50 best colleges for African Americans: a solid education, matched with the right opportunities, creates successful collegians: here are some strategies students should employ as they move from the college campus to the corner office and beyond.

Author:Sykes, Tanisha A.
 
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Attending college is a rebirth of sorts. You're smart, ambitious, young, and for the first time in your life, you get to do things your way. Heather Booker's chapter in her family's

Hampton University story began when she was 6 months old. She bounced on the knee of her great-grandpa as he and the school's alumni association members made grand plans for the thriving university, such as erecting a statue of Booker T. Washington, still a centerpiece of the campus.

Booker, 20, has since gotten to know the campus more intimately as a student. She hails from a long line of Hampton graduates that includes her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Her grandmother, Deloris Bryant-Booker, is a director of grant development for Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, while her grandfather, James Avery Booker Jr., is a retired trauma surgeon and colonel in the Air Force. In fact, she practically grew up on the campus with her mother. Dr. Karla Booker, an OB-GYN.

"I went [to Hampton] because these people have such love for the school," says Booker, referring to the network of support from professors and alumni that exists for students. "t wanted to be in a place where I was more than just a number. The experience of being at a black school offered me a foundation of history, resources, and examples of who I wanted to become."

As the senior prepares for graduation, she remains focused on keeping up her 3.5 GPA (as a Presidential Scholar); chairing the women's caucus; and taking an active role in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which she pledged last spring. "Being involved in different associations, you never know who you're going to meet. It's a chance to find students that are on the same track as you, and most important, it's an opportunity to be an example for someone else."

In addition to getting to know students like Booker, SLACK ENTERPRISE will show you what it takes to get the most out of your college years. We've developed a year-by-year strategy, from your freshman through senior years, that is chock-full of expert advice on how to make a smooth transition from college life to the professional world Each subject has completed the year in which he or she appears.

We've also included our exclusive ranking of the 50 Best Colleges for African Americans for your social and academic needs. There are few surprises on this year's list. The University of Chicago is the lone newcomer, mostly because of its increase in black student graduation rates. (For more information on how we crunched the numbers, see the methodology.)

It's up to you to choose the school that's best for you. This ready reference is designed to keep you on point during your college years.

Since most of her family went to historically black colleges and universities, everyone thought Marcie Graham would attend one, too. Yet in September of 2003, the rising sophomore landed right in the heart of the Big Apple as a metropolitan studies student at New York University. So why break family tradition? "I wanted to do something different and more career-focused," says Graham, 19, originally from Memphis, Tennessee. The aspiring entertainment lawyer knew her career preference would land her in either New York or Los Angeles.

Armed with a 4.9 GPA out of a total of 5.0, Graham received a Presidential Scholar award worth $25,000 over four years--the highest honor a student can receive--and headed north. While catching the subway to classes and strolling through Man hattan's Washington Square Park she learned a few things during her first year in college. "Grades should always be the focus of why you're there. It has to come from [within]," she says. Graham also suggests that students should hit the road for their college experience: "If you're from the South, go north; if you're from the East, go west. You have no money, you can't cook, and those experiences are what you need to build character."

Many experts say freshman year yields all sorts of discovery. "This time is all about learning about college life, familiarizing yourself with organizations, clubs, and the resources that the institution offers," says John Augliera, career coordinator at the Career Services Center at Lehman College. In essence, attending college is about moving to another level and implementing these tools are the first steps.

Get to know your new environment. When you have freshman orientation, you receive a lot of material that explains the school's resources. Don't simply stack the materials in a corner; take the time to read them, highlighting areas of interest. Next, find out how to get involved. Take note of where the health services, career centers, tutoring centers, and financial aid offices are located. You will spend a lot of time in these places if you're taking full advantage of your college's resources. Also, visit the minority/diversity office for more services. Or maybe there's a school newspaper, an Intranet, or a school Website that you can peruse. For example, Georgetown University outlines a full plan on its Website to let yon know what you should be doing each year. Also, consider volunteering as a tour guide to experience your school and gain firsthand exposure to all it has to offer.

Make the grade. Although some say the economy is picking up, it's still an employer's market. That means you want to do "all you can to distinguish yourself from the pack. "I plan to make As," says Graham. "I know I have to study more ... but I look around the class to see who's naturally talented and then look at what I need to do to get there." Even if you're not the smartest kid in the class, you can improve your GPA by getting a tutor, attending a writing workshop, going to study groups, and asking your professors for help. When you get in front of potential employers, however, "they are not just looking for that top GPA; they are looking for students to articulate what they've learned, expecting to hear what you bring to the table," says Jean Muhammad, a former visiting professor at Florida A&M University who taught professional development courses until last spring. "It's that business entity that goes beyond the grades."

Develop a team of supporters. It's very important to gather with like-minded individuals, from peers to mentors to advisers. "Surround yourself with achievers--peers who are really serious about succeeding. Share your story with them and vice versa to help you get through the tough times," says Kim Wells, director of the career services office at Howard University. "You can seek them out just by conversation. You'll hear the ones who have lofty goals about being a doctor, senator, etc., and then decide for yourself who has the same level of energy that you have." In addition, meet with your academic adviser to discuss career goals, registration requirements, deadlines, and perhaps, upcoming internship opportunities.

Your adviser can offer academic support throughout your college career, so consult him or her often. It might be prudent to speak to the dean of students and the head of the major and minor academic departments you're considering. It's this group that will help you focus on the task at hand--whether the goal is to become a world-famous botanist or travel the globe on a peace mission, Ask lots of questions, pay attention to the advice, and commit Lot, he process, even if you are not clear about the end result.

Put the social scene into perspective. This is a great time to make friends with people who will become Lifelong buddies, But you don't want to become a social butterfly to the detriment of your schoolwork. "Often, it's hard to make the transition into having that much freedom," says Carol J. Carter, author of Majoring in the Rest of Your Life, Fourth Edition (Lift-Bound; $16.95). "It's better to be moderate as you enter your freshman year. Don't skip going to parties; just don't go to them five nights a week." For tips on time management, see sidebar "Back-to-School Basics."

Start small. You don't have to do everything at once. "You need to take care of yourself first," says Carter, who is also founder and president of LifeBound (www.lifebound.com), a seminar and coaching company for high school and college students. "For example, instead of taking 18 credits, take 12. Once you've proven yourself [and have mastered the amount of work], you can increase your course load." The idea is to start small so that...

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