When Yasmin Navarro received an email from QuestBridge her junior year of high school, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “I thought it was a total scam,” she said.
At the time, Navarro was living in a low-income household. She was the child of a single mother who had recently been laid off, having previously been making around nine thousand dollars a year. While a teacher had encouraged her to apply to college, as she had always excelled academically, Navarro never considered it to be a financial possibility.
Navarro continued getting emails from QuestBridge and decided to apply to several schools through the program. Today, Navarro is an Amherst College graduate and a college counselor at Berkeley High School (BHS). She spends her days guiding students, many of whom come from similar backgrounds as herself.
QuestBridge is a national non-profit program designed to find low-income, high-achieving youth and connect them with highly selective liberal arts colleges and research universities in the US. As of this year, the program is partnered with 48 schools, including Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia.
Navarro explained that QuestBridge typically looks for students whose families make approximately $65,000 a year or less, and who have a GPA of at least 3.5.
“They act like a middle person between students who have those sorts of stats who might not necessarily see themselves at high achieving schools, and then they send these names off to these schools,” Navarro said.
Students first apply to QuestBridge by submitting information on their academics, activities, household, and financial background, as well as two essays and short answers, two recommendations, a school report from their counselor, their high school transcript, and any available standardized test scores.
QuestBridge looks for students who are strong in academics and personal character, demonstrate ongoing financial hardship, and possess extracurricular achievements, according to their website.
If a student is selected as a finalist, they can apply to be “matched” with up to 12 schools by ranking their choices. QuestBridge will send their application to their first choice, and if the school accepts them with the necessary financial aid, they will be “matched.” If not, their application will be sent to their second choice, and so on.
If students are not “matched” with any college, they can still submit their early decision or regular decision applications through QuestBridge.
Navarro added that being “matched” is a binding commitment, so students should only apply to their top choices.“This is a match project,” Navarro said. “That means that you must like the school, but the school must also like you. You have to be okay with ending up at any of these schools, so do not rank any schools that are not your top choice.”
More than 27,000 National College Match finalists have been admitted to a college partner, and over 7,000 QuestBridge Scholars have “matched” to a college partner with a four-year scholarship since the QuestBridge program was founded in 1994.
One such student is Keila Rodriguez, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS).
Molly Offermann, her counselor, recommended QuestBridge to her, and she thought that she “might as well try it.” Rodriguez started her application in early September,and learned that she was a finalist in late October. She then applied to Stanford, Yale, Brown, and Columbia.
On December 1, 2021, Rodriguez heard back from Stanford, which admitted her with a full-ride scholarship. As a first-generation college applicant, it was difficult to be the first one in her family to go through the application process. However, her parents always encouraged her to go to college, whether it be a community college or a private school.
“Especially if you’re a first-gen, or if you’re low income, it’s a really good opportunity. If you get nominated as a finalist, they can give you up to a full ride to one of the universities they’re partnered with,” Rodriguez said. “They give you a lot of financial support, and then also support within the university. You get to meet up with other people who may also be first-gen students or who are going through a similar process that you are.”
Tenzing Chosang, a senior in BIHS, was also a QuestBridge finalist. She applied to four private colleges through the program.
Chosang described the pressure she felt to apply to several schools, even though they weren’t her top choices.
“There was a time when I clicked the schools that I wanted to match with and I ranked them, and the only ones I really wanted to go to were Barnard and Claremont McKenna,” Chosang said. “I was scared that I wouldn’t get one of my top choices and would end up with one of my lower ranked schools.”
She was not “matched” with any of the colleges, so Chosang reapplied to Barnard early decision and was accepted with a full-ride scholarship.
“I still ended up at the top college I wanted to go to,” Chosang said. “I ended up not matching at all, and then went through the second process of QuestBridge, and I’m very excited for my future and happy with the outcome.”
She recommends that other students “put [their] everything in it, and really take time with the essays and reflect on [themselves].”
However, Navarro suggested that QuestBridge may not be for everyone, as it involves a lot of work, and results aren’t guaranteed.
“[Whether the process is worthwhile or not] depends on the student,” Navarro said. “For me, it felt like it was gonna be a lot of work, but I am the kind of person that puts in that kind of work. I know plenty of students this year who decided not to complete the application because it was just too hard, too many essays.”
Navarro added that QuestBridge doesn’t really help in terms of admissions. The process is still extremely selective, with only one in 16 students being “matched” this year.
Even so, she said that since the QuestBridge application is much more detailed, it can look better.
Navarro described the impact Questbridge had on her life. “I had a lot of experiences that I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to have had I not had a full ride to a school in Massachusetts,” she said. “I learned about skiing, and I learned about generational wealth that I was not aware of before, and I got to rub elbows with people that I had only seen on television … I’ve had to grapple with the socioeconomic inequality in the US a little bit more because of it, but at least I’ve had the privilege to do that.”