Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scholarship Chicago

Last Friday I visited the headquarters for Scholarship Chicago, an organization that helps high-achieving Chicago Public Schools students not only get into college, but also help them financially. Every year just around 100 high school juniors, representing a cross-section of regions, neighborhoods, and high schools in the city are selected to participate in the Scholarship Chicago college-admission program.

Students are notified of their admission into the program in April or May of their junior year of high school after a rigorous acceptance process including being recommended by teachers and leaders in their community, and a community leader. Students then are given one-on-one attention throughout summer vacation to help them figure out what type of colleges would best suit them and what they need to do in order to get into those colleges. They visit college campuses and learn about the basics of essay writing and other logistics surrounding the college application. Once the school year for their senior year starts, groups of five students are given mentors to form a cohort. This works well because many of these students are already extremely motivated and don't really need a big brother-type mentor, but more a resources and a support as they navigate the college-admission process. They also rely on the other students in their cohort to motivate them and keep them in check. This is a relatively new mentor model for Scholarship Chicago, but seems to have worked well.

The high point of the Scholarship Chicago year just might be the college speed-dating day, where universities throughout the company will come and meet one-on-one with students. Students have to choose 5 colleges of the colleges that are attending the speed-dating day and bring completed applications to show these college representatives. Potentially, colleges could give the students acceptance to that college that day and students would have a guaranty of attending that college the following fall.

Throughout the fall of their senior year, students are also required to attend workshops about various aspects of being accepted into and succeeding in college. The students learn how to navigate financial aid forms and once their accepted, how to work with their financial aid awards. Throughout their senior year, students are also given multiple networking opportunities and resources to figure out what career best suits them.

Once students have started college, Scholarship Chicago stays in touch with them and helps them financially with a $1,250/year scholarship. They are also given peer mentors, fellow college students who help the Scholarship Chicago scholars adjust to college life. Students are also given opportunities and resources for internships and college counseling throughout college. So, by the time students complete college, they will be on a fast track to a rewarding career.

The ultimate goal of Scholarship Chicago, is that students, as alumni of the program, will want to become mentors themselves to the new generation of Scholarship Chicago students. This is a great example of returning the favor that a program has given you by contributing to the program once you, yourself, have found success.

I want to say thank you to Chris James, who generously donated his time to sit down, and talk to me about all that Scholarship Chicago has to offer the youth of Chicago.

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