College Road Trip to Washington, D.C.: Howard University

Kennedy Gerard visited several historically Black universities on a bus tour up the East Coast her senior year of high school. But it wasn’t until she was on the campus of Howard University, the last stop, that she found exactly the vibrant culture and diverse community that she was looking for.

“The atmosphere was just different,” says Gerard, a political science major who hails from LaPlace, Louisiana, and graduated one year early this past July.

At Howard, it’s common in nonpandemic times to see impromptu fraternity and sorority step shows and students playing musical instruments, jumping rope and gathering with friends on “the Yard,” a green space in the center of campus. The more than 6,500 undergraduates come from 48 states and 71 countries, yet students say they feel a strong sense of unity.

[Read: A Guide to HBCUs. ]

“There’s always music and concerts going on,” says Amorr Nelson, a fourth-year student in Howard’s accelerated six-year B.S./M.D. program. “The community alone gives me the confidence boost that I need to succeed.”

Nelson, who is from New York City, was drawn to Howard University Medical Center’s focus on serving the underserved. While the program is challenging — students overload on undergraduate credits the first two years — it brings major cost savings to those set on entering the medical field, along with opportunities in clinical and research work across Howard’s colleges of medicine, nursing & allied health sciences, dentistry and pharmacy.

At Howard, “you see the physical manifestations of what people have told you that you cannot be,” Nelson says. “There’s constant encouragement to push yourself and do more.”

An inspiring list of alumni includes Vice President Kamala Harris, author Toni Morrison, actor Chadwick Boseman and actress Taraji P. Henson.

[READ: Diversity Questions for Colleges: What to Ask.]

Howard’s determination to eliminate barriers to education — just under half of students are Pell Grant recipients — and its expansive offerings set the university apart from its HBCU peers, says President Wayne A. I. Frederick. The 256-acre campus atop a hill in Northwest Washington is home to 13 schools and colleges offering more than 140 majors and programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, engineering and architecture.

The university is the top producer of minority students in medicine, journalism, law and business. If Howard doesn’t offer a course, students can enroll in classes at schools nearby, including Georgetown, George Washington and George Mason universities.

To explore academic opportunities further off campus, students can participate in dozens of study abroad programs. Despite her rigorous medical curriculum, Nelson traveled to Mexico to work in a pediatric clinic in her second year.

With a student-faculty ratio of 10:1, and more than 50% of classes having fewer than 20 students, Howard feels small, Gerard says, and “you can really get a personal connection with professors.” Within her political science major, Gerard formed close bonds with her professors in classes on Black politics and policing, and during her last (virtual) year at Howard — it was virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic — she snagged a campaign internship, working mostly in person, with a judge back home in Louisiana.

[READ: 21 Places Worth Seeing on College Tours.]

Hands-on academic opportunities such as Howard West — an immersive computer science program at Google’s headquarters — and Howard Entertainment — a partnership between the university and Amazon Studios — provide ample ways for participants to learn from, and network with, industry professionals.

Beyond academics, Howard offers more than 200 clubs and activities. The “Bleed Blue Crew” cheers on 21 NCAA Division I teams, and many students join geographic clubs like California Club or Texas Club. Some 8% of undergrads opt to join a historically Black Greek organization; Howard is home to all of the Divine Nine organizations in the National Pan-Hellenic Council, and five were founded at the school.

Just steps away from campus are U Street’s restaurants and bars, where some entrepreneurial students set up pop-up shops in the retail spaces. Two metro stops provide easy access to other D.C. neighborhoods, where students say they enjoy joining demonstrations for causes they are passionate about and visiting city attractions like the Smithsonian museums and D.C.’s monuments and memorials.

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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2022” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.

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