to enjoy an endless round of frat parties. Additionally, black theater activities, daily black radio programming, a black gospel choir and a black newspaper expand the extracurricular activities. By contrast, the 50 black undergraduates at Davidson College in North Carolina have much fewer social outlets.
Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get an insider's view of a school's support services, general climate and social life without visiting the campus. Take along a notebook filled with questions and talk to as many alumni and current students as possible.