College Application Guide for HBCU Students

Explore resources to guide your HBCU selection process. Learn about the Common Black College Application for HBCU students.
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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.

Amiya Nesbitt, a graduate of Alabama A&M University said, "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 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.

According to Nesbitt, "[the CBCA] 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."

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. "The Black College Common Application makes the college application process less stressful than what it has to be,” explains Nesbitt.

How to Complete the Common Black College Application

1. Register online.

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.

2. Review the CBCA dashboard.

View the application demonstration videos, read the application instructions, and browse the HBCUs connected to the CBCA portal.

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.

4. Fill out the "high school" section.

Type in your high school information, including extracurricular activities and awards for achievements.

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.

6. Fill out the "family" section.

This application page is not required, but you may choose to include information about your parents or guardians.

7. Fill out the "final details" section.

This page of the CBCA asks you to certify the accuracy of the provided information.

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.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an HBCU

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

Additional Resources for Students Applying to HBCUs

This online portal gives Black students access to mentors and resources to help with the HBCU application process. HBCU First continues to provide programs once students gain admission and for HBCU alumni.

This resource page offers planning tips for high school students applying to HBCUs. Tips include ways to access scholarships and advice on navigating the admissions process.

This HBCU tool allows you to search for schools based on your desired areas of study. Change your search by major, degree, and location to find HBCUs that match your interests.

This tool can provide students with statistics, tuition costs, and admission requirements for all HBCUs. Adding schools to your list of favorites allows you to compare institution characteristics side by side.

The newly established Empower Me Tour provides tools for high school students seeking admission into colleges and universities. Presentations, panels, and workshops offer college readiness sessions to help prepare students.

Frequently Asked Questions About Applying to HBCUs

What is the acceptance rate at HBCUs?

HBCU acceptance rates vary from school to school. Howard University and Spelman College — two of the most exclusive HBCUs — have reported acceptance rates of 35% and 51%, respectively. 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?

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?

Spelman College, a private liberal arts school, had the highest tuition and fees among HBCUs during the 2021-2022 academic year — around $23,175 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 $33,600.

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.

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

Portrait of Amiya Nesbitt

Amiya Nesbitt

Amiya Nesbitt is an Alabama A&M University graduate where she majored in Food Science. During college, she was the Executive Preside of the University Echo Student Ambassadors and a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She is originally from Nashville, Tennessee.