NYU College Adviser Reaches Students By Just Showing Up—Every Time, All The Time

From since I can remember I’ve had the itch to learn and teach—I guess that plays well into what I’m doing now as a college adviser. — Andrew Nicolas

An only child, Andrew Nicolas, 25, was raised by his mother in Queens, New York. As a single parent who had immigrated from Haiti to the U.S., his mother took a no-nonsense approach to child-rearing that proved to undergird the 18-year-old Nicolas after his mother lost a three-year battle with cancer.

“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was just 15; I had to grow pretty fast,” shared Nicolas, a first-generation college graduate. “When I got a scholarship for a writer’s internship in California, she was blunt and to the point. ‘Listen, we have two options,’ she said. ‘You can either go to California, or you can stay here with me and fight through this.’ It was at that moment I came face-to-face with adulthood.”

Nicolas, who graduated from The Renaissance Charter School, one of only two K-12 public schools located in New York City, went on to attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

During his senior year at John Jay College, Nicolas learned about College Advising Corps from a friend who served as an adviser. Having always liked working with young people and wanting to take some time off from classes before enrolling in a master’s degree program, Nicolas applied to become a college adviser with College Advising Corps’ partner, New York University. He began serving students attending Urban Assembly Gateway School for Tech in New York City, a smaller high school with only 460 students, 57% of whom receive free or discounted lunch.

College Advising Corps partners with 30 universities to place recent college graduates in underserved high schools nationwide. These near-peer advisers work full-time to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented high school students enrolling in higher education.

“Even though my students can display a lot of bravado at times, in reality, they also possess a lot of self-doubts,” Nicolas said. “For many, the thought of competing for college entry against other students just adds to their insecurity. But the moment I see my students realize they have what it takes and all they need is that roadmap to get there—well, that’s what does it for me. It feels great when they leave my office knowing they don’t have to worry about those naysayers because now they have a plan that will get them to their goal.”

With the closing of high schools in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicolas went from advising in-school to a
virtual model in which he utilizes text, email, social media, Zoom, and phone calls to communicate with his students.

After the high school transitioned to remote learning, Nicolas, who was used to meeting with juniors and seniors daily, launched College Knowledge Office Hours via Zoom where he is available to his students weekdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. He emails his students daily with invitations to take part.

“The first few weeks were just me literally staring at myself,” chuckled Nicolas, who believes he has strong relationships with his students because he treats them as adults, listening respectfully to their thoughts and opinions. “However, over time students started dropping in one by one. That consistency and the fact that this one thing hasn’t changed in their support system even though the world had turned upside-down makes them feel much more secure. Now, if I for some reason don’t hold office hours or my WIFI goes out for five minutes, I get loads of emails asking, ‘Mr. Nicolas, what’s going on? Are you in the bathroom? Do you need a minute?’”

All 107 high school seniors he’s advised this past academic year have opted to enroll in higher education in the fall—this, despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic. Nicolas has spent the summer helping college-bound students plot out a course of action for those schools planning to open, those that will host classes online, and those hybrid universities where some classes are in-person and others are hosted online. He is also helping students develop a Plan B in case COVID adversely affects the planned opening of college campuses this fall.

Nicolas, who will serve a third term this coming academic year as a college adviser, is also working on his master’s degree in mental health at New York University. He credits his mother with his desire to pursue education as his life’s goal.

“It was important to her that I was well-read,” he said. “Being able to understand a concept was always much more important to me than even athletics. From since I can remember I’ve had the itch to learn and teach—I guess that plays well into what I’m doing now as a college adviser.”

To learn more about College Advising Corps, it’s partner universities, and its goal to propel one million students to higher education by 2025, please visit collegeadvisingcorps.org/goal2025.