South Shore resident Asara Milton hasn’t decided exactly what she wants to study when she gets to Cornell University in the fall. The 18-year-old says she stoked a number of different passions through her years in the UChicago Collegiate Scholars Program (CSP). But regardless of her major, she says CSP, which helped facilitate the Posse Scholarship that will cover her full tuition at Cornell, gave her the confidence she’ll need to thrive on an elite college campus.
“Having exposure to college level classes, to UChicago, to the process of working with a college professor, to new concepts which you’re not going to learn in high school, I think really gave me a big leg up,” Milton said. “I know people who have found their passion and have found what they want to study in college through the program. Especially because a lot of us are low income or first-generation students, it gave me a lot of support that I didn’t necessarily have.”
When Milton was in ninth grade her family moved out of their North Lawndale home where Milton’s father grew up and experienced a period of housing instability that led to Milton having to miss some school. “I felt like a lot of people didn’t understand what I was going through when I’d tell my friends what was happening,” Milton, who attended Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, said. “A lot of them have lived in the same house all their lives, they’ve never had to experience anything like that.”
It was the same year Milton joined CSP. Knowing she had the support of CSP staffers and professors in a time of personal upheaval gave Milton an important sense of stability, she says.
Led by the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, CSP aims to prepare high-potential, underrepresented students at Chicago public high schools for highly-selective colleges through enrichment activities and on-campus summer programs. The program was established in 2003 after the UChicago Consortium on School Research found that highly-qualified CPS students were underreaching in their college applications. The free, three-year program is only open to CPS students and offers summer classes taught by University of Chicago faculty and Ph.D. candidates, career shadowing programs, college tours, SAT prep, and college application and scholarship guidance, among other benefits.
Monthly visits to downtown law firms and companies such as DLA Piper and Accenture as part of the program also introduced Milton to a potential future career path. Looking forward, Milton — who was her high school’s Science Olympiad team captain, vice president of the French Honors Society, and a member of the Shedd Aquarian Teen Advisory Council — says she feels grateful for the program and prepared for whatever college brings.
“[When you’ve been part of CSP] you’ve already been at college, and a difficult college as well, UChicago is really no joke,” Milton says. “I feel like that transition period to my new college classes will be not as difficult for me. Navigating things like campus, and contacting your professors, or filling out your course syllabus or going through your finals, I’ve kind of already gone through that through the program.”