fatima perez

Fatima Perez

Collegiate Scholars Program

When Fatima Perez was applying to college, she looked to the friends she met in the University of Chicago Collegiate Scholars Program (CSP) for encouragement.

“The schools I was applying to felt like a long shot,” Perez, a first-generation college student who lives in the city’s West Lawn neighborhood, said. “But I always got really inspiring words from (my CSP friends) and they always told me they believed in me. They honestly felt like my biggest supporters.”

That support paid off: this fall, Perez will attend Yale University on a full scholarship.

The chance to build such a strong network of peers and advocates was one of the first things that drew Perez to CSP during her sophomore year at Eric Solorio Academy High School. Through on-campus courses taught by UChicago faculty, college and career readiness workshops and events, and other programming; Collegiate Scholars’ three-year enrichment program prepares talented Chicago Public Schools students from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds across the city for admission and success at highly selective colleges.

“Just the opportunity to make friends with people who are like-minded, who like to be challenged as much as I do, and have similar goals was something that really appealed to me,” Perez said.

CSP’s early emphasis on college readiness gave Perez a head start on navigating the application process, she says, which was particularly valuable for her as the first member of her family to do so. Financial aid checklists, essay-writing practice, mock interviews, meetings with admissions officers and more positioned Perez for success, she says, as did the CSP team’s urging participants not to shy away from applying to “big shot” schools. A campus internship, college exploration events, and a CSP trip to visit colleges and universities in the Washington, D.C. region last summer offered an even more well-rounded experience.

At Yale, Perez plans to study Astrophysics and Astronomy but she’s also excited to take advantage of the university’s offerings in the arts.

Perez says she hopes to translate the confidence and lessons she gained from her campus experience at UChicago to her college years. In fact, her favorite course she took during CSP’s summer programming examined different philosophers’ reflections on the concept of belonging. “Each day that I had that class I left the classroom feeling like I’d learned something new,” she said. “I started each class with a lot of questions and left class with those questions answered, but also with even more questions which was exciting because then I’d come to the next class super excited to have discussions. We really learned a lot from each other.” As a student of color from a low-income background, Perez says she often battles Imposter Syndrome, but CSP helped close that self-doubt gap for her and others. A sense of belonging was exactly what her experience helped her to cultivate.

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