Everything You Need to Know About HBCUs

08 FEB 2023

As part of Black History Month, we take a closer look at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States. These institutions provide a unique learning environment where students can interact with peers of similar backgrounds. Here is some more information on HBCUs and what you can do to apply to one.

What are HBCUs?

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been at the forefront of American history for 180 years. They are unique environments where the college experience is focused on surrounding yourself with people that have similar backgrounds and cultural experiences. In addition to a supportive environment, HBCUs are traditionally more affordable, diverse, and have strong alumni networks. Some well-known graduates of these universities that have made positive impacts on their communities and the nation are Vice President Kamala Harris (Howard), Oprah Winfrey (TSU), Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse), Stacey Abrams (Spelman), and Stephen A. Smith (Winston-Salem).

Over 100 HBCUs exist in the 21st century now. Some have remained two-year institutions, while others have adapted and switched to a four-year curriculum similar to predominantly white schools.

When were HBCUs first established?

Before the Civil War (1861-1865), access to quality education was non-existent for Black Americans. This was not only because Southern states prohibited it, but there was also the belief that the education of Black individuals would lead to rebellion. The few who were able to study at the time were often met with hostile and unsafe conditions, while others simply resorted to teaching themselves what they could. Only four universities existed at the time that catered to Black students - Cheyney University (1837), University of the District of Columbia (1851), Lincoln University (1854), and Wilberforce University (1856).

The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 allocated 30,000 acres of federal land to every state for the purpose of educating scientists, teachers, and farmers. This act laid the foundation for a national network of state colleges and universities, but it wasn’t until the second Morrill Act of 1890 that Americans would see the emergence of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). As a modification to its predecessor, the second act was re-written to specifically require states, especially those that were previously confederate, to give land-grants for schools for Black students. With the help of Black churches, the American Missionary Association, and The Freedmen’s Bureau, more than 90 schools were established before 1900.


How many HBCUs are there in the United States?

There are 107 colleges in the United States that are identified by the US Department of Education as HBCUs. They are mainly concentrated in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. Some are as far north as Ohio and Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas and Oklahoma.

What are the top HBCUs?

Below are the top 5 highest ranked HBCUs according to US News. For the complete list, available programs, and notable alumni, visit The Hundred-Seven’s website. U.S. News & World Report uses factors such as graduation and retention rates, social mobility and graduate indebtedness to score each HBCU.

1. Spelman College (est. 1881)

Location: Atlanta, GA

Popular programs: Psychology, Biology/Biological Sciences, Political Science and Government, and Economics

Notable graduates: Stacey Abrams, Janet Bragg, and Rosalind G. Brewer

2. Howard University (est. 1867)

Location: Washington, D.C.

Popular programs: Communication, Journalism, Business, Management, and Marketing

Notable graduates: Kamala Harris, Thurgood Marshall, Sean John Combs, and Taraji P. Henson

3. Tuskegee University (est. 1881)

Location: Tuskegee, AL

Popular programs: Mechanical Engineering, Biology/Biological Sciences, Psychology, Registered Nursing, and Sales, Distribution, and Marketing Operations

Notable graduates: George Washington Carver, Lionel Richie, Al Green, and Teddy Wilson

4. Morehouse College (est. 1867)

Location: Atlanta, GA

Popular programs: Business, Management, Marketing, Biological and Biomedical Sciences, English Language and Literature/Letters

Notable graduates: Martin Luther King Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, and Spike Lee

5. Xavier University of Louisiana (est. 1915)

Location: New Orleans, LA

Popular programs: Biology/Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Psychology, Business Administration and Management

Notable graduates: Aaron Henry, Annie Easley, John Stroger, and Alexis Herman

Here are the universities that round out the top 10:

6. Hampton University

7. Florida A&M University

8. Delaware State University

9.(tie) Claflin University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University


Can non-black people go to HBCUs?

Yes. All students are welcome to go to HBCUs. In fact, the first five students at Howard University were white women!

What is the Common Black College Application?

While the application process for an HBCU is similar to any other US university, there is a Common Black College Application that can help you target only HBCUs. Created in 2000 by Robert Mason, students can currently instantly apply to 67 different HBCUs, paying one $20 application fee. Unlike the similarly named Common App, which is used by hundreds of colleges, the CBCA is exclusive to HBCUs. It also offers users a more stripped-down application process.

The application portal requests for the following:

  • Basic demographic details and family information
  • A high school transcript
  • A list of any extracurricular activities
  • General enrollment plans
  • College preferences
  • Two questions on disciplinary and criminal history
  • Optional ACT and SAT scores

Make sure to check whether the university you are interested in, accepts the Common Black College Application!

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