Building An HBCU List: Finding A College That Fit Your Needs


Generations of scholars and experts have taught us that good decision making is rooted in facts and reason. Our society puts so much emphasis on superiority of rational thought that we often refer to rational thinking as the thing that separates humans from animals. However, psychologists and neurologists who study the human brain have discovered that we use both reason and emotions in good decision making, whether we’re choosing a new shirt or a new car.

Choosing the right HBCU is similar to any other important decision you will make in your life-you need to consider both the objective qualities of the HBCU and how you feel when you visit the campus. Once you start talking to real HBCU students about how they chose their particular school , you’ll meet plenty of disappointed people who ignored their emotions (“The only reason I came here because it was the best school I got in to”) or didn’t take important facts into account. You’ll also come across a lot of happy college students who will tell you how they made the right choice, for them using rational and emotional reasons (“I looked at this school because it had my major, but the minute I stepped onto the campus it just felt right”).

Identifying Your Priorities

The first step in putting together an HBCU list is to be honest with yourself and reflect on what you want and what you don’t want from an HBCU. There are many factors to consider. Answering the following questions will help you understand more about what is important to you and what you need to succeed in the next stage of your life. Once you know more about your preferences, you can start narrowing down the HBCU list of schools that might fit your criteria.

Location/Campus Setting

  • How far do you want to be from home?

  • Do you want to be in a city, country, or suburb?

  • Is it important to you that the college has good “town-gown relations”- that is, a good rapport with the community that surrounds it?

School Type

  • Do you prefer a liberal arts HBCU that focuses on under-graduate education, a research university that also has graduate schools, or a technical school that specializes in paraprofessional majors like engineering or graphic design?

  • Is it important to you that professors-not teaching assistants or graduate students-teach all your classes?

  • Do you care about having access to faculty outside of class?

  • Would you be happy at a school that targets a specific demography like a women’s college, a Catholic college etc.

School Size

  • Would you prefer a small HBCU (under three thousand students), a medium-sized school (three to eight thousand students), or a large university (eight thousand plus students)?


  • Do you have strong preferences for majors and/or minors? If so, here are some things to consider when developing your HBCU list:

  • Does the HBCU offer the major that you want?

  • Do you have the option of choosing a minor in addition to your major?

  • Can you double-major, if you have two strong areas of interest?

  • Can you create your own customized major from courses in different departments? (For example, if you are interested in theatrical set design, can you combine courses from drama and art departments to create an individualized major set design?)

  • Do students who major in certain subjects take longer to graduate than others?

College Course Requirements

  • Do you want to be at an HBCU with an open curriculum that will allow you to take whatever classes you want, an HBCU with rigid course requirements that will ensure you will graduate with certain skills such as learning a foreign language, or something in between?

College Costs And Financial Aid

  • What is the cost of tuition , fees, room and board, and books?

  • What percentage of students at that HBCU receives financial aid?

  • What percentage of financial need does the HBCU commit to meeting?

  • Can the financial aid package be adjusted if there is a change in your family’s circumstances, such as the loss of a job or if a sibling is also in college?

  • Is work-study available and easy to get?

  • Does the college offer any need based grants or scholarships to students? What are the criteria? Are these rewards renewable?

Diversity/Campus Culture

  • Do you care about male-female ratio of students on campus?

  • Do you want to go to a college where both women and men take on leadership positions?

  • Is it important for you to have racial/ethnic/religious diversity on campus?

  • Is it important to be able to practice your religion on campus?

  • Do you want to have access to a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple?

Social Life

  • Do you want to join a fraternity or sorority?

  • If you do not want to be a part of a fraternity or sorority, do you mind going to an HBCU that has Greek life?

  • Do you plan to drink in college, or do you prefer a school that hosts a lot of “dry” campus parties and events?

  • Do you want a school that emphasizes community service?

  • Are there particular extracurricular organizations-school newspaper, debate clubs, campus radio station, or others-that you would like to join in college?

  • Is it important for you to go to an HBCU with strong “school spirit”?

  • What is the alumni giving rate? (This is the percentage of graduates who donate money to the school; it can be a good indicator of alumni satisfaction.)


  • do you want a “political” campus? If so, do you care if most of the students agree with your point of view or are you open to being in the political minority?

Academic Support/Grading Policies

  • Do you need any special academic support services to help you succeed academically?

  • Do you want an HBCU that will allow you to take courses pass/fail?

  • Is it important to be able to get into your first choice courses each semester?

  • Do you want an HBCU that has flexible policies or adding or dropping courses?

  • Do you plan on studying abroad?

Graduation Rates

  • Is it important to you to graduate within four years?

Post Graduation Support

  • Do you hope to get a job right after college? If so: What are the career advising resources? Can you get help with resume and interview preparation? What percentage of students get jobs immediately after graduation?

  • What is the placement rate for students who look for jobs immediately after graduation?

  • Are there any ongoing professional networking opportunities for alumni?

  • Do alumni have access to the college’s career advising services?

  • Are you considering a certain professional path that will require you to eventually earn a graduate degree?

  • Is it important that you have an internship while in college?


Take a minute to look over your answers to these questions. Can you spot any themes? Are there certain things-location, size, Greek life, politics, graduation rate- that seem nonnegotiable? If so take a moment to write down your priorities.

Now look over your list and circle the three things that are most important to you. These are your major priorities-the things that you absolutely need to consider, such as cost or whether the HBCU offers the courses you want to take. The rest of the list constitutes your minor priorities- the things that you would like to have, such as a good sports teams or Greek Life.

Making a priority list is the first step in finding your dream HBCU. This is the rational part of the process where you use your preferences to put together a manageable HBCU list of schools that you will later visit. Your HBCU list should only include schools that fit each of your three major priorities and at least some of your minor priorities.