One student overcame those and other challenges to win his choice of where to go to school.
WCBS-TV reports, he's got 17 acceptance letters to choose from, and that's just so far.
"I have to have a lot of determination," said 17-year-old Dylan Chidick.
After moving from Trinidad at just 7 years old and becoming a citizen, Dylan and his family went through countless heartaches.
His younger twin brothers are living with serious heart conditions, and his family has been in and out of homelessness.
"There has been a lot of people saying, 'you're not going to achieve this.' And me, getting these acceptance letters kind of verifies what I have been saying, that I can do it, and I will do it," he said.
The Jersey City teen set his goals high and met them, becoming the senior class president at Henry Snyder High School, and was inducted into the Honor Society.
Now, he is to become the first in his family to go to college.
It was his single mother's courage to ask for help from the non-profit Women Rising that Dylan says wants him to do better.
"It has been hard financially, we have been homeless," said Dylan's mother, Khadine Phillip.
"Putting herself out there like that, that made me more determined to never let us get back in that situation again," Dylan said.
"She is a great example in doing all that's necessary to help her children," said Roseann Mazzeo of Women Rising.
Among many things, the center has put them up in permanent supportive housing, giving Dylan a safe place to study and wait on his last acceptance letter.
"The College of New Jersey, I haven't heard back yet but that is my top school right now," Dylan said.
Hoping that number brings him up to 18 choices.
Now, you may be wondering how Dylan paid all those application fees. Because of his financial situation, they were all waived.
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