Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Help Your Aspiring College Student!!

Question: What Should Parents Be Doing In Regard To The Application Process

Black Excel (BE) Founder: Parents have asked me this or a variation of this question for as long as I have been formerly counseling students. Sadly, a majority of those who have inquired over the years had no idea what they should be doing or had misconceptions about their role. The unfortunate truth is that large numbers of our students, are "picking their colleges" and handling the "application process" by themselves. Parental involvement, far too often, is minimal. For example, it's not usual to meet aspiring students who are applying to colleges who are gathering college applications and filling them out without help at home. A parent might know that their child is "applying to college," encouraging it, but is not hands-on at all. Clearly, many parents assume that their child and/or a grade adviser is "taking care of it." It's an alarming pattern that I often see. That said, I am saddened to say that many parents have never looked at or critiqued the personal essays that are required with many applications. The essay is a portent force in "Getting in," particularly to a "first choice" school. I can't say this enough: Parents should be involved in the process, playing a substantial role.

Question: What Specifically Should Parents Be Doing?

BE Founder: When I begun helping students the first rule that I established for my group was that *we* would "counsel as it was "a son or daughter." Nothing less. I didn't let my child fend for herself. She was ready and capable, but the "next step" for her was as important as my prior career moves. That was my attitude. Over the years I've had the opportunity to speak to many parents of other cultures. Well, guess what? They often treat the college process in regard to their child (picking schools, readying an application, critiquing the necessary essays), as if it's "life and death." Literally. I can't phantom why a parent of color (or anyone) should be on the sidelines or asleep If this is one of our child's major life's decisions, why shouldn't we be in playing a substantial role? Specific instructions? *Help gather college materials (Catalogs and applications) Why not? *Review your child's college applications, noting requirements and deadlines. *Review your child's written comments about extracurricular activities, awards, special achievements, whatever. Can your child's approach and presentation be improved? (Why not provide blank paper or dummy copies to create drafts?) *Read and/or listen to your child’s essay in progress? Is it effective? Does it present your child to his or her best advantage? Why do all these? Or lend a helping and encouraging hand? Because the application will serve as your child's "personal profile," and it's a key step in the evaluation process from an admission's committee perspective. Step Into The Light !! Some things you should be discussing with your child: Where to apply (rankings, state, private, HBCUs), size ("Big Pond or Little Pond"), location (Urban, rural), the "social scene" (diversity issues), money matters, tours, college visits (open houses, orientations), graduation rates and retention facts, academic environment (study intensity, support systems). In a nutshell, there should be ongoing dialogue. "Do you spend more time talking to car dealers at dealerships, than you do helping your child get into college? The answer should be 'NO!' "

Question: "Shouldn't my child be responsible and mature in regard to handling his or her college business. And, if not, isn't it his or her life?"

BE Founder: Even the most capable, inspired, and talented student needs backup and mentoring. For our folks, I am sad to say, the "rules of engagement" (that is, what to do for maximum impact and to beat the odds), is not readily available or known. Misconceptions abound about college and the "admissions process." One expert says it's "a logistical challenge." He also adds, "This isn't the time to allow your child to learn from his mistakes." I agree. You all know the saying, "you can lead a horse to water..." I believe you should lead your child "to water" and, if necessary, push him or her out in a boat. You'll be surprised how many "lackadaisical" or "unfocused" chidden, will then begin to peddle. Parents should get involved.

Question: But what about students without capable parents, guardians, mentors, and/or resources?

BE Founder: Yes, there are many students who are going it alone, for whatever reason. It's a fact. Over the years I have worked with hundreds of "first generation" college bound students. Often, in their homes, there is little experience or knowledge about the process. In many single parent homes, daunting odds stare the family in the face. Making matters worse, some grade advisors have unmanageable caseloads (1 counselor for 500+ students is not usual for some urban high schools). Honestly, there are college advisors who are not that good. Many know little about HBCUs, for example. Others route smart students to "average" or "mediocre" schools, and give students who "need a second chance" virtually no counseling or support. The solution? It's important to point students and parents who need help to resources like Black Excel: The College Help Network. There's a wealth of info at the website ( (See my bio below). Also my college guide, has been hailed as "counseling tutorial" and "motivational force." The noted gateways are invaluable.

Question: What about future editions of this newsletter?

BE Founder: In the next edition I will talk about "Picking Colleges" and in follow-up issues I will discuss "Aid and Scholarships," the SAT, essay strategies, other pivotal topics. The overall theme of all these newsletters will be to give you info on how to present your child/student to "Best Advantage" during the admissions process. You'll; learn how to "Get the Money," "Get into your First Choice school," and more.

Bio on Isaac Black ============== Isaac Black is the Founder of Black Excel: The College Help Network ( He is also the author of the "Black Excel African American Student's College Guide" (John Wiley & Sons), available at and Black Expressions Book Club (Heritage and Culture section)* and major bookstores.

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