There's a Common App for Black Colleges, and Here's How to Use It

Anyone who’s dealt with college applications at any point over the last four decades has probably heard of the Common Application.

Along with the Universal College Application, the Common Application is the most — well — common way for students to apply to colleges. But did you know there is another application students can use to apply to nearly half of this country’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)? It’s called the Common Black College Application (CBCA) and it’s helping to improve college access for thousands of students.

What is the Common Black College Application?

Like the two other applications listed above, the Common Black College Application allows you to complete a single document and submit it to a number of historically black colleges and universities. Member institutions will honor the CBCA as if it were their own application.

Users of the Common Black College Application incur a one-time fee of $35, which allows them to apply to up to 44 historically black colleges and universities at the same time. Schools that accept the application do not charge anything extra for additional materials or anything else along those lines.

Why is this application necessary?

After years of working in admissions, Robert Mason of EDU, Inc. created the Common Black College Application as a way of breaking the cycle of poverty that steep application fees perpetuate. It helps low-income families afford the cost of applying to college, and, as he explains, helps HBCUs to find qualified students who might have assumed college was out of their reach.

Because of the costs associated with submitting college applications, many students either don’t apply at all or only apply to one school. The Common Black College Application, however, allows those from low-income families to apply to dozens of schools with minimal effort and at minimal expense.

How can students use the CBCA?

As you might guess, the first step is to fill out the application. It asks students to provide their basic information — residence, marital status, email address, social security number — plus standardized test scores, high school stats, and other relevant data. Students will then select the four member institutions they are most interested in attending from a drop-down list, which contains all 44 participating schools.

Once they’ve completed the application, students can pay online (via debit or credit card) or by mail (with a check or money order). There are no fee waivers or refunds available and students cannot make changes to the application after it has been submitted.

Once payment has been received and confirmed, the application will be uploaded into the CBCA’s database and made accessible to all 44 member institutions.

While the application asks students to provide their test scores and an estimate of their high school GPAs, they must also send official transcripts and test score reports to EDU, Inc. via mail or fax. Once the company receives these documents, they will be uploaded into the database, where staff from 27 member institutions can access the information. The remaining 17 schools require official transcripts and test scores to be mailed directly to their admissions offices.

It’s also worth noting that all 44 participating institutions require essays and letters of recommendation to be sent directly to their admissions departments — the CBCA doesn’t handle those supplementary materials.

Once it’s been submitted, a student can check the status of her application, transcript, and test scores by simply going online and using the email address and password she used when beginning her application. Some of the CBCA member institutions, however, will only download a student’s application, transcript, and test scores if she has chosen the school as one of her top four choices. If you want to be considered by a school you haven’t mentioned by name in the application, you should contact the admissions office directly and ask them to download your full set of materials (or ask them to be on the lookout for them, if they’re one of the 17 schools that require separate delivery).

What are the drawbacks of the CBCA?

There are over 100 HBCUs in the country, but only 44 are member institutions of the Common Black College Application. This means that more than half of the historically black colleges and universities don’t use the program. Most of these still require students to use the Common Application.

Also, as mentioned in the previous section, there are no fee waivers or refunds available to users of the CBCA, so applicants must pay the full application fee.

Another factor that undermines the convenience of the CBCA is that some of the schools have different preferences when it comes to submitting application materials. This means students still have to contact the admissions departments at the member institutions they are interested in attending to confirm that the relevant materials have been downloaded or received. This requires the student to be active in making a bunch of phone calls and sending a lot of emails.

Does the CBCA offers applicants other advantages?

Community College Transfer Agreement

Starting this fall, students of California community colleges who meet specific academic requirements will be guaranteed transfer admission as juniors to nine HBCUs:

In a press release, Brice W. Harris, Chancellor of California Community Colleges, explained that this new arrangement will open new pathways for students “to some of the finest and [most] culturally diverse institutions of higher learning in the United States.”

Sponsored Financial Support

Even though $35 is relatively low compared to other application fees, some low-income families cannot afford the cost. Fortunately, some sponsors have partnered with EDU, Inc. to cover the entire Common Black College Application fee for numerous high school students. For example, one sponsor paid for all seniors from Miami Northwestern High School and Miami Central High School to complete the CBCA for free. An anonymous donor sent a check to EDU, Inc. to sponsor students from seven high schools across the country. Other sponsors are covering the fees for students who attend schools in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in Sacramento, California, and in Jackson, Mississippi.

According to EDU, Inc., more than 100,000 students from the United States, South America, Africa, and the Caribbean have taken advantage of the Common Black College Application. More than 2,500 students completed the application this past September alone. This marks a great advance in the move toward college access for all young adults.

Noodle has you covered if you're looking for more advice on attending college as a minority student. Also, check out the free college search tool to find schools based on what matters most to you, or get answers to your questions from Noodle Experts like Chelsea Dixon.