02/06/2020

UChicago College Advising Corps: A game-changer for first-generation students

Jose Heredia college advising corps

José Heredia, AB’19, ranked sixth in his high school graduating class in Athens, GA — but because no one in his family had ever gone on to college, he didn’t know much about navigating the application process or choosing a school.

He wound up a successful graduate of the University of Chicago; now, as an adviser in the UChicago College Advising Corps, he’s using the lessons he learned as an applicant and student to help other underrepresented high school students apply for college, maximize financial aid, and enroll in schools that are a good fit. 

“A lot of parents try to be supportive, but there are lots of barriers — including language — that make it hard for them to give any help” to first-generation college students, Heredia said. “That’s where we come in.”

Personalized help creating a road map for the future

Heredia’s work is part of an innovative partnership launched in 2017 between the University and the national College Advising Corps. UChicago advisers work full-time at ten local high schools on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

Advisers meet one-on-one with seniors during the school day or after school, making sure they’re on track with everything from SAT/ACT testing to campus visits.

Since the Advising Corps’ inception, advisers like Heredia have worked with more than 4,200 seniors who have submitted some 21,000 college applications, resulting in more than 9,000 acceptances and more than $140 million in aid and scholarships.

Will Herald, director of the Advising Corps, thinks it’s personal attention that makes the difference. “There is so much talent in our schools — teachers, administrators and, of course, students. But the average student-to-counselor ratio is 444 to 1 — and many have been asked to take on two or three additional roles,” he said. “We’ve seen that just by adding one extra person, we’re able to have an impact and drastically change the post-secondary outcomes in our local schools.”

Making college — and the University — accessible to all

The Advising Corps is part of UChicago Promise, the university’s comprehensive initiative to help Chicago students gain admission to, pay for, and thrive in college. Also under the UChicago Promise umbrella are educational outreach programs aimed at increasing college readiness and access for underrepresented Chicago students.

To encourage these students to consider the University of Chicago, UChicago Empower is committed to ensuring that students from all backgrounds can find a home here. For example, students from families with annual incomes under $125,000 receive free tuition, and those from families earning less than $60,000 have tuition, fees, and room and board covered by financial aid. In addition, first-generation college students receive a $20,000 scholarship over four years and a guaranteed paid internship for their first summer.

UChicago Empower also offers financial awards to a wide range of University applicants, including children of police officers and firefighters, students transferring from City Colleges of Chicago, and Chicago Public Schools students. And CPS students can receive help with college applications — essay-writing workshops, mock interview sessions, and college readiness workshops — no matter where they intend to apply.

Learn more about UChicago’s programs for K-12 students here.

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