What's Keeping Us Up At Night

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‘Tis the Season! The demands of the holiday season on college offices across NYC

by Jeff Makris
12/29/14 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. 


Making a list…checking it twice

Perhaps you recall advertisements for that toy fish with the motion sensor that sings “Don’t Worry, Be Happy?” from a few years ago.  Now, the talented fish is sold in a popular chain of drug stores. It is one of the three items on my daughter’s Christmas wish list.  She is three. 

“Are you sure this is what you want?  Tell me again.” I request.  “A doll house, koala critters, and the singin’ fish.” She replies without hesitation.  So, it’s settled. 

My wife has already managed most of our shopping. (I mean, my wife and Santa, of course) so my “to do” list for December, which is actually on a post-it in my pocket as I write this blog, looks a lot like this:

  • get stocking stuffers for Molly
  • buy singing fish
  • chase down the three teachers that still haven’t uploaded their recommendation letters or completed their Common App Eval forms
  • finish my own 15 remaining rec letters
  • find out why I can’t submit electronic documents for “Johnny” to “____ University” even though it worked for everyone else!!
  • write blog
  • make sure ALL students submit their CUNY, SUNY and private college apps by the holidays
  • be ready for financial aid presentations for the week of January 5th
  • get egg nog

Oh, right… did I mention that I’m a college counselor?

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

December is an exciting month for so many reasons…the holidays, good times with family and friends, well-earned vacation time… but it is also one of the busiest months of the year for college counselors.  Some years, my stomach would tighten when I heard “Jingle Bells” or “Deck the Halls.”   I didn’t think about dashing through the snow, but rather dashing to the photo copier to copy hundreds of rec letters and transcripts and subsequently stuffing and addressing mountains of envelopes all the way until New Year’s Eve.   Technology has eased this burden in recent years (thank you Naviance…no coal for you this year!), but this remains a very demanding season indeed.

Naughty and Nice

Part of what makes this time of year so demanding is that you, the counselor, are never fully in control. You are dependent upon both your students and faculty. If the students are late with their essays, or telling you where they are applying….or teachers are late with their rec letters (don’t get me started),  then you are going to have a very hard time getting everything done before the holidays.  Sure, some things can be left for January, but if students are applying to selective colleges, EOP/HEOP/SEEK, programs, or need to be able to fully focus on applying for financial aid in January, then you really want the application process done by December 31st.  

Naughty students and teachers make this harder to accomplish. Fortunately, I’ve found that with enough effort, most can do enough to get on track and make it back onto the nice list before the vacation.

Winter Wonderland

I have employed a few strategies over the years to make sure I meet the demands of December the best that I can, such as using internal deadlines for students and staff, maximizing the use of electronic submission, putting the office on “lockdown,” etc.  For the most part, these strategies have worked, but it remains a tiring and stressful ride. Perhaps December, in spite of all of our best efforts, will always be a whirlwind of tiny tots all aglow, rec letters, and college essays. And now, for my household anyway, singin’ fish.

How do you manage your offices in the December college application rush?  What strategies would you suggest to your fellow college counselors?   

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