College Application Guide for HBCU Students

portrait of Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
by Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
Published on October 19, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Pamela "Safisha Nzingha" Hill, Ph.D.

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Ready to start your journey?

Choosing a college can be a lengthy process for prospective students. Many options exist as you decide on a school that meets your needs, including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

According to the Center for Minority Serving Institutions, there was a resurgence of interest in HBCUs in 2016. With a rise in racial tensions and a changing political climate, some students may have sought a more inclusive, safer environment.

A similar increase occurred at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. A surge in HBCU applications followed months of protests against racial injustice. These incidents highlighted, for many, the value of an HBCU education and surrounding environment.

This guide provides resources to help you with the HBCU application process, including instructions for using the Common Black College Application.

What Is the Common Black College Application?

The Common Black College Application (CBCA), developed in 2000 by Robert Mason, links aspiring students to over 60 HBCUs. Mason created the application portal to help Black students connect to academic opportunities.

The application costs $20 and allows prospective students to select four preferred schools within a network of 61 HBCUs. Unlike the Common Application, the Common Black College App does not require students to pay additional application fees for individual institutions.

The CBCA does not include every HBCU. Students seeking admission to one of the 40 HBCUs not included in the CBCA database must apply to those schools separately.

Since the Common Black College App allows you to apply to many schools using a single application, it can save time and reduce the need to fill out multiple forms.

How to Complete the Common Black College Application

Step 1: Register for a $20 student account in the Common Black College Application portal. Note that you can complete a practice application for $3 to prepare you for the process.

Step 2: Review the CBCA dashboard. Watch the application demonstration videos and browse the HBCUs connected to the CBCA portal.

Step 3: Fill out the "about you" section. Once you click the application icon on the left side of the screen, you can access each application page. The first section requires you to input background information.

Step 4: Fill out the "high school" section. Type in your high school information, including extracurricular activities and awards for achievements.

Step 5: Fill out the "college" section. Select the top four institutions within the CBCA portal you most wish to attend. Then, select the appropriate markers to align with the type of college experience you want.

Step 6: Fill out the "family" section. This application page is not required, but you may choose to include information about your parents or guardians.

Step 7: Fill out the "final details" section. This page of the CBCA asks you to certify the accuracy of the provided information.

Step 8: Review and submit your application. Once you complete all required application pages, review each section and click submit to send the CBCA to your selected HBCUs.

Did you apply to your college using the Black College Common Application? If so, what was your experience? question-mark-circle

“My experience with the Black College Common Application was amazing. I was able to utilize their tools and get accepted into over 9 different universities. The application is very general. It asks for all the information that most basic college applications do, and you specify what schools you want your application sent to. Instead of paying multiple application fees, you pay one flat rate. Once you have been accepted, you can then send your test scores to your desired school. The Black College Common Application makes the college application process less stressful than what it has to be.”

Factors to Consider When Choosing an HBCU

Academic and Career Interests

When planning for college, consider possible career paths you may want to pursue. The paths you are considering can help you select an HBCU with academic programs that fit your interests.

Student Life Opportunities

Many of the top HBCUs should be able to offer campus experiences that match your passions and hobbies. Seek out an HBCU that also provides engaging extracurricular opportunities outside of the classroom. These activities can affect your overall college experience. Research hobbies, sports, and organizations on campus that you may want to join.

Cost and Financial Aid

Consider overall tuition costs and school fees when selecting an HBCU. Your financial aid package offers a big-picture view of how much you will need to pay each semester. It also can show you how much you may still owe after graduation. Scholarships for Black students may cover part (or all) of your tuition, as well as additional costs like books and food.


The location of an HBCU campus can determine your travel costs on and around campus. Consider how transportation may play a role in your HBCU experience. A school's location can also influence the cost of living in the surrounding area.

Additional Resources for Students Applying to HBCUs

Frequently Asked Questions About Applying to HBCUs

What is the acceptance rate at HBCUs? true

HBCU acceptance rates vary from school to school. Howard University and Spelman College — two of the most exclusive HBCUs — have both reported acceptance rates around 40%. These rates can shift from year to year, depending on the pool of applicants. HBCUs saw an increase in applicants for the 2020-2021 school year.

What GPA do you need to get into an HBCU? true

The typical GPAs for students accepted into many HBCUs schools range from 2.5-3.0. Other HBCUs may require higher GPAs. For example, students accepted at Hampton University and Florida A&M had average GPAs above 3.25. Additionally, some HBCUs use an open-admission policy.

Remember that high school grades account for only part of the college admission requirements. Do not rely on a high GPA alone to get into an HBCU, but also don't count yourself out because of a low GPA either.

Which HBCU has the highest tuition? true

Spelman College, a private liberal arts school, had the highest tuition and fees among HBCUs during the 2020-2021 academic year — around $29,900 annually. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Spelman's relatively high tuition cost among HBCUs is still lower than the average private college and university tuition and fees across the nation — about $33,000.

Additionally, public HBCUs offer some of the most affordable tuition rates in the country. For example, Fayetteville State University and Albany State University have tuition and fees below $6,000 per year for in-state residents, as of the 2020-2021 school year. Keep in mind that out-of-state residents often pay higher tuition rates.

Is it better to apply to college through a common application?

A common app allows students to apply to multiple colleges and universities with a single application. It reduces the need to fill out multiple applications with the same information.

The Common Black College Application allows students to apply to more than one HBCU for a reduced fee. However, some colleges and universities only accept their unique application.

Read all application requirements and instructions carefully. If a school you wish to apply to does not accept a common application, you must submit your application directly to the institution.

What percentage of HBCU students receive financial aid?

According to UNCF, over 70% of recent HBCU students were eligible to receive a federal Pell Grant. This income-based grant is awarded to students with an exceptional level of financial need. Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can determine a student's eligibility for various scholarships and financial aid options.

Financial aid opportunities can help students reduce out-of-pocket costs. Scholarships and grants provide funding that students do not need to repay. In contrast, loans require repayment upon graduation and often come with added interest fees.

Meet the Student

My name is Amiya Nesbitt and I am a senior Food Science major, hailing from the Music City, Nashville, Tennessee. I currently serve as the 2021-2022 Executive President of the University Echo Student Ambassadors, and I am also a proud member of the Gamma Mu Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. During my college search, I was looking for an HBCU that was small in size, one that would make me feel at home, and had a notable program for the major I wanted to pursue. I found all of that and more in Alabama A&M University. Not only did I feel welcomed by the campus when I visited, but I also felt welcomed by the Department of Food and Animal Sciences. This department has the oldest accredited food science program amongst HBCUs, and that heavily influenced my decision to attend. The university may be small compared to others, but it is true to the motto, “Start Here, Go Anywhere”.

Our list of resources can help aspiring and current HBCU students. Learn insider tips for applying to an HBCU and how to prepare for campus life. Are you an HBCU student looking for a job? Check out this career guide for advice on entering the workforce as an HBCU graduate. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) offer students a variety of benefits. Find out from our experts how to take advantage of an HBCU education. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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