College Counseling Myself: Time Travel
Sandy Jimenez has been a College Access Counselor at the Options Center at Goddard Riverside Community Center since 2000. In 2006, she helped design the first iteration of the Options Institute’s Foundation Course for College Access and Success Counselors. She has worked individually with over 500 students and trained thousands of professionals. Most recently, Sandy has joined NYC College Line as a Senior Adviser, where you can reach her through the Ask an Adviser feature.
From the first second I started as a college adviser, I’ve wondered what could’ve been. If I’d had adequate college counseling…If I’d visited this or that college before making a decision…If I’d actually researched some colleges… The big question is would I have attended the same college? The next question is how would that have changed my experience and, in turn, my life?
The college application experience I did have was lacking. I did all of my own research with really no help from school staff or my family. My internship supervisor recommended one school which ended up on my list but, looking back, the others were just random. The high school I attended was large and had few systems to handle all of us. The college counselor knew me because she was also my French teacher. She had a lot on her plate! On top of that, I was a quiet kid who didn’t want to make any waves, so I didn’t ask for help.
I’m not sure if finding the right college fit is a life altering event but it can feel like it! As an adviser, sometimes I get caught up in the anxiety of it all. Then I realize that my student, if connected to the right supports, will probably do well wherever she goes. I understand the nerves though.
Struggling to find a college match
I remember the agony I experienced in selecting the seven colleges I applied to. It was worse in some ways than what my students experience because I wasn’t connected to anyone who could advise me. It was just me and the free directory I got in the mail. Let me tell you about my trusty directory. This directory certainly didn’t list all the colleges in the United States. It didn’t even list all the colleges in New York. It was full of post cards I could send off for more information about the colleges that filled its pages. It was all I had!
After agonizing over all of the colleges in my directory that had my major, I chose seven colleges. My final list was by no means balanced. I was a high performing student and I’m still not-so-secretly proud of my SAT score but a final list where 6 out of 7 schools is an Ivy is not good. I also had no CUNY or SUNY colleges on the list. To be honest, the only thing I’d considered was if they had my major and then I don’t know what else! Thinking back on it, it feels pretty random.
In the end, I got into some colleges and chose one, where I had a pretty good experience. But, what if…
How to find a college match
It'd be cool to go back in time and counsel the younger me. First, of course, there are all the sci-fi things to take care of. I'd have to invent time travel. Then I'd figure out how there could be two versions of me in the same place without totally destroying the universe. After that, it'd be awesome!
Here's what I'd tell myself:
- Ask for help. Even if your high school is gigantic, you are worth helping. Help your college counselor help you by preparing questions for her. Attend college office events. Make sure you contact her when you’re working on your final list. If you need more help than she can offer, ask if she can recommend a partner organization that can help you.
- Start Early. Finding the right colleges is not a senior year project. It’s something you should work on over many years. At the latest, students should get started as juniors. This way they can properly research colleges, work on applications, and make a financial plan.
- Research! Advertisements are a necessary part of research. Students get all sorts of brochures in the mail, at college fairs, and at any number of other events. It is important to use other resources as well. Use reference books (the internet wasn’t as popular when I was a teenager). Make connections with current college students—I’m sure your counselor can refer you to a few. You can also speak to teachers at your school.
- Visit colleges. Even if you can’t visit all of the colleges you are interested in, visit as many as you can. Just knowing you are not interested can be important. Some colleges will host you for free.
- Think of the cost. While finances don’t have to be your first consideration, you should consider them as you look at different colleges. For one, make sure you include colleges with different prices and resources on your list. This means applying to CUNY and SUNY.
I’ll tell you what I want. What I really really want…
This year I had a number of first generation students. After researching and visiting colleges, they still had a difficult time specifying what they wanted in a college. Just choosing and naming preferences can feel very important. One student, Angela, applied to at least 35 schools. She wanted to make sure she got in somewhere but also she knew they were all good schools and couldn’t come up with a good reason to take any one of them off her list. She didn’t want to miss out. I had another young woman, Lynn, who just couldn’t decide where to apply. She suffered from this to such an extent that she missed many deadlines and I’m not sure she applied to more than a handful of colleges. Another student, refused to apply to any college that sounded like someone’s name. She refused to apply to Barnard which sounded too much like Bernard and Hobart and William Smith… If you don’t know what college is like and you’ve visited only a few colleges, it can be hard to stand strong on your preferences.
My College Experience
In truth, college wasn’t all that bad. I stayed in the city and attended a large school. I spent a lot of my college experience feeling lost and having a hard time finding my place. My shyness worked against me in large lecture halls. It wasn’t until junior and senior years, when I got to take some smaller seminar classes that I started making connections with professors. If I had it to do over for real, I’d push myself towards a smaller school environment with smaller classes from the beginning and more of a focus on the arts.
Funny story: in a last minute interception, my college counselor insisted that if I wasn’t going away I had to live in a dorm. She wouldn’t have it any other way! It was one of the best parts of my college experience.
As with any 1980s or 1990s movie, here’s the positive moral I’d end my encounter with before I fade into the crowd of New Yorkers in an ethereal and totally deep way. I’d tell myself that dreams aren’t frivolous. Poetry isn’t necessarily the most practical major but don’t give up, young one. Even if you don’t major in your dreams don’t abandon them. College can be overwhelming but don’t let it take over. Keep writing; it might be your money maker later on.
What would you tell the younger you about college?