For anyone from Trinidad and Tobago who wants to go after their academic and athletic dreams in the US but might be cash-strapped and need to learn the process of applying for scholarships abroad, an educational consulting business is offering a way out.
Aim For The Stars Education Consulting Services is a North Carolina-based company that provides consulting services to Caribbean families seeking admission to US colleges and universities.
Its founder, president, and academic consultant is Barry James, originally from Diego Martin.
Its co-founder is former Olympian Jerome Romain, from Dominica. Romain is the athletic consultant with an extensive track and field background.
Part of the service is a programme (SAT prep-programme) that enables people to study online. SAT is a standardised test widely used for college admissions in the US. This knowledge-based exam carries a maximum score of 1,600.
"Once the students sit the SAT exams and get a score of 1,200 and above, I can go to the colleges and negotiate on their behalf in the North and South Carolina area for full academic scholarships," James said.
"There is no age limit for the SAT and college. When I first came to the US for college, I was 18, but there were other Trinis as old as 39 who came in my group. So, I would say it is for people as young as in fifth form to as old as 30s."
Besides SAT preparation and application to colleges and universities, the programme includes consultation on coursework from colleges, mentorship, immigration assistance and overall advice to secure an academic and athletic future.
The programme costs US $1,000 (about TT $6,700) per student but has "early bird specials" at the discounted cost of US $333 (about TT$2,231) until the end of March. From April, the prices are set to revert.
James said, "We want to give back to Caribbean students, seeing that we both came up on scholarships. The length of our programme depends on the individual. Some students who did A-levels, can do a practice test and be ready within a month to sit the SAT exams."
James, a past Queen's Royal College student, promises to further reduce the costs for successful candidates.
He said the cost of the SAT is about US $125 (about TT $838), but for any student who takes the SAT and gets 1,200 points and above, he intends to reimburse them for that SAT cost.
"This offer is only for the first time after taking the test. People can re-sit the test several times," James added.
In 1995, he went to the US on an academic scholarship and wanted to show people that that same path could be available to them. He attained a bachelor's degree and a master's degree and studied at the PhD level, all for free in the US, based on scholarships.
He holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Livingstone College and has worked as a semi-conductor engineer. James also taught at middle and high schools. He also has a master's degree in microelectronics-photonics from the University of Arkansas.
"My PhD is in that area as well, but I did not complete it because I switched to entrepreneurship while doing that programme," James said.
"I finished all my PhD coursework and did my candidacy exam. I just did not finish my research to complete the PhD."
On the athletic side, specifically football, basketball and/or track and field, the co-founder Romain negotiates on students' behalf.
As for academic scholarships, the students still have to take the SAT exams.
Romain attended Blinn Junior College in Texas and later earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in kinesiology from the University of Arkansas.
He has represented his birth country as well as France in several world sporting events and has over 15 years of coaching experience.
Romain and James "proudly champion and advocate for students and families throughout their entire college admission journey."
The duo started the business in July, and the feedback has been great so far.
Five students from TT are in the programme, and one is getting ready to do the SAT in the upcoming weeks.
Anyone interested in learning more about the programme can visit the website at www.aim4dstars.com or the Facebook page Aim For The Stars Education Consulting Services.