Making College Dreams a Reality: Maximizing Financial Aid

Financial Aid workshop

A recent U.S. Department of Education report shows that only 67% of New York City high school seniors completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2017, leaving an estimated $50 million in federal college grants on the table. The low completion rate is not surprising–applying for financial aid is a complicated and daunting process, especially for low-income students. At Breakthrough New York, we help our students overcome the challenges of applying for financial aid to help make their college dreams a reality.

Students from low-income backgrounds face many barriers to applying for financial aid. Many of our students are the first in their family to pursue higher education, so they have limited knowledge of their financial aid options. The challenges of completing the complex financial documents are compounded for families who do not speak or read English fluently, who are juggling multiple jobs, or who are facing unemployment or inconsistent employment. Securing the required tax and financial materials is difficult, especially if students have limited documentation due to poor record keeping or their parents' immigration status.

To help students overcome these obstacles, we hold information sessions and intensive workshops with trained volunteers who work one-on-one with families to complete the FAFSA, as well as New York State's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) application and the CSS Profile. While the FAFSA determines whether students are eligible for federal aid, the TAP application is necessary for students who will be attending an in-state public or private college, and the complex CSS Profile is a requirement by many private colleges and universities in order to qualify for institutional aid. Private grants and aid are especially important for undocumented students, who do not qualify for government grants. We also help students locate scholarships and re-negotiate aid awards from colleges when needed.  

Completing the FAFSA, TAP and CSS Profile maximizes opportunities for aid, and we find that students can often attend elite private colleges and graduate with less debt than they would in the State system. Financial aid support is a key reason why 100% of Breakthrough New York students go to college. If you are interested in volunteering to help students and families complete financial aid applications, please visit or email us to learn more.

What does family mean to you?

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If you ask Rudra Persaud, he will tell you about his parents who emigrated from Guyana to the Bronx when he was four years old and worked long hours to give him a better life, and his older brother, who is his role model.

Rudra will also tell you about Breakthrough New York, how we stepped in to give him resources his parents couldn’t afford, and social and academic skills he couldn't otherwise get, all to propel him forward with a first-class education. We have become his family too, he says.

Today, with vital services for vulnerable Americans under threat, young people like Rudra need family—in all its forms—more than ever. By supporting BTNY, you will send a powerful message to low-income kids that they deserve an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Families inspire. Families support. Families lift up their own.

“What Breakthrough does for me is life-changing,” says Rudra, now a junior at Pace University.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, Rudra was accepted to BTNY in 2009 as an eleven year-old sixth grader. That summer, he left the Bronx by himself for the first time, commuting two hours a day to our academic program in Manhattan. He was invigorated by our challenging curriculum and inspired by his hard-working peers. “I knew right away this was where I wanted to be,” he recalls.

You can create breakthrough moments for hundreds of students like Rudra.

Because of the generosity of people like you, each BTNY student has a breakthrough moment that changes his or her life forever. Rudra’s breakthrough came when our staff helped him get into a boarding school in Connecticut—and persuaded his parents to let him go.

“Attending a boarding school was the best experience of my life, and it wouldn’t have happened without Breakthrough,” Rudra says. “It opened my eyes to the world outside New York City, and I got involved in different activities, like Chinese club and service groups.”

Today, Rudra is thriving in his junior year at Pace University. A bio-chemistry major, he is vice-president of a biology honor society, a member of several science clubs, and is plotting his path to medical school. And, he still finds time to serve as a mentor to our high school students on weekends. “Every kid deserves access to a community and mentors who care, like those at Breakthrough,” he says.

You can help our students achieve their dreams.

Your gift will provide students, like Rudra, with academic enrichment, tutoring, mentoring, test prep, high school and college admissions guidance, financial aid counseling, internship placement—and a place in our family, for life.

Over the last 12 years, I have had the privilege of welcoming hundreds of amazing young people into our family. I have watched their breakthrough moments, when they master new skills, find a community of likeminded souls, and embrace a brighter future for themselves, and their families.

I want to thank you deeply for your ongoing generosity. You, too, are part of our family, and I will forever be grateful.


Rhea Wong

Executive Director

p.s. As you know, I am stepping down as executive director at the end of 2017, but with your help, the BTNY family will be here for our students, today, and for many years to come.

Breakthrough New York on Announcement to End Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

(New York, NY) Rhea Wong, Executive Director of Breakthrough New York, today issued the following statement regarding the Trump administration’s announcement to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, known as DACA: 

Hard-working immigrants built this country and made it what it is today: a beacon of democracy, hope and progress.  By denying Dreamers a chance to stay and contribute, President Trump has ripped the fabric of our country and undermined our most cherished American principles and ideals.

We know that first-hand that Dreamers are hard-working and compassionate individuals whose talents and values make our country better. This year, Breakthrough New York had the honor of hiring college student Gabe Sanchez as a Teaching Fellow in our summer program. He is an invaluable member of our team who dedicated his summer to mentoring our middle school students in the SOuth Bronx and expanding their physics knowledge. He is also a DACA recipient whose dreams of teaching science and pursuing graduate studies are in jeopardy because of the Trump administration (read more about Gabe here and here).  

At Breakthrough New York, our students aspire to succeed in their schools, in their careers, and in their lives. Whether DACA recipients or not, they mirror Dreamers in many ways: they range in age from 11 to 22, they have limited financial means but an abundance of ambition and grit, they are nearly all black, Latino, and Asian, and most importantly, they seek opportunity.

Repealing DACA threatens to forever impact families who sought a better life, and who have made contributions to strengthen our nation. These 800,000 young people are American in all ways, save one piece of paper.  They are students, neighbors, co-workers and friends.

We will not stand by as our community is attacked. We will stand up for what is right and do everything we can to support Dreamers in these difficult months ahead.  We vow to continue to provide our students with the intellectual tools and critical thinking skills to fight back against hateful ideals. We implore our elected leaders in Congress to work together to find a solution to keep Dreamers thriving in the US.

To make America great again means remembering what made it great in the first place.

Statement on events in Charlottesville, VA


The entire Breakthrough New York family was horrified by the events in Charlottesville last weekend. It was an appalling reminder that vicious racism still thrives in parts of our society. We were further disheartened when President Trump initially did not condemn the perpetrators and name them for what they are: white supremacists and domestic terrorists. It was, unfortunately, the latest example of the President failing us and, more importantly, our children.

What made last weekend’s events even more shocking is that they occurred on a college campus—the University of Virginia—where young people from all over the world come to learn in a safe, racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse environment.

At Breakthrough New York, we help our students get into top colleges and college-prep high schools, not only for the first-class education they will receive, but also so they can participate in extracurricular groups and social activities with peers whose backgrounds and perspectives differ from their own. Tragedies like the events in Charlottesville only strengthen our commitment to supporting our students and preparing them for success in a diverse world.

This fall, Breakthrough New York will proudly send two incoming freshmen to the University of Virginia, and over 120 others to colleges and boarding schools across the country, away from the familiarity of home.

To these, and all, our students, we say, unequivocally: we’ve got your back.

In addition to the support services we provide our students, we also encourage them to find supportive groups and communities on their campuses, and to build nurturing relationships with other students, faculty members, and administrators. We are in dialogue with the Office of African American Affairs at the University of Virginia to ensure our students successfully transition there, and are committed to establishing similar connections for all of our students.

We also say, with great confidence: you will be the force that changes the world.

We are inspired to see so many Breakthrough New York students taking a stand by participating in peaceful protests and vigils in response to the hatred and violence in Charlottesville. The truth is, dealing with tough issues head-on is nothing new for our students. From participating in robust current events debates in our classrooms, to tackling prejudice and inequality in their own lives, our students have the passion, commitment, and knowledge to make our world a more just and humane place for future generations.