Arrupe College Brandon Thomas

“The more you work at a thing, the more you'll understand it. That’s my philosophy.”

Brandon Thomas remembers sitting in his grandparent’s car, in the summer of 2015, parked outside Arrupe College’s inaugural orientation. His heart was racing, his palms sweaty. A few months prior, he’d gained acceptance to Iowa Wesleyan University, but he’d declined to enroll because of the steep price. Arrupe seemed like an exciting (and realistic) alternative. Still, it carried risks. The school was just opening, for starters. And what if Thomas—sweet but shy—couldn’t fit in socially? Or what if he earned his associate’s degree but then lost academic momentum? “That was the number one concern for me,” he said. “If I would start this journey, am I going to stop after two years?”

Before Thomas unbuckled his seatbelt, his grandfather passed along a simple piece of advice: Be yourself. Thomas took it to heart. At Arrupe, he was “the go-to person” in his history classes, a subject he adores for its sweeping drama. He was quick to share tips about time and stress management that he picked up in high school, at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep on Chicago’s West Side. As Arrupe’s tutoring coordinator, he helped set appointments and monitor students who were falling behind. And in the corridors of Maguire Hall, he found a diverse community of classmates who “basically opened my eyes to things that are happening around me.”

His transition to Loyola University Chicago, where Thomas ultimately transferred, was not without its complications, either. Tuition was still a puzzle to solve; he coordinated with financial aid officers and department heads to set in place a reasonable payment plan. In the classroom, he adjusted to a demanding schedule and new expectations. But he’d learned at Arrupe how best to advocate for himself. “The more that you work at a thing, the more you’ll understand it,” he said. “That’s my philosophy.”

Pushing hard to the end, Thomas took a few minutes during his last Loyola finals week to reflect on his path through higher education. A soon-to-be alum of the College of Arts and Sciences, he’d been cramming inside the Department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, a wing of the university he embraced while on campus. (At Loyola, he served as a peer mentor for Brothers for Excellence, an organization that creates safe spaces for students of color to learn how to navigate a predominantly white college, and was active in the student-run Black Cultural Center.) He’ll take the next year off to gain work experience—and pay some bills—before applying to graduate school to study student affairs in higher education. Guiding kids as they maneuver through college, in other words, will become his life’s work.

Thomas found his way, and he’ll make sure others do, too.

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A new school

Launched in 2015, Arrupe College is a two-year associate’s degree program that provides a rigorous liberal arts education to motivated students with limited financial resources and an interest in attending a four-year institution. In 2017, the first class graduated with an associate's degree. This spring, 47 percent of that first class earned their bachelor’s degree in four years—two years after they walked at Arrupe's inaugural commencement. An additional 37 percent is on track to graduate by the end of the year. Learn more about Arrupe from its dean and executive director and how to apply.