Since its founding in 1988, Black Excel has helped thousands of Black students gain admittance to college. This Q&A column offers a sampling of Black Excel's garnered insights. For a free Historically Black Colleges List and information about admissions and financial aid services, write to: Black Excel, 28 Vesey Street, Suite 2239, New York NY, 10007. Please enclose three 33-cent stamps.QUESTION: My daughter is a good student. She wants to apply to Spelman, but she has heard that half the students who apply are rejected. Is this true? What can she do to improve her chances?
IJB: Spelman actually only accepts about one third of the students who apply. The average combined SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores at that school are over 1000. Spelman is undoubtedly looking for the "cream of the crop." Students who fall short in SAT scores and GPA (Grade Point Average) should try to present impressive records in other areas such as leadership, special talents and extra- curricular achievements in order to get noticed. Outstanding teacher recommendations are also a must, along with a superior application essay. In a nutshell, your daughter's strategy should be to demonstrate that she is a "standout," even if her academic record is below Spelman's norm. Black Excel, by the way, encourages students who like what Spelman stands for to also apply to Hampton. Both schools attract a similar kind of student.
QUESTION: I am finally a senior in high school. But I messed up big time, failing and repeating many courses. I also suspect I'm going to do poorly on the SATs. But I feel like I'm ready now to get serious and work. Is college beyond my reach?
IJB: No, College is not beyond your reach. You should apply along with everyone else. There are more than 3000 colleges in the US, and many schools have "open admission" (they accept any student who graduates high school and makes application). Also, there are "non-competitive" schools (both histor-
ically Black and mainstream, which will offer you a second chance. A community college is yet another option. All you need is a positive attitude and the desire. Black Excel has helped students who have done as poorly as you. Many now have their degrees. Think of yourself as a runner starting an entirely new race. Then step up to the starting line. It's a race you can win.
QUESTION: I am a high school senior and want to go to a Black college. One of my parents think I should go to a "white" college, the other thinks a Black school would be better. What do you say?
IJB: There is no "better" choice. That's why Black Excel helps Black students get into both Black and mainstream colleges. Students we have counseled have applied to Cornell, Morehouse, Bennett, Hofstra, Rochester Institute of Technology, Miles, as well as state and special schools (drama, music). Choices we have recommended cover a wide range. Our thinking is simple: the selection of a college should depend upon a particular student's personality, attitude, ability, life skills and needs.
We encourage every parent to ask this question: What does my son or daughter require to be happy and successful? The next question should be: What does each individual college offer in the way of meeting these needs? For example, if a student needs a nurturing environment with personal attention, it would be foolish to ignore the Black colleges. Our experience has generally been that a professor at a Black school will take a student aside and give him or her extra encouragement and advice if she/he runs into academic difficulty. Black teachers and Black students can sometimes communicate better at a Black school.
At too many mainstream schools students of color are left to sink or swim. Although statistics show that there are more students of color at mainstream schools than in Black colleges, the graduation rate for Black students is far higher in Black schools. True, at mainstream schools you are more likely to find fully-equipped, state-of-the-art laboratories, computers, libraries, famous-name faculty and big endowments. But, while one Black student might fare very well at an Ohio State, another does better at Florida A&M. Each student must factor into his or her decision such factors as racism, campus social life, a school's reputation, majors offered, levels of course difficulty, on-site support systems, cost, campus employment opportunity and options for graduate study.
QUESTION: What colleges have the highest percen-
tages of graduating African Americans going on to medical school?
IJB: In a May, 1992 article that appeared in Black Issues in Education, schools were ranked in the following order over a four-year period: Howard (261 graduating seniors went on to medical school), Xavier University in Louisiana (131), Morehouse College (121), Harvard (ranked 4th), and Spelman (94). Other ranked schools included Stanford, Johns Hopkins, the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia and Northwestern.
QUESTION: If an African-American student has an SAT score and GPA that are clearly below the average scores at a particular college, should that student still apply?
IJB: It depends. A school's average scores mean just that: some entering students do have lower scores, even considerably lower. But admissions teams usually look at other factors as well: special talents, extra-curricular activities, recommen-
dations, etc. Sometimes those other factors make the difference between getting in and not getting in. Showing marked improvement in the third year of high school, for example, could signal a maturing atti-
tude on a student's part and a more positive motivation toward his or her studies.
But you should be aware that if you have less than average scores and still manage to get into a good school, you will be competing with students who have already shown themselves to be academically average or better than average. You will be expected to hold your own. Even so, Black Excel has seen many stu-
dents make the adjustment and do well. You should showcase all the positives about yourself no matter where you apply.
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