Professional Development for College Counselors
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.
I vividly recall my first NYSACAC annual conference. It was held at LeMoyne College in June of 2004. I had been a guidance counselor for a few years and dabbled in college counseling. I was fortunate to be accompanied by two phenomenal mentors who essentially led me by the hand the entire week…from workshops, to socials, to side conversations with folks who knew much more about college admissions than I did. One of my colleagues was presented with a major award. I was awed as he spoke in front of what must have been six or seven hundred attendees, and wondered what it took to get to that point in one’s career.
My head was spinning during that conference. I was excited but very nervous, and often felt out of my league. At the end of the week I found out that my colleague, who had established our school’s college office, would be leaving in the fall. I would be taking over for him.
Cheese Heads and C.O.W.S.
That led me to my first NACAC conference in Milwaukee that fall. My colleagues still led me around, only this was a much bigger stage. I met people whose importance in the field it took me a few years to grasp. I learned so much, so fast, but it seemed that the more I learned the more I realized how much I needed to learn. I took notes, asked questions, and, of course, bought a cheesehead.
After the conference I spent a week on my first real counselor college tour, the Counselors Observing Wisconsin Schools tour…C.O.W.S. …pun intended. I knew very little about each stop going in and knew no one on the tour. It ended up being a transformative experience in my career. Several of my future students ended up having wonderful experiences at two of the five colleges, and I look forward to seeing the friends I made that week at NACAC conferences each year.
Right here at home
My mentors had always stressed the importance of professional development. It didn’t take me long to see how right they were. So, I joined CACNY to get more frequent professional development and networking opportunities here in NYC. After a few years I ran for the CACNY Board of Directors, and won. In my last year I served as Chair. Serving on the Board took a great deal of time and energy, but the pros clearly outweighed the cons. I leaned my trade, made long lasting connections, and, most of all, became a more effective college counselor for the families I served.
On the road again…
I am fortunate to have been able to attend most NACAC and NYSACAC conferences since 2004. I no longer find these events nerve wracking or intimidating, but instead look forward to the chance to reconnect with colleagues and stay on top of my profession. A conference center in an unfamiliar city becomes almost a home away from home. I have presented on national, state and city panels, and a few years ago I found myself to be the recipient of an award from NYSACAC. That scared rookie at LeMoyne would have never imagined any of this.
But is it really worth it?
I returned from NACAC in Indianapolis a few weeks ago and was (and still am) swamped beyond belief. I have rec letters to write, students with whom I need to meet, and classes in which I need to present. September is already gone. It was a great conference and my time was well spent, but part of me also feels as if it were a mistake. How in the world am I going to catch up?
My answer to the question “is it worth it?” is an unequivocal yes. I would never have learned so much about college admissions, specific institutions, financial aid, admissions practices, etc. without being so involved in these organizations and activities. You can’t be an effective college counselor in a vacuum. But the time away from the office and costs of these endeavors are real barriers for so many of us.
How do you build in time for your own professional growth? What do you do to ensure that you can meet the needs of your students while continuing your training and enabling yourself to establish or strengthen your professional network?