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QuestBridge: A Student’s Guide to Getting in and Making College Affordable

By Angie Sohn

Are you a high-achieving student that comes from a lower-income background? Are you determined to get into college and make it affordable? QuestBridge looks for students exactly like you.

I attend Colby College as a QuestBridge Scholar. As a student from Virginia, where many students go onto the state’s renowned public universities, I never thought that I would end up at a private liberal arts college in Maine. Yet, it is through QuestBridge where I found out about Colby. I have had a phenomenal time in college with endless opportunities, a generous financial aid package, and support that I am thankful for every day.

QuestBridge was a game changer for me. I hope that through recounting my experience here I can shed more light on QuestBridge, the application process, and why you should consider applying as well.

What is QuestBridge?

Founded in 1994, QuestBridge is a national non-profit organization based in Palo Alto, California, that connects the nation’s most exceptional, low-income youth with leading colleges and other post-grad opportunities.

Through its College Prep Scholars program in junior year and National College Match in senior year, QuestBridge is a platform that helps high-achieving, low-income students connect to some of the nation’s top colleges.

According to QuestBridge’s website, it looks for students who meet the following criteria:

1) High achieving. This means students who primarily have As on their academic record, as well as evidence of course rigor (such as taking Advanced Placement, honors, or International Baccalaureate classes). Successful applicants typically also have SAT scores above 1310 and ACT scores above 28.

Here’s a note about these statistics: They aren’t strict requirements, just an average of what strong applicants typically have.

2) Low-income. This means family income of less than $65,000 a year for a household of four. However, if your family income is slightly above, or you’ve experienced a sudden financial difficulty parent lost a job, medical bills, etc. you should still consider applying. QuestBridge is understanding of familial circumstances just make sure to explain this on your application.

Other factors also taken into consideration in your application include being the first in your family to attend a college in the United States, involvement in extracurriculars, and extenuating circumstances (such as having to take on part-time jobs, care for siblings, and other responsibilities). Furthermore, QuestBridge is inclusive and accepts students regardless of their citizenship status.

What is the application process like?

If you are a junior, you should apply for the College Prep Scholars program. The application typically opens in February and closes in March. If selected, you can receive the following benefits:

  1. Invitation to a college prep conference at a university. There, you can interact with admissions officers, meet fellow College Prep Scholars, and learn more about how to prepare for the college admissions process.

  2. Gain access to a network of like-minded peers. For instance, there are Facebook communities for College Prep Scholars and students who are applying to the QuestBridge National College Match. Specifically, this community helped me so much. It’s where I met friends from across the country, discovered other valuable scholarships and programs, and realized that I am not alone in this process.

  3. Get a head start on your application for the National College Match in your senior year. Your College Prep Scholar application responses will carry over. Furthermore, the majority of College Prep Scholars go on to become National College Match Finalists.

If you are a senior, you will apply for the National College Match. The application typically opens in August. However, you are encouraged to start your essay drafts earlier (the prompts can be found online).

After you submit your application in late September, you will hear back in October about whether you are selected as a National College Match Finalist. If you are selected, you then have the option to proceed with the Match process.

The Match process is a binding, early decision procedure. If you are matched to a school, you must attend (excluding Stanford, Princeton, Yale, and MIT which are non-binding). Therefore, you should think carefully about this decision. If you don’t want to proceed, that is OK. Simply having the finalist title is a huge achievement and showcases to colleges that you are an ideal candidate.

If you do want to proceed with the match, you will then need to rank your colleges. What does this mean? QuestBridge is partnered with 42 colleges that offer rigorous academics, copious opportunities, and most importantly, generous financial aid. You can rank up to 12 colleges to be considered for binding, early admission. My advice is to do your research; you should seriously look at each partner school (especially the ones you’ve never heard of). Read their profiles, look through their websites, and see if you can imagine yourself there. I learned about Colby through the QuestBridge website. I know for sure I wouldn’t have found out about my college otherwise conducting your own research makes a difference.

Match results are released in December. If you are matched celebrate! You are likely done with the college admissions process and you can now attend a school with generous financial aid. If you are not matched, do not despair. It is extremely difficult to be matched. However, you can forward your application for Early Decision (ED), ED II, or Regular Decision (RD). Typically, 50% of National College Match Finalists go on to be admitted during Regular Decision. For example, I was not matched; however, I was admitted to Colby during RD and I am treated essentially the same as my friends who were matched. There is still hope.

Why Should You Apply?

1. QuestBridge introduces you to many amazing schools that you may not have heard of otherwise. These schools are all generous with financial aid personally, it was cheaper for me to go to Colby than to go to my state’s public universities. If you are determined to minimize your college expenses as much as possible, seriously consider each QuestBridge partner school.

2. The QuestBridge application offers space for you to tell your story. The main prompt is longer than the Common App prompt for a reason. Furthermore, QuestBridge wants to know more about you as an individual, the types of challenges you’ve overcome, and your aspirations for the future. It also considers your financial circumstances and adversities. If this feels like an important part of your story, the application gives you an opportunity to talk about it.

3. QuestBridge gives you a support network both on campus and beyond. At Colby, I’ve met so many wonderful friends and mentors through my college’s QuestBridge chapter. I receive routine emails from QuestBridge headquarters that have included webinars about fellowships, advice about making the most of college, and messages of support. I’m always so happy to meet another QuestBridge Scholar even if they come from a different college it’s no doubt an immediate icebreaker. Through the Quest Scholars network, you become part of a movement of fellow trailblazers who have overcome obstacles to get to where they are today. You gain access to a network that spans over 40 colleges and decades of alumni. It’s a powerful network that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

From a young age, my parents were hands-off about my education, partially because they saw the innate work ethic I had, and because my parents experienced language, informational, and financial barriers to get involved. Nonetheless, seeing my parents work so hard so that they could provide for my brother and me inspired me to also work tirelessly in my own endeavors.

Moreover, this sense of independence fostered from an early age is ultimately what pushed me to work hard in high school, to be hungry and never complacent, and to constantly reach for opportunities. Although I am still unsure about my future, so much of my anxieties have been mitigated knowing that I have QuestBridge to validate my success and motivate me to keep going. If my story resonates with you, I sincerely hope that you take a chance and apply.

QuestBridge changed the trajectory of my life for the better; and it might for you, too.

Contributing writer Angie Sohn is an Embolden intern and government student at Colby College.

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