Whether you're just working on your college list or you're knee deep in applications, chances are that you've heard of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). But if you aren't familiar with what these institutions have to offer, we've got some facts today that can help you determine whether an HBCU might be the right choice for you.
Not sure what constitutes an HBCU? According to the U.S. Department of Education, The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as: "…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation."
Students who attend HBCUs typically take a course explaining that institution's history during their freshman year, says Kori Hutton, an admissions consultant with Baines College Consulting who graduated from an HBCU and helps aspiring HBCU students through the admissions process.
"Students at HBCUs have a responsibility to learn the history of their campuses, since these colleges were created because African-American students weren't able to go to many of the predominantly white universities at the time," she says.
There are over 100 accredited HBCUs within the United States and its outlying areas, and you can find a list of them on the National Center for Education Statistics' website. If you're looking for a specific type of HBCU, such as one in a particular state or that has a specific major, the NCES site allows you to filter the results according to your search criteria.
"At an HBCU, you'll typically get more personal interactions," Hutton says. "On a campus of 40,000 students, you may be a number, but if you don't show up for class at Hampton University three times, they call your parents. It's more hands on, more approachable, and in the climate of the times, parents and children are finding it more safe."
If a particular professor notices that a student's grades are slipping at an HBCU, they may contact the student's RA to connect on strategies for improvement, whereas that may not happen at a bigger campus, Hutton said.
And while every university offers you access to an alumni network, HBCUs have incredibly strong networks that endure long after you graduate. "HBCU graduates remain tight-knit throughout life, which extends into job hunting," Hutton said.
Not every student has the grades to get into the college of their dreams during senior year of high school, but some HBCUs allow students whose grades are on the line to prove themselves, Hutton said.
"Morgan State University, for instance, gives students whose grades aren't where they should be an opportunity to enroll in their Summer Bridge program, and if those students do well, MSU will accept them at the end of it," she notes.
Other HBCUs offer programs like free tutoring in the dorms and similar opportunities to be successful, and it really helps students thrive. "I've seen a student go from a 2.0 GPA trying to get in, to being the president of their class senior year," she adds.
For students who are accustomed to loading all of their information into Common App and then blitzing out multiple submissions, the HBCU application might provide a curveball.
"Some HBCUs are on the Common App but not a lot are, and that's a challenge," Hutton said. "Our guidance counselors are used to Naviance or Common App, but HBCU applications will often have to be done one by one and counselors will have to send transcripts directly to each university."
There is a Common Black Application, she said, but guidance counselors aren't as familiar with it as they are with Common App, and it isn't always as intuitive. However, the individual HBCU applications often give the colleges a chance to get to know students better, she said. "The essays are more personal, they want to know you, not just your test scores and GPA," Hutton notes. "That gives students more leeway and allows them to be more than their stats, but at the same time it requires a lot more work. You have to be organized."
As the name suggests, HBCUs were created to be a home for Black students, but that doesn't mean they exclude students of other backgrounds. "HBCUs are going to be a predominantly African-American space, but the difference is that they're a more accepting space," Hutton said. "Students who aren't African-American may find that an HBCU is the right place for them, but they should be prepared to be a minority since most students will be African-American. We've had many students of varying ethnicities tell us that their HBCU experience was one they wouldn't trade for anything."
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