Pre-college programs educate high school students, sell Northwestern at the same time

Michael Wilbon (Medill ‘80) speaks with students from the 2012 class of the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute. The program is one of several pre-college programs offered to provide education to high school students and advertise NU.

Source: Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute

Michael Wilbon (Medill ‘80) speaks with students from the 2012 class of the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute. The program is one of several pre-college programs offered to provide education to high school students and advertise NU.

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

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In a little more than two weeks, most of Northwestern’s more than 8,000 students will pack up their bags, clean out their dorm rooms and head out for the summer. Two weeks later, hundreds of high school students will take their place as part of NU’s various pre-college programs.

If history is any indication, many of those students will go on to become part of the next three NU classes.

NU offers a variety of these programs. The College Preparation Program through Summer NU gives high school juniors and seniors a chance to take classes in many academic areas. But a fuller NU experience is the domain of programs in the National High School Institute and Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, whose students are affectionately known as “Cherubs.”

In more ways than one, recent developments in the Cherubs programs are mirroring the school as a whole.

“We have athletic camps, we have the Center for Talent Development, we have so many different things on campus,” University President Morton Schapiro said. “Do I think of the Cherubs as an early education that feeds in? Yes and no.”

Beyond shoving ‘a T-shirt in their hand’ and selling NU

NU boasts the oldest and largest pre-college, university-based residential program in the country. Still, competitors like Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts have similar programs, some of which, unlike Cherubs, offer college credit.

Roger Boye, professor emeritus at Medill and director of Cherubs’ journalism division, said the program’s focus on professional skills sets it apart.

“There are about 50 U.S. colleges and universities that offer summer programs for high school journalists,” Boye said. “Almost all of them focus on how to improve your high school newspaper. We try to focus on journalism as it’s done as a profession.”

The programs must find a way to balance their academic offerings with serving as an introduction to NU. Past programs have been altered or shut down for not meeting admissions needs. University spokesman Al Cubbage said a similar pre-college program for music students, offered through the Bienen School of Music, was shuttered several years ago because the high school students were not matriculating to NU.

“The yield was so small, it just wasn’t worth the time or effort,” Cubbage said. “We did not get students following through who had been in the Cherub program.”

Schapiro said he has met with admissions officials about ensuring top Cherubs come to NU instead of rival schools.

Adam Joyce, administrative director of communications for the School of Communication’s NHSI program, said it gives students a more experiential view of campus than traditional admissions materials.

“We strive to provide a transformative experience for the students, and that happens on the campus of Northwestern University,” he said. “We don’t look at the program as ‘shove a T-shirt in their hand and sell Northwestern that way.’ Northwestern doesn’t necessarily need that.”

Advertising the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications to a group of soon-to-be college applicants is a “corollary benefit” to the Cherubs program, Boye said.

The Cherubs program has been a gateway to NU for some of the school’s renowned alumni, including actor David Schwimmer (Communication ‘88), politician Dick Gephardt (Communication ‘62) and journalist Jonathan Eig (Medill ‘86). Eig said he did not know if he would have been admitted to NU without Cherubs, which he attended in the summer of 1981.

“I doubt I would have been accepted to Northwestern if I hadn’t been a Cherub because my grades were mediocre, my SATs were mediocre,” Eig said. “But I feel like they took it easy on us, the admissions office. That’s my perception, that they went easy on me because I was a Cherub or maybe because I did well in Cherubs.”

Going global

After the 2011 class, the journalism program left the NHSI umbrella. Boye said the name no longer fit the experience he wanted for the journalism program.

“One of our goals is to have a more international student body, and the word ‘national’ in the name, we thought wasn’t an ideal word,” he said. “It didn’t communicate to people abroad that this is more than just the United States.”

This summer, Medill Cherubs will hail from 22 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam, plus seven international students from six countries. Boye said they have awarded $71,600 in financial aid and scholarships.

A similar shift may be coming to the other NHSI programs. Thanks to grants from alumni, they have opened up to international students from Turkey, China and the United Kingdom, among others, Joyce said. He stressed that the School of Communication shapes much of NHSI’s programming.

“It honestly has crossed my mind many times that the National High School Institute probably needs to become the International High School Institute because that’s sort of the way that SoC is operating too, with the Qatar campus and whatnot,” he said. “It’s all moving in that larger direction.”

Joyce is also working on adding a writing program to NHSI’s offerings, which currently comprise film, theatre and debate. He said this, like all NHSI programming, will be inspired and informed by its parent school.

Cherubs become Wildcats

Multiple current and future NU students said even if Cherubs did not provide a specific boost in the admissions process, it aided their applications.

“It really helped me, at least in my ‘Why Northwestern’ essay, to show that I’m actually very familiar with the program and with what Medill is like,” Medill sophomore Lily Cohen said. “I think it’s a huge help when you’re applying to be able to say, ‘Oh, I was working on my reporting, and I was sitting by The Rock and walking by the Lakefill.’ It just shows that you’re familiar with Northwestern, which a lot of kids who apply to a lot of schools don’t have.”

Cohen, like many Cherubs alumni, applied and was admitted Early Decision to Medill. The University has increased its ED numbers in recent years. Of the class of 2017, 43 percent came from ED applications, up from 40 percent for the class of 2016.

Eig recalled 12 to 15 students from his Cherubs class matriculating to Medill. The number has fluctuated in recent years but seems to be shrinking as NU grows more competitive.

Meanwhile, alumni of the program are nearly universal in their praise of its intensive but rewarding programming.

“Certainly at that point in my life, it was the best summer I ever had,” Eig said.