Note: Tien Vu wrote a very comprehensive article about the Questbridge and the application process. While I will be sharing my own experience with some mention to the application process, this article goes more in depth to the eligibility requirements and logistics of Questbridge.Link to Article
As summer is rolling out and many rising seniors are navigating college applications and scholarships, some low-income students may have found Questbridge, an organization designed to help high-achieving, low-income students attend the best colleges in the nation by allowing them to apply to several institutions through a holistic portal if chosen as finalists. Like most programs designed around helping low-income students, there are certain misconceptions and vague guidelines, but as a College Prep Scholar and National College Match Scholar, I will give an inside scoop into what the process looks like beyond the timeline that may help you with your own application.
As I was scrolling through Twitter during the fall semester of my junior year, I stumbled upon a post circulating around. One of my past classmates just got “matched” to Stanford University through Questbridge College Match. As someone who has looked up to this former classmate for her dedication and intelligence, I was inspired to look more into the program as I was still indecisive about whether I should even attend college given the high costs. I consulted trusted teachers and did a few web searches which all led to me applying for the College Prep Scholars Program. On a weekday afternoon, the notification that I was accepted dinged. I was beyond happy, but if I’m being honest, I did not quite know how to explain it to my peers and parents. It is hard to even begin to articulate a concept that you are slowly finding out about.
One thing I did know was that I was being invited to go to a conference at Rice University. I knew that going to the conference would help me understand the jungle that is college applications and financial aid, and that was all my parents had to hear for them to drive me to Houston since they were as confused as me.
Bagels and food platters dotted the front tables as I walked through the fanciest building I had ever entered at that point in my life. Students my age crammed into tables, excitedly talking about their extracurricular activities and GPAs. In that moment I felt a bit of regret as I heard the insane amount of work these kids (most from Chicago) did everyday, but then I realized we were all in the same extravagant building because of our applications. Although the inadequacy is a feeling most of us will share even in college, there is a peace that comes with thinking that we must be doing something right to be in the same room.
The entire day was spent being given powerpoint after powerpoint about information in regards to college. I learned about budgeting for college, how to write a great application essay, and most importantly, how Questbridge could help me get into a top college. Full disclosure, I had never thought I could go to a college outside of my hometown, much less a selective institution. But that day was what solidified the idea that I had to try.
Much of that summer was spent working my part-time job, telling my school friends about the College Match Program, and checking Facebook to see what tips my fellow College Prep Scholars were disclosing to prep for the application in the near future.
Since I had applied to College Prep Scholars, a lot of the same information was sent to my College Match application. I did have to write some more responses and expand on an essay, but my biggest mistake was not allowing anyone to edit my writing. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that it is okay to let others give you feedback. The day came to submit the application, but my second biggest mistake came to light as I checked the application the afternoon of; I had not seen that I had to write another essay. While working the concession stand for one of my clubs and later my job after school, I typed and edited my second essay on my phone. With the push of the submit button I felt like I had sealed my faith in disaster.
By some force that is beyond my control, I was selected as a finalist which meant that I had to start ranking at most 12 schools. Do not be like me, do your research in the summer. I had never looked beyond the schools in the DFW area, so I had to spend a lot of my time deciphering the pros and cons of every institution that was partnered with Questbridge. I had finally settled on 9, but then came more trouble as I was running out of time and I had not submitted any of the additional documents and external applications some of the schools required. Reading the words of the juggling one has to do is not enough to convey how much stress I was under this time since I also had school, clubs, and work to worry about.
Sleepless nights ahead but I finally submitted everything, and the only thing left to do was to wait for the results. I was planning to drive to an isolated area after school and open my email, but by some cruel act of the universe, the administrators wanted to have all the finalists at my school (three) in a room during the end of school to wait for the email and open them together. The uncertainty mounted as we sat. One of the finalists had to leave for an internship and although I had a Student Council meeting, I knew that the principal would let my sponsor permit me to be late. Then the email was sent and I knew it was then or never, so I better pull the bandage off quick.
The “Congratulations!” banner was a shocking sight made even more unbelievable when I read that I was accepted into Brown University. The moment was filled with mixed emotions; excitement of being accepted, relief that I could go to college, and sadness when I heard that the other two finalists did not get matched. But this is not only a story of being matched, it is a story that matching is not the only way to go to college. The other two finalists were brilliant and hard-working students who were not going to give up.
One of them continued on with applying to schools through Questbridge in regular decision and got accepted to a top college, but they declined since they got a better full-ride offer to another school outside of Questbridge. While Questbridge partner schools offer generous financial aid packages, it does not mean there are not better offers elsewhere.
The other finalist received multiple scholarships that amounted to a full-ride and went to a really great college for their intended major. Even those who were not finalists received considerable scholarships from other avenues that allowed them to pursue the college pathway.
The fact is that Questbridge is not the only route, but it is one you should consider if you think it is convenient (there is no arguing with the fact that there will be time constraints given the early deadlines). Yet if this program does not pan out, there are other ways to make college possible. Good luck, and keep believing that you can and will go to college.