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The Black Student’s College Success Checklist

In 2015, high school student Ronald Nelson made headlines when he was admitted to all eight Ivy League schools and decided instead to attend the University of Alabama. He said that he did not receive sufficient financial aid from the Ivy League schools.

Before I worked with students in inner-cities, I would never have thought this could happen. But over the years, I have discovered there is a gaping hole in the world of college admissions. According to this study, students who are low-income but high achievers are less likely to apply to a premiere college. Why? Because they simply don’t know what opportunities are available to them.

When I help families create their ultimate college lists, I’m usually not thinking about admissions. Graduating from college is much more difficult than getting in, especially if for students that are highly motivated but may lack many of the supports and skills necessary to graduate.

“…students who are low-income but high achievers are less likely to apply to a premiere college. Why? Because they simply don’t know what opportunities are available to them.”

With that in mind, here are the six areas I look at to help families create a list and a plan for college success, from admissions to graduation.

Research Graduation And Financial Aid Rates

These are the critical pieces of information: Will the student graduate? When will the student graduate? And how much will it likely cost to graduate? The key piece of information here is that the advertised price is not the price that people actually pay. You may find that the school with the most costly tuition also has incredibly high financial aid rates. So it’s important to look at the tuition within the context of financial aid rates.

Analyze The High School Transcript

Students tend to use the weighted GPA provided by their high schools to determine where they fall with respect to the accepted GPA range at a university. But many universities will not consider weighted GPAs or elective courses when reviewing transcripts. When calculating your GPA, consider only courses the university requires for admissions as a raw score (meaning without the additional point for Advanced Placement and honors) and then again with the weighting for Advanced Placement and honors. This way you are looking at a GPA range to determine where your student falls in the accepted range for each university.

Compare GPA And Sat/Act Scores

Use a third-party reference to look at the median admission scores at selective colleges. I also calculate admit odds based on other trends, such as the percentage of Black students the university admitted in the previous years. I also consider whether the student will be able to attain good letters of recommendation or write a reflective personal statement. A weighty resume is important. For low-income students who need to retake the SAT or ACT, you can apply for a fee waiver. Often, this waiver can be used for college application fees and for test preparation courses. Additionally, for students with an IEP or 504, special accommodations are available on the SAT and ACT, including extra time and larger printed materials. Ask your case manager at your school for more information.

Vet Tutoring And Advising Programs

Put simply: when students are given tutoring and advising services in college, they graduate. I always look for writing centers on college campuses. Look on the campus or student life portions of the school’s website for more information. This is also a great question to ask when touring or emailing a campus. Ask what services the college offers when visiting.

View Your College Career As An Investment

When I start working with a family, I ask them to complete the sentence, “I will be successful if…” and to include anything that comes to mind when thinking about the college-going process.

Some answers I’ve received include:

  • I can get a job after graduation.
  • I get into graduate/law/medical school.
  • I can spend vacations at home.
  • I see a younger sibling grow up.
  • I still value our culture and traditions.
  • I will find something to be passionate about.
  • I can get a job that pays my parents’ mortgage.

For me, this is the most eye-opening exercise because it epitomizes the importance of college, and hopefully the students true intention of college and their goals.

Go For The Gold

Don’t cross off a college simply because of perceived limiting factors. Instead, take a second look at the colleges and universities you thought were out-of-reach and apply. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?


Vielka Hoy

Founder of Bridge To College/CEO of Vielka Hoy Consulting

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