Toward the "Talented Tenth:" A guide for Applying to College

According to recent census numbers, there are approximately 46 million African Americans in this country. At present, the number of African American, four-year college graduates recently passed the 4.6 million mark. Put simply, for the first time ever, African Americans can lay legitimate claim to the elusive "Talented Tenth" DuBois envisioned for Black America more than a century ago. When the number of two year college graduates, and the number of people who have earned professional certifications that do not require college is added into the number, it goes beyond 12%.


The implications for this accomplishment are huge. It means greater opportunity in terms of employment, and other social indicators, such as higher lifetime income, better health, and dictates trappings such as types of homes, cars, and vacations.


But beyond this good news, there is still a disparate number of African Americans who are under employed or unemployed; far too many of our youth - especially our young men are languishing behind bars, or existing on the very edges of oppressive poverty. If the words of the "Talented Tenth" have any meaning today at all, it is that those of us who have achieved, or aspire to do so have special responsibility - not just to complete the task of earning that degree, nor to rest on the laurels of earning it, if we have already done so. Our task is to make sure that we move toward that mark, and show our gratitude to the elders. Our responsibility is to light the way for those who follow behind us, and seek our advice as they travel roads we have already travelled.


To that end, the college application process is in full swing. A large part of that process is the essay process. In addition to having been a college faculty member for the past 15 years, prior to that time, I was a college admissions counselor, doing everything from visiting high schools and community organizations, to reading and evaluating applications. One of the more interesting and sometimes challenging aspects of the application process is essay writing.


The art of writing and effective college essay is something that nearly anyone can master. The following are a few basic steps to help you through the process.


Make sure you understand the topic or the main question asked in the essay. This may sound simplistic, but many times, responses to essay questions come back sounding as if they were written without any thought to the question.


If you feel that you have written an essay that is so good it can be used for multiple purposes, to the best of your ability, try to adapt certain passages of the essay to fit what is specifically being asked. Despite the volume that many colleges get in terms of applications, it might surprise you to know that nearly all of them, if not all are read by at least one person - and if it's an exceptional piece of writing, more than one...


Be yourself. Again, this may sound simplistic, but too often a person writes an essay - or has someone write if for them, and what is presented on paper is not representative of you, what you fully represent, or what the college is looking for in you as a student. One of the best things that can come out of the essay process inspires questions: "Why do I REALLY want to attend this college?" "What can I offer this college?" "What can this college offer me?" Responding to an essay question bearing this in mind will help you craft an effective essay.


Get people from different perspectives to read your essay before you submit. The people you allow to read should read it not only for clarity, punctuation, spelling (spellcheck corrects the words, but if the wrong word is spelled correctly, it will miss it), but to determine if the essay answers the question appropriately, or gives the reader the sense that it reflects the person you are, and want to be. For best results, try to get someone who is well versed in writing, and in reading critically - like an English or other teacher, a counselor, or a writer...




College application time is exciting, and should be, whenever possible, as stress free as you can make it. But knowing that your future might be in someone else's hands brings a certain amount of stress. It is important to remember that college is a place where many of your dreams can begin, but not all of them - most of that, all of that is up to you! Your ability to identify, claim and work for success is in your hands...


Dr. Randall Westbrook