New Jersey Teen Gets Accepted to 17 Colleges, Overcoming Homelessness

Last week, US federal prosecutors charged 50 people—including television actresses, a university professor and wealthy CEOs—who took part in one of the country’s largest college admissions schemes to date. While rich parents paid millions of dollars to secure slots for their children in selective universities, a formerly homeless teen overcame adversity to receive almost 20 acceptance letters.

Meet Dylan Chidick, a 17-year-old from Jersey City who moved with his family from Trinidad when he was only seven. So far, he has received 17 acceptance letters, as well as a full scholarship for tuition, room, and board from Give Something Back, a foundation that helps low-income students cover expenses in higher institutions. "I wasn’t really sure if I wasn’t going to get into college because I don’t have the perfect grades or perfect GPA or perfect SAT score," Dylan told North Jersey Record on March 14. "But I knew that when college admissions read my essay and see me as a whole person, I'd be OK.”

Dylan and his family had to defeat the odds ahead. His mom and his younger twin brothers grappled with homelessness, illness and financial problems before finding a house where the 17-year-old could begin a quest to enrolling in a higher institution, the publication noted. His mom, Khadine Phillip, and her sons lived in a shelter but were able to receive help through Village of Families, a Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded program.

Dylan told North Jersey Record that his family’s struggles and his mother’s resilience became the driving force behind his decision to go to college.

"Being in a shelter. I saw how vulnerable my mom and my entire family were," Dylan told the publication. "Usually we’re very independent and do not ask for help. Seeing them reach out and asking for help from an organization, it made me reassess myself and feel like it's OK to ask others for help and it's OK to be vulnerable."

Dylan’s story and the sweeping scheme scandal have opened up a conversation about the role of elite schools in closing the poverty gap. In a piece for The Atlantic on Monday, author Clint Smith addressed this issue.

“While many top schools have taken steps to provide more access to disadvantaged students and become more socioeconomically diverse, they remain saturated with wealth. Most low-income students still receive their education elsewhere, disproportionately attending for-profit colleges, community colleges, and less-selective four-year institutions,” he wrote.

Smith, who is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, argued that the concept of meritocracy in US society is just an instrument to reinforce hierarchies, while poorer students navigate an environment that continually reminds them that their admission was undeserved.

“What is real is the advantages of wealth and race, which often combine to give people things that they have told themselves they deserve. What is real is that students who have done everything right are often the ones made to feel as if their place on campus is anything other than earned,” he concluded.

According to Give Something Back, only one in 10 people from low-income families receives a bachelor’s degree by age 25. Lower-income students with outstanding test scores are less likely to graduate from college than higher-income students with less-than-stellar test scores, the organization pointed out.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review,, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and U.S. politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.