When Guidance Counselors Aren’t Enough: My College Application Journey

June 14, 2018


The author, taking part in the international #16Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, 2017


“Where are you going to go to college?”


Even before my senior year in high school, this was always the topic of discussion. I always felt guilty for not having an answer and not knowing where or how to apply put a lot of weight on my shoulders. I knew there were many great colleges out there but I didn’t know how to figure out which one would best suit me.


I learned quickly that school may not always be the best place to find the resources you are looking for. For first-generation students, low-income students and those who attend large public high schools, finding support with the college process can feel nearly impossible. My school has guidance counselors —but they don’t have a lot of time. In fact, the average counselor-to-student ratio in New York City public schools is 1 to 250 students. As a result, counselors report they only spend 22 percent of their time on college guidance, according to the College Access: Research and Action data.

This is a discouraging ratio for all students. For me, it was frustrating to lack access to time and coaching from those most equipped to provide it.

I knew I had to educate myself more about the college application process. Luckily, I found an organization where their mission is providing that assistance. In the early weeks of my senior year, a close friend recommended that I check out the YWCA Brooklyn. This nonprofit organization not only provided opportunities to help me learn more about the college process but it opened many doors for my future.


Coming for the Hard Skills, Staying to LEAD


Early on in the college process, my main goal was to improve my SAT scores. I attended SAT prep sessions at the YWCA Brooklyn from September to November of 2017. During the week they provided me with English practice after school and math review on weekends. These sessions ultimately helped me to improve my SAT score by 70 points, from a score of 1050 to 1120.


From these classes, I heard about the Young Women’s Leadership, Empowerment and Academic Development (YW LEAD) program. This program was established to help young women in high school apply for and enroll in college. YW LEAD provides academic rigor, college inquiry classes, economic empowerment, leadership, wellness and education.


In addition to college aid, this program equipped me and my fellow “LEAD-ers” to be more involved in my community. Through YW LEAD, I connected to the Girls Read for Girls read-a-thon, became involved in several community-issue focus groups, one with Bric to encourage youth to vote, attended an event celebrating 100 years of Women’s Suffrage, networked with staff from JPMorgan Chase and toured the ABC News Station in New York City, meeting journalists and producers. In addition, YW LEAD-ers and I had opportunities to walk in the women’s march, help come up with ideas on how to get more young people to vote and talk to representatives of our community about issues regarding racism, sexism, domestic violence, women’s empowerment, female morbidity, mental health, education and much more.


Building a College-Going Culture


The Brooklyn YW LEAD program is shaped by young people. It was established in response to constituent feedback from the five girls who were involved in a college access pilot program four years ago. YWCA Brooklyn used the well-regarded College Access: Research and Action (CARA) curriculum. In New York, CARA has more than 75 participating schools and organizations across all five boroughs, and has served over 15,000 students so far, with a particular focus on young women of color.


The program is constantly evolving: when my fellow LEAD-ers and I flagged a challenge for YWCA Brooklyn, they address it. Early on, we realized that we were all at different points in our college process, which made it hard to do group sessions. To solve this, YWCA Brooklyn decided to put their own twist on the CARA program by offering one-on-one assistance. I was able to use my time navigating scholarships, my personal statement, supplemental essays, applying to schools, filling out my FAFSA (financial aid), getting recommendation letters, and sending my SAT scores. I also got training to use websites such as Naviance, Common app, Start Class, and college portals.


Through the extensive process, we had constant support and were motivated by our peers. Every question, concern and worry was addressed thanks to the staff and the YWCA Brooklyn interns.


“I’d say I’ve helped about 15 young women with their college application process. But that’s going to expand next semester, as I start working with the juniors,” Jamiee Nathaniel, a Columbia University intern with YWCA Brooklyn, told me.


YW LEAD also gave us the opportunity to meet with representatives from several colleges. We were able to have informational sessions about what each college offers. I asked about studying abroad, work study opportunities, clubs and campus life at each school. It was a great way for me to become acquainted with schools outside of NYC.


LEAD-ing Forward, Together


The college application process can be challenging for any student. Before this program, I was on my own. Attending the College Inquiry program at YWCA Brooklyn allowed me to break down my own desires and needs and match them to the facts I learned about the schools I was considering.


At the same time, it was comforting to be surrounded by young women in my position, and empowering to support one another through our own journeys. Not only was I able to network, learn more about colleges and make long lasting connections, but I was able to learn more about myself as a young adult.

As I wrap up my senior year, I have weighed the nine acceptance letters I received and decided to enroll at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.


I know my process is not over – I have a summer of deadlines, and then four years of school – but I feel ready. I am taking this next step with confidence, strength and a feeling of power over my life. And for that, I am grateful.



Seniors preparing for the October/November 2017 SAT, YW Brooklyn LEAD, YWCA Brooklyn.

All photos by the YWCA Brooklyn Community unless noted.


YW LEADers at the Girls Read for Girls

Read-a-thon, November 2017, Brooklyn Museum.

Photo by Danielle Guindo


YW LEADers met with Kyle Richardson, Admissions Advisor of SUNY Plattsburgh,

November 2017, YWCA Brooklyn.