Owen Elrifi and Spencer Reed

Owen Elrifi and Spencer Reed


Community members know best what their own community needs most. The idea for LegUP — a program through which University students volunteer to help juniors and seniors at UChicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus (UCW) navigate the college application process — came straight from Woodlawn residents.

Through the 2016–17 Sargent Shriver Program for Leadership in Public Service offered by the University’s Institute of Politics, Shriver undergraduate fellows connected with Woodlawn community members to talk about the neighborhood’s needs. In conversations with block captains, faith-based groups and community organizations, a frequent topic was the need for more young people from the neighborhood to attend and graduate from college. “We thought, we’re college students who went through the application process pretty recently ourselves — this is something we could help with,” says Owen Elrifi, AB’19, MPP’20, LegUP co-founder and co-director.

The fellows connected with UCW’s chief college officer to see what students needed. By the fall of 2018, LegUP volunteer coaches were on the UCW campus several days a week, helping seniors finish their college essays and fill out the Common Application and financial aid forms; in the winter, they added an SAT prep clinic for juniors. In its first full year, 20 LegUP volunteers served more than 150 students from Chicago's South Side. 

Co-founder and co-director Spencer Reed, AB’19, says that UCW does an excellent job of helping its students get into college; LegUP’s “near-to-peer” coaching model, where students connect with coaches who are almost the same age, adds support that prepares them for the college experience and improves their odds of graduation.

“Our goal isn’t just to help students get into college — it’s to help them graduate." - Spencer Reed

“Coaches talk with students about their areas of interest, whether they’re looking for a big school or a small school, what college life actually looks like — all the things you want to hear about from someone close to your own age,” Reed says “Students think it’s so much cooler to hang out with first-years and talk about college than to hang out with old guys like us,” adds Elrifi.

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