Aspiring engineer from Trinidad and Tobago to attend top university in the US

News > The Caribbean

By STEM Caribbean | Posted on June 12, 2019

With a desire to study engineering, this year 19-year-old Jafar Howe will be attending Princeton University, which is currently ranked as the number one university in the United States according to U.S. News & World Report. The American university is not only known for its prestige but its selectiveness when accepting students. In 2018, only 5.5% of the applicants were admitted to the Class of 2022. 

Jafar Howe
Jafar Howe

Excelling in academics has been one of Jafar’s outstanding achievements since he was a young student attending Sacred Heart Boys’ R.C. Primary School in Trinidad and Tobago. By the time Jafar started secondary school at St. Mary’s College, he was so academically advanced that he was placed in an accelerated class that allowed him to skip form 3 eventually. Jafar kept on with the straight A’s streak and received 9 grade ones in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams which included Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Additional Mathematics, and Mathematics. 

Jafar’s acceptance letter from Princeton University

After completing the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency (CAPE) exams and excelling, Jafar encountered what may have seemed as a huddle. He received 9 grade ones, and a grade two which he expressed was the reason he didn’t receive a scholarship from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Nonetheless, he remained persistent and sought other sources of funding for his dream of studying abroad. He decided to take the SAT and scored a near perfect score of 1540 out of 1600 and then applied to top-ranking American universities, including Dartmouth College, with hopes of getting some form of financial aid. He even started a business selling popcorn and a fundraiser on GoFundMe, and tutor students in secondary school to raise the balance of funds needed for his tuition and cost of living. With the help of generous donors, the GoFundMe fundraiser has since amassed USD $26,909, which is more than the $20,000 goal he initially had set.

Jafar grew up in Laventille, Trinidad and Tobago, and always had a passion for math and physics. His story has reached thousands, and he’s now a beacon of hope for others from Laventille who have big goals and dreams. So far, he’s intrigued by mechatronic engineering, a branch of engineering that combines electrical and mechanical engineering. Read more below about Jafar’s journey to achieving his dream of attending Princeton University.

Did you have a favourite subject in school while growing up? If so, what was it?

Growing up, I was always good at Maths. It came easily to me, and it was fun. However, the day I was introduced to Physics, I knew it was my favourite. Something about learning the theories behind heat, gravity, and electricity always piqued my interest.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue engineering? What motivated you to make this choice?

As a child, I always liked challenging myself to solve problems. I was interested in the science behind how things work and using that science to fix some other random problem I would think up. The idea of building simple and complex machines to overcome everyday problems fascinated me. After learning about engineering around 8 years old, I was hooked on the idea of what they could do.

Although you’re not sure which type of engineering you would like you to study, is there a type that seems to stand out to you more than the others? Which type sparks your interest the most?

I’m not in a position to decide just yet but with my very limited knowledge, I have developed a liking to mechatronic engineering which is a combination of mechanical and electrical engineering.

What activities are you currently involved in?

Currently, I tutor secondary school students in STEM subjects and have a popcorn business that I started to help raise funds for me to attend university.

In the moment when you first found out of your acceptance to Princeton University, what were your thoughts or reactions?

I couldn’t believe it. I felt excited, confused and nervous all at the same time. I wasn’t expecting to get in but I was elated that I did. Ultimately, I felt relieved that I didn’t have to keep waiting and guessing whether I got in or not.

It’s widely known that getting accepted into Ivy League schools is difficult for Americans. As a student from Trinidad and Tobago, what was the process like leading up to the application process?

It was stressful. I spent a lot of time in and out of my school, trying to ensure teachers submitted my recommendations and transcript on time. I wrote about 30 essays in total, all of which required some serious self-reflection. I had to make sure that my punctuation was perfect, my spelling and grammar were spotless and my words were captivating but real. The acceptance rate for these schools are very low and the total number of applicants from around the world is very high. I worked out the acceptance rate for international students once and discovered that less than 10% of international applicants are accepted to these prestigious schools. I was competing with many of the brightest students from across the globe, some of which had already gotten the opportunity to do research and start start-ups. The entire process was nerve-racking especially when deadlines were approaching and you still had essays to do.

What or who inspired you to apply to Dartmouth College and Princeton University?

For me it was a no brainer. Top universities, with top facilities, world-renowned professors and a slew of opportunities to satiate my intellectual curiosity that was also willing to foot most of my educational costs were perfect. I would have been disappointed if I had let an opportunity like that slip because I knew that they would challenge me on a level I have never been challenged before.   

What advice do you have for other Caribbean students who are interested in attending top universities in the United States to study engineering?

You can do it. Sometimes you may feel like you are out of your league but once you commit to it and try your very best, you would be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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