Picking a College and Application Strategy
                               (For Parents and Students)

                                              September-October Black Excel Newsletter

Starting with the July-August edition of the Black Excel Newsletter we began a new series of  Q & A's on our counseling ideas/strategies that have helped students get into an "honor roll" of colleges and universities across the US. This Sept.-Oct. edition of the Black Excel Newsletter
will continue our series of helpful Q & A counseling.

We are hopeful that these "special" editions will be circulated to our students, parents, mentors, and educators as an ongoing counseling tool.    -Isaac Black, Founder Black Excel: The College Help Network (www.BlackExcel.org).

             Picking A College and Application Strategy
                       (For Parents and Students)

Question: How Do You "Pick a College" and "What
should your application strategy be?"

Black Excel Founder:

This is a major question of both students and parents.  First,
never target just one school.  Never!  In counseling sessions we
always suggest that you apply to a minimum of 5 or 6 schools.
You must hedge your bets, period.  In fact, if you are a strong
or honors-level student, you should apply to even more schools.

You should be hopeful about accepts, but never assume anything.  Whatever your selected or first-choice college
picks are, always add one or two of your state-supported
schools to your application lists. You should apply to state
schools routinely, no matter what your picks or favorite
picks or schools might be (keep reading for an explanation).

Whatever you decide to do, in the "end game" nothing is
more comforting than having several accepts--and options--
in the bag.  What follows in an example of sound application planning.

A Case Scenario?

Let's assume that an academically strong New York student
wants to apply to Wesleyan (CT), Boston College (MA), Cornell of the Ivy League (New York) and HBCU Spelman (GA).  Such a student should back that grouping with an application to two highly regarded public New York State schools, perhaps SUNY Albany or Binghamton.  Also, the student would be wise to apply to one of the fine but lesser-ranked SUNY schools.  You do this because it's an intelligent win-win backup strategy. In such a group of selections, I would also advise such a student to include another highly ranked HBCU school like Hampton.  You want two HBCUs that can deliver the same kind of punch in the mix. (See end note about super, good, average, and eed-a-second- chance strategies.)

A wise student and family never makes a decision in regard to any accept until they see a school's financial aid package. That's a key factor, when you look at your total needs and make comparisons.  Be aware that your state-supported schools are often 1/3 the cost of private or out-of-state schools, and often deliver just as much "power."  A pivotal question?  What's the best buy when you factor in prestige, campus environment, academics, track record, etc.?  To me, that's something to think about.  Often we're picking schools willy-nilly and don't understand the playing field.  We often pick John Doe College (fictional name) when that cheaper state school offers equal or greater firepower.  Indeed, often we make our picks without really doing the necessary research or seeing the big picture.  The point is that during the "end game" we must make prudent decisions.

Of course, there are prestigious and high-priced schools that will offer bargain or great aid packages. Sometimes we can get a tuition-free deal.  If so, wonderful.  Often that "name" school is worth the money.  But the point is that you don't know what the real deal is (in regard to money or otherwise) until everything is on the table.  You have to do your homework. What school will really be an advantageous pick, all things considered?

Question: In selecting a college, what are the things
you should consider?

First and foremost that depends on the student/child--that is, his or her academic ability, personality, the social scene (Greeks, maybe), the racial mix, sports, their individual needs.  One student might desire a feeling of being at home, needing friendly support.  Another student might not blink if they are going it alone and are a minority in regard to race, cultural issues, religion, or something else.  To some, weather, location, or school size might really matter.  Sometimes a student wants a private bathroom instead of having to go to a communal shower.

From a counseling perspective I always try to give a total overview of issues to consider.  For example, what are the
graduation and/or retention rates of a particular school? Are you sending your student/child to a college where "we" generally graduate?  Sometimes we don't do that.  Spelman College, for example, graduates most of the students that enter.  Wouldn't you feel reassured if your child was heading to a place where the odds are that she or he will get a degree? And, as I've already pointed out, "the big bad wolf"--money--is always lurking to unnerve us.  Knowing the angles and how your pocketbook could be tapped, is a concern.

Question: What's your opinion on most college counselors and what they say about the Application
Process and Picking Colleges?

Generally, most students/parents are looking for answers and support, and are not getting it.  That's the sad truth.  My opinion
is based on many years of interaction with literally thousands
of our students and/or their families.  At lectures, college fairs,
and elsewhere, it's clear that "counseling" info is missing for the most part.  Forget about "insiders tips," "beat-the-odds" tactics, even what I would call the basics in regard to what to do.  All things considered, our students/parents are going it alone.

In my opinion, the majority of college counselors rate a C-minus
or less, for a myriad of reasons.  The good or great ones are, in my opinion, in the minority.  To be fair, many have caseloads that can go higher than 300-to-1. Another problem is that many career advisors are counseling by rote year after year.  Too often, there is no attention to "our" special needs.  Without a doubt, too many use an assembly-line approach to get the job done.  That doesn't work.  Here are telltale signs that all is not well:

1) The "assembly-line" effect has been in place for years at a high school.  There is never any talk or posting of an honor roll of college and university accepts.

2) Our "star" students are not being told or encouraged to apply to some of the most prestigious colleges.

3}The counselor has little or no knowledge of   HBCUs, and rarely mentions them.

4) Students who need a "second chance" are left neglected and not told about the many open admissions schools that will accept virtually all high school graduates.

5) A student has had little or no hands-on college counseling.

6)Few  students are getting a personalized overview of their particular "packages" and options.

7)A school/counselor has no college newsletter, website links to resources, and no info gateway: about college fairs, tours, college open house and orientations, test dates, or other related helpful material.

There are, of course other tell-take signs of neglect that are too numerous to list here.  If you and your student/child don't feel like you have a handle on the process, something is wrong.  It seems to me that students at large urban/public schools, are really shortchanged.  Students that are fortunate enough to attend private schools get more attention, to be sure.  A lot of those schools have reputations that.are based on college placement  and counselors have to generate "accept" lists.  In any case, I still get a lot of complaints from students and parents attending those schools.  There seems to be, in a lot of cases, a tier  system, where our students are too often not "pitched" to the top schools because "other" students are getting that attention.  I hear this a lot in  emails, letters, and calls asking for help.  Across the board, wherever we are, I would say that most of our folks need counseling A to Z.

Question: What should students and parents be doing to stay informed and get better results with  regard to picking and applying to schools?

First, you should be looking for people who really care. When you find them, these educators, mentors, counselors, cultural groups or whoever, will be on "a mission."  There are many cultural and social organizations that are offering help.  I have found, too, that many of the people who organize our college tours are our unsung heroes.  Your best advocates are offering support, trying to get answers, and looking beyond the so-called rules and published stats. The message? You can do it, you can get in.

Good advice can take you to the mountain top. Students I have counseled who initially thought that highly ranked, Ivy League, or great HBCUs were beyond their reach, now know better.  Students who though they had "messed up totally" and had thrown their lives away were told the truth: You can excel.   You can get a second chance if you need it. One thing that a student/family needs is the right pitch, a roadmap, and the inspiration and motivation.

End note:

In my book, the Black Excel African American Student's College Guide (John Wiley & Sons) I lay out application strategies for super, good, average, and "need a second chance" students.  It's a counseling tutorial, A to Z, about everything you need to know.  It's available at Amazon.com,
and at major bookstores (order it if it's sold out, using
ISBN 0-471-28552-3).

The guide is also a featured book at the Black Expressions
Book Club (www.blackexpressions.com). Go to the
"Reference" or "Culture and Heritage" sections.

In the next edition of the newsletter I will talk about "Aid and Scholarships." 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 and beyond.

Isaac Black's Bio

Isaac Black is the Founder of Black Excel: The College Help
Network (www.BlackExcel.org). He is also the author of the
Black Excel African American Student's College Guide
(see above).  Isaac has been a keynote speaker for the
College Board (NYC), and has lectured at college fairs, high
schools, and colleges and universities including Howard
(for the Urban League) and Harvard.

Over 500 colleges and a larger number of cultural and other organizations, post Back Excel resource materials at their websites.

Our 100 Minority Scholarship Gateway List is at http://www.blackexcel.org/100minority.htm

Newsletter by Isaac Black, Founder
Black Excel: The College Help Network
OR: ijblack1@aol.com