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I Wanted To Be Able To Choose

By Meital Caplan
June 19, 2019

Patrick Ben is a recent graduate from CICS Longwood High School in Chicago. Throughout the course of his senior year in OneGoal, he amassed more than $4.5 million from 68 different schools. Below he tells us how, and why, he did it.

Patrick Ben (center) with friends from OneGoal.

I’m a competitor. So when I found out that my mentor, OneGoal alumnus Anthony Rucker, had been awarded $1.5 million in college financial aid when he went through the application process, I had my goal.

I got my first college acceptance letter and reward package in August of my senior year of high school, and I was happy and excited. My friends even got annoyed with me because I wouldn’t stop talking about it. When I showed it to my OneGoal Program Director, Mrs. Chatman, we put it up on our classroom’s wall, and I remember thinking “now we’re in business.”

I had put in the work over the summer: building my resume and plugging it into every college database I could find so that colleges would know who I was and reach out to me about their specific programs and college tour opportunities. Then, in the fall, I spent my OneGoal class time applying nonstop to different schools. On a good day, I could finish applying to 10 different schools in an hour. By September, I already had $1 million from 15 schools that had accepted me. In October, I had earned almost $3 million. By the end of the school year, I had more than $4.5 million from 68 schools.

It was never about the money. It was about two things: finishing college debt-free and having variety in choice.

I didn’t want to limit myself. I wanted to have all the information in front of me before I narrowed it down. You accepted me? Cool, now show me how you’re going to help me pay to attend. I can afford you? Great, now show me that you have a diverse environment that will welcome a Black man onto your campus. On every college tour, I asked these questions and was able to keep narrowing down my list.

Then a third factor entered my life that played an important part in my decision-making process: I became a father. I plan on being around to see my daughter grow, and so I knew that I wanted to stay within a five-hour driving distance from her and, thankfully, I still had a lot of colleges to choose from. She’s really the reason that I pushed myself this year.

I’ll be a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign this fall, and I’m going to get a degree in accounting so that one day I can have my own firm. I’ve always been good with numbers so my uncle recommended that I try an accounting summer course for a week at Illinois State University going into my senior year of high school. I did, I loved it, and here we are. I also know that even if I change my mind later on in life, studying accounting will teach me skills that I’ll be able to apply in many different jobs.

I know that college is going to be challenging at first. It’s going to be a different environment with new teachers and new opportunities. In high school, more people hold your hand each step of the way, and your parents wake you up to make sure you’re on time. Now it’s really on you to wake up and go to class. You transition from being a teen to almost an adult. But I already feel like I’m doing something good by going to college and planning for my future. I’m standing for something positive in my community and as an example to other young Black men that they can do this, too.

MORE: Chicago, Fellows