Hundreds of students at HBCU Fair gain sense of hope and head start for college admissions

by Angela A. Hughes

More than 500 high school juniors and seniors from around the Bay Area convened at San Francisco’s Mission High School for the Seventh Annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities Recruitment Fair. Dozens of students were admitted to schools on the spot while many walked away with merit-based scholarships.

HBCU-Fair-Iheem-Antone-admitted-to-Smith-Florida-Memorial-at-Mission-HS-091018-by-Don-Bowden-web-300x168, Hundreds of students at HBCU Fair gain sense of hope and head start for college admissions, Local News & Views
Iheem Antone, a student at City Arts & Tech High School and 100% College Prep, was accepted into Johnson C. Smith University and Florida Memorial University at the Seventh Annual HBCU Fair sponsored by the San Francisco Unified School District. – Photo: Don Bowden

The event was hosted by the San Francisco Unified School District’s African American Achievement & Leadership Initiative (AAALI) and the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators in partnership with the United College Action Network (UCAN). The annual fair provides students with an opportunity to get a head start in the college admissions process while learning about historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and seeing them as viable options.

“The District has done a lot of work surrounding college preparation within recent years and this fair became another resource for opportunity in addition to California State Universities and University of California,” says AAALI Post-Secondary Pathways Manager Linda Martley-Jordan.

Prior to the HBCU Fair’s creation seven years ago, African American students, in particular, were unfamiliar with the range of options available to them. She says the fair has allowed students the option to choose between two-year institutions and four-year institutions.

“The mere exposure to HBCUs has sophomores and juniors planning their college trajectory,” Martley-Jordan says. “We see this as an intentional push into creating a college-going culture among African American students and others.”

Among those students was Andrea Combet’s daughter, who was all smiles once she warmed up to the process. “The first table she went up to was Hampton University. The admissions person was so encouraging. I just felt like it really broke the ice because after that, she was just making the rounds, stepping up and shaking hands,” her mother, Ms. Combet, says. Her daughter had already been accepted into three universities, including Hampton, before moving on to meet with other admissions representatives.

HBCU-Fair-crowd-Mission-HS-091018-by-Don-Bowden-300x199, Hundreds of students at HBCU Fair gain sense of hope and head start for college admissions, Local News & Views
More than 500 San Francisco juniors and seniors in high school crowded into the HBCU Fair at Mission High School on Sept. 10. – Photo: Don Bowden

In addition to being admitted into colleges and universities, many students were offered merit-based scholarships, tackling one of the biggest deterrents to attending college: affordability.

“One of the things that keeps students motivated and involved is hope. Often, college seems so far away and the dollars to make it happen are even further away. When these students come here, they are not only excited about these historically Black colleges and universities but they also get funding on the spot. It’s exciting to see it happen for so many of our students,” says San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews as he greeted students and offered words of encouragement as they completed applications.

Financing higher education, among other things, makes this fair one of the most highly anticipated college events of the year and, for many, is the only exposure to HBCUs. Top HBCUs like Hampton University, Virginia State University, Morehouse College, Wilberforce University, Clark Atlanta University, Bennett College and Johnson C. Smith University embraced students and encouraged them to prepare for the college admissions process well ahead of their peers.

“I think it’s incredible that we get to do [this] in the beginning of the year because it sets this tone for both juniors and seniors. There’s a real pathway to college, and it’s not just this sort of dream, but here’s a meeting with an admissions counselor, here’s what your transcript looks like, and these are the things you need to do,” says Eric Gutherz, principal at Mission High School.

“That sets the stage really early on for students to apply to HBCUs not just today but throughout the year. All the kids right now already have their letters of recommendation ready to go and their personal statements ready to go. So, they’ve got a leg up as it is.”

HBCU-Fair-Andrea-Combet-daughter-admitted-to-Harris-Stowe-Tuskegee-and-Hampton-at-Mission-HS-091018-by-Don-Bowden-web-300x201, Hundreds of students at HBCU Fair gain sense of hope and head start for college admissions, Local News & Views
Andrea Combet is as proud as her daughter, who was admitted to Harris-Stowe, Tuskegee and Hampton Universities. – Photo: Don Bowden

Providing students with the resources to ensure their post-graduation success is essential. Exposing students to HBCUs not only allows them the option to attend institutions of higher learning that represent a rich heritage and culture, but it provides students with a sense of confidence and hope when applying to college.

“Events like this makes them strive even harder to achieve. They want to get the best grades possible so that they can get into the best universities and maximize those dollars,” says Dr. Matthews. “Hope helps students and it really pushes them to achieve at the highest level possible.”

Angela Hughes, with the San Francisco Unified School District, can be reached at