Monica N. Britton is quick to acknowledge the love and encouragement she received from her parents during her years as an undergraduate student at the University at Albany.
How to prepare for and survive her first year in college, however, was something she had to learn on her own.
“They sent care packages, they sent money, and they were really supportive,” Britton said. “The biggest thing they did was give me my independence.”
Britton, 48, a marketing director for a non-profit in Brooklyn, was a first-generation college student. While her parents provided a secure life for their only child, Britton said she lacked the skills she needed to help navigate the intimidating place she’d live the next four years.
“I was very nervous and scared. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was supposed to do,” Britton said. She had very little support preparing for college, like when to take the SAT, or the proper way to complete a college application, or where to look for scholarships.
Britton said she knew she wanted to use her experience to help others, so last year she launched Black Girl on Campus at a time when 24 percent of all students headed to college will be the first in their family to do so, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics in the Department of Education. Among those, 14 percent are Black.
“It’s still shocking to me that there are still so many people going through the exact same things I went through 30 years ago,”Britton said.
Britton said the key is to start preparing students for college success as early as possible. By ninth grade she said, there should be a comprehensive plan that includes establishing strong academics, volunteer work, leadership development opportunities, and working on a plan for strong standardized test taking. And while Britton and other thought leaders over the years have advocated this jump start, data gleaned from a comparative analysis on first-generation and continuing generation college students from the Department of Education indicate that many still wait too long.
“Higher percentages of first-generation college students than continuing-generation students said that they had not thought at all about taking the SAT/ACT in the 10th grade and that they did not plan to take the SAT/ACT,” the study reads.
Black Girl on Campus offers several resources. The most popular, Britton said, is the “Pathway to College.” It is a high school-to-college planning checklist to give students and parents an idea of what they should be doing during each grade of high school leading up to the college application process.
Britton said she is expanding the Black Girl on Campus community to two Facebook groups – one for students and another for parents and students. There, she said, she will talk to the groups using the live video platform to provide feedback on their most pressing questions.
“I missed a lot of opportunities I just wasn’t aware of because I had little guidance. I don’t want that to be the story for other little Black girls who have the same dream as I did.”
Monica Britton is the first in an occasional Ark Republic series of Black Women in Leadership. Follow Black Girl on Campus on Twitter at twitter.com/bgoconline