5 Tips for Managing Natural Hair in College

By Geniece of Beautifully Made

It’s that time of year of again. The rush of term papers, Friday and Saturday night social events, all-nighters: Yup, back to school. If you will be going away to college for the first time, you will soon discover that hair care will often fall low on your priority list as you juggle a new and exciting academic and social life. Before I went away to college my mother was a ready and available hair care lay-expert and I had a number of hair salons within walking distance from my house. Going to college in a not so diverse town in upstate New York was not only a culture shock but taught me that I would have to learn how to care for my hair. If you are natural you’re already ahead of the curve because when I went away to college I was still relaxed, which meant maintaining my hair required using a harsh chemical that could have spelled disaster in the hands of an unskilled teenager. This is not to say that it will be a cake walk if you’re natural but you can certainly manage your hair on a weekly basis without causing damage. Here are a few hair care tips that you may want to take into consideration.

1. Stock up on products before you head to school

If your school is located in an area in which “ethnic” hair care products are not easily available please consider stocking up before you board the plane or drive miles away. Two or three bottles of shampoo and conditioner, your favorite leave in and styler should keep you until Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday. Even if there aren’t any beauty supply stores in your neighborhood consider checking out the availability of products at CVS, Walgreens and similar stores, which have several options available. While ordering online is always an option, you will probably want to save your money for book shipping costs or for what my younger sister called “emergency outfits” for social events.

2. Keep your styles simple

There will be weeks when you have NO TIME for anything not related to studying for an exam or writing a paper. As such you will need to identify a go to, easy hairstyle so that you can walk around campus looking presentable. While I have seen my fair share of brightly colored head wraps and du-rags in the library during midterms and finals, it is possible to keep it classy while prepping to ace your economics final. If you choose to keep your hair in a simple bun, be sure to moisturize it every two days. When your hairstyle becomes frizzy simply mist it with water and tie it down with a scarf. You may even find that this unintentional protective style actually holds benefits for your hair.

3. Watch out for cigarette smoke/party smells

I wasn’t much into parties in college but living in a dorm I became familiar with party smells. That’s right, smells. Parties held off campus will possibly have the aroma of cigarette smoke. This smell will cling to your perfectly fluffed fro.  There’s not much to do to get rid of the smell but to wash it out so be prepared to possibly reserve Sundays for your hair washing day.

4. Find a “campus stylist”

Instead of doling out money to go to get your hair braided or twisted at a local salon identify the campus stylists. I’m a big fan of do-it-yourself hair care but I have yet to master cornrowing and even if I did there may be times when I’d be too lazy to style my hair. If you can find the individuals on campus who can braid you will be able to get your hair styled for a fraction of the cost of a salon. If you’re a freshman ask upperclassmen to point you in the direction of the best campus hair stylists.

5. Have fun!

College was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. While there are seasons of busyness, don’t allow the drama of others to dampen your experience or stress you out. I have seen the effects of unnecessary drama on one’s physical appearance, including hair. Enjoy this special time in your life, make friends and wear your beautiful ,natural hair proudly.

Ladies, what tips can you give to college naturals?

There are 62 comments

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  1. Antoyia

    I read this article and I have to laugh at myself because I surely could have used these tips 10 years ago when I decided to go natural. I just had got fed up with my hair not “holding a style” and just cut it off. I had no idea what to expect from my natural hair or how to care for it. And I cut it in the dead of the winter in Kansas…talking frigid winds and drops in temperature. Another tip, not necessarily in the likes of maintaining your hair, but loving it! I would add to be aware of “hair envy”, don’t assume your hair is going to have the likes of every other natural, love the hair YOU have!

  2. MalloryLeigh McDougal

    Haven’t been to college yet but thank god for this post! I would never think about smells staying in hair (even though cigarettes leave scents on everything.) I wonder if they have hair perfume out there somewhere…

  3. Jasmine Phillips

    I graduated from college last year and I wish I would’ve had this guide before! I can still use this tips today though so thank you 🙂

  4. London Colvin

    I’m in college right now and I would one tip I would suggest is to invest in a hooded dryer for tourself. Deep treatments are a must and hair appointments get costly, so anything DIY is a life saver!

  5. Danielle Stuckey

    I’m in college now. Just learned how to do my own hair in Marley hair. Best decision yet! I just wish I would’ve done this my first 3 years of college.

  6. Weslee

    Ahh I wish I read this before my undergrad years, but I definitely will follow while approaching grad school. Now that I’m more informative of the needs of being natural I’m going to dedicate myself to three full graduate years of healthy hair. Thanks for the tips l!

  7. Renz Hanson

    Im in college now, everything is actually new yo me since ive only been natural for a few months. I find wash n go to b d best technique while still getting to know the dos and donts associated with natural hair.

  8. Millennial Mama

    Good tips! I wish I had them handy in my undergrad days. I stuck with ‘blow outs’ and box braids because I didn’t know what to do!

  9. Nekisha Poinsett

    Great tips, my number one would be keeping it simple. There is no time for hair when u have mid terms, papers, soros

  10. Sandra Balanga

    It was easy for me to focus on the basics
    Coconut oil
    Olive oil
    Castor oil
    Black soap ( for hair, face and body)
    Raw Shea butter (for body and hair)

    This saved me $$$ and helped my hair grow healthy.

  11. Kiara Hines

    For me, the biggest tip I would give is leaving time out to do your hair. I have a heavy course load so if I don’t actively plan out when I will do my hair, it will get lost in the shuffle of my day to day life. I would suggest for those people who are in my same shoes to write it on a calendar or save the date and time in your phone so you’ll remember.

  12. Veronica Hutchings

    College is a time of exploration everything my hair included. It waslong,short, shaved, etc. Have fun with it!

  13. Tiffany InspireMe Creatively

    So this article rings so true. I went natural in college and quickly realized all of these things. My floor mate was natural and was a huge help during my time on campus. Thankfully target and cvs were closeby so I was able to stock up on my bogo free shea moisture deals. College is an amazing time to really cone to terms with what it means to be natural. The whole education process, I must give a huge shout out to jenel and kccm. I learned everything from you and I can now teach others. Thank you! !

  14. Shalaynia A. Hairston

    If you are a lazy natural busy with classes, you’re not going to want to focus on your hair 24/7. While I applaud women that can spend forever twisting up there hair every night, and getting up early for classes, while also having time for studies (and work, ijs), there is nothing wrong with protective styling. Just make sure you keep up with the health of you’re hair.

  15. Garmah

    I agree with keeping it simple. As a college student myself, I do not have time for hairstyles that will take too much time. That is why during the middle of the semester I like to get braids so it can last me until the end of finals which gives me one less thing to stress about.

  16. Stephanie

    When I was in college, my hair was relaxed. I did my own, and was good at it, as I had been doing my own hair, throughout highschool. I was even one of the “campus stylists.” Even though I was not natural in college, I can still offer a word of advice, as a natural now. Take time to learn and understand your hair. Be proud of its natural state, and don’t be afraid to be “you”nique!

  17. Juliana

    The first tip was a must for me. I went to school in a small town and finding products was such a struggle. Also, for me, braids were my go to style and made my life so much easier

  18. Mz. Nishia Star

    During my college years I always watched for sale items. Also, be aware if the tax is cheaper at your school or at your college. When stocking up products, it might be best to do it where the cheapest tax is.

  19. Leanora

    Great tips. I will definitely passing these on to my niece as she will be starting college next year. When I was in school # 1, 2, & 3 were critical for me. I did not have a stylist as I was ok with just wearing a Bun most of the time and 5 is just a given. Love this article

  20. Maria Raby

    The first time I went natural was in college. It was hard at times to manage my hair but not impossible. I recommend keeping it moisturized as often as possible and retwisting at night, especially if you have type 4 hair like I do. I know that it isn’t always easy to do this to the hair nightly but if you can moisturize your hair even a few times a week it helps a lot. I also recommend styling you twists in different ways. This was something I did that was easy but low maintenance. It also meant that it was a low manipulation style so I could protect my ends and retain more moisture and length.

  21. Ebony Baker-Jamerson

    My very first big chop while I was in college. I went to a school with a very small percentage of African American students and in a town without any African American salons. I had to maintain my hair myself. It’s all about time management. I would wash my hair 3 times a week while showering, dry with an old tee and use the time doing work or studying to deep condition. Every two weeks I would do a clay masque and hot oil treatment. I would trim my ends any time I saw them looking bad and I mostly wore my hair out in a wash and go, a twist out that I twisted after studying, or a puff. It made my life simple. I ordered my products online and used jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, organic coconut oil, tea tree oil and olive oil. I also ordered my Shea Butter and Hawaiian silky 14 in 1. I used shampoos once every 2 weeks and would co-wash with ogx or herbal essence hello hydration.

  22. joni

    These tips are very real. Especially tip 3. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to have clean hair but still have to jump in the shower and wash because my wonderful twist out now smells of smoke. The tip I would add is to find a group of curly sisters you can swap products with as this saves money. On your journey you might buy something that doesn’t work for you but works wonders for another Curly Girl. Keep swapping till you find the products best for you.

  23. Bianca Marsh Carter

    Make your own deep conditioner!!
    Add evoo to any regular conditioner, sit with plastic bag for at least 20min. And you should be good.
    Do it as often as u can…

  24. Jackie Penn

    Really great tips here! My hair was relaxed in college ? but I still faced the same problem. It can be a little scary being in charge of your hair for the first time. I would also say having patience is key.

  25. Jasmyn

    Protective Styling is a college girls fav! I would say stay consistent with your hair regimen. Too much manipulation of the hair can cause breakage.

  26. Deborah Love

    My granddaughter transitioned to natural in high school & is now an 18 yr old sophomore. She spend most of her freshmen yr coming home to get her hair braided, etc. Well she learned how to do it all her self, pared down her supplies and looks so beautiful. She wears mostly sengalese twist, nubian twists, crochet braids during the school year & leaves those behind during the summer. Good tips.

  27. Domonique Robinson Brown

    My sister in law transitioned her first year in college… She definitely had a hard time with the products part, but she kept her hair in protection styles most everyday so she never really needed to many products. But she definitely had the help of a campus stylest! These things are a must and will make life so much easier

  28. Lisa Arnold

    Thanks for the 5 tips for managing natural hair while in College. Very helpful, think every college natural needs this. Wish my daughter had this during her 1st year in College. Boy what a struggle! 1st off finding the products that worked best for her & keeping the products on hand and styling. But that’s all about your natural journey, right?. It took her a while, but she has it on lock now. Will still pass on these much need to know tips so that she can share with new naturals coming aboard. Thanks

  29. Jametta Alston

    I went back to school and found the advice to be valuable even in my 50s. I appreciat the “stock up” advice because I have found that money does not stretch as far when you are a student. Now to go off and find that stylist on campus …

  30. Shanea Denise

    Growing up my mom has always been big on sales, rain checks, coupons the whole nine. When I went to college I pulled out all of these tools. I watched tutorial after tutorial. It was my roommate who had introduced me to natural products and I taught her how to save on them. Now I still only stock up on sales and clearances. I never knew how to do my hair so it is definitely important to know prior to college. Too much time wasting on learning new styles when you should be studying.

  31. Simone Sang

    Yes, campus stylist is a must…when you can’t afford to go to the hair dresser it’s always nice to have that one dorm room to go to. Fortunately, I had 2 good stylist my dorm, cornrows or twistvin front with the back out was my staple lol

  32. Danielle LakersCrabbe-Bethune

    I am currently a full time college student, with a career as a Staffing/Hiring Specialist for the United States Postal Service as well as a mother of 3 and a very happy wife. In other words, I’m extremely busy! The only thing I am missing is the dorm. I figured if I went to college online it would be easier. NO WAY! I had to figure washdays according to my busy schedule, wearing styles suitable for my profession and styles that looked cute for formal affairs. I also made sure I selected at least 4 stylists familiar with styling natural hair (not just braiding hair). Once I did all this, my natural hair became the least of my worries, minus the days I have wet spots here and there when I do a high ponytail at the last minute. Ughhhh.

  33. Natosha Hardy

    If I would have known these simple tips in college I would have went natural a long time ago…it wasnt until a year after that I felt the weight of getting back to my natural self upon me…lol but I am so happy that I did…I was on this blog everyday when I was transitioning and am so grateful for finding jenell on youtube because she was a big part of something that changed my life for the better!!!!

  34. Kayla v

    This tips are great especially when times get crazy in college! I actually transitioned in college by keeping a weave because I felt that I didnt have time to deal with the two textures and I was nervous about doing a bc..

  35. Chasity

    I live for number 4! I have no clue how to braid hair and am trying to find time to learn! I’m always on the search for an experienced and affordable braider near me to hook me up

  36. Alfrie Davis

    OMG Excatly what i been waiting on but so sad i just graduated! makes want to o back just to do these styles!

  37. Trice

    this is a great article as my little cousin will be heading to college next year. I will surely pass on these tips. I would say braids, or like the article mentioned find that girl on campus who can do hair and teach you. or you tube and try to come up with different styles that you can do yourself make it simple.

  38. Cynthia Mobley

    Great tips! My daughter will be heading to college in a couple of years and it’s my intentions to stock up on products before her departure. I’m also happy that she does her own research about natural hair.

  39. Darlene Mrsjaylove Howard

    My tip would be to have at least one pillow with a satin pillow case for those times you forget to tie up your hair. This helped me a lot.

  40. Deanna Mosley

    My best tip would be to work your natural hair care into your academic and social routine. For example, I have my wash day on Sunday mornings because I’ll do my chemistry homework after that. Not only am I more motivated to study after having clean hair, but it also makes it harder to neglect my natural hair care because it’s such an integral part of my academic routine.

  41. Shamieka Mason

    Those can be used for work. I am in the military so I do a lot of traveling and wearing my patrol cap.

  42. Erica Amaning

    also a tip i would add is that if your very lazy, you could put box braids in the winter as you are less prone to hair breakage.

  43. Gina

    My daughter and niece are in college both are natural and the love wearing the box braids. I keep a supply of products for them and when they come home they have no worries. I’m a couponer. Those hair care products can become very expensive. Thanks for the article.

  44. Charee Mason

    I wish this article was around when I was in college. I was able to find ways to go to the beauty shop, however when I wanted to a braided style, I had difficulty in getting to the shop. Which means spending time and money that I didn’t have. The one advise for college students who are natural like yourself is to interact with other naturals who may have great ideas surrounding hair care… It’s the support system that makes the transition worth it.

  45. JeriGrl

    Yes! Stocking up is a must! I went away to school with way too much product, lol, and I was still relaxed then!
    A big recommendation is figure out the water situation. A lot of ladies lost their length because of hard water. All those extra minerals in the water can wreck havoc on your hair if you’re unprepared. Make sure that you take that into consideration when taking care of those lovely locks.

  46. Ceondrea Phillips

    As a college student with a heavy work load I did protective style after protective style! My hair is 4c and, the shrinkage is no joke lol I think I am still in the awkward stage of hair growth so I can’t really rock a twa and, my hair can’t quite make a ponytail without hair sticking out all over the place.

    The protective styles I did was : Chunky twists and mini twists (using only my natural hair), yarn braids (which look like dreadlocks), and regular braids (using only my natural hair).
    When the chunky twists or mini twists started to look frizzy I would take them down with oil on my hands, add a little bit of water and, more oil to my hair and wear it for a couple more days as a twist out lol. When you don’t have the time sometimes you have to really stretch your styles lol

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