Notification emails were sent at 1 p.m. on the day Isabel Marroquin was supposed to find out whether she’d won a highly competitive QuestBridge college scholarship. But Marroquin, who grew up the only child of a single mother, refused to open hers without her mom by her side. By the time her mom got home from work that evening, Marroquin could barely contain her nerves.
“She was coming up the stairs and I’m like ‘Come in! Come in!’ I’m pushing her in the door, and I’m like ‘Okay, I can’t wait any longer!’” Marroquin recalls. “I opened the email and a banner popped up that said congratulations and I screamed to her ‘I got the scholarship! I got the scholarship!’”
When Marroquin starts at New York City’s Columbia University on a full ride this fall, she’ll be the first member of her family to graduate from high school as well as the first to attend college. Marroquin, who lives in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood, says her years participating in the University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars college readiness and access program (CSP) were a driving factor in her success—both because the program connected her with and supported her application for her scholarship but also in all the other ways it readied her for navigating the college experience and her future.
“CSP made me expand my thinking and really reevaluate what my goals were because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how to go from this point in high school to where I wanted to go,” she said. “College seemed so far away and very unattainable and CSP just motivated me, encouraged me, and gave me the tools to succeed.”
Established in 2003 after the UChicago Consortium on School Research found that highly qualified Chicago Public School high school students were underreaching in their college applications, CSP is a three-year enrichment program that prepares talented students from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds like Marroquin for admission and success at highly selective colleges.
Marroquin says CSP’s summer enrichment classes introduced her to new subjects like sociology and the program’s career resources put her in touch with professionals—in the medical field she’s interested in pursuing as well as other industries—who gave her valuable insights about advocating for yourself in the workplace and how to identify career priorities. CSP staff also linked Marroquin with the Pritzker School of Medicine’s Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP) so she could learn more about what it takes to become a pediatric surgeon, as Marroquin hopes to someday do.
Guidance CSP offered helped both Marroquin and her mom understand the qualities colleges are looking for and the college and scholarship application process overall. Marroquin says her mom, who had been frustrated that she didn’t know the best ways to offer support, was especially appreciative of the time program staff spent walking her through the needed steps.
“They helped us so much,” Marroquin said. “They gave me a taste of what actual college life is, from all the classes and how to make the most of teachers’ office hours to all the nitty gritty things that people assume you’ll know once you get there but it’s not that obvious to us because we have no one who went through it. They answered the questions I didn’t even know I should have been asking.”
Growing up, Marroquin says her mom was her biggest cheerleader but other adults and peers at school were sometimes discouraging. Meeting other students through CSP who were passionate about learning and staff who pushed her and her fellow scholars to work hard and have confidence in themselves and their futures made all the difference, Marroquin says:
“I feel like they’re some of the few people who I’ve met who actually believed in us, cared about us, and wanted to help us. So, that’s what I learned—there are people out there who want to help you and give you opportunities to move forward.”