By Nicole Tinson, Contributor to HBCU Buzz

So you are leaving home for the first time ever and are attending your HBCU of choice. Whether it’s down the street or across the country, be ready because your life is going to change forever.

Here are a few tips to maximize your black college experience.

1. Be Sure Your Financial Aid is Taking Care Of

… Beforehand. Don’t make the mistake of not checking your financial aid package before school starts.

The line when you arrive for orientation in financial aid is worse than the line at the DMV. Reviewing your financial aid package to see what scholarships, loans, and grants you have received will allow you to see whether everything is paid for (or whether you need to find more funding). If you have a credit balance, that means everything is taken care of and you will have money given back to you; this is also known as a refund check or overpayment check. If your account says amount due, this is the amount you need to find.

Be sure to use websites like (it actually works),, or, or reach out to local organizations and churches. In 2014, people are even using sites like GoFundme to raise money. Never allow money to be the reason you do not pursue higher education.

2. Refund Checks

I spoke about having a credit balance and how you can get money back, but taking the extra money is not always a good thing. Sometimes the credit balance comes from an excess in loans (money you WILL have to pay back).

Be sure you understand what you are doing when you decide to take the $2,000 check that will need to be paid back to a tune of nearly $3,500 with today’s interest’s rates. Try your best to graduate with the least amount of student loans. Some of your professors are still paying back their loans and the interest rates weren’t nearly as high as they are now. Declining to take the money will pay off in the long run when it is time to buy a brand new car, new house, or business.

Graduating debt free is the way to be. For more information regarding loans, grants, and scholarships issued by the federal government along with information about interest rates, be sure to check out FAFSA.

3. Roommates

Your first year roommate can make or break your college experience, but I am here to encourage you to think on the positive side.

When you walk into your dormitory, you will more than likely meet someone you have never seen a day in your life, and this can be a great thing… If you allow it to be. Entering your room can be the beginning of a bond so strong, you will wonder what you were worried about to begin with. Being open-minded, genuine, and yourself will allow you and your roommate to get along (in most cases).

When you fill out your housing application, most schools ask what your preferences are: are you messy or clean? Are you loud or quiet? Do you like having guests over or prefer to be private? Be honest when filling your application out so you don’t end up living with someone who does not match you. These questions help determine a roommate who is compatible with your lifestyle. Also, be in mind that you should be respectful of your roommate and their things. Don’t borrow (or eat their food) without asking. In the beginning, your roommate will be the person you go to breakfast, lunch and dinner with, the person you go to homecoming and welcome week events with.

4. Work Hard Play Hard

During your first year in undergrad, it is VERY easy to get distracted by the parties, social events, and community service activities that are offered, but you have to remember what you are there first for… TO GET AN EDUCATION.

Your grades during your first and second year well set the tone for the rest of your undergraduate experience. It’s hard to pull your GPA up and easy for it to slip, so it is best to start off your first year STRONG. When you work hard, you can reward yourself, but only if you deserve it. Saying, “I got a C on my paper” when you know you were capable of getting a “B” won’t cut it. Earning high grades are a reward in itself. You are eligible to receive more scholarship funding, you make the dean’s list and most of all you make your family and yourself proud. Always put forth your best effort, ask questions, and visit your professor during office hours.

Hold yourself accountable. If you are struggling with a course, let your professor know and also be sure to visit tutoring centers on your campus. Schools would love for you to stay there 10 years so they can collect more money from you, but I am sure they are more committed to seeing you graduate in 4-5 years as projected.

5. Greek Life

The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) is a collaborative organization of nine historically African American, international Greek lettered fraternities and sororities. The nine NPHC organizations are sometimes collectively referred to as the “Divine Nine”. We have all watched Stomp the Yard, and some of us may have family members or mentors that are a part of a Greek Organization, and they inspire us to join an organization but there are some big things to know.

The first being DISCRETION. Discretion is defined as the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information. Be sure if you are interested in an organization you do your research and keep that to yourself. Don’t share this with anyone. I started my research by reading a book called The Divine Nine by Lawrence Ross. I would also check out Greek 101 by Walter Kimbrough.

Secondly, in the age of social media, be sure not to share anything on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Once you share something on the internet, it will never be forgotten and with screen shots nothing on earth can be deleted. There is a huge misperception that Greek life is solely about partying and “running the yard” but there is so much more to the “divine nine”. On HBCU campuses, a great hand of the leaders, scholars and achievers are members of a “divine nine” organization. While it is cool to see them step, stroll, they also do service oriented projects not only for the campus community, but the cities community that you are on.

Please keep this in mind, and huge tip you usually don’t get, “DON’T BREAK ANYONES LINE AT A PARTY.” This means, don’t try to walk through, walk in front of or in the vicinity of a Greek organization’s line while they are stepping or strolling. Between me and you, they feel it is disrespectful, and if you have aspirations, you don’t want to be that person who breaks the line.