The odds were stacked against Dylan Chidick in the summer of 2017. A Jersey City high school student, he was homeless and struggling to study in a shelter. His twin brothers had heart conditions and needed extra care. His mother had lost her job.
But this week, he learned that he had been accepted to 17 colleges, including Siena College, Kean University, Caldwell University and York College of Pennsylvania. His academic efforts stood in sharp contrast to the stories of privilege and wealth that emerged from the wide-ranging college admissions scam, in which dozens of wealthy and high-profile parents allegedly bought their children’s admission into elite universities.
After the many lessons that Dylan, 17, has had to learn about life’s odds, here was one more.
“I think it is unfair that people could just buy their way in,” said Dylan, speaking on Thursday during a break from classes. “But I know that it has been happening for a long time, and there is always going to be someone with more privilege and more connections, to have it easier than others.”
“And that means that you have to work harder to achieve the same goals,” he said.
Any lingering faith in a system of meritocracy was challenged on Tuesday when federal prosecutors charged 50 people in what they called the “largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” The prosecutors alleged that the parents involved paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure spots for their privileged children.
By contrast, other students across the country spoke to The Times this week about the obstacles they had to overcome to prepare for college, such as finding jobs to help their families pay bills or to save for tuition, as well as taking tests over and over, without the benefit of tutors, in hopes of improving their scores and their prospects.
Dylan’s college application process was a fraught period of test-taking, late nights and hopeful anticipation.
The first time he took the SAT, he realized he had not started studying for it early enough, and he thought he could do better. He spent long nights studying the second time around, and started preparing further in advance, in hopes of becoming the first person in his family to go to college.
Dylan’s family immigrated from Trinidad when he was 7 and settled in Brooklyn, later moving to Jersey City when they were priced out.
He enrolled at Henry Snyder High School, where he became an honors student and took advanced placement classes. His mother, Khadine Phillip, found work as a home health care aide. His brothers, who are now 11, needed open-heart surgery and suffered from fainting spells, which Dylan said meant that he had to watch them extra carefully at the playground.
In mid-2017, Ms. Phillip lost her job and the family lost their home, Dylan said.
They moved into a shelter, where they stayed for several months. Even though he would have preferred having a quiet place to study, where he could stay up late to work without having to follow a curfew, Dylan made the most of it and persisted.
He took advanced placement classes that summer, worked at a recreation center, and returned to the shelter at 9 p.m. to study.
Eventually, with the help of Women Rising, an organization in Jersey City that helps women and their families find housing, counseling and social services, Dylan and his family found a permanent place to live.
It was then Dylan started preparing to apply to colleges. Helped by fee-waivers that are available to first-generation college students and those from low-income families, he cast a wide net in his potential choices. He also pushed aside the words imprinted in his memory from other students and from educators who had doubted him as a child.
“It taught me to be persistent,” he said. “Just because you hear ‘no' once doesn’t mean you are going to hear ‘no’ again.”
Hard work helped form his character, he said. He is now hoping to receive his 18th acceptance notice from his first choice school — the College of New Jersey, where he has friends. He plans to ultimately become a lawyer.
“Even before me and my family were homeless, I always knew I wanted to go to college,” he said.
But after everything they went through, he became even more determined. “I vowed to never let my family get into that situation again,” he said.
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