Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are spread throughout the southern states, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Some date from the days after the Civil War, while others were established during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Now open to students of all races, these schools play a significant role in their states' educational systems. In many cases, HBCUs are willing to extend admission to students with lower test scores or grade point averages (GPAs).

An Overview of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

The earliest HBCUs date from the late 19th century and initially taught vocational skills to newly freed slaves. Over time, many of them grew to full degree-granting status, notably after World War II when black ex-servicemen came into the system. The schools first received federal recognition in the 1965 Higher Education Act, for their unique role in the nation's educational system. In 1980, an executive order issued by President Carter created a federal program to strengthen and promote HBCUs, and this initiative has been renewed and broadened by each successive president.

Admissions and GPA

Like any other schools, HBCUs pay close attention to test scores and GPAs in assessing applicants. However, historically black schools often accept students with lower GPAs. According to the College Matchmaker search tool on the College Board's website, 57 of the nation's 105 HBCUs show an average GPA of 2.0 to 3.0 for incoming students. It is important to note that this is an average, indicating that some students with lower GPAs are accepted even into schools at the upper end of the range.

Strategies for Applicants With Weak GPAs

Students whose academic scores are lower than ideal can strengthen their case for admission by a few simple strategies. Letters of reference can help, for example. If your teachers are willing to vouch for your determination and work ethic, admissions committees may be willing to bend a little. Community involvement and volunteerism can also work in your favor, as long as they haven't negatively affected your grades. Excellence in one or more sports can have an impact, too. Finally, if your home or personal life has had a heavy impact on your marks, don't be afraid to mention that in your application. It will often be taken into account.


The application process will be much the same as for any college. Pick a handful of schools you're interested in attending, and look at their requirements. Apply to six or eight of them, choosing schools with a range of admissions standards. Remember, you may still be accepted even if your GPA is less than ideal, so it does no harm to put yourself forward. Not all schools will be looking for the same information from you, so it's best to make a checklist for each one. That way you're less likely to compromise your application by leaving something out.