‘Hold Fast to Dreams’

Hold Fast to Dreams was published by The New Press in April 2014.Hold Fast to Dreams follows 10 low-income students and their counselor “through the college application process and the four years that follow.

One girl wrote a personal essay about “sharing one room with three siblings, living in a two-bedroom apartment with seven people. Hearing and seeing fights, gunshots all night, yelling and screaming every day.”

Her mother’s attempted suicide forced Chiquita to ignore her own needs. “All that year, I was so focused on my mother, I forgot how to be a kid, I forgot about Chiquita, how the simplest things in life make me smile.”

Many students resisted writing about painful memories. “Why would anyone be interested in this?” some said, or “I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.” For most students, maintaining their poise meant blocking out the images that reminded them of their vulnerability.

Angelica Moore, a high-achieving and charismatic student, revealed that her self-possession was “all a front” for her insecurity. “I was always told since I was younger not to show my weakness because people will take advantage of it. It’s better to walk around with my head high and make it seem like I have it together.”

Getting into college isn’t the challenge for these students. It’s succeeding once they get there.

About Joanne


  1. Bostonian says:

    If someone has had a tough life, is the college admissions officer supposed to feel sorry for them and let them in even if the academic record is weak? If someone has had a comfortable life, should you reject them to “level the playing field”?

    Do applicants with harrowing essays outperform their high school record in college because they are away from their family and can now show their stuff? Or do they underperform because family problems continue to drag them down? Has anyone studied this?

  2. There’s a big gap in my state between COMPASS and Regent’s Exam scores…so if they are getting into a college where they aren’t being tested into their coursework, they may be placed too high. Son’s State U has changed placement in math for ex, to reflect that….low RE plus high SAT means step back and review your last high school course, not go ahead to next course in sequence.

    CUNY has a program for remedial students..those who have graduated with a Regent’s Diploma, but COMPASS scores indicate remedial needs.