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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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Three students attired for the winter season, undated.

Three students attired for the winter season, undated.

 

Waiting for the train to the Loop, 1958. Photograph by Robert Malone (MFA 1958).

Waiting for the train to the Loop, 1958. Photograph by Robert Malone (MFA 1958).

Matriculations

The Student Body
On the eve of the University's first day of classes, an anxious President Harper wondered aloud if any students would show up. There was little cause for Harper's concern. The idea of the University of Chicago had already promised to attract many students. Even before a president had been named or a faculty hired, prospective students began to request information and admissions applications. As early as October 1890, the University distributed information pamphlets, leading to a daily flow of correspondence from potential applicants fully two years before opening day.

The task before the University was thus not so much to attract students as to decide on the proper composition of the student body. The candidate's academic preparation was determined by evaluating high school reports and entrance examinations. But the admissions committee encountered problems. High school grades were not always reliable and varied considerably from one school to another. Entrance exams were only somewhat helpful in evaluating candidates, for many high school students, particularly those from the Midwest, had not always had an opportunity to lake science or language courses such as Latin and Greek which were basic examination topics. As a result, standards for entrance exams had to be adjusted over time in response to changing patterns of secondary education.

Another concern for the University was the background and geographical origins of the students. At the beginning, well over half of the students were from greater Chicago and Illinois. Harper was pleased that students from the region were anxious to attend the University, but he also hoped to attract students from around the country and abroad. A diversity of backgrounds, Harper believed, would not only enhance the character of the student body but also confirm the University's status as a distinguished national institution.

In this effort the University could claim early and continuing success. From the time of the University's opening, the Registrar annually reported the enrollment of students from Japan, China, the Philippines, Korea, India, South Africa, and Burma, as well as Canada, the nations of Western Europe, and dozens of other countries. The University's open admission policy also served as a continuing attraction to American minorities, particularly Jewish and African-American students who found their path blocked by policies or quotas at many other institutions.


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