Meet The Experts Behind 'The Black Family's Guide to College Admissions'
Education Lifestyle

Meet The Experts Behind ‘The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions’

Photo by Joe Carlos Photography

For what has been a two-year project, veteran admissions experts Timothy L. Fields and Shereem Herndon-Brown are igniting a complex, yet necessary conversation amid today’s evolving higher education landscape.

The dynamic duo is inviting all Black families who have had to make many life decisions around education and exposure to tune in.

Fields and Herndon-Brown penned an empowering book, The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: 

addresses the needs and inequities of Black families in the college application process, specifically those that are often ignored by school counselors or other resources. 

(Amazon)

As parents themselves, Fields and Herndon-Brown aim to inspire other Black parents with Black children to successfully research and navigate the admission journey with step-by-step instructions.

The book acts as a resource shining a light on everything from the current social justice movement and the cultural and educational credibility of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to financial aid and athletic recruitment. This book is also for school counselors and educators who are seeking more insight with the goal of amplifying diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions leans on the provocative insight of Herndon-Brown, whose experience in the secondary school and collegiate space paved the way for his own independent consulting company, Strategic Admissions Advice, LLC. Fields, who currently serves as the senior associate dean of admissions at Emory University, lends his expertise to recruitment, application review, and program building, as well as his personal experience as a Morehouse College graduate.

In an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, the pair provided more insight into their collaboration journey and parted with a piece of advice for Black parents.

What motivated the collaboration between you two? Describe the journey. 

Fields: The main thing that sparked the collaboration is our stark professional and educational differences. While Shereem attended and immersed his children in independent and private schools, my family is committed to public school. I went to an HBCU (Morehouse College), and he attended a PWI (Wesleyan), and many other differences that speak to the diversity of Black people and their educational options. Also, the racial awakening in 2020 cemented the need for this book in the wake of the Black IG movement at schools across the country. Finally, the need to highlight the importance of HBCUs in this current landscape was also a driving force.  

Herndon-Brown: Tim is in the rare position of being a Black man in a senior position at one of the top universities in the country. I’ve always admired how he navigated his role at Emory while keeping his strong ties to Morehouse and using Emory as a platform to advocate for families to research both PWIs and HBCUs. There are other people of color in admissions offices at elite universities but, to my knowledge, none went to an HBCU. I knew that he and I were different in our thinking about the role of standardized testing and public school vs. private school. I wanted to work with someone who would challenge my thinking about pushing this book to be informative. On my own, I could make it provocative but I was confident that Tim would even me out and he did. His professional position gives this book tremendous credibility. 

Why is The Black Family’s Guide to College Admission so important in today’s educational landscape?  

Fields: Given how much has changed in the past 5 years and the last 20 or more since many parents and guardians attend college – nothing’s the same— those families and students need to understand the best ways to navigate this current admission landscape. It is also important that myths are dispelled about this process, the college admission process is very subjective, but we wanted to make sure to limit misinformation and false presumptions about this college admission process.

Herndon-Brown: Today’s educational landscape focuses so much on first-generation students and socioeconomic diversity. What about the Black families who are not first generation? What about the Black families that are wealth-building and are not given the same information and attention about the college process? Many Black families have made tremendous sacrifices to be in upwardly mobile positions that need to be heard and advocated for.

What are some of the things Black parents miss when helping their child apply for college? Why is that?  

Fields: I think the biggest thing they miss is knowing that the process needs to start EARLY. Too often, Black families think the process begins in high school, when it should start in middle school. Also, we think it’s very important that families have discussions about cost very early on in the process to let that be a part of the college search process. While many factors will guide this college search process, cost should be at the forefront of the discussion. 

Herndon-Brown: Black families need to open up our lens to more schools, sometimes further away from home that may offer greater life opportunities beyond what we know to be familiar.  

Why is it important for all Black parents to educate themselves about the historical and cultural relevance of HBCUs?  

Fields: We understand that HBCUs are not for everyone, nor is there even room in the case that all Black students want to attend them, but we want to make sure that families consider them as they go about this process. Throughout the book we highlight successful Black college graduates from both HBCUs and PWIs to underscore the fact that there is not one path to success in the college admission process, but to overlook HBCUs given their track record for success in all areas of the workforce we think is very short sighted, just was we think only looking at PWIs and not HBCUs would be short sighted as well.  

Herndon-Brown: “Celebrated, not tolerated.” Between the ages of 18-22, young Black people need to find out who they are, what’s important to them and identify their tribal peers. They need a place to exhale and let their hair down. PWIs were not designed to do this and while many support it, it’s hard for an entire community to embrace the evolving nature of young adulthood. HBCUs wrap their arms around their students and continue to serve as a “home base” for the alums for years after graduation. Only a handful of PWIs can say the same.  

What were some of the rewards and challenges for writing this book?  

Fields: The most rewarding part is the finished product, knowing it was needed in the college admission space and the impact it will have on so many students, families, and educators. The most challenging part of the process was how fast information is changing and evolving. While we think the book is timely and up to date, so much is happening that may lead to some of the information being out of date in the next twelve to eighteen months. 

Herndon-Brown: The reward is having Black families approach this process with a greater sense of urgency and understanding. We define college admissions success as having college choices. The challenge was actually completing it and going from an actual idea to a paperback book. We have hiccups along the way and even a few stalls but what we have accomplished is, arguably, historic. We are now in the canon of college admissions guide books and our work will outlive us. That’s a beautiful thing. 

How does your book aim to reinforce the change you want to see in college counseling?  

Fields: We are not looking to change school counseling, as we feel most do an excellent job, but rather provide a resource to help educators and families better support students in this process and understand their options. We also want to highlight the HBCUs that are often overlooked and in many instances many counselors don’t know a lot about them beyond Howard, Morehouse, and Spelman. Finally, we want to underscore the importance of the relationship between the school counselor and family working together on what’s best for the student in this process.  

As Black parents with professional experience in college admissions, what general advice do you have for other Black parents who are seeking viable college options for their children?  

Fields: Start early and make the process personal and have the process be guided by these four principles: cost, location, major, and career. Everyone who has gone through this process thinks they are a professional at some level and know how to get students into college. However, their experience is different from yours. The needs of students need to lead this process for parents and educators. Make this process honest and personal; there is no doubt you will find the success you are looking for. 


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