Hold Fast to Dreams

A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty

The riveting, unforgettable true story of getting ten students at a Brooklyn public high school into and through college

“We’ve written a lot . . . about efforts to increase the number of high-achieving low-income students at elite colleges. The true granularity of that work comes alive in Hold Fast to Dreams.” —Motoko Rich, The New York Times

Winner, Studs and Ida Terkel Prize

When Joshua Steckel left his job as a private school college counselor on New York City’s Upper East Side to work at a public high school in Brooklyn, he discovered that for low-income students the competitive game of college admissions has entirely different rules and much higher stakes. The winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize, Hold Fast to Dreams—which Kirkus called “a powerful story of courage and hope that should inspire others to follow trailblazers like Steckel and his students”—traces the pathways of ten of Josh’s students from their obstacle-ridden application processes through their life-changing college experiences.

Including the stories of young people who apply to college from homeless shelters, as undocumented immigrants, and while facing turbulent homes, pregnancies, and health crises, Hold Fast to Dreams offers what Booklist calls “a profound examination of . . . the kinds of reforms needed to make higher education and the upward mobility it promises more accessible.“ It provides hope in its portrayal of the extraordinary intelligence, resilience, and everyday heroics of the young people whose futures are too often lamented or ignored and whose voices, insights, and vision our colleges—and our country—desperately need.

The views expressed in the book are the authors’ alone and not necessarily those of the New York City Department of Education.


Hold Fast to Dreams is about the difficulty poorer students have in grasping the American dream. It is essential reading for those who care about the lives of all children.”
—Bob Herbert, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and former op-ed columnist for the New York Times
Hold Fast to Dreams is not another manifesto extolling the benefits of college. In this important new book, Joshua Steckel and Beth Zasloff provide a heartfelt analysis of the factors that make it difficult for so many urban youth to access the opportunities that college provides. Drawing on years of direct experience counseling young people for whom college is little more than a faint dream, the authors show us what it takes to bridge the opportunity divide and use education to transform lives and expand opportunity. . . . This book is a must-read.”
—Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University and author of City Schools and the American Dream
“You won’t soon forget these powerfully rendered stories of young people battling big odds to go to college, for Hold Fast to Dreams is, all in one, a great read, an educational manifesto, and a testament to the vibrant ability of kids who just need a chance to realize their dreams. This book should be on every policy maker’s desk.”
—Mike Rose, author of Why School? and Lives on the Boundary
“Beautifully written. . . . This book reaffirms the essential role teachers can play in the lives of their students, and raises important questions about the failed promises of higher education as the key to class mobility.”
Rethinking Schools
“Invaluable both to educators who deal with children from similar backgrounds and to non-educators, who often don’t appreciate the overwhelming odds stacked against poor children.”
The Washington Monthly
“I love it. It was better than a good novel. I couldn’t get Santiago’s dilemma out of my mind. . . . It’s magnificent—thank you!”
—Deborah Meier, author of Will Standards Save Public Education? and founder of the Small Schools movement
“The important new book Joshua Steckel has written with Beth Zasloff, Hold Fast to Dreams, follows ten students at his former school and illuminates the dogged commitment and insider knowledge required to ensure that all students, regardless of background or circumstance, have access to the educational and economic opportunities that are often closed to many of our nation’s young people.”
—Richard Stopol, president of NYC Outward Bound Schools
“In the event the first lady is not in the room to offer guidance to the staffers charged with putting the White House [higher education] directives into action, somebody should slip them a copy of Beth Zasloff and Joshua Steckel’s new book, Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education
“As the population of America’s future college students becomes more diverse, stories such as Hold Fast to Dreams become ever so more important.”
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

News and Reviews

The American Prospect

Joshua Steckel and Andrew Delbanco discuss the collegiate experience of low-income students in "The Conversation" feature of The American Prospect

The Atlantic

Joshua Steckel and Beth Zasloff write about the crucial role of college counselors in The Atlantic

Studs and Ida Terkel Prize Awarded to Hold Fast to Dreams

The Studs and Ida Terkel Prize has been awarded to Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the V