UChicago workshops help CPS high school students plan for college

Mary Abowd
News Officer for Arts & HumanitiesUniversity Communications

The University of Chicago is hosting a second workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 18 for students affected by the Chicago Public Schools strike, helping hundreds of high school students use the time off to prepare for their future.

After more than 300 students attended an essay-writing session last week, the Office of College Admissions is planning an expanded program for Sept. 18. In addition to giving essay tips, this session will teach students about the Common Application used by many colleges, offer insights on the financial aid process, and help students think about what college might be best for them.

“We want to engage with the city’s students and help them make good use of this time, whether or not they’re applying to the University of Chicago,” said James Nondorf, Dean of Admissions and Vice President of Enrollment and Student Advancement, and the organizer of the workshops. “Hopefully these events give them some tools to start thinking about their next stage in life.”

Chicago Public Schools students already have shown great interest in the opportunity. They filled every seat and lined the back of the auditorium at the Oriental Institute last Friday afternoon to hear advice about writing college essays for highly selective schools. Senior assistant director for College admissions Veronica Hauad stepped in front of the 300 high school juniors and seniors—the largest gathering of prospective students she’d ever addressed—and told them to take the essay questions on the Common Application and the College supplement very seriously.

“Write like yourself,” she said. “Don’t change each word to something longer, just because you think it sounds smarter.” The audience laughed when Hauad asked a student to read aloud from an essay she had received that crammed the words “transpire,” “allege,” “flabbergasted,” and “ameliorate” in the first paragraph. The point of asking students to write essays, she said, is simply to find out more about each applicant, and to see if she or he can express ideas in writing.

Hauad asked more students to read selections from other essays she has received in the past, some that were excellent, and some that were cautionary tales of crabbiness, cliché, or too many private details. Hauad also said that each college’s admissions office is very serious when they ask: “Why do you want to come here?”

“Don’t switch out the name of the school from another application you’ve written to another school. Instead, talk about your campus visit or what you have learned about the character of the school,” she said. As the regional admissions counselor for the city of Chicago, Hauad will read every application to UChicago that these students write, and her advice to the group was warmly received.

“The different essays were helpful and funny,” said Marissa Bacon, a senior at Williams Prep in Chicago. “People can give us plenty of instructions, but hearing examples was key for me.”

Bacon came to the writing workshop with her friend Mercedes Hall, who took careful notes on Hauad’s advice. Hall said she was not expecting to learn specifics about the UChicago supplemental questions, but that the workshop helped her understand the value of the supplement. “I’m glad to know that I should think carefully about the question, ‘Why do you want to come to the University of Chicago?’” Hall said. “I might have been tempted to blow it off, but now I plan to think hard about it.”

Current UChicago students then led many of the visiting high school students on tours of the campus and answered their questions about college. Every high school student who attended the workshop got a “swag bag” of UChicago gear and a T-shirt. The same gifts will be offered to the students who attend workshops on Tuesday.

Students can register for the workshops by clicking this link. Anyone who can’t attend on Tuesday is always welcome to the University of Chicago campus for one of the tours and information sessions, every day at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.