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Being Seen for Who I Am: Reflections on the Generations Scholarship

I once found myself in the middle of a catastrophe where I somehow wore a heavy boot without straps, as I experienced life through my parents’ lens. At seventeen years old, I found myself contemplating the tradeoff between getting a college education and the added stress it would have on my parents. I got emotional watching my dad, who was already worried about his declining health, and my mom, who was already working three shifts, working even harder to support my seven-year architecture education. Trying on my parents’ shoes, I wondered how they would manage to pay for their three children’s tuition. It was then that I felt true sympathy for them. Whenever I was ungrateful as a child, my dad would say, “You kids don’t understand struggle, and I hope God prevents you from understanding.” That experience made me truly understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into earning money.

Before my move to the United States, I didn’t really understand the concept of struggle because my family was upper-middle-class. My father was a financial accountant for Nigeria Distilleries LTD, my mother was a freelance trader, and they owned farmlands and several catfish ponds. When we moved to the United States, my parents had to assign delegates to supervise the ponds and farmland, but they, unfortunately, did poor jobs. Although we had enough to get by, I still witnessed my parents’ frequent struggles due to Nigeria’s lack of financial stability. As a result, my parents leaned into ‌advice that they got from fellow immigrants their age: They would receive a better “return on investment” for their children’s educations if they pushed us toward the medical field. I detested ‌medicine as a field of study, so I strived to make sure that my college experience was as smooth for my parents as I hoped it would be for me. To become an architect as I hoped to be, I had to attend a reputable – and most likely expensive – school. Although UIC is relatively affordable, it is still very expensive to attend. This led to my search for scholarships.

At first, I was drawn to very competitive, high-award scholarships, but my applications were declined and there I was back to square one. The more rejection letters I got, the more I felt like I had disappointed my parents. To say that I was very excited when I was selected as the first recipient of the Generations Scholarship is an understatement. It just so happened that I got the news a few days before my birthday, so it felt like a birthday gift. It was the first time that I felt accomplished, not only academically, but internally. Unlike the other scholarships I applied for, whose winners had been decided before the judges even read the first sentence of their personal essays, the Generations Scholarship committee made me feel that my essay finally spoke for me. The Generations Scholarship was the first academic scholarship I won, and it was truly the first one that took my statement and personality into account. In addition to the money I received, the relationship that I have built with the donors is indescribably priceless. It is a relationship that I couldn’t have had with the people who fund most scholarships. Generations scholarship equipped me with the confidence and assurance to enroll in two degrees, Architecture and Real Estate. It reduces the burden on my tuition differentials and serves as an encouragement to succeed as more people are interested in my academic success.

Navigating scholarships and financial aid: Advice from a Platinum Partner

Guy Hatch is a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College and a member of Chicago Scholars’ College Partnerships Advisory Council. Below, you’ll find Guy’s tips for navigating the financial aid process and looking for scholarships once you’ve decided where you’re attending college.


Paying for college and understanding financial aid can be overwhelming. To help create a list of schools that are need-sensitive, you might consider Googling or talking with your guidance counselor or college counselor about institutions who are prepared to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated need. There are dozens throughout the country. In addition, you might also consider looking at scholarships that are need-based, merit-based, and talent-based. Each institution might offer these types of scholarships, but there may also be external scholarships from your parents’ employers, church community, community based organizations, national organizations, and more.


You do not need to be a straight “A” student with the highest test scores. While some scholarships are based on grades and test scores, many are not, so there is no “perfect student.” There are unique scholarship opportunities that were created for unique students like yourself.


Pay attention to institutional and external scholarships, as well as federal and state aid. For example, some states offer additional aid to students separate from the aid offered by the federal government. Some companies might also offer aid through your parents’ jobs or even your own job. Don’t miss out on those opportunities.


I highly recommend building a relationship with your financial aid office/officer. Just like you have an admissions officer, you’ve been assigned a financial aid officer. You should introduce yourself and inform the financial aid office of your interest in the institution and what your financial needs are. Ask what other options besides student loans are available to you. It doesn’t hurt to ask!


You should inquire with each institution that you’re considering. Different institutions have different financial aid processes. These different methods can range from need-based, merit, work study, and federal/institutional loans.


The most important thing for students and families to remember as they work on scholarships and financial aid applications is that you will be asked to provide a lot of personal financial information, but the financial aid office is there to answer questions and provide guidance throughout this process. College is intended to be an experience of a lifetime, but it is also an investment of a lifetime.