Navigating the College Process: Essential Insights for Black Parents
The SCOTUS decision to end race-based affirmative action for college admissions turned a blind eye to this country’s racial realities. It is a huge step in the wrong direction. and will alter college opportunities for many Black students. As devastating as it is, parents must put anger and disappointment aside to focus on how we can best support our college bound children in this new landscape.
How to keep calm and stay informed about the college admissions process going forward? Here are ten tips to know going into the school year:
1. There Are a Lot of Good Colleges Out There. Make Sure You and Your College-bound Student Understand the Entire College Landscape.
The average acceptance rate for the 20 most selective U.S. colleges is a discouraging 6.5%, but the average acceptance rate for all four-year colleges is about 66%. Helping your child focus on finding schools with the best fit, versus just focusing on a few of the top schools, will ease the stress of the process. Be aware that the SCOTUS decision may lead some colleges to drop racial and ethnic preferences around financial aid programs that they fear are open to legal scrutiny. Be sure to check the latest financial aid information for all schools of interest.
2. Understand The Importance of Curating Diverse Classes.
Colleges will still strive to curate diverse classes of students. They are looking to bring community builders, potential leaders, creative thinkers, students with people skills (not just study skills) to their campuses. University of Pennsylvania President Liz McGill recently noted that Penn’s “academic community is at its best when it is diverse across many dimensions” and noted that they are actively working to balance their need to comply with the SCOTUS decision with their interest in creating the “kind of exceptional community that is essential to Penn’s educational mission”. Other colleges have released similar statements. Admissions offices understand the challenge and are focused on meeting it.
3. Consider HBCUs.
As predominantly white colleges and universities (“PWIs”) determine their way forward post affirmative action, this is an opportunity for students to explore colleges and universities which have always wanted and welcomed them: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (“HBCUs”). While heads of these colleges have expressed their disappointment with the SCOTUS decision, they have also acknowledged that their interest in welcoming Black students to college, and their focus on equity, opportunity, and excellence in higher education is unwavering.
In The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions, authors Shereem Herdon-Brown and Tim Fields present the cases for attending both HBCUs and PWIs, and suggest that Black families include HBCU’s in the search. As Shereem noted on my podcast, “I do think black families in 2023, 2024 and beyond, you are being negligent to your child’s educational experience if you’re not considering both….Because of the potential of both, I think you’re being unfair if you don’t at least have family discussion.”
4. Essays Really Matter.
It is more important than ever for Black students to talk about themselves and their community in their essays. As many have noted, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts’ decision includes a small window of opportunity for colleges to consider race in admissions. He wrote: “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise.” In two recent articles, my podcast guests Jacques Steinberg and Shereem Herndon-Brown discuss how students should approach essay writing going forward.
5. Rigorous Courses and Good Grades Also Matter.
College admissions offices have always looked at grades and course rigor as strong indicators of preparation and academic promise. With “standardized test optional” becoming the new norm, grades matter even more. Pay attention to your child’s choice of classes as well as the student’s performance in the class. Worried about an academic stumble in high school? Colleges are interested in growth and development. Your student can use the essay to explain the path from a less successful grade to a more successful one.
6. Test Optional: To Take or Not to Take?
Even if all the schools your child is interested in are test-optional, it won’t hurt for your child to study for and take the SAT or ACT. But they should NOT have the College Board automatically submit their scores to any school. If their scores fall into the desired ranges of the colleges to which they are applying, then and only then should they submit them to the schools. Since your child is trying to paint the clearest picture of their academic journey, every good data point helps. Colleges vary as to whether they are continuing the test optional post pandemic, so be sure to check with each school.
7. It’s Ok to Freak Out, but NOT in Front of Your Kids.
It is a stressful process for sure. All parents come to the process with personal baggage from their own school experiences. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed, but do your best not to share these feelings with your child. They have their own set of stresses, and seeing you freak out about the college process is not going to help them feel better about it. When you need to vent, talk with friends who are not actively going through the process who can give you needed perspective.
8. Pick Your Spots for College Talks.
Your child will not want to talk college all day every day, so squash that inclination. Pick a weekly day and time (e.g., Friday afternoon after school, a weekday night after dinner) for college discussions. Spend that time chatting about where they are in the process, ask questions, and make college process plans. When the allotted time is up, STOP! And pick it back up the next week.
9. Getting to Zen (Or at least to Zen Adjacent) While You Support Your Child During The College Process.
Focus on enjoying as much of the process as you can. College visits can be fun! It’s a great chance to spend more time with your child, hear their perspectives and note their growth. It’s wonderful to watch them get a feel for different campuses as you both contemplate this big next step in your lives. Check out my podcast episode “Having the College Talk with Eric Furda and Jacques Steinberg” to learn about “the index card challenge” and other tips to make this process more interesting and fun.
Try to make peace with the fact that you and your college bound student will rest uncomfortably in uncertainty for several months. Yes, the SCOTUS decision will make the admissions path even more uncertain. But with your support and encouragement, your child will find a college that will appreciate their perspective and accomplishments, will invite them to enroll, and will welcome them to their next exciting educational adventure.
10. Get smart about the process.
There are lots of great print and online resources online to help parents get smart about applying to and affording college. Here are some to get you started: If you want to go deep, there is a free Coursera course, Applying to College 101, which breaks down the college search and selection process for learners of all backgrounds. Big Future, The College Board’s online guide to college admissions, offers a general parent’s page, as well as Real Talk, which provides access to college and career planning resources for Black students and families. Be sure to check out The Black Families Guide to College Admissions, by Tim Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown , and the helpful information in their Understanding Your Choices website. My Ground Control Parenting Podcast series includes several episodes which explore college admissions, including conversations with the CEO of the College Board, and the authors of The College Conversation: A Practical Companion to Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education and The Black Families Guide to College Admissions.
For over a decade, I’ve been co-hosting and moderating an annual college admissions seminar featuring deans of admissions and senior admissions officials. I’ve served as a trustee on high school and university boards. And last but certainly not least, I shepherded my three children through a series of successful college and graduate school applications.
To learn more about my perspective on the college admissions process for Black children, check out my blog and episodes of my Ground Control Parenting podcastwith several guests who are actively involved in the admissions process.