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College Planning Starts in Middle School

Middle school isn’t too soon to start thinking about college. That was the message of Ames Middle School’s first annual College and Career Day, open to all Logan Square parents and students.

These college students clued the Ames kids in about student aid, campus jobs, class schedules and other things they'd encounter after leaving high school.

Photos by Gordon Walek

Ten representatives from area colleges turned out for the May 15th event, capping off a year of Elev8 activities aimed at helping Ames families understand the range of college options and how to finance them. Activities included five college tours, financial aid workshops for parents and essay-writing workshops for students meant to simulate the college application process.

“Parents biggest fear is that their children won’t be able to attend college,” said Ames Elev8 Director Maria Trejo. But early exposure to college and scholarship opportunities can show parents that income and immigration status don’t have to be a barrier, she said. It also gets kids into the right mind frame for high school, where grades count towards college admission right from the first semester.

College reps lay it out

Near the rear of the Ames all-purpose room, a cheerful representative from the University of Chicago told students who paused by her table about UChicago Promise, a new program that allows Chicago high school graduates to attend the university without student loan debt.

By the entrance, a rep from Governors State University in Will County touted her campus’ new dormitories and career-oriented majors in business administration and communications.

Javier Ocampo, an Ames 7th-grader, gets the scoop about college from Tasha Turner, a representative of Western Michigan University's admissions office.

At a table nearby, a rep from Western Michigan University tells 7th-grader Javier Ocampo about soccer and athletic scholarships and refers him to the school’s website for more information. Javier, who wants to pursue soccer as his career, was surprised to find out that he would need to keep his grades up to hold onto an athletic scholarship. “I didn’t know that,” he said.

Angelica Torres, an 8th-grader, said she was impressed by the description of dormitories at Governors State but is leaning towards Western Michigan because of their law program. “It’s good to learn about the different colleges and options,” she said.

Break-out sessions

During two break-out sessions, students got a chance to explore career areas with practitioners in the fields of law, medicine, community organizing and psychology.

“I thought it was amazing,” said Daisy Guzman, Ames 8th-grader and aspiring lawyer, of the session with an attorney specializing in legal services for victims of domestic violence. “I found out that law school can be difficult [but] that it’s worth it.”

One session also gave students a chance to hear from a panel of four college students about college costs, student aid, campus jobs, class schedules and the importance of class attendance and studying.

“What happens if you miss a couple of days?” one girls wanted to know. Unlike middle school teachers, college professors won’t get on you to come to class, explained Anais Martinez, a junior at Roosevelt University. “If you don’t show up, they don’t care. They’ll still get paid. If you’re not going to class, it’s a waste of money.”

A rep from the University of Chicago explains how high school grads can attend the university without incurring student debt.

Martinez remarked later that the College and Career Day gave Ames students an advantage she wished she’d had. By the time she was exposed to college admission requirements, she said, it was too late to raise her grades and ACT scores enough to qualify for her first choice school, the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Christina Torres, mother of an 8th-grader at Funston, said that she wasn’t exposed to information about college early enough, either.  “I finished high school and I didn’t go. I’m excited that the community school in our neighborhood is exposing our students to [college] at this age.”



Elev8 is a LISC Chicago program that is helping students in five Chicago middle schools prepare for life in high school and beyond.

Posted in Education, Logan Square

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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