More than 2,500 Washington-area students attended the third annual College Career Day last week at Howard University, an event signifying a major decision facing college-bound black students: whether to attend a predominantly white or a historically black institution.
Sponsored by the Washington Interalumni Council of the United Negro College Fund, the conference is designed to inform and try to attract high schoolers to UNCF's 42 member institutions and the 65 other historically black colleges around the country.
Alumni, college counselors and recruiters who represented more than 60 institutions and career fields at the conference also offered helpful advice to local students on making other decisions that any college-bound youngster must make: whether to attend a four- or two-year institution, in an urban or rural setting, distant or close to home, secular or religious, how to prepare for college and how to get help paying for it.
Although District students have access to a number of courses, seminars and other resources to help in making those choices, one of the biggest choices for the black student remains that of attending a historically black or a predominantly white college.
"At a larger white university, the black urban student may be just another number," said Ura Jones, who worked at predominantly white Oberlin College before becoming a counselor at Lincoln University in Pennyslvania. "But at a black school, these kids are our future. We will take the time to see them develop."
For black students in a predominantly white institution, added W. Fred Thompson, president of the Washington Interalumni Council of UNCF, "there are things inherent in that environment that are alien to them. There are still problems throughout our country; there are times when certain subcultures are not understood by other parts of the society."
"We actively and aggressively are recruiting the better students and we also take the students that other schools might turn down," Thompson added.
"We have found oftentimes there was a great deal of misinformation on the part of black students about black institutions; for example, most black students don't know the faculties are integrated."
The historically black colleges were once the training ground for the leadership of black America; over the last two decades, however, many black students have bypassed them in favor of white institutions that may offer more extensive financial aid, support activities and career exposure.
Thompson maintains, however, that "the advantage in going to a predominantly black institution is that in a white school one of the problems is that the social program is basically designed for whites. Many times blacks can deal with the curriculum but the social atmosphere is really alien to them."
Nationwide, eight out of 10 blacks who are college graduates attended one of the 107 schools, Thompson said.
Many of the schools' graduates then go on to white institutions for post-graduate degrees, he said, but "our position is that black colleges give students a sound basis for a career. We do not say that students who attend black institutions will either get master's degrees or PhDs from black institutions."
Many of the students attending the conference said they believe the potential for racial problems to be an important factor in choosing a college, and that they would be more comfortable at a black institution.
Ballou High School senior Michelle Worsley, who plans to study pre-med, said that although she will have to work and study in a predominantly white environment in the future, she has chosen to begin her college career at Hampton Institute.
"When it comes, I'll deal with it," said Worsley, 17. "I'll just cross that bridge when I come to it."
Banneker High junior Lisa Williams, who wants to study aeronautical engineering, has narrowed her choices to Fisk University, Tuskegee Institute and the University of Virginia, but she is concerned about entering an environment that is nearly all white.
"I wouldn't know how to deal with it," said Williams, 16. "I would probably leave school."
Ballou senior Jimmy Neal and Banneker junior Letitia Carolina, on the other hand, said the racial composition of the school is not a priority. Neal chose to seek admission to the University of Maryland's Eastern Shore campus, while Carolina hopes to study engineering at Tuskegee, George Washington, Catholic University or the University of Maryland's main campus at College Park.
Although social life, curricula and racial climate are important factors in the choice of a college, counselors and recruiters underscore that for many graduates of urban high schools an insufficient academic preparation may be as great a problem.
Experts on making the passage from high school to college, some of whom were available at the career day conference, offered numerous guidelines to help the college-bound youngster.
For instance, in choosing a college:
* Abandon the pack mentality common during high school, advises George W. Brown III, admissions officer of Norfolk State University.
* Forget status and where your friends are going to school.
* Do not be swayed by televised athlethic contests; the college with the best teams may not be the place for you.
* Begin the economic search for college funding in the beginning of the junior year of high school. The days of easy access to federal grants and loans are over. Be prepared to work while attending college if necessary.
Lincoln University's Jones advised students to enhance their academic preparation and attitude before coming to college:
* Bone up on algebra, physics and basic English skills.
* Attitude and motivation can be more important than straight A's in high school. If you have basic deficiencies and are willing to take the extra courses and study, you can achieve your goals.
Fayetteville (N.C.) State University graduate Barbara McElwaie emphasized preparedness:
Decide early on a major. See if it fits your academic background, and work toward it.
* Even if you don't plan to go to college immediately after graduation, stay in the college preparatory courses and take the proper standardized examinations to be prepared.
Many of the advisers were unanimous in advice to parents:
* Demand the best of your children in their schoolwork, especially diligence in regard to homework, reading, and written and oral communication skills.
* Take your prospective college students to nearby colleges and universities, at home and while on vacation, talk to the students and alumni to get a feel for the campus.
* Participate in the process of college selection. Speak with high school counselors and financial aid officers.
In career choice:
In addition to the college selection courses, the District's public schools have programs designed to give the student an edge in the job market, including several out-of-classroom programs, clubs and special college prepatory tracks.
* The computerized Guidence Information System holds facts and figures on more than 2,500 colleges and graduates schools, $750 million in scholarships and 2,500 careers.
* The Public-Private Partnership clubs, aimed at college-minded teens, allow students at particular schools to learn from working professionals in several careers including business, engineering and health occupations.
* Six Career Development Centers offer internships in specialized areas and aid the student continuing on to a four-year college, a two-year technical school or an entry-level job from high school.
* Project Enrich prepares 9th and 10th-grade students for college through two years of emphasizing study habits, test-taking, interview skills, resume writing and college evaluation.
Project Explore is operated in conjunction with Strayer Business College and offers students hands-on experience in data and word processing, accounting and court reporting.
In addition to the complement of federally funded student aid programs, there are a number of scholarships targeted to black colleges and specifically to District residents:
* United Negro College Fund has a scholarship program with New York's Citibank offering up to to $2,500 a year at 9 percent interest to those attending a member institution.
* Reserve Office Training Corps (ROTC) offers a four-year scholarship package, with a $100 monthly stipend for the accepted student who, upon graduation, will enter a four-year tour of duty in the military.
* The State Student Incentive Grant offers between $400 and $2,000 to the District resident accepted by an accredited college or university. This grant is available only to freshmen and must be applied for by June 30.
* The D.C. Army National Guard offers a two-fold program to eligible members and potential recruits: a direct assistance program and a loan repayment program. Potential recruits participating in the direct loan program receive up to $1,000 a year for four years, and must enlist in the Guard for six years.
* The Junior Fellowship Program provides vacation employment in government agencies for college students in their fields of study, with the possibility of full-time employment upon graduation.
* The Co-Op program affords students alternating semesters of government employment. The students in the Co-Op program usually take five years to earn a degree.