College Guide for HBCU Students

BestColleges.com 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.

Ready to start your journey?

October 7, 2021

Share on Social

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were established to educate Black students in the United States. HBCUs offer education and mentorship opportunities with a goal to uplift Black communities. Over 100 HBCUs can be found across the country and are accessible to all students.

HBCUs contribute significantly to the graduation rates of Black students. The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) reports that — despite making up just 3% of the accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. — HBCUs educated about 10% of Black students nationwide and awarded about 17% of the bachelor's degrees earned by African American students in 2014.

This guide provides helpful information and resources for aspiring HBCU students.

Key Trends for HBCU Students

Black student enrollment rises: Black enrollment at HBCUs increased by 15% from 1976 to 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). HBCUs enroll roughly 300,000 students each year. Seventy-six percent of students at these schools identify as Black or African American.

Degrees earned: In 2018-19, NCES reported over 48,000 students earned degrees from HBCUs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the overall percentage of African Americans, ages 25 and over, with a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 19.8% to 26.1% from 2010 to 2019.

Large number of Black STEM graduates: According to UNCF, about 25% of African Americans with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees graduated from HBCUs. Additionally, in 2020, the National Science Foundation established a center to learn from the successes that top HBCUs have achieved in terms of undergraduate STEM education.

Top professions represented by HBCU graduates: According to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, 80% of Black judges, 50% of Black lawyers, 40% of Black members of Congress, and 40% of Black engineers graduated from HBCUs.

What are some promising trends you see from your study of HBCUs (or your professional experience at an HBCU)? question-mark-circle

“Those who were once unaware of the priceless value of HBCUs are awakening. Corporate entities and private donors are increasing support, while alumni giving is also on the rise. For so long, HBCUs have done much more with much less. We've nurtured the minds and talents of history-making ministers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth. Hollywood blockbuster producers like Rob Hardy and Will Packer. Global moguls like Diddy and Oprah. Art connoisseurs and philanthropists like Bernard and Shirley Kinsey. If the current trends continue, the possibilities are endless.”

Challenges and Barriers to Success

Black representation matters: It is common for Black students and faculty members to be underrepresented at U.S. colleges and universities. Black representation at HBCUs can help create inclusive college campuses for students.

At HBCUs, on average, Black students make up about 80% of the enrollment, according to UNCF. The percentage of Black faculty members is also much higher on an HBCU campus compared to primarily white institutions. Black students may find it easier to seek out role models and mentors among HBCU faculty members. These connections can help with a student's college success.

Financial burden for Black students: Gaps in federal and private funding can have an impact on HBCUs and their students. Black students rely more heavily on loans to pay tuition costs. According to NCES, Black students take out student loans at higher rates than students of other races. Black students may also take more time to pay off student loan debts than non-Black students. Pay disadvantages after graduation can be one contributing factor to this. Taking longer to pay off loan debts also can limit wealth gain.

Low graduation rates: Black students at public colleges and universities have lower six-year completion rates than other students across the country. Some HBCUs, such as Spelman College and Howard University, boast graduation rates above 50%. However, HBCUs have an average graduation rate of about 35%. Despite these lower rates, HBCUs still graduate more lower-income Black students than other U.S. colleges and universities.

Enrollment and school funding: HBCUs increasingly experience hardships when it comes to obtaining financial funding. As a result, some HBCUs find it challenging to remain open. They may be forced to close their doors or find alternative ways to fund their institutions. Despite these difficulties, many students and alumni talk about how they value their HBCU education.

COVID-19 pandemic: COVID-19 hit the African American community hard. Like other schools, HBCUs were forced to close their doors for months. This limited their ability to receive necessary funding from student tuition fees. Students also lost housing and food resources. The impact of COVID-19 on student and institutional success continues, with more challenges for HBCU communities ahead.

In your view, what is the biggest challenge facing HBCU students today? question-mark-circle

“Students, regardless of where they attend, HBCU or otherwise, are facing incredible amounts of debt post-graduation. I hope those interested in giving young people a fair start begin to address the loan crisis. And I hope those who elect to pay for college choose wisely and attend universities that have demonstrated a long record of values similar to their own.”

Important Factors to Consider When Preparing for College

Choosing a College

Many factors must be considered when choosing a college. Geographic location, tuition cost, and degree options are just a few crucial variables. The importance of Black representation through cultural connection, student experience, and faculty mentorship are also top factors for many considering an HBCU.

Applying to College

Begin your college application process before your senior year of high school. Gathering letters of recommendation, writing personal statements, and taking required tests involve careful planning. The Common Black College Application allows students to submit one application to over 60 HBCUs for a small, one-time fee.

Paying for College

College tuition costs can be a heavy burden. Financial aid can alleviate the need to pay high out-of-pocket costs. Scholarships for Black students can help offset some tuition fees. Other financial aid options for students of color include grants, work-study programs, fellowships, and loans.

College Groups for HBCU Students

HBCU Greek life: Sororities and fraternities hold historical and modern prominence at HBCUs. Nine Greek organizations operate under the National Pan-Hellenic Council. These groups can build connections through service and leadership. Dubbed the "Divine Nine," each chapter offers unique opportunities for HBCU students to grow together as a family unit.

STEM societies: Organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers support the development of Black STEM students at HBCUs. These societies focus on growing and uplifting Black STEM graduates and professionals.

Black campus ministries: Serving thousands of students across the country, these campus groups provide fellowship and academic support. Ministry chapters can expand beyond HBCU campuses to develop faith-based connections among Black students.

What aspect of student life do you enjoy the most? question-mark-circle

“I love how the classes are like a family. Your professors care and take a vested interest in you. You are a person and not a number. Howard University also has the best homecoming in the nation so I am looking forward to taking part in that experience.”

Organizations and Resources That Support HBCU Students

By visiting this site,students can find resources that support their transition from high school to an HBCU. Resources include information about college fairs and scholarship programs. HBCU First works to increase college and career success for Black youths. Through leadership programs, internship offerings, and mentorship connections, HBCU First provides a resource hub for Black students. This foundation provides scholarships of up to $10,000. HBCU students also can receive awards for leadership and volunteer service. Created by the National Science Foundation in 2000, HBCU-UP supports STEM education across HBCUs. The program provides funding to students and graduates across STEM disciplines. This program works to empower LGBTQ+ students at HBCUs, preparing them to serve as leaders and changemakers. The program's leadership summit includes national and regional experiences. This organization advocates on behalf of HBCUs to develop programs, policies, and practices that support Black students. NAFEO offers volunteer opportunities, internship connections, and policy advocacy across the country. This foundationgets funding and resources from corporations and government entities to support HBCU development. Membership for HBCU students and alumni grants access to a variety of resources and services. Founded in 1987, TMCF exclusively represents the Black college community. TMCF provides college scholarship funding, supports research initiatives, and partners with K-12 schools to uplift the Black academic community. UNCF works to increase the number of African American college graduates. The organization offers scholarships for students and professional development opportunities. It also advocates for federal policy changes. This initiative provides leadership development to support HBCUs entering global markets. For students, the White House program selects HBCU scholars to represent their schools on a national stage.

Frequently Asked Questions About HBCUs

How hard is it to get into an HBCU?

HBCUs vary in their acceptance rates. Many require a GPA of 2.0 or higher for acceptance. Acceptance rates for some HBCUs can drop below 40%. These schools require an admissions package that typically includes high school transcripts, a letter of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Are there scholarships for HBCU students?

Scholarships of all types can be found for HBCU students. HBCUs offer many scholarships to enrolling students. Organizations supporting HBCUs also offer scholarships to African American students. Some awards are based on merit, while others go to students demonstrating a financial need. Financial aid can provide assistance to cover all or part of HBCU tuition fees. With the high cost of college tuition, scholarships can offer much-needed financial assistance.

What percentage of Black college students attend HBCUs?

According to UNCF, HBCUs enroll 10% of all Black college students in the United States. Although HBCUs make up just 3% of accredited colleges and universities in the country, they account for almost 20% of Black graduates.

Why do students attend HBCUs?

Students attend HBCUs for a variety of reasons. For many, the history of HBCUs has demonstrated the critical need for HBCUs among Black communities. Some students find support and mentorship at HBCUs, which have a higher percentage of Black professors than primarily white institutions. The community support among Black students also draws many to the HBCU experience. Additionally, HBCUs may offer lower tuition rates, especially to in-state students attending a public school. This can give students more financial flexibility when pursuing a college education.


Meet the Student

Asha Boyce, 19, is from Houston, Texas. Being the daughter of an artist and movie producer, TJ Boyce, she has a natural talent for acting and singing, but her career goal is to help those affected by mental illness. Asha is currently a first-year student at Howard University studying psychology.


Meet the Faculty

With a terminal degree in United States history from Howard University, Kimberly Brown Pellum specializes in the history of women's images, Southern culture, and the Black Freedom Struggle. Her contributions to publicly accessible history include work at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, The National Park Service, The Rosa Parks Museum, and Google's Arts & Culture series. Kimberly is currently a member of the faculty in the Department of History at Florida A&M University and sparkle is her favorite color. Check out how sequins and serious scholarship come together in her role as director for the digital Museum of Black Beauty.


Reviewed by:

Dr. Pamela "Safisha Nzingha" Hill, Ph.D., is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant; Afrocentric scholar; activist; journalist; educator; student development practitioner; and life student of Africana studies. For over 20 years Dr. Hill has worked in higher education in both student development and academic affairs. She has served as a mid-level student affairs administrator in positions of assistant dean of students, diversity director, and assistant vice president, as well as adjunct assistant professor teaching in the areas of higher education, humanities, developmental writing, African American studies, and social work.


As a student-centered educator/consultant, she is experienced at developing culturally based curricula and conducting specialized professional development sessions on cultural competency and sensitivity educational training within academic and organizational settings. Additionally, she has lectured at a number of colleges and universities across the nation on issues pertinent to the Black experience and multiculturalism in higher education.

Dr. Hill is a proud graduate of Langston University — Oklahoma's only Historically Black University — where she received a bachelor of arts degree in broadcast journalism. Additionally, she holds a master of science in college teaching/student personnel services from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, and she earned a Ph.D. in higher and adult education with an emphasis in student development and minors in Black studies and educational counseling psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia — one of the nation's top-tier Research I institutions.

She holds membership in the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Langston University Alumni Association, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She is the proud mother of a daughter, Safisha Nzingha, who is a student at Langston University.

Dr. Hill sees her life mission as moving people forward through the vehicle of culturally grounded education.


Feature Image: Peter Cade / Stone / Getty Images

Rising tuition costs don't have to be a barrier to earning your degree. Click through to read more about the scholarships and grants available to you. The student debt crisis affects many college students but especially Black students, who are more likely to take out loans and struggle to pay down debt. As language evolves, new terms emerge to describe the experience of race. Read on to learn how the meaning of BIPOC impacts diversity and inclusion efforts in college.

BestColleges.com 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.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.