• I grew up in poverty, so I couldn't take out loans when I enrolled in a four-year university.
  • I turned to scholarships — for months I kept applying and getting rejected.
  • But I didn't give up. I was finally awarded $13,000 in scholarships, and I graduated debt-free.

I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn't know how I would pay for it.

I'm from Harlem, New York, where I grew up in poverty. I lived in public housing, and my family used food stamps. When it came time for college, I struggled to understand how I could afford it.

I couldn't pay out of pocket. Student loans weren't an option either, because I knew I wouldn't be able to afford the monthly payments. I also didn't want my family to get stuck with the monthly payments, because they have nothing to give.

Instead, I focused on getting scholarships. Despite many setbacks, I earned over $13,000 in scholarships and thankfully graduated debt-free.

I started applying for scholarships in my junior year of college

Right out of high school, I enrolled in Stella and Charles Guttman Community College because it was close to home and affordable. Financial aid covered my entire tuition for the two years I attended.

After getting my associate degree, I enrolled in a four-year university named Buena Vista University. Again financial aid covered most of my tuition, but there was still a big chunk I needed to pay, and I didn't want to take out a loan.

The school was far from my home in Harlem, so I needed to move into a dorm on campus. The room and board brought my bill up. I needed to pay $2,500 before even starting my first semester.

That's when I turned to scholarships.

Searching for scholarships was like a full-time job

In 2019 I spent the summer researching and applying for scholarships. I spent several hours a day on my laptop, reading about deadlines and guidelines.

I scoured the web for resources. I tapped my community and professional contacts. I also turned to local organizations that offer funds to underrepresented people. I tried to stay as organized as possible by keeping all my research materials in a thick folder.

I wrote essay after essay. It was an extremely stressful time. For months I basically thought and dreamed about only scholarships.

But by the end of the summer, I'd won no scholarships. Zero.

Sixty scholarship competitions rejected me. I felt very disappointed. Part of me wanted to give up, but that isn't the person I am. I knew my hard work would pay off one day.

I'm thankful I didn't give up, because all that work paid off

In 2020 I received my first scholarship, for $500. I was excited; my perseverance had helped me score my first funding. Then I was offered a $1,000 scholarship. In 2022 I won 15 straight scholarships — the highest was $2,500.

In all, I earned $13,000 in scholarship funds. I was able to not only attend Buena Vista University and board there but also graduate debt-free.

This process built my character as I learned not to let rejection get in the way. Now as a graduate without debt, I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be.

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