Shereem Herndon-Brown and Timothy Fields, authors of “The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions.”

No matter who you are or where you live, navigating the college admissions process can be stressful and overwhelming. 

Most high school seniors are just trying to enjoy homecoming and football games on top of their other after school responsibilities — they may have a part-time job or help take care of younger siblings after school. But no matter what’s going on, teachers, family members, and parents ask the same questions: Which schools are you applying to? Is that school a safe environment for Black kids? When are you getting your college applications finished? 

Helping Black families navigate the process is why Shereem Herndon-Brown, the chief education officer and founder of Strategic Admissions Advice, and Timothy Fields, senior associate dean of undergraduate admission at Emory University, wrote “The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions,” published in September.  

Both have worked in college admissions at both Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominantly White Institutions, so they’ve been able to “see both sides of the fence.” 

“We have information in our heads that we need to share with people: Black families, Black students, white counselors who are working with Black students, and people who care,” Herndon-Brown says.

The duo’s expertise is certainly needed. As we still try to determine trends the pandemic had on college enrollment, one is being made more clear: there is a continued dramatic decline in enrollment from Black, first-generation, and low-income students, according to a National Student Clearinghouse report published in May.

While Asian and Latinx freshmen numbers grew across the country in spring 2022, the number of Black freshmen declined by 6.5%, or 2,600 students, the report found. This means that, since spring 2020, there is a decline of 19%, or 8,400 fewer Black freshmen in higher education. 

And early decision deadlines are coming up on November 1 for schools taking the Common App, with regular decision applications due in early 2023.

That means getting college application resources and support to Black high school students and their families is a top priority.

“All we want to do is get this message out to people who care about the next generation of Black students. We want to make sure that they understand the choices along the way, ” Herndon-Brown says. 

To understand the message and the choices, Word In Black asked them more about the book and what Black high school students and families should be thinking and doing to ensure a smooth transition to higher education.

Word In Black: What inspired you to write this book? And how long was it in the making?

Shereem Herndon-Brown: We started in the summer of 2020. Tim and I had known each other for about 10 years. We have both written and self-published our own books about totally different things. But we also have this admissions background — I work primarily on the application side, helping families to navigate the college admissions process of multiple applicants together, and Tim has a senior associate dean role at Emory, so he does the admission side. 

But in summer 2020, during what we’ll call the racial reckoning of America — George Floyd, the birdwatcher situation in Central Park — there was a movement in which many students around the country were voicing the micro and macro aggressions against them that were happening at their schools. 

I immediately called Tim and I said we need to write a book about Black families in college. We need to make sure that Black families understand that they have choices, and Black students have a resource that can help them to apply to the right college for the right reasons. And Tim having gone to an HBCU of Morehouse College, and me having gone to Wesleyan University, a predominately white institution, we felt like we had a dynamic that could serve our population.

WIB: What can readers expect to get from this book?

Timothy Fields: The biggest thing readers can expect is an introduction to many aspects of the college admission process. We divided the book up into three primary parts. 

The first part is where we established the place in time we are at in this country with a renaissance of HBCUs. What is going on as far as Black families as they think about this process? Where are they placing their children to go to school? What are the choices that they have? And then also thinking about the college admission process, what questions they should be asking early on. The context sets the foundation. 

The second part we move on to X-factors. And that is really looking at what are some of the pieces of the puzzle that have changed since many of the families applied, thinking about financial aid, if your child is an athlete or artist, or has some special talent, having a conversation about liberal arts, and job preparation. I took the lead on that, reading applications, what things stood out, how students and families can position themselves, and what they should be thinking in the process.

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