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Guide to HBCUs

HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, are a critical cornerstone of American higher education. While it’s clear that these institutions are still going strong despite the havoc that the pandemic has caused higher education, how can students determine whether an HBCU is a best-fit choice for their individualized needs and goals?

While the history and shared values at some HBCUs may overlap, each college has its own opportunities and experiences that can set the school apart. If you’re looking to pinpoint which HBCU best aligns with your own academic goals and priorities, keep reading to learn more about some of the schools you should keep on your radar.

What are HBCUs?

HBCUs are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the Black community. Many of these institutions were established in the years following the Civil War and are concentrated in the Southern United States.

There are over 100 HBCUs in the United States, including both public and private institutions. HBCUs offer an array of education opportunities including doctoral programs, master’s programs, bachelor’s degree programs, and associate degree programs, all in a plethora of different fields and specialties.

What is the History of HBCUs?

The first HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, to provide education opportunities for Black students, who were largely prevented from attending college due to racial discrimination. When Cheyney University of Pennsylvania opened its doors outside of Philadelphia in 1837, it was one of the first HBCUs. Other early institutions include the Ashmun Institute and Lincoln University.

During the period of segregation in the United States prior to the Civil Rights Act, the overwhelming majority of higher education institutions disqualified or limited Black enrollment. Consequently, the vast majority of Black students attended a growing number of HBCUs to pursue higher education.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 put an end to school segregation. In the years that would follow, HBCUs began to receive improved resources and funding through an executive order signed by President Jimmy Carter. In 1989, George H. W. Bush continued Carter’s movement by signing Executive Order 12677, which created the presidential advisory board on HBCUs, to ensure that these organizations could continue to develop and expand. Later, in 2003, a partnership known as the HBCU Library Alliance was formed to provide an array of resources designed to strengthen HBCUs.

Is an HBCU a Good-Fit for You?

For students who are getting ready to apply to college, many may be wondering how they can determine whether an HBCU is a good fit for their needs and goals. Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option, particularly because each HBCU has a unique campus and its own set of opportunities and experiences. If you’re interested in attending an HBCU, your first step should be to do your research and find out about the various institutions you may wish to consider. Every aspect is important, from learning about your prospective college’s history to discovering the academic programs that the institution is best known for.

Would Howard University’s urban setting in Washington DC align with your vision of a college experience, for example, or would you prefer a campus outside of a major city like Delaware State University? Are you looking for a tight-knit liberal arts college or would a bigger university be closer to what you’re hoping for? What about the academic programs and opportunities that are most important to you?

The questions above are just a few examples of what students need to consider when researching various HBCUs. Ideally, prospective applicants should strive to attend college tours, either in-person or virtually, to start to picture themselves on campus. Additionally, it’s important to review the admitted student profile to get a better sense of the grades and test scores you will need to be competitive throughout the admissions process. Before hitting submit on your application, it’s essential to evaluate these aspects for every school on your balanced college list.

List of HBCUs

If you’re interested in applying to HBCUs, some institutions to keep in mind might include:

Spelman College

Spelman College is a top-ranked, private women’s college that was founded in 1881. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of 2,120 and is located in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Spelman is one of the nation’s leading producers of Black female medical students and doctoral candidates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, according to the college’s website.

Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. To date, Howard has awarded more than 120,000 degrees in the arts, the sciences, and the humanities.

Morehouse College

Morehouse College is a private historically black men’s liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia. Anchored by its main campus of 61 acres near downtown Atlanta, the college has a variety of residential dorms and academic buildings east of Ashview Heights. Noteworthy alumni include Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Xavier University of Louisiana

Xavier University of Louisiana is a private historically black Roman Catholic university in New Orleans, Louisiana. Approximately 2,500 students are enrolled at the university, which is located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Tuskegee University

Tuskegee University is a private institution founded in 1881. The university was home to scientist George Washington Carver and to World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen. Tuskegee University is located in Tuskegee, Alabama and enrolls approximately 2,400 students.

Hampton University

Hampton University is a private institution that was founded in 1868 in Hampton, Virginia. Undergraduate enrollment is approximately 3,700 students across a campus that spans more than 300 acres. Hampton names research and public service as integral parts of the institution’s mission and outlines standards of conduct that all students are expected to abide by.

Florida A&M University

Florida A&M University is a public institution founded in 1887. Although the “A&M” in its name stands for Agricultural and Mechanical, the university offers about 60 bachelor’s degrees in a wide range of studies, with architecture, journalism and psychology among the most popular undergraduate majors. Graduate students at Florida A&M can choose from about 40 degrees, including law and engineering.

Whether you’re interested in a small liberal arts college or a major research university, there are a multitude of HBCUs that can prove to be best-fit options for students with an array of preferences and priorities. If you’re preparing to apply to college and looking for guidance throughout your admissions journey, contact us today.


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