College launches pioneering commitment to end student loans, support student success

The University of Chicago is launching a comprehensive initiative to support students in all phases of their education and beyond graduation, including expanded opportunities for career development and elimination of all student loan requirements in undergraduate, need-based financial aid packages.

The University also will enhance its Odyssey Scholarships program, bolstering aid and programming for low-income students through increased financial support, career guidance, personal mentorship and community support, and continue its commitment to the city of Chicago through UChicago Promise.

No Barriers

A central element of the new commitment is No Barriers, an innovative program that will broaden access to the College’s transformative education and greatly simplify the admission application and financial aid process. No Barriers is part of the College’s wider effort to reinforce the distinctive rigorous liberal arts education and unparalleled career preparation that UChicago provides for students of all backgrounds and economic circumstances. It builds on the successes of the Odyssey Scholarships for low-income students and the UChicago Promise program for students from the city of Chicago.


No Barriers will include:

  • Replacement of student loans with grants in all need-based financial aid packages
  • More than 100 free, nationwide information sessions on college application and financial aid process; part of expanded national outreach to bring information and guidance on selective college application process to more high school students than ever
  • No College application fees for families seeking financial aid
  • A simplified financial aid process based primarily on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • New scholarships for underserved and underrepresented groups

The No Barriers program will complement the University’s ongoing rapid expansion of career advancement opportunities for all students, with targeted opportunities for students from low-income families. Taken as a whole, these steps offer College students an exemplary education and a path to graduate debt-free and well prepared for myriad career opportunities.

Such actions affirm the profound value of the educational experience in the College, said President Robert J. Zimmer.

“Students in the College benefit from the rare combination of a vibrant intellectual climate, a singularly empowering liberal arts education, and the practical guidance and experience to succeed in any career they choose,” Zimmer said. “We want to ensure that students of high ability can aspire to join this community without financial worry, and with comprehensive support for their success both in the College and beyond graduation.”

No Barriers is designed to demystify college access and aid, relieve debt and empower families. Its initiatives will be phased in, beginning with the Class of 2019, who will enter the College in the fall of 2015. The program will provide more than 100 annual workshops nationwide to explain the process of applying for admission and financial aid at selective universities, no matter where students are applying. Starting this fall, the University of Chicago will no longer require an application fee from any family seeking financial aid. No Barriers also will no longer require the use of the CSS Financial Aid Profile, eliminating fees attached to that form and removing complicated paperwork. These steps will help guide and encourage students through the complex college application process.

In addition to increasing need-based aid, No Barriers will increase National Merit Scholar awards from $2,000 to $4,000 per year for four years and offer new merit award opportunities for National Hispanic Recognition Scholars and National Achievement Scholars—programs designed for Hispanic and African American high school students. Scholarships also will be available for selected UChicago summer programs.

John W. Boyer, dean of the College, said the new commitment would not be possible without the visionary efforts of thousands of alumni, parents and friends who have supported financial aid, Career Advancement and other College programs.

“Success at the College should not depend on where a student comes from or on family income, but on the quality of her or his ideas, and on a disciplined and imaginative dedication to learning,” Boyer said. “No Barriers will enable students from all backgrounds to gain access to the Core and to the other educational traditions of the University of Chicago that have yielded so many creative and bold thinkers over the generations.”

The coming University of Chicago Campaign, set to launch on Oct. 29, will provide crucial support for all of the program components.

Enhancing Odyssey

The Odyssey Scholarships were created in 2008 as a pioneering effort to reduce or eliminate loans for students from families with limited incomes, with support from an anonymous gift from a College alumnus. As the College moves forward to bolster student resources, the Odyssey program also will expand to include more support, ensuring that low-income students benefit fully from the College’s extensive opportunities. The program enhancements include:

  • All Odyssey Scholars are guaranteed paid summer internship or research opportunities after their first year in the College.
  • Odyssey Scholars can focus on meaningful academic and personal development during the academic year, with no employment requirements for the academic year.
  • Community building through Odyssey pre-Orientation programs and new programming in career and leadership training, including community building during Odyssey pre-Orientation programs.
  • Additional funds will be available for Odyssey Scholars to take part in College programming, including study abroad.

These changes will deepen the impact that the Odyssey program already is making for thousands of UChicago students.

“The Odyssey Scholarship was truly a blessing,” said Safiya Johnson, an Odyssey Scholar who graduated in June 2014. “It gave me freedoms I knew I could not have if I had to work while in school. Thanks to the Odyssey Scholarships, I was able to not only graduate from the University of Chicago with a college degree but also with very little debt.”

UChicago Promise

Students from the city of Chicago will continue to benefit from UChicago Promise, a program created in 2012 that helps Chicago students pursue a path to college regardless of where they attend, with application workshops for students and high school counselors and mentoring programs to help students apply to the colleges of their choice. UChicago Promise also will continue the University’s extensive, widely admired efforts to prepare Chicago Public Schools students for success in the colleges of their choice, including the Upward Bound program for South Side high school students and the Collegiate Scholars program, aimed at helping talented CPS students gain admission and succeed at highly selective colleges around the nation.