Teach for America draws heavily from Chicago

By Kimberly Drelich

With the February 18 Teach for America deadline fast-approaching, many graduating students who are still without work will be happy to know that the University’s acceptance rate into Teach for America has been almost three times the national rate over the past several years.

This fall, both the number and acceptance rate for University applicants increased, Career Advising & Planning Services (CAPS) officers said. An increase in the number of University online registrants for the second round of applications this academic year suggests a continuation of this trend.

Started in 1990 by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp, Teach for America is a program for college graduates to teach for two years in low-income areas. After two years of teaching at one of 22 sites across the country, the Teach for America corps members may continue career paths in education or branch out to other areas. Select graduate schools have two-year deferral programs for corps members.

Students apply to Teach for America during either the fall or winter of their last year in college. The winter application deadline is February 18. Students register and complete the application—which consists of a letter of intent, resume, and essay—online. On March 1, students find out if they have been offered interviews, which take place in late March. Students hear if they have been accepted by April 14 and they must respond by May 2.

Over the past two years, the University has had a 33 percent acceptance rate, well above the national acceptance rate of 12 percent. For the applications due this past fall, the University’s acceptance was 38 percent, with 10 of the 26 applicants accepted. Teach for America regards the University of Chicago as an “A Tier” school, giving the University a premium amount of attention. In 2003, the University of Chicago’s acceptance rate was above the following “A Tier” schools: Brown, Notre Dame, Washington University, Georgetown, and Columbia. But the University was below Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and Northwestern.

The number of students applying to Teach for America this fall increased 110 percent from the same period last year. The application increase perhaps reflects recruitment efforts on campus that aim to connect interested students with information about Teach for America. Last year, the University gave a luncheon for current students interested in Teach for America. This year, there have been information sessions and one-on-one appointments with Brad Leon, Recruitment Director of the Teach for America Great Lakes Recruitment Team. On February 2 and February 3, there will be a screening of the CNN documentary on Teach for America at 7 p.m. in Ida Noyes West Lounge. The documentary centers on the first year program experiences of four Teach for America members.

Bryan Harris, a fourth-year in the College who is applying to the Teach for America program, said that the strong presence of Teach for America on campus is encouraging. “I think the fact that this school has had such high participation in Teach for America makes me feel a little bit better about being accepted,” he said. I think that where the Teach for America process may differ is that they seem to really want people to be interested and are very active in getting people to apply.”

Teach for America evaluates applicants based on the seven areas: “Achievement, perseverance, ability to influence and motivate others, critical thinking, organizational ability, respect and humility, and a fit with Teach for America’s mission,” Leon said.

Successful candidates will have researched the program thoroughly, and are able to show evidence of the seven areas on their applications and in their interviews.

Students at the University are strong applicants because of their liberal arts education, critical thinking skills, and the volunteer opportunities available at the University, which strengthen their application, according to Meredith Daw, assistant director of Employee Relations for CAPS. The University’s investment in community service is reflected in the University Community Service Center (UCSC) and the Neighborhood Schools Program, Daw said. “It’s rare to have that strong of a relationship with an organization,” Daw said.

Chad Rubalcaba, an AB ’00 who taught math with Teach for America in Washington, D.C., explained his view on Chicago students and Teach for America. “Chicago develops crucial thinking and problem-solving skills,” he said. “These attributes, which make for successful students, often translate into success in the classroom.”

But he had a caveat for prospective Teach For America participants. “Not everyone is cut out for teaching, especially in under-resourced communities,” he said. “You will have bad days. You will be challenged—intellectually and emotionally. You will be under-compensated for working obscenely long hours. The most successful educators find ways to succeed in spite of these obstacles.”