Applications are being accepted for the next graduating call of the Chicago Scholars
By Tia Carol Jones
The Chicago Scholars has opened the application process for its 2027 graduating class. Students who are first generation and from under resourced communities and in their junior year of high school are encouraged to apply.
The Chicago Scholars was founded by Tim Schwertfeger and his wife Gail Waller in 1996. The foundation merged with the Chicagoland Scholarship Fund, the College Bound and Give Back Foundation to become Chicago Scholars Foundation in 2005. The mission of the foundation is to give the students in the program access to college and resources for them to graduate and go into careers.
Chicago Scholars currently serves more than 5,000 young people in Chicago. The students are 95% students of color, and they are from all 77 communities in the city and 114 high schools in the City of Chicago.
Jefferey Beckham, Jr., CEO of the Chicago Scholars, called the senior year for the program’s participants intense. Students work with college counselors, have mentors who are leaders in the community to help them navigate the process of college to career. The students also are working directly with Chicago Scholars team to identify the right school and identify funding for that school.
During the Onsite College and Leadership Forum, students in the program interview with five to seven schools in October. Students in the program have the advantage of working on college applications during the summer and meeting with colleges in October.
The Chicago Scholars uses a fit match algorithm to help students identify schools that are not just an academic fit but a financial fit for them. Once the students get accepted and go to school, those students receive assistance to ensure they graduate.
“We know getting to school is not the only thing, it’s having the right people, it’s having the right resources and opportunities while you’re in school, to make sure that experience is a good one,” Beckham said.
Chicago Scholars also has opportunities for the students to come home and participate in leadership and career development. There is an internship program called Emerge that allows students in the program to get placement in the right jobs.
Eighty-three percent of the Chicago Scholars participants graduate within six years. The goal is for the students to get through college and into the right jobs or graduate school, so they can come back and become the next generation of leaders in the city.
“We really focus in on providing students with the right supports and the family support, as well, so they can graduate from school,” he said.
That support can extend from counseling to an emergency fund, which has helped students during COVID-19. There also is a set of funding for students who might want to study abroad, unpaid internships or externships.
The focus on first generation college students and students from under resourced communities is because while there is an equal distribution of talent across the city, there is not an equal distribution of opportunities. Those students tend to come from communities with a lower life expectancy gap, as well.
“Our program exists to work to try to create equity and balance the playing fields. We believe that talent comes from every zip code and area,” Beckham said. “We want to empower our young people with mentorship and opportunities and resources to not only go to their top colleges, but to graduate, and really focus on becoming the next generation of leaders to change their neighborhoods, their communities and hopefully the country.”
The Chicago Scholars also is looking for volunteers and mentors. The application deadline is Wednesday, Feb. 9. For more information about the Chicago Scholars, visit https://chicagoscholars.org.
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