With college application deadlines looming, CPS seniors seek outside help during strike

With schools closed, U. of C.’s College Advising Corps helped students finish college applications due starting next week.

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Danilo Velazquez, 17, talks about one of his college essays while Yujie Huang, a member of University of Chicago’s College Advising Corps, listens on Thursday at the Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Danilo Velazquez, 17, talks about one of his college essays while Yujie Huang, a member of University of Chicago’s College Advising Corps, listens on Thursday at the Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Yujie Huang’s eyes darted back-and-forth as she read 17-year-old Danilo Velazquez’s college admissions essay Thursday.

“You have to bridge the gap right here,” Huang, a member of the University of Chicago’s College Advising Corps, told Velazquez, a senior at Walter Payton College Prep who had sought her help on his applications —including some that are due as early as next week.

While such college advising sessions normally take place at high schools around the city this time of year, Huang and Velazquez met in a sunny conference room at a library in Chinatown as a Chicago teachers strike continued through its sixth day. The strike continues Friday.

With the schools not available, Huang and other members of the advising corps have instead met with students at libraries and on the U. of C. campus, where they offered everything from help on financial aid to tips on what admissions officers are looking for in students’ personal statements.

So far, dozens of students or more have sought out the help, including about 50 who attended sessions held on Friday and Monday.

Lightfoot notes hardship

Earlier in the day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot noted in an unrelated media conference the hardship the strike was putting on students applying to college, nothing that Chicago Public Schools was recently forced to cancel an SAT testing session —potentially putting some students at risk of missing scholarship application deadlines.

“Right now normally would be the time when CPS is going full bore to make sure that our young people have their applications ready for Nov. 1 so they could apply for federal financial aid,” Lightfoot said. “So every day that goes by there is another cost to our students and their families.”

Tacarra Meaux, 17, works on a collage essay for Cornell University Thursday during a help session led by the University of Chicago’s College Advising Corps at the Back of the Yards branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Tacarra Meaux, 17, works on a college essay for Cornell University Thursday during a help session led by the University of Chicago’s College Advising Corps at the Back of the Yards branch of the Chicago Public Library.

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Colleges well aware of strike

There was some indications schools were willing to cut students some slack in the process.

“I want to assure you that we are mindful of this unique situation,” a counselor from Butler University in Indiana wrote in an unsolicited email to potential applicants from CPS. “Although November 1 is our Early Action deadline, we won’t penalize you if your high school transcript and school report aren’t on record by that date. Because this is beyond your control, we will be flexible and allow your school counselor additional time to submit these documents on your behalf.”

Beloit College’s vice president for enrollment, M. Leslie Davidson, wrote students telling them they could even request an extension for their entire application if they applied to the small liberal arts school in southern Wisconsin.

‘Nothing we can do’

At the library near her home in Back of the Yards, Whitney Young senior Tacarra Meaux, 17, said colleges had reached out to her, too, to say her application wouldn’t be penalized if some submissions were late.

“Chicago is a big city and a lot of [students] are applying,” Meaux said. The colleges “know there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Still, she acknowledged the situation wasn’t ideal.

“It’s stressful,” she said.

Meaux said she used the session Thursday to better understand a Cornell University essay question and plot an outline. She planned to return for a second session Friday, so she could turn in an updated copy of her essay and get feedback from a corps member before making revisions.

The assistance was perhaps an even bigger benefit to first generation college students like Isabel Davila, 17, a senior at Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen. She needed help understanding some of the questions in her common application, which can be sent to multiple schools, as well as assistance filling out intricate federal financial aid forms.

“I know the teachers are trying to make things better for us, but some of the students are really struggling. If it wasn’t for this, I would have had a hard time getting through it,” Davila said.

After the session, Davila declared: “I think I can continue to go through it on my own now.”

One benefit

Even with all the stress of the situation, some students noted there was a benefit to being off school while immersed in the application process: no classes to attend — and no homework.

As 17-year-old Payton senior Kipras Jaynuska noted: “It’s given me more time to work on stuff.”

Contributing: Manny Ramos

Isabel Davila, left, gets help from a member of University of Chicago’s College Advising Corps on her common application Thursday in Back of the Yards.

Isabel Davila, right, gets help from a member of University of Chicago’s College Advising Corps on her common application Thursday in Back of the Yards.

Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

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