From Pakistan to Philadelphia: How Education Has Helped Afshan Khan Defy the Odds 

Afshan Khan will be graduating from Community College of Philadelphia this June with an associate degree in Health Care Studies. While she has always dreamed of obtaining both her high school diploma and associate degree by 18, things did not necessarily work out how she originally planned. Despite the hiccups she’s faced along the way, Afshan has valued education for as long as she can remember.>Headshot of Afshan 

Originally from Pakistan, she says her family moved to Philadelphia for her to get a better education—and a better shot at life. 

“In my country, women don’t get a lot of opportunities,” Afshan said. “Education for women is not the main goal. That’s why when I was seven, my dad moved us to Philadelphia.”

The 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, created by the World Economic Forum, ranked Pakistan 153 out of 156 countries based on four key categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Only 46.5% of Pakistani women are literate, 22.6% participate in the labor market, and on average women earn 16.3% of the income a Pakistani man makes. 

It's no surprise why Afshan was determined to graduate high school with an associate degree. She looks back on how excited she was after being accepted into her top high school: Parkway Center City Middle College. However, due to a family emergency, she was forced to return to Pakistan for six months. Once she came back to Philadelphia, she learned that she was no longer able to enroll at Parkway. 

She was soon recommended to participate in the College’s Gateway to College program. Gateway to College is a dual enrollment program, in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, that offers students ages 16 to 21 the opportunity to not only earn their high school diploma, but to earn college credits toward an associate degree or certificate.

With the support of the Gateway program, Afshan was able to earn her high school diploma in 2020 at 16 years old. She was also the valedictorian for her graduating class. Once she completed the program, Monifa Young, the Gateway to College program director, told Afshan about the Octavius Catto Scholarship that officially launched in January 2021.

The Catto Scholarship helps make community college more accessible to Philadelphians by providing last-dollar funding to cover the cost of tuition, as well as support to cover the cost of books, enhanced academic success and career coaching, academic advising, and connections to resources like housing assistance and child care. 

“Ms. Monifa spoke with me about the Catto Scholarship and how much the scholarship helps students,” Afshan said. “After looking into it, I found out that I qualified. They pay for all your classes and help alleviate stress with other finances.”

She added, “This is the main reason some students aren’t able to go to college. The Catto Scholarship was there for students who had those financial struggles and helped them overcome them. We also have success coaches to help you out every step of the way.”

Afshan also spoke about how impactful the workshops the Catto Scholarship offers have been. Some of the workshops Afshan has attended include managing stress, what to do when your motivation is low, as well as how to drop classes and what risks to be aware of. She is on the planning committee and helps the Catto team identify what workshops would best benefit students.

“Overall, the Catto Scholarship is the whole package,” Afshan says. “I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

In addition to her studies, Afshan devotes much of her time volunteering to help others. She tutors high school students at Strawberry Mansion High School; she is involved in the Women Speak program, within the College’s Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Center, where she advocates on behalf of women’s rights through writing and public speaking; and she will be wrapping up her time as a volunteer in the College’s AmeriCorps Next Steps program. 

After graduating in June, she plans to transfer to a four-year college to pursue a nursing degree. She says that down the line she wants to become a physician. 

“In every community, nurses and doctors are always needed,” Afshan said. “In my country, many people have to pay out of pocket and some people are too poor to afford health care. I want to open a hospital for people where they can get their treatment for free and help them out.

“While I always didn’t know what I wanted to do specifically, I’ve always been interested in nursing and the medical field. There are no doctors or nurses in my family at all and the woman in my family have not received a lot of education. I would like the be the first woman in my family to become a doctor. I just want to help people.”

In addition to a hospital, both in the United States and her home country, Afshan also wants to open a school in Pakistan to provide women with educational opportunities. She even wants to launch her own scholarship similar to the Catto Scholarship. 

She said, “I want to show them that women can accomplish anything. They just need the right opportunities.”

When asked to reflect on her time at the College, from the Gateway program to the Catto Scholarship, Afshan said, “CCP is an amazing college and one that every student should attend before going to a four-year college. A lot of the professors I had were caring. There are also a lot of opportunities here and they offer so much help for students to take advantage of.”

While she has enjoyed her experience at the College, she’s excited to attend a four-year school and earn her bachelor’s degree. In terms of what she’s looking forward to most at her next college: being one step closer to her goal of becoming a nurse and having the four-year college experience.