Why This FAMU Freshman Chose an HBCU Over Harvard

Ralph Jones Jr., a brilliant 16-year-old who had his pick of colleges and chose Florida A&M University, chatted with The Root about why he went with a historically black school over an Ivy League, and the negative attention he's getting for his decision.

Ralph Jones Jr.
Ralph Jones Jr.

Jones decided to write a note on his Facebook page to his detractors, explaining why FAMU was a better choice for him than Harvard, pointing to his internship offer from Lockheed Martin as an example of the opportunities available to FAMU students.

For Jones, the negativity being thrown his way has only reinforced his determination to be successful at FAMU and prove that he can receive an excellent education at an HBCU.

“I think that this only pushes me to work a little harder, and to show people that this was my decision and I stand behind it, and I’m not going to back down from it,” he said. “I’ve said over and over again that I’m a major in pre-engineering. And while a lot of people get upset that I didn’t attend an Ivy League institution, what they don’t realize is that [at] most Ivy League institutions — while I respect them for their liberal arts programs, their law programs, their prestige, the great contributions they’ve made to society, etc. — their colleges of engineering are really just in name as far as prestige is concerned. For example, Harvard’s [school] of engineering is still fairly new, while the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering is, I’d say, one of the best, if not the best, in the state.”

Questions have abounded in recent years over the relevance of HBCUs, but Jones said that he believes these schools are still very valuable for students looking for a specific type of college atmosphere and learning environment.

“Everyone knows why HBCUs were founded, because of racial segregation and how African Americans couldn’t attend mainstream institutions,” he said. “Now that things have been righted and it is a possibility — I can attest to that — I think HBCUs are valuable now more so for the experience.

“I believe Florida A&M is unlike any other college in the world just because of the HBCU experience here: the step shows, the band, the night life. It’s all unique,” Jones continued. “When it comes down to it, the family feeling — I didn’t feel that at other institutions, because I visited a lot of schools. And this is the only one [where] I felt like I was part of something larger.”

Lauren Williams is The Root‘s associate editor.

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