Anna Martinez
College Counselor
The American Dream School (NY)

What drew you to the world of college admission counseling?
As a first-generation college student, I had no idea how to navigate college applications, financial aid, or scholarships. I had a vague understanding of the difference between state and private colleges. Without the help of La Vida Scholars, a free college prep program located in my hometown of Lynn, Massachusetts, I would not have gotten into my alma mater Barnard College (NY). When I graduated from college, I joined the New York University College Advising Corps because I felt the organization shared similar values of helping low-income, first-generation students go to college. A few months into my two-year tenure, I knew I was going to do this for the rest of my life.

What is your favorite part of the job?
Serving an immigrant population, I work with families that have, by and large, never been allowed to self-actualize due to their socioeconomic class, documentation status, or a variety of other factors. College counseling in this context is racial justice work. It is providing information to students and families who have no prior knowledge of the college process because they have been historically marginalized. My favorite part of the job is knowing that by helping them on this journey, I am not only changing their life but the lives of their family members.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
I attended NACAC for the first time in 2022. I could never imagine the amount of mission-driven and service-oriented professionals I would meet. NACAC has introduced me to a network of counselors that I can reach out to for questions, concerns, or general advice. It has also allowed me to understand the different spaces in counseling and higher education that I can take my skill set and grow as a professional.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
The biggest challenge facing our profession today is under-matching.

I have come across counselors who have built college lists with SUNY community colleges on them for undocumented students who have a high GPA and low income, or have provided the wrong tax information on the HEOP/EOP financial documents because the student lives in a multi-generational home with different members financially supporting different children.

One of the reasons this occurs is because counselors are not prepared to provide equitable services to students with more nuanced circumstances related to socioeconomic status, cultural background, language barriers, GPA, and/or documentation status. High schools need to invest in professional development opportunities for counselors. In NYC specifically, CARA, Options Institute, CACNY, and NYSACAC offer resources and networking opportunities for new and returning counselors. Additionally, under-matching occurs when counselors do not believe in the student’s potential. This focus on problems rather than solutions adds to a deficit mindset, or glass-half-empty perspective. Deficit mindset is an equity issue. I think it would be beneficial for schools to facilitate workshops to identify bias within their own communities, and work toward a growth mindset.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I like to rock climb two or three times a week to relieve stress. The first time I rock climbed was during the NACAC conference in 2022. I was bored in my hotel room and thought it would be fun to try. I love it! Also, I am currently training to run 10 miles in September for the Bronx 10 Miles. I also try to read a book a month! For August, I am reading Poverty, by America written by Matthew Desmond.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I would be Mulan! Mulan disguises herself as a man to protect her ailing father from his place in the war. She trains hard to be considered an equal and uses her wit to fight off the Hun invasion. Mulan was the first feminist I came across as a child without an understanding of feminism because she is fighting for her place in the world.


Published Aug. 7, 2023