As the decision dates draw near for both University Laboratory High School and various Universities, it is time to reflect on the potential outcomes of these decisions. While almost everyone would certainly prefer an acceptance over a denial, it is important to understand that no matter what the outcome is, this decision is only a single step in a long journey. As current students at Uni High—one of whom is a former student of Champaign Central High student—we would like to offer some insight on the benefits and the cons of attending either Uni High, or another local public high school. No matter where you end up attending, as long as you work towards the opportunities at your school, you will be fine.
Benefits of Uni High:
One of the first things that anyone notices when they enter Uni High while school is in session is the number of backpacks that line the hallways on each of the three main hallways. Students often forgo putting their supplies in their lockers in favor of leaving them directly in front of their lockers. By the front entrance of the first floor hallway is a charging station where students leave their phones unattended for long periods of time. This is indicative of the strong sense of trust that Uni students have. With just over 300 students total, and around 60 students per grade, the small size of the student body facilitates a strong community.
All of the sports that Uni offers have a no-cut policy, meaning that all students interested in the sport are allowed to partake, regardless of their skill level. This allows students who might not have normally made the cut for sports to participate. Despite the no-cut policy, Uni’s sports are still competitive. Uni’s Cross Country, Boys’ Soccer, and Girls and Boys Track and Field are consistently recognized as some of the areas’ best programs. Uni’s Scholastic Bowl team is consistently not only one of the best teams in the state, but in the country. In 2019, they placed second nationally at the NAQT High School National Championship Tournament.
All academic classes at Uni are honors level courses. A result of this is that math courses are a grade level above what is standard for that grade and overall, classes are more academically rigorous than standard classes at a public school. It’s worth noting that Uni does not offer AP courses, nor do they teach to the AP curriculum. This means that if a student is interested in taking an AP exam, they have to study for it on their own time. That being said, Uni teachers are typically more than happy to help students with studying and answer any questions that might come up along the way.
Another key academic benefit is that Uni students are allowed to take classes at the University of Illinois, during the Fall and Spring semesters, without any cost. This allows students to explore topics that aren’t taught at Uni. For example, Uni doesn’t have a class on political science, but if a student had an interest in learning about this subject, they would be able to enroll in a political science class at the U of I. Another advantage of U of I classes is that students are able to further explore topics that they’ve already learned about at Uni. A student who took Uni’s psychology and discovered an interest in the subject has access to all the various psychology courses that the University of Illinois offers to its students.
Other High Schools, Central High School specifically:
Attending public high schools should not just be the result of a rejection letter from Uni High. Even if you are accepted into Uni High, a lot of consideration should still be made towards our local high schools. Truly aspiring students will be able to succeed no matter what school they attend, and so an emphasis must be placed on whether a student will fit into a school’s atmosphere.
There are ways to succeed no matter where you go, and it doesn’t have to be academic. It is without question that Uni High has stronger academics than most public schools, but schools such as Central have equally strong programs in other areas. For example, Central’s music program is extraordinary, featuring concert bands, marching bands, and a nationally renowned jazz program. Central High School has been selected to attend Essentially Ellington—A competition featuring the top 15 high school jazz bands in the nation—5 times since 2005, the most out of any school in Illinois. Not to say that Uni has a bad music program, but that Central has a lot more resources and experience attached to their program. Both schools also have excellent Drama programs.
The sports culture surrounding both teams are also completely different. While Uni has a few sports teams, all of which are gender locked due to the small size of the school, Central has teams of all types for both genders. Uni students who wish to partake in girls tennis or boys swimming, both programs offered at Central, have to find ways outside of school to partake in these events on their own. The general athleticism at public schools is also higher than an academically focused school such as Uni. There is a certain degree of pride held to the sports teams at Central, especially in the football team. The Central football team is already bigger than an entire class of Uni students, and home matches against rival schools such as Centennial are quite the spectacle.
Central’s school atmosphere is also quite the contrast from Uni’s, with less stress on academics and more on having fun. The huge, diverse school has people from all different types of backgrounds, whereas Uni tends to have most of its students from the same cohort of Society. While the small Uni community encourages students to form strong bonds for life, Central’s huge size offers the daily possibility of meeting someone new and obtaining a new perspective. It honestly comes down to what you might prefer.
Even if we are to focus purely on academics, Central and Centennial aren’t exactly slackers. In the regional math competition, Centennial has always been a close competitor, with their senior class even beating Uni’s this year. Looking at College admissions, both public schools and Uni send a large portion of their students to UIUC, but all 3 schools also send students to top schools throughout the country. Last year, a Centennial student was accepted into MIT, and a student from Central was accepted into the University of Chicago, along with several Northwestern admits from both schools.
As a former Central High School student who transferred as a junior to Uni High, I can confidently say that my initial rejection in 7th grade to Uni High was probably the best thing to ever happen to me. It first and foremost taught me a lesson in humility, something I know for a fact that a lot of Uni applicants will need to learn, and it also provided me the opportunity of attending Central High School. Throughout my years at Uni, I have several times questioned whether transferring was the right decision. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Central, partaking in the Marching band and Archery team, both of which Uni lack. However I still ultimately felt content with the decision to transfer because I was a more academically focused student, and Uni fit my learning style. It’s also not unheard of for Uni students to transfer back to other public schools, when they realize they would fit better in a different environment.
What we hope is clear from this article is that there are benefits and downsides to going to both Uni and another local public school. As both authors attended the same middle school, we each have memories of people crying when they found out that they had not been accepted into Uni. We wanted students like them to know that success is possible at both schools, and whichever school is better is a matter of personal preference.