Student's Guide to HBCU Graduate Programs

Why These Historic Institutions are a Great Bet for Grad School

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been a mainstay of higher education since well before the Civil War, when they were often the only educational opportunities available for students of color.

In 1965, Congress recognized HBCUs 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." Though these important schools were attended by almost exclusively black students during the early years of their existence, today students of all backgrounds take advantage of the excellent education offered through HBCUs.

In 1965, Congress recognized HBCUs 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." Though these important schools were attended by almost exclusively black students during the early years of their existence, today students of all backgrounds take advantage of the excellent education offered through HBCUs.

Today there are 102 of these colleges and universities scattered across the United States. Pew Research Center reports that most of them are small, with enrollment of 2,500 students or less, but some have shown significant growth -- like St. Philip’s College and North Carolina A&T State, with 2015 enrollment numbers of 11,200 and 10,900, respectively. When it comes to pursuing education beyond the bachelor’s degree, the HBCU Career Center names 29 HBCUs that offer graduate programs. Let’s take a look at why attending graduate school at one of these unique, historical institutions is an excellent idea.

15 Scholarships for HBCU Grad Students

Paying for college is a concern for the vast majority of students. Sometimes financial aid just doesn’t cover enough – and when that happens, it’s scholarships to the rescue! These scholarships are excellent options for HBCU grad students.

How is the FAFSA different for grad students?

Financial aid starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. But how is the FAFSA different for grad students? Learn more at the following page.

Grad Student’s Guide to the FAFSA

Expert Advice: Getting into an HBCU Grad School

Q&A With Dr. Fred Bonner

Dr. Fred Bonner

Fred A. Bonner II, Ed.D. is Professor and Endowed Chair in Educational Leadership and Counseling and Founding Executive Director of the Minority Achievement, Creativity and High-Ability (MACH-III) Center at Prairie View A&M University. Dr. Bonner’s research examines gifted African American males, Millennials, and African Americans in STEM. Known also for his teaching and mentoring, he is the author of the recently released book, Building on Resilience: Models and Frameworks of Black Male Success Across the P-20 Pipeline, among numerous journal articles and book chapters.

What are some of the top reasons students should seriously look at HBCU grad schools as their best graduate option?

There are a number of reasons that HBCU graduate schools should be considered as the best option:

  1. HBCUs provide holistic nurturing. Both the academic and social needs of students are addressed by administration, faculty, and staff in the HBCU context. All too often in majority settings, students, particularly Black students must live a bifurcated existence; namely, their needs related to academic and classroom endeavors supersede their needs for mentoring and nurturing along social dimensions.
  2. Faculty in the HBCU context serve as role models and guides to assist the student to negotiate and navigate the postsecondary terrain. This mentoring and role modeling in the HBCU environment is nuanced with cultural inferences and understandings that provide a more authentic rendering of what the students is experiencing.
  3. Being in an environment where students are able to interface with like-minded peers is critical. Students are able to “see themselves” on campus -- the literature is clear in stating the importance of peer mentoring and support in the postsecondary context.
  4. Students are placed in an environment in which their academic potential and success is the expectation and norm, as opposed to being viewed as an outlier.
Any tips for students on what to look for when choosing the best graduate programs at HBCUs?

Students should “do their homework” and find out how programs are ranked…they should look into the various course offerings. What are the majors and minors offered in the program of interest? Who are the faculty members in the respective colleges, schools, departments, and programs? What are their areas of expertise? How is the curriculum structured—what courses are offered and how often? Is the program a face-to-face, online, traditional, cohort-based program? What has been the program’s graduation rate? What is the graduate school graduation rate? What are graduates doing with their degrees? Are they finding employment in their intended area of focus?

Anything else you’d like to add about HBCU grad schools?

HBCU graduate schools are ‘citadels of excellence’ and I am not surprised that the extant literature indicates that in many fields -- particularly the STEM fields -- more than 50% of the graduates and working professionals have had some educational experience in the HBCU context.

Ready to learn more about getting into grad school?

These two links provide a wealth of information for those who are excited to make the leap to further their education.

Preparing for Graduate School

Getting Into Grad School: Admissions Guidebook

Additional Resources for Grad Students

Choosing the right grad school is a very important decision, one that can resonate throughout the rest of your career. These guides provide information, advice, encouragement and the nitty-gritty details aspiring grad students need to know to make the best decisions about their higher education pursuit.