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Your Black College Journey Starts Here

HBCUs 101: Your Black College Journey Starts Here

Group of African American students considering attending an Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

Getting Started with HBCUs

Congratulations on your decision to attend one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Or even if you are still considering, you are undeniably on the right track. Attending an institution of higher learning is an exciting, moving, and life changing event. For many, opting for an HBCU is equally as important as choosing to go to college.

As a prospective student, having over 100 HBCU’s to choose from means you have access to a variety of degree programs and academic options. It means you can look for an institution that best fits your career and academic needs. Lastly, it means you don’t have to sacrifice affordability to gain a college degree.

Many well-known African Americans from a variety of professions and backgrounds have graduated from an HBCU. To name a few, folks like Olympian Wilma Rudolph (Tennessee State University), Dr. Martin Luther King (Morehouse College), Alice Walker (Spelman College), Andrew Young (Dillard University & Howard University), Terrence J (North Carolina A&T State University), Will Packer (Florida A&M University) and Taraji P. Henson (Howard University) have successfully earned a degree from these important institutions of higher learning. These ambitious, dedicated, and unwavering people have made every effort to better themselves, and prove others wrong. Now it’s your turn to be the next famous HBCU Graduate!

We hope this fun guide to HBCU life will help you in one way or the other as you begin your journey. Welcome on board!

What is an HBCU?

Historically black colleges or universities (HBCU) are schools that were founded on the belief that every individual deserves access to a college or higher education. More specifically, the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended 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.”

Cheyney University Emlen Hall reading room, early 1900s.
Cheyney University Emlen Hall reading room, early 1900s.

The first public HBCU, Cheney University in Pennsylvania was established in 1837. It was also known as the Institute for Colored Youth which opened its doors for elementary and secondary training which later became college courses. To learn more about the original HBCUs, visit our Oldest HBCUs In the United States page. Although HBCU’s were originally founded to provide higher education opportunities for African Americans, they have historically enrolled and graduated many students, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or income level. It has been stated that historically black colleges and universities have a unique chapter in the history of American post secondary education. Despite the many obstacles these institutions faced, there are currently 107 HBCU’s in the United States. Undoubtedly, they have played a crucial role in the development of black professionals.

Choosing an HBCU: Four Factors to Consider

Possibly one of the most important decisions you will make is choosing which college or university to attend. As the choice can largely impact your career, you must make a wise and informed decision. Here are four factors to consider when choosing your future alma mater.

1. Location

Big city or small town? Are you ready to venture far away from your home? Would you be able to handle the cultural differences in a foreign land? Be realistic about the campus setting that you will enjoy the most. Whether you choose a school in rural or urban area there are pros and cons of each setting. If possible, it is recommended to visit the school of your choice prior to the final selection. Currently, there are 107 HBCU’s in the United States, out of which maximum are located in the Southern part. Check the website of the colleges you are interested in to find when you can tour.

2. Size

While size does not guarantee that a particular college is right for you, enrollment numbers can give you a clue in finding the ideal college. Larger universities like North Carolina A&T State University and Texas Southern University may offer wide range of courses, and more number of colleges within the university system, whereas, a smaller college such a Miles College and Paine College may offer smaller class size and may be more personal in comparison to a large black college. However, if you fancy a busy and exciting lifestyle of a large campus then one of these top 10 largest HBCU’s would make an excellent choice.

3. Cost

Even though attending a college is a wise investment in itself, the cost involved to make it happen cannot be neglected. Expenses like tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, transportation, and personal should be taken into account. Calculate the total cost and then figure out if you can afford the college you’re interested in. Remember that some costs are listed by hour, while others are for the entire school year. Either way, make sure to search early for scholarships, grants and financial aids. Here is a list of 10 most affordable small private HBCU’s for your reference.

4. Academic Programs

When it comes to HBCU’s, from liberal arts focused private colleges to public colleges with a focus on trades, there are many options at your fingertips. Browse the website of the particular school to find out if they offer the degree you are interested in. Going online will help you to learn about individual school’s academic programs, activities, campus facilities, and more. It will also give you insight into HBCU degree programs you have never considered.

Narrowing Your List of Potential Black Colleges

With hundreds of schools to choose from, you probably have a huge list of potential black colleges you are interested in applying to. As it can get very overwhelming, you need to narrow your choices to a smaller list of colleges. This will ensure that you save a substantial amount of time when it comes to filling applications and paying the fees. Check out these 4 ways that will help you narrow down the list of potential schools.

College website

A college’s website and its social media accounts can tell you a lot about campus living. Look for information on academic programs, campus facilities, campus life, sports and other activities. You can often find links to a college’s Twitter feed and Facebook page on its home page. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, use the site map to point you in the right direction.

College Fairs

Attending college fairs is an important and efficient way to collect information about as many colleges as possible in a short span of time. Similar to trade fairs, different colleges set up booths to interact with prospective students and distribute information about their school. Here, students get an opportunity to speak with college representatives, and ask questions about their higher education options. It is advised that students should attend college fairs as early as their freshman year in high school. We point you some tips for attending college fairs.

College Visit

Visiting a college in person is a great way to get a feel of what a college is like. It can help you decide if a particular school is right for you. To find about the open house dates and to arrange a visit, contact the college admission office by email or by filling the contact form on the website. You can also phone the office to get details and make a reservation.

The best time to schedule a visit is either the late summer or early September before senior year as many colleges begin their fall semester as early as mid August. If you have already researched about the college, the spring of junior year is a good time to visit. Apart from walking around the public areas and interacting with current students to learn about the campus life, make sure to look for these 3 things during your college visit.

HBCU College Tours

One of the best options for helping students decide on a college, and getting exposed to the black college experience is an HBCU College Tour. Groups of prospective students can visit multiple colleges on a charted bus to learn about the college or university’s facilities, campus life, activities, and academic programs. After all, to really get a feel of the school, you need to walk around the courtyard, visit the dorms, and sit in a classroom!

Applying for college

For high school students, the road to higher education can be a long one. Selecting colleges, taking college tours, and narrowing down the list to a short one may all take place before a student even begins a college application-a long process in itself. To help you get started, we point you some tips.

College Application

Students should consider applying to multiple colleges in case they are not accepted at their first option. But, while having a choice between many colleges may seem like a nice luxury on one hand, the process of applying to multiple colleges can be very stressful on the other. One easy way to do this is the Black College Common Application. It’s a single application that you can send to multiple schools. The application is available online as well as in a hard copy format that can be obtained with the help of your school guidance officer. Either ways, it is perhaps the most preferred way to streamline your application process. Alternatively, students can apply directly on individual black college websites by creating an account.

Application Process Tips

Even though the process of correctly submitting your college application may seem a little complicated, a little attention and organization can go a long way. Following tips will set you up for success.

Start early. Beat the deadline

Don’t wait until the weekend before the application is due. Set deadlines for filling out the forms, collecting recommendations, and completing essays a few days before they’re actually required. Mark these important deadlines on a calendar and keep a track of them. College websites are the best place to look for accurate deadline information.

Early decision versus early action

Before filling out your application, it is important to understand the difference between early decision and early action. The former is binding, which means if you get accepted through early decision, you are bound to attend that school. You may not have the freedom to apply to more than one college under early decision. Whereas, the latter is non-binding. Under early action, students are not bound to attend that particular college if accepted. You may still apply to and consider other colleges. While, both options can be beneficial to students depending upon the situation, it’s important to think through the college options very carefully and consider it only if you have a clear preference of one institution.

Be consistent

Using the same name on all the forms will make things easier for admission officers. Decide if you want to use your full name or a shortened version of your legal name, and then use the same version at all places. Switching names will only increase the chances that your applications will get misfiled.

Use a separate e-mail

While not necessary, using a separate e-mail account just for college applications will help you stay organized and will limit your chances of skipping an important e-mail. Make sure to check if often though!

Be careful

Careless mistakes on your college application can hurt your chances of getting accepted. So, once you finish your application, make sure to check it over for errors. If possible, have a parent or a teacher proofread it as well. For online applications, save and review before hitting submit.

Keep copies

Make a copy of each piece of your application. Save passwords, personal identification numbers, and emails or notes from admission officers. Documenting everything, whether by e-mail, mail or phone can save you if a problem arises.

Countdown to College

You have submitted your college application, now what? Well, applying isn’t the last step. There’s more to do than just playing the waiting game after you click “submit.”

Paying for College

If you hope to obtain financial aid, now is the time to start working for it. We recommend filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). It’s a financial aid form that high school seniors must file to be eligible for the financial aid from the federal government. Soon after January 1st you can fill out the application on paper or electronically with the help of your parents or guardian. These FAFSA application tips should get you started.

Moreover, as the form can be intimidating, it’s important to take it step-by-step.

  • Gather your papers. To make sure that you receive the maximum aid possible, work with your parents to start collecting necessary financial records during the winter holidays. Encourage them to complete income tax forms early. If for any reason, they have not been able to complete their tax forms, you can provide estimated financial information on your federal student aid application. However, make sure to make necessary changes later.
  • Soon after January 1st, complete and submit your FAFSA along with any other financial aid applications required by the school(s) of your choice. You can do so online at fafsa.ed.gov or in paper format, but the electronic version is most preferred as it’s much faster and easier.
  • When filling FAFSA, be as accurate as possible. Mistakes will only slim your chances of approval. Errors may include, writing in the margins, putting monthly amounts instead of yearly amounts, checking the ovals instead of filling them in.
  • If you have any questions about the federal student aid programs or require assistance with the application process, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or TTY for the hearing impaired, 1-800-730-8913.
  • After you submit the FAFSA, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) via email or mail within three days to three weeks. Review the SAR and make sure all information is correct. If not, quickly but carefully make necessary changes and submit them to the Federal processor.
  • In addition to applying for Federal Aid, complete as many other scholarship applications, as possible.

Final Checklist Items

  • While most of your college application work is complete, and you are just waiting to receive admission decisions, don’t just relax in the classroom. The college that you wish to attend would want to see your second semester transcript. So, work hard to keep up the grade in the last semester.
  • After January 1st, but as early as possible, file the FAFSA with the help of your parents.
  • Wait for college admission decisions and financial aid offers. Review your acceptances, compare financial aid packages, and then use the information to determine which college best meets your academic requirements and financial needs.
  • If possible, make another visit to each of the schools you have been accepted to. While there, ask plenty of questions and then take a final call.
  • Once you have made a decision, be sure to confirm your acceptance by the deadline to save your spot. Send in housing and other deposits, and sign up for the orientation program.
  • If you have been accepted by more than one school, take time to notify the colleges that you won’t be attending.
  • If you have not been accepted by the college of your choice, work with your guidance counselor to figure out other available options.
  • If requested, send your final transcripts to the college you will be attending.
  • Don’t forget to send thank you notes to counselors, teachers and anyone else who may have helped you in the application process.

Moving to college

Moving to college can be fun and exciting if you’re ready, or tiresome and stressful if you’re not. Here are some things you need to do before you go to college.

Complete the paperwork

Before you start packing your suitcases, make sure you have taken care of last minute paperwork that might be needed in order to move in and settle without any issue. Some common ones include, housing forms or selecting a meal plan. Check with your advisor to update yourself about what is needed when.

Pack smart

Packing for college can be a daunting task, especially if you’re trying to pack up for the last 18 years of your life. Remember that most dorm rooms are quite small, so be sure to stick to the bare necessities only. Also, as most dorm rooms are already furnished, you don’t have to worry about carrying your furniture. Check out these tips before moving into your college dorm room.

Connect with your roommate

Getting in touch with your roommate before you actually get on to the campus is a great way to curb those awkward first day jitters. After all, your roommate is likely to be your first companion at college. Moreover, it’s also practical to touch base with your roommate to figure out what each one of you would be bringing to college as dorm rooms are usually limited on storage space, so one microwave is really better than two! These tips will you to adjust to your new home on campus.

We Appreciate You!

Thank you for showing interest and taking time to go through our college guide. We would like to end up by saying that we -The HBCU Team are always here to guide and help you while you begin or continue your journey to higher education.

Apart from browsing through HBCULifestyle.com, you can always get in touch with us by using the form on our contact us page. We do our best to respond to all your inquiries as soon as possible.

Really, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all your love and support, and that’s why we say Thank YOU! And now that you’ve made it this far, be sure to come back often or subscribe.

Good luck in all your educational pursuits. We look forward to seeing more of you.

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