HBCU: What You Should Know Before Applying to a Historically Black College | Top Universities

HBCU: What You Should Know Before Applying to a Historically Black College

By Chloe Lane

Updated March 29, 2021 Updated March 29, 2021

What is an HBCU?

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) are universities in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and whose official mission is to ensure that students in the African American community receive a quality education. The university must also be accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency and association. 

Today’s HBCUs welcome students of all races and ethnicities. There are over 100 HBCUs in the United States to choose from, meaning that you can select the institution that offers the best course for you. 

Famous alumni from HBCUs include Dr Martin Luther King (Morehouse College), Andrew Young (Dillard University and Howard University), Toni Morrison (Howard University) and Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University).

HBCU eligibility

HBCU eligibility

Students of any race and ethnicity can apply for an HBCU, provided that they meet the grade requirements.

Usually when applying for university in the US, you’re required to fill out one application per school. While this is still an option for HBCUs, students can also fill in a Common Black College Application (CBCA), which allows students to apply for any number of 50   Historically Black Colleges and Universities with just a single application.

This time effective method of applying for HBCU is also extremely cost effective for students wanting to study at an HBCU: it costs only US$35. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that some HBCU institutions don’t currently accept this application, so you’d have to apply individually for these schools.

You can apply for the CBCA on their website.

Factors to consider before choosing a HBCU

Factors to consider before choosing a HBCU

Picking a university can be a tricky decision, but if you’ve decided on attending an HBCU, you’ve already cut down your decision to 100 universities.

One way to narrow down your options is to make a list of the aspects of a university that are most important to you, whether that’s the location, cost of tuition, whether there’s scholarships available, or the course content. You can then rate the universities based on these factors and try to find the one that best fits your requirements.   

Here are just a few factors you might want to consider when looking at HBCUs: 

The location

Deciding where in the US you want to study can be a tricky decision and there’s lots of factors to consider when choosing a location.

With over 100 HBCUs all over the US to choose from, looking at university websites, talking to staff members and current students on open days is a must.

Here are just a few questions to ask yourself when deciding on a university:

  • Do you want to study in a large city or in a small town?
  • Do you want to be far from home or stay in your home state?
  • Is the cost of living in that area important to you?
  • Do you want to be in a built-up area or in the countryside?
  • Would you prefer to study in a campus-based or a city-based university?

The size of the university

The size of the institution may be another contributing factor to your decision. The number of students at a university can really impact the feel of the place.

Whether you decide to go for a larger or a smaller university is entirely down to personal preference and rarely affects the quality of the institution. For example, you may decide that smaller colleges seem friendlier, or that larger universities have more going on.

The best way to get a feel for a university is to go and visit the university in person and talk to current students.

Course content

The next big thing you need to establish is what you want your course to look like. When you’re researching HBCUs, look at how the course is structured, consider the different pathways you can take and how much freedom you’ll get in choosing modules. 

You might also want to consider what the graduate employability prospects are like from that particular course in that school. This information will generally be available on the university’s website, or you can take a look at our graduate employability rankings.


HBCUs generally have lower tuition fees than other higher education institutions. According to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the average total cost of attendance at HBCUs was 26 percent lower than other non-profit US colleges. 

HBCUs also offer a wide range of financial assistance to students. This includes scholarships, loans and grants, which help to cover the cost of tuition, fees room and board, books, supplies, personal expenses and transportation.   

However, you’ll also need to take into account student living costs in the area, alongside accommodation costs. 

How HBCUs Are Recognized

HBCUs were officially recognized under the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the value of the institutions has been recognized by various presidents over the years.

This recognition led to the White House Initiative on Historical Black Colleges and Universities. This initiative, established in 1981, provides funding and opportunities to help strengthen HBCUs.

Role of HBCUs in Higher Education Today

Howard Uni

Today HBCUs play a still play a sizable role in educating future black professionals and leaders.

Despite only making up three percent of four year public and private non-profit institutions in the US, HBCUs award 17 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by black students in the US, according to the American Council on Education (ACE). 

In addition to this, HBCUs continue to encourage the growth in STEM subjects. Since the early 2000s, 24 percent of black STEM graduates in the US have earned their degree from an HBCU.  

The schools are also contributing to closing the racial wealth gap. Their lower tuition fees and the generous scholarshipsand grants on offer to students mean that HBCUs provide quality education at an affordable cost.

This article was originally published in September 2020 . It was last updated in March 2021

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