What's Keeping Us Up At Night

The Access to Success (A2S) blog

Inside the hearts & minds of NYC College Advisers

College Advisors Working with Unreceptive Students

by Jeff Makris
09/19/14 Bookmark
Jeff Makris

Jeffrey C. Makris is the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology's  first Director of College Counseling.  He served as the Director of College Counseling at the High School of Economics and Finance since 2004 after beginning his school counseling career there in 1999 as a guidance counselor. Jeffrey has been active in the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling, and the College Access Consortium of New York, Inc. In June of 2009 he completed a three -year term on the Executive Board of NYSACAC as Co-Chair of the School - College Relations Committee, and in June of 2011 he was awarded the NYSACAC Distinguished Service Award.   In July of 2012 he completed his term as Chair of CACNY, Inc.'s Board of Directors after serving on the Board for four years. For five years Jeffrey taught Counseling the College Bound Student, a graduate level course introducing students to the college counseling profession, for the University of California, Los Angeles through the UCLA Extension program.    He earned his BS in Psychology from Binghamton University, S.U.N.Y. and his MSEd in School Counseling from Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. 


Meet “Julio”

I worked very closely with a young man not named Julio a few years ago.  While I typically don’t get to spend a great deal of time with students before their junior year, Julio was different.  He was the smiling kid who was ever present in our guidance office. He’d spend each free period helping out, or just hanging around to talk. The night I received an Amar’e Stoudemire bobble head-doll at a Knicks game (Amar’e was having a really good season), I knew in an instant to whom I would give it. I remember how he laughed when I handed it to him.

Julio was well liked by his peers and had good friends but also seemed tired of their high school antics from day one.  He wanted to go to college, and he was willing to work to get there.  Julio dreamed of leaving New York City and being the first in his family to have the college experience.  But, as time went on, we saw that this could prove difficult. 

A good listener

Julio earned solid grades but struggled mightily on his Regents exams, and eventually the ACT and SATs.  His family income was just a bit high for HEOP and EOP. He applied to several four -year colleges, and was admitted to a few, but the money just was not there.

Fortunately, Julio was always willing to learn and to take the advice of his counselors and teachers.  He enrolled in our high school’s CUNY at Home in College program, applied to a few safe CUNY colleges including La Guardia Community College, and began looking at future transfer possibilities. Whenever I tried to guide him, he listened and followed through, even if it meant acknowledging that things might not go the way he had hoped.  He started his college career at La Guardia.


Not every student is so receptive to our feedback.  Darnell (not his real name) approached me on the first day of his junior year.  Our conversation immediately revealed two things; Darnell had difficulty in school that would likely continue, and was totally obsessed with the notion of playing in the NBA. He expressed interest in only the biggest of the big time basketball schools.  I hoped over the course of the year I would be able to convince him to consider including some other options…just in case things don’t quite work out.  I contacted a counselor from another organization, one who was familiar with Darnell’s basketball skills, he told me that Darnell would be fortunate to play NCAA Division III ball.

As the year progressed, I tried hard to get Darnell to expand his thinking.  We talked about the NCAA and looked at his potential eligibility.  I introduced him to lesser known but perhaps better -fit schools. I encouraged him to consider applying to one or two community colleges in his senior year to ensure he’d have a place to start his college career. We looked at CUNY ASAP and the transfer office pages of community college websites.

Unfortunately these were one -sided conversations, to say the least.  I suppose I should be glad Darnell humored me and politely sat through it all.  But so far, there is absolutely no indication he intends to follow through with any of my suggestions.  It’s big time NCAA or bust for Darnell.

Alexander, meet Mr. Al Roker…

Darnell isn’t the first student I have worked with who was less than receptive to my plans.  “Alexander” had high hopes to be a weatherman.  He was EOP eligible, had earned good grades, and eventually was admitted to a number of four-year institutions including SUNY Oswego (EOP).  But, he and his mother had “Big State U” [BSU] dreams.  A family member had attended this out-of-state public institution years ago, and it was the only one for Alexander.  The financial aid package, as one would expect, was going to leave him in massive debt.  He would have to attend a satellite campus for two years before he could transfer to the main campus.  But, he and mom were ready to pack his bags the day the acceptance letter arrived.

I talked with Alexander extensively about the pros and cons of his plan.  I talked about the long -term issues associated with debilitating debt.  He listened but never wavered.  He admitted his mother’s will had a powerful influence.  She was never willing to talk to me.

I recall one of our final conversations on the matter.  Alexander seemed to think he had figured out something I did not when he proudly declared that BSU had a meteorology program, which is what he desperately sought.  “So does Oswego, actually” I countered.  “Al Roker went there.  You know him?  He is basically the King of Weathermen.”  But, it didn’t matter.  His mind was set, and anything that I said that might cause him to question his (their) plan, really his heart, he would not hear.

Diary of a Dream-Squasher

Sometimes unresponsive students respond this way because they just aren’t ready to acknowledge that you might be right.  Their childhood dreams may not come to fruition. They may have to make less exciting decisions that we know will lead them to long -term success, but they are too young and emotional to see it. I have found that, while it is important to be honest and realistic with students, you need not crush their dreams.  And if you do, they may shut you out altogether.   

I try to work with both plans.  Want to play in the NBA? Fine.  Here’s how to register with the NCAA.  This is the sliding scale for eligibility. But just in case, let’s make sure we have some back up plans in place, plans that you can live with…and that might lead you to a future you will enjoy.

I know that I may not be the most influential person a student chooses to work with.  So if someone else has their ear, then I try to also work with them…teachers, counselors, parents, even peers. A team approach can be more effective.

The return of Julio

Julio and I keep in touch, and his tale of broken college dreams isn’t actually so bad.  He visited my new school twice last year to speak to my current students and impart some wisdom upon them.  His earnest style and engaging persona had them hanging on his every word. He told them about his initially disappointing college outcome. He started at La Guardia but participated in the ASAP program.  He did well, worked closely with his advisors, and would be finished with his associate degree at the end of that spring.  He had applied to transfer to several four-year institutions and received several acceptances.  He decided in the end that he wanted to finish his college education in New York City after all. He’ll be starting at Baruch College this fall.  As I hear him speak, I think back on his experience with me and how proud of him I am. 

How do you reach those students who seem the least receptive to your efforts? What do you do to maximize the chances that they will make good decisions?  How do you approach students who hold unrealistic expectations?

* Image provided via in-kind courtesy from "Wait But Why".  Thank you!

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