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Chart My Course

Ready to make a plan and take action towards your vision? Here you will find information on how to apply to the programs of your choice.

“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

–  William Ernest Henley, poet

Consider Your Options

In trying to find the right college for you, consider how different schools “match” with your grades and academic interests, and how they “fit” with your personal needs (like size, location, cost, etc.)


Considering personal fit, financial fit, academic match, and available completion supports will lead to what we call Quality EnrollmentEnrolling in a  Quality Enrollment pathway or program means you will have found the best option for yourself based on the four most important factors, and that you will have more support on your chosen path.


Ask yourself these Personal Fit questions: 

Does this pathway offer programs, opportunities, location, and other identity/aspiration options that interest me? 

Would this option make me happy and set me up for my definition of success?

In thinking about personal fit, reflect on your values, professional aspirations, interests, and preferences to select the criteria that is important to you, like:

  • Major/Path of Study
  • Distance from Home
  • Ease of Travel
  • Size of Institution
  • Diversity of Student Body
  • Sense of Community
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Mental + Emotional Health
  • Other Important Criteria


Ask yourself these Financial Fit questions: 

Is this pathway affordable for me and my family? What is our definition of “affordable?” (for me and my family)

How much debt would I graduate with, and could I pay that off with the type of job I would get? Do I want to take that on?


Ask yourself these Academic Match questions: 

Is this option an Academic Match for me?

Do I have a good mix of OverMatch, Match, UnderMatch?

Which option is the most selective, or hardest to get into?

Why does Academic Match Matter? Attending a Match or OverMatch program can increase your chances of completing your degree or credential. A Match school means that your GPA is within the range of what is typical for students who get admitted.  Here is an easy way to think about it:

  • Match: ~60% chance of getting in
  • OverMatch (or stretch school): Under a 60% chance of getting in
  • UnderMatch (or back-up option): 80% chance of getting in

GPA Selectivity Index

The chart below shows where your GPA matches the selectivity range of colleges. 

0.00-1.24 1.25-1.49 1.50-1.74 1.75-1.99 2.00-2.24 2.25-2.49 2.5-2.74 2.75-2.99 3.00-3.25 3.25-3.49 3.50-3.74 >=3.75
Two-Year Colleges Two-Year Colleges Two-Year Colleges Two-Year Colleges Four-Year Eligible Four-Year Eligible Somewhat Selective Somewhat Selective Selective Selective Selective/ Very Very Selective

Click here for a list of suggested partner institutions to consider, organized by selectivity.


Ask yourself these Completion Supports questions: 

Will this option support me on my path to completion/graduation?

What is the graduation rate? 

Does this option have programs to support me (academically, socio-emotionally, financially, etc.)?

Why does the graduation rate matter?

Remember that the higher the graduation rate, the more the college is ready to support all students. Check out grad rates here at this link. Anything above 40% is worth consideration.  Remember, you are looking for the underrepresented minority graduation rate and comparing it to the overall graduation rate. There should not be a large difference in the graduation rate of white students and Students of Color.

It’s important to note that a community college system grad rate is not perfectly comparable to a four year graduation rate. When attending a two-year institution, it will be more important to look at the specific program fit (is this a program that is aligned to your interests and career goals?) and make sure you have a thoughtful and robust plan that includes a high quality support program (such as One Million Degrees at the CCCs) and a proactive transfer plan upon completion of your Associate’s Degree.

  • 4-year Colleges
    These are colleges which traditionally take 4-6 years for students to complete their course of study and earn a degree. Degrees given from 4-year colleges are in a subject which falls into one of three categories: a Bachelors of Arts degree (i.e. education, writing, law, criminal justice); a Bachelors of Science degree (i.e. biology, psychology, pre-Med, engineering); or, a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree (i.e., dance, drama, fashion design, visual arts)

    • Bachelors degree pathways will go in depth into your course of study while potentially including other courses such as writing or math to ensure that your education is “well-rounded.”
    • 4 year colleges vary widely in size of the student body, cost, and available courses of study.
  • Apply for Support Programs
    • Bottom Line offers several personalized support programs for students who attend 4 year colleges.  Explore more and apply here.
      • Success: If you will be starting college this fall and attending one of Bottom Line’s target colleges, your Bottom Line advisor will support you with navigating your college experience including navigating college courses, exploring your major, gaining career experience, completing financial aid requirements, developing a community on campus, and so much more based on your individual needs.
      • Bluprint: If you will be starting college this fall and not attending one of Bottom Line’s target colleges, you will receive support in the same areas as our Success program via a blended, virtual model combining chatbot enabled text message support from Bottom Line’s chatbot, Blu and support from our virtual advising team to help you find solutions and resources and ensure you are meeting your college and career goals.

Iman was a student who did not believe she could afford to go to college and, therefore, decided that she did not deserve to go. Watch Iman’s story to see how she evolved her thinking and empowered herself to take hold of the opportunities she deserves!

    • It’s not too late to take Iman’s advice. Remember to check this spreadsheet for CPS scholarships that are still available. Or visit our scholarship page to learn more.
  • Affordable Transfer Opportunity: A two-year college is a low-cost opportunity to obtain a highly valuable Associate’s Degree that will set you up to achieve your long-term career goals. 
    • A two-year can be an affordable and smart way to get an associate’s degree with little to no loans before transferring to a quality four year option. 
    • If you aren’t happy with your high school GPA, take advantage of this fresh start to CRUSH IT and get awesome grades so you can have your pick of higher selectivity four-year colleges and universities who are offering scholarships and looking to snatch up motivated transfer students like you!
  • Affordable Path to a License or Credential: Two-year colleges (also called community colleges) are typically close to home and offer specific types of low-cost job training that can stack up  and lead to a career (for example, you can complete your Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) program or earn a Phlebotomy Technician Certificate first before deciding if you want to become a Licenced Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Registered Nurse (RN). There are many 2-year options such as the City Colleges of Chicago, Oakton, Triton, Parkland, Morton, and Moraine Valley offering a variety of programs and training.  
  • Apply For  Support Programs: Remember to also apply for quality support programs available on those campuses such as One Million Degrees, TRIO, first-year student programs, mentorship, or summer bridge programs. Students who apply or take advantage of student services increase their likelihood of completing their degree.
  • Listen to Karoline’s application story to hear how she turned a disappointing outcome into a story of redemption and resilience.
  • Some post-high school programs offer “job training” which can lead to a paid apprenticeship, or to a professional credential or license. These are great opportunities, especially for students looking to jump into a career rather than attend four years of college right after high school. Job training programs are offered through 2-year colleges (like the City Colleges of Chicago) or through non-profit organizations like JobCorps, Chicago Urban League, or YearUp. Each provider offers different career pathways, though, so it is important to use our Program Filter to learn about the different options available to you.
  • Continue exploring our Job Training Programs Applications page for a sample of local job training programs.
  • Chicago Career Pathways Hub is a database where you can search for alternative programs in the greater Chicagoland area.
  • Visit to look up apprenticeship programs in Chicago.


  • In-State – The main benefit of going to a public, in-state school is the discounted rate for tuition.
    • Because of how state funding works, many public institutions have two different rates, one for in-state and another higher rate for out-of-state tuition.
    • Staying local also means you will save money on longer distance travel.
    • Affordable in-state options in Illinois are plentiful such as University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), National Louis University, Illinois State University, Western Illinois University, and Governor’s State.
  • Out-of State – Although most CPS grads attend an in-state school, there are a portion of graduates who decide to go further from home in order to change their environment, gain new experiences, or pursue a particular program. There are pros and cons to every decision so it’s important to think about the costs and benefits that are most important to you. Here are some factors to help you make an informed choice.
    • According to To & Through data, Chicago high school graduates have enrolled out-of-state at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Alabama A & M, Central Michigan University, and Howard University.
    • When considering going out-of-state, remember to account for higher travel expenses or be ready to crash at a friend’s apartment when the dorms close over winter and spring break.
    • As we come out of the pandemic and more Americans get vaccinated, colleges and universities are pledging to reopen campuses and residential dorms for the fall 2021 semester. Check with colleges to see whether they will offer both in-person and remote options.
    • Tip! If you don’t have time to travel, take a Campus Virtual Tour.
    • Here’s a worksheet with a rough estimate of costs between an in-state and out-of-state option.
  • So what does HBCU, HSI, PWI and all these acronyms mean and what’s the difference between them? Here’s a quick breakdown:
      • HBCUs: Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Watch this video from our friends at to learn about the top 5 reasons to attend an HBCU. The Department of Education defines HBCUs as any accredited, historically black college or university established before 1964 whose primary mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.

      • PWI: Predominantly White Institutions – This phrase is not an official designation but it’s the term used to describe schools with student demographics that are more than 50% White. Basically any institution that was not labeled an HBCU prior to 1964 was a PWI.
        • Even though these institutions may be majority White, many PWIs have multicultural student organizations that support a diverse student body to build community and make connections with other students who have shared identity markers.
        • This article gives an honest breakdown between “HBCUs vs. PWIs” and offers a compelling reason to support the educational excellence of black students no matter where they choose to enroll.
    • HSI: Hispanic Serving Institutions – Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are defined in Title V of the Higher Education Act as not-for-profit institutions of higher learning with a full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic. Watch this video from Excelencia in Education to learn about the impact of HSIs on Hispanic/Latin students who attend. In 2017-18, there were 523 HSIs located in 27 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. These institutions represented 17% of all institutions of higher education and enrolled 66% of Latino undergraduates. (Excelencia in Education. (2019). Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs): 2017 -18. Washington, D.C.: Excelencia in Education.)

Map from Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities of 569 HSIs in 28 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (4/6/2021)

Aurora University
College of DuPage
Concordia University Chicago
Dominican University
Elgin Community College
Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago
Joliet Junior College
Morton College
National Louis University
North Park University
Northeastern Illinois University
Saint Xavier University
St. Augustine College
Triton College
University of Illinois Chicago
Waubonsee Community College

Select the Type of Program That’s Right for You

  • It’s important to look at all the data both in numbers and stories. We’ve pinpointed a couple of key data points to consider. Based on internal analysis of CPS students who took our OneGoal class as an elective, we have observed that the two factors most highly correlated with college graduation are:
    • 1) An institution’s underrepresented minority (URM)  graduation rate. The higher the URM rate the more likely you are to have a supportive experience that leads to graduation. 
    •  2) Whether the college is a private, nonprofit institution. 
  • A Story To Make It Stick: When Joy attended a private, nonprofit four-year university with an 89% URM grad rate, she was scared out of her mind with impostor syndrome, worried that she got into a college that was way too hard for her. But her advisor helped her choose classes that allowed her to ramp up slowly into more challenging science courses in her second year. As a first-year, she went to office hours and her instructors invested in her. She went to the tutoring center and the writing center and found a homework buddy in her math class. That first quarter, she amazed herself with all As. But she also proved to herself that she could do it. Even though Joy struggled initially with feeling a sense of belonging and felt underprepared in comparison to some of her classmates, she was able to complete her degree at the University of Chicago because she enrolled at a school that had robust support systems for underrepresented students and she was willing to take the steps to tap into them. 
  • In Summary: remember when selecting a college or university, look at the graduation rates, consider your own GPA selectivity, and investigate whether your program has strong academic, financial, and social support to determine “fit.” 

Search colleges by interest, major, size, distance. You can use the College Board Search tool. Check under “College Type” to look up HBCUs and HSIs. Find institutions at or slightly above the selectivity level of your GPA, check their graduation rate, and visit their websites.

  • There are many avenues for increasing your earning potential, such as pursuing a license, certification, or credential. These are often called “alternative” programs or “progressive pathways” to a career.
  • These programs are usually shorter than 4-year degree programs, and typically end in a license (CDL, LPN), certification (IT specialist, Automotive Mechanic), or credential (Day Care Technician, Clinical Sleep Educator).
  • If you are exploring a job training program, it should offer a combination of high-quality training, education, and/or employment that leads to the following:
    • Entry into a specific credentialed occupation or occupational cluster; or
    • A state or industry recognized credential that is transferable (you  can use it from job to job) and stackable (you can build on it with more education)
    • What are signs of a high quality program?
      • Low or no cost and accepts financial aid (Workforce Investment Opportunity Act or WIOA, FAFSA, or offers a chance to earn $ while you learn)
      • Provides industry-aligned training
      • Includes career counseling and job placement services
      • Follows labor and market trends to provide training where jobs are growing

Program Structures

  • Many alternative programs are offered at 2-year community colleges, even though they may not be 2-years in length.
  • In fact, most alternative programs are usually a year or less in length, with some opportunities, such as YearUp including on-the-job training as part of the learning process.
  • Since alternative programs are shorter they can start at various points in the year, and may not follow a traditional school calendar. It is important to visit the websites of programs you are considering and get clear on deadlines for admission and start dates.
  • Alternative programs usually do include a significant classroom component, especially early on in the program, mixed with hands-on opportunities to apply learning in real world contexts.
    • For example, at the Honda/Acura PACT program at Triton College, students will spend time in classroom lecture for the first hour of the day and then they will move to the auto shop to try out the lessons on donated cars.

After exploring identify two to three programs that are currently accepting applications or;

After visiting to select two to three programs that are currently accepting applications or;

Visit our applications page and search institutions still accepting applications to select two to three programs you are interested in.

  • Choosing what next steps you take after high school can feel daunting. Remember that this isn’t your only chance to get it “right.” Here’s a framework to help you make a thoughtful and informed decision.
  • How to Make Hard Choices:
  • Steps to a Thoughtful and Informed Decision
    1. Gather the information necessary to decide if your options are practical, feasible, and if you feel interested or excited about them.
    2. Think through the short and long-term impacts of your choices.
    3. Talk with others you trust about their perspectives on the options available to you.
    4. Narrow down the choices based on all the information you’ve gathered and listen to your instincts.
    • Based on your considerations of match and fit, select the programs you want to apply to. Here are some criteria to think through:
      • Will this college set me up to achieve my greatest postsecondary aspirations?
      • Does this school offer the general area of study I’m interested in?
      • Is this college’s costs affordable?
      • Does this school offer strong academic and social support to its students?
      • Are there clubs and community spaces where I can find people who share the same values and interests as me?
      • Can I realistically travel to this college?


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