Young enrolled at Howard University at the age of twenty-seven, intending to major in music. After struggling through a biology course with African American biologist Ernest Everett Just, she changed her major to that subject, earning a B.S. in 1923. Just hired her as an assistant professor at Howard while she attended graduate school. The next year, Young enrolled at the University of Chicago in Illinois part-time and published her first article on paramecium which achieved international recognition. She received her M.S in Zoology in 1926 and was elected to the honor society Sigma Xi.