college student celebrating graduation

You may already be considering applying to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) because they strike you as a good cultural fit. While that’s a hugely important factor, it’s also vital that students look at fit on many different levels; not every HBCU is automatically going to be the right match for every student. Aspects like academic offerings, location and setting, and cost also need to be researched and considered.

Consider Majors: There are certain campuses that immediately come to mind when most people think of great HBCUs. But prestige does not always equal fit. Yes, Howard University may be ranked higher than Grambling State, Elizabeth City State, or Benedict College, but it’s the latter three institutions that offer majors dedicated to Cybersecurity. Aerospace Engineering? You’ll find it only at Tuskegee. Screenwriting? Morgan State is your place. Make sure you find a home where you can study exactly what you want.

Consider Setting and Location: Spelman may be the perennial #1 HBCU, but not everyone who identifies as female sees themselves in a women’s college (just as not everyone who identifies as male aspires to be a Morehouse Man). Maybe you want to be a physician and have heard Xavier University of Louisiana is renowned for preparing students well for medical school and other health professions—yet you crave a setting more suburban or rural than New Orleans for your college education. (In which case, Hampton University, with its pipeline programs to med schools including Boston University and Virginia Tech, may be a better fit.) Maybe you’ve grown up in a place like New York, Chicago, or the Bay Area and worry a move to the South, where the majority of HBCUs are located, may be too much of a culture shock. Don’t worry; you’ll find options in Missouri, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, D.C., and even Southern California (home to Charles Drew University, for those who want to focus on medicine and science). Remember: You’ll be spending four years of your life not just on campus but in the city or town around your campus, so choose a place you’ll feel comfortable calling home.

Consider Cost: HBCUs are generally less expensive than most universities, but there’s still a wide range of costs, with Spelman coming out as the priciest. Public HBCUs tend to be the most affordable and are often located in regions and states with low costs of living, like rural Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. (A note for parents hoping to visit their kids in college regularly: The University of Virgin Islands is an accredited HBCU with an annual tuition of about $15,000 for out-of-state students.) Among private institutions, South Carolina’s Clinton College and Dallas’s Paul Quinn College rank among the lowest priced. Quinn also requires that every student participate in its paid Work Program, resulting in every graduate exiting with a diploma and a robust resume.

We encourage you to check out The Hundred-Seven, the US Department of Education, and the UNCF, as well as the individual sites of HBCUs, in order to identify the right campus for you and learn more about scholarship opportunities.

Getting the Most out of a College Visit

Written by Emily Toffelmire
Emily Toffelmire is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Emily worked as an admissions officer at University of Southern California as well as a college counselor at high schools in the US and Thailand. Visit our website to learn more about Emily Toffelmire.