With the help of the nonprofit Chicago Scholars, 1,000 Chicago high school students took additional steps in the path to higher education.

Chicago Scholars hosted their tenth consecutive college acceptance fair at Navy Pier on Oct. 26. This year, 176 colleges and universities spanning the United States gathered to evaluate prospective students for early acceptance consideration.

Chicago Scholars works to remove barriers for disadvantaged students interested in pursuing higher education by allowing young people mentorship, counseling and other opportunities. This year, the nonprofit celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Toinette Gunn, vice president of programs for Chicago Scholars, said CS partners with institutions that have graduation rates over 50 percent and are committed to student success. CS students are selected through a “rigorous application process” that includes a face-to-face interview, according to Gunn. She said students can display their talents through multiple avenues as a means to separate themselves from other prospective candidates.

“Students are more than a GPA and an ACT score,” said Gunn. “We look at leadership potential in their communities, schools, and churches, extracurricular involvement, and writing ability.”

Gunn said that the lack of access to college counseling at a younger age disproportionally affects prospective college students on Chicago’s West and South Sides, in part because counselors have tremendous caseloads.

“Programs like Chicago Scholars and other community-based organizations are putting in the time today to help [students] through this very challenging and time consuming process,” said Gunn. “It is something that we have very much focused on at Chicago Scholars to bring to these students what is offered to well-sourced students in other communities.”

Jazmine Ross, associate director of undergrad admissions at Roosevelt University, acknowledged that some students were more nervous than others during the interview process, but explained that speaking with her was similar to most job interviews. She suggested students should be confident in their education be able to articulate why they are interested in a specific program.

“It has been great to see some of the students,” she said. “You can see some of the nervousness as well as the excitement when we tell them they been accepted and admitted.”

By lunch break, Ross accepted six students’ enrollment applications to Roosevelt University. She said Roosevelt University typically enrolls 400 to 450 undergraduate students in a given year.

Austin native Daria Lloyd, a senior at Michelle Clark High School, explained she is “proud” to participate in the Chicago Scholars event. Lloyd said CS helped her write her admission essay, retake her ACT, and file her FAFSA documents. Lloyd credited Michelle Clark for preparing her for the post-secondary education and suggested more youth be included for next year’s CS event.

“If there are 1,000 kids in there, I wish there were actually more out there to get these opportunities and meet these people,” suggested Lloyd, who intends to major in business or psychology at one of her top college choices – Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, and University of Illinois at Champaign.

Less than 1,100 seats are available for prospective CS students, although, the number of participants grows every year. Chicago Scholars students typically have a 3.0 GPA and an ACT score of 18; however, students with marks less than that are accepted. 

Nonprofit organizations can advocate on behalf of a student. Students interested in participating in Chicago scholars are encouraged to submit their application during their junior year of high school. This year, applications can be submitted starting Nov. 10.