Top Admits: Eva McCord, UChicago

“When you’re doing things that you genuinely care about and you want to dedicate your time to, it doesn’t feel so much like balancing time. It feels like living your life,” says Eva McCord, one of the 6% of applicants admitted to the University of Chicago. This week, Michigan’s Student Journalist of the Year and Coca-Cola Scholar who earned a 4.33 GPA, 1570 SAT, and 35 ACT shares:

  • The best way to identify college “fit.” Hint: It involves reciprocity.
  • How her mom’s parenting style earned Eva’s admiration and gratitude
  • How Eva knew her college essays needed no more revisions — a simple trick
What happened when you found out you got into your dream school, UChicago?

I was pretty nervous most of December. The weekend before, actually, I found out that I couldn’t afford my second choice. I had this realization in my room alone that I couldn’t afford to go to college, and that the one school I could afford to go to had a 6% acceptance rate. On the actual day, you could hear static in my house. It was the calmest it had ever been since turning in my application. I sat with my mom, because my mom is my biggest supporter and I wanted to open it with her. I remember turning to her before I opened it, and I was like, “No matter what happens, I’ll be okay.” And then I opened it. I saw the bubbles. I just started screaming, and my mom immediately started bawling. I had to pause everybody in the middle of it, because I had to check my financial aid. Then I saw that I got a full ride through the Odyssey Scholar Program. So I just committed the next day.

Wow. What do you think got you into UChicago?

I think I’m someone who really values taking a creative approach to things, because UChicago’s essays are absolutely insane. Actually, a big part of my essay was illustration. So I think adding another level of creativity and a different way of thinking about things and how to answer intense questions through an alternative perspective — the perspective of an artist rather than just an academic — I think added a new side to my application.

What is an example of how you used art to answer the essay prompts?

UChicago has those wacky prompts that they come up with every year. The prompt I chose was reimagining a diagram and reconfiguring the ways in which the different components of the diagram actually interact with one another. You could add a visual component if you wanted to. I just thought it was more for me. Being able to bring one of my childhood hobbies into my application was a neat thing. It helped the application seem a little more like me and personal.

That’s definitely memorable! Can you tell us about your high school experience?

I graduated from Grosse Pointe South High School in the Metro Detroit area of Michigan. Growing up in Grosse Pointe is a very different experience when you’re low-income. The homogeneity and the size of the town really stunted me in a certain way. Having the opportunity to use college as my steppingstone and kickboard into a world of a diverse student body and diverse inquiry was really important, something I really valued while I was looking for colleges.

A lot of the time I felt as though my ambitions were almost being intentionally tempered because I go to school that sends a lot of students to our state flagship, but not many students end up trying for more intense selective schools – which is totally fine. But a lot of the time, I felt as though my counselor didn’t really know me. And even though I did have very supportive teachers throughout my high school experience, a lot of the time I was very independent, and I was looking for opportunities on my own. It was a great exercise in having agency, but I do think a lot of the actual independence came from not really having anyone to go to.

Without counselors that really knew you, how did you find colleges that met your criteria?

I really found a lot of mentorship and guidance through the Joyce Ivy Foundation. I applied to their program back when I was a sophomore. I really thought I would go to my state school. That foundation and the women who run it really changed my life. I would not be the person I am today without that organization. They were the ones who actually introduced me to the University of Chicago.

But in terms of actually breaking down and looking at which schools were really for me, I think I have a bit of a boring answer. I just made a spreadsheet and I thought, “Well, I like this group of schools,” and I individually went through them. I had a bit of an easier time than other students, because financial aid is such a big part of where I could go. I just individually went through each school’s financial aid policy and crossed them off as I went. I think an unfortunate part of the process is that students need to become really financially literate really quickly. Be as annoying as you want to get the answers that you need to make the financially sound decision that you need to make.

Most students at the high school level have no idea how to be financially literate. How should college applicants approach this?

What a lot of students can do is really learn up on terms like merit aid, need-based aid and learn all of the intricate differences. All students owe themselves that intense, maybe really boring, maybe really annoying process of really digging into what college finances mean and looking for mentors, either in their high school environment, the internet, or just anywhere they can find them to really do the best they can to make the decision that is best for them, because I hate the idea of students getting in somewhere and then not being able to afford it later.

Aside from your involvement in the Joyce Ivy Foundation, what did you spend your time on outside of school?

I actually came into journalism, which was one of my biggest extracurriculars in high school, really by accident. When I was younger in middle school, I did the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In middle school, my mom was like, “Do you want to do a high school class at a local high school?” We called over and we wanted me to take a creative writing class, but they didn’t offer one. They said, “We have a new journalism teacher; do you want to go into journalism?” So I ended up being the first freshman to join the journalism team at my school, and I just stuck with it.

How did you know journalism was for you? Many students aren’t sure whether to quit or continue doing their extracurriculars.

I came to really just learn that while I had always loved poetry and creative writing, I really value using writing as a tool to give other people the agency and the autonomy to make choices for themselves and to serve as a background character or supporting character in people’s lives rather than the main character role you might take on as an author or a creative writer doing personal narratives, which I had to do a million of for creative writing and for Common App in college essays.

What other extracurriculars did you do?

I still stuck with creative writing, I did the Looking Glass, Art Literary Magazine, all throughout high school. It was my way to still stay in touch with the main character in me and stay involved with creative outlets. And then being able to actually engage with Science Olympiad and science in a more concrete way, but also a collaborative way — because you’re constantly working with a partner, constantly working on a team — I thought was really important for me, especially as a girl in STEM who doesn’t really have the opportunities outside of school or the parents to turn to.

With all of your different commitments, how did you manage your time?

If I could go back to my high school self, the one thing I would change is valuing my time a lot more. When you’re engaging with activities that you genuinely love and you truly believe in, and you’re dedicating your time to advancing the missions that you really connect with, it’s not going to feel so much like a drain on your time. It’s just conducive to what you would already want to be doing with your life. For instance, like with Joyce Ivy, I already really care about advancing women and their capacity to fill spaces in higher education. So being able to be involved in that kind of organization just already made a lot more sense. In terms of balancing your time, when you’re doing things that you genuinely care about and you want to dedicate your time to, it doesn’t feel so much like balancing time. It feels like living your life, if that makes sense.

You talked a bit about being a low-income student. How has that affected you?

What I have learned, at least from being low-income and living in a single-parent household, is that anyone has the capacity to really take agency over their own lives and really impact the world around them and the community around them. I think I got very hung up when I was younger, especially when I was first getting into the world of selective admissions, about what my peers could do and what I couldn’t do.

I think when you’re low-income it’s hard to avoid those kinds of thoughts. But at the same time, it’s important to also recognize that when you are in a position where you may or may not have access to fewer resources than your peers, the actual impact that you make on other people’s lives is even greater, because you are working with the same resources as those low-income peers, and you are making the change that only you can make.

You talked about your mom and how she supported you through college apps. What is your relationship like with her?

I honestly think my mom needs a vacation from being my mom. A lot of people would approach me and ask if my mom was a helicopter mom when literally my mom would be the one telling me to go to bed. She was like “You don’t need to study, you don’t need to take this AP class, you can just go home.” But honestly, having such a supportive mom and having such a role model in my life, an incredible female role model, really propelled me forward in my journey and towards actually pursuing my dreams. Having my mom in my corner really brought this other level of seeing her journey through academia and seeing how she valued education, but she was also so considerate of me as her child, being empathetic and putting my interest first over academics. That really allowed me to take my own path and make my own choices.

It sounds like your mom doesn’t have to push you to be independent. Where does your motivation come from?

A lot of people like me, and myself included, have imposter syndrome. We really struggle to quantify our accomplishments and understand exactly why we’re doing them. But I think what really motivates me — and it sounds a bit cliché —is the prospect of helping people and having the opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of others. As cliché as it may sound, actively taking a role and taking steps to actually accomplish those goals really mean the world to me.

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