A Bridge to Success

Two seniors share their experiences in hopes of narrowing the academic gap.

Anna Spell

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This past December, seniors Bonnie Lee and Secunda Kariuki both received full-rides to prestigious universities through a program many have never heard of.

Questbridge is a national nonprofit program that aims to “connect the nation’s brightest students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education and further opportunities.” Questbridge expanded their program in 2004 in order to reach a greater number of high school students. Now, Questbridge matches over two thousand students with elite colleges each year.

“I’d love for more people to know about Questbridge because it’s such an a amazing opportunity that isn’t well known,” Kariuki said. “I learned about it from a friend in St Louis who did speech and debate who ended up getting a full ride to Yale through it. He told me it was an amazing organization and that I should give it a try, so I did. I feel like if people actually know about it and know that it works, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity and it’ll be so amazing for them.”

The acceptance rate of being matched through Questbridge fluctuates around 10%, but the application process is early enough that students still have ample time to apply to college outside of the program if not selected as a finalist. The low acceptance rate and quick deadlines can be intimidating, and because not everyone who applies is matched, the program is relatively unknown.

“There’s no fee to apply to Questbridge, and if you’re a finalist, they waive all application fees to college,” Kariuki said. “This is an organization that truly wants to help dedicated, accomplished students who have potential but would otherwise struggle to achieve it solely because of financial reasons. It only benefits people who apply and if you think you meet the criteria, there’s no reason not to apply.”

Questbridge searches for students enrolled in rigorous curriculum with extracurricular achievements and factors in extenuating circumstances, parents’ level of education, and household income.

“Even if you don’t think it has anything in it for you, you should still apply for it anyway because it can only help you,” Lee said.

Lee was initially encouraged not to apply because of Questbridge’s competitive nature and acceptance rate.

“I went into my counselor and a group of them told me not to apply for it because they said that the effort that you usually put into completing isn’t worth the outcome because you do all this stuff that is very extensive, and then you end up not being selected at all,” Lee said. “I would absolutely do it regardless of your situation. I just applied for it because it’s like, why not?”

Lee decided to begin the process of applying near the beginning of the school year despite the advice not to.

The application process begins much earlier than most, with the initial application due in mid-September. From there, finalists are selected by the program in October and send in college match applications, where they rank the schools they hope to be matched with. Non-finalists are notified early enough to continue on with their own college applications.

“From everyone who applied, they pick finalists and those finalists get to apply to up to twelve schools for admission and a full four year scholarship,” Kariuki said.

Finalists are notified of college match results on December 1st, or “Match Day,” when students find out if a top college on their list also matched them.

“It’s a super exciting and anxiety-filled day because that’s when you find out if you’ve been accepted anywhere,” Kariuki said. “For me personally, the whole process was stressful, but there’s no way to go through the college application process and not be stressed.”

With the added stress and anxiety of earlier deadlines and bigger stakes, Lee was grateful to have a familiar face throughout the process.

“It was really helpful to have Secunda there with me,” Lee said. “It’s good to have a community of people who are going through the same things because you can just check up on how they’re doing and if they’re doing it a certain way. It’d be good to reach out to others who are going through the same process.”

The application process is very similar to the Common Application and includes several short answers, as well as three full length essays.

“It forced me to get all my materials ready really early in the school year which was helpful because I’d already written a few essays and short answer questions by the time some of my friends were starting theirs,” Kariuki said. “Questbridge is super good at making sure their applicants know all the deadlines and are aware of what’s going on, so it was easy to keep up with and understand the whole process.”

While straightforward, the complete application process allows little more than a month to prepare materials for submission.

“The worst part of it was probably how quick everything happened,” Kariuki said. “It was a blessing and a curse because while it’s nice to have that process over and done with quickly, it was a hassle to get everything done on time, considering I was applying to 12 schools and had after school activities and everything. Don’t get me wrong, they give you ample time to do everything, but it’s just a little speedy.”

Questbridge provides an outlet for academically achieving students who would be accepted and succeed in top schools if not for a barrier.

“It hinges on your financial background,” Kariuki said. “They really want to help students who would not be able to afford or would have a really hard time affording college without substantial scholarships. So, anyone is welcome to apply to Questbridge but they do look for students who are academically strong and come from a certain financial background.”

Both Kariuki and Lee strongly advocate applying for Questbridge despite the deadlines and numbers and offer first hand proof that the process is attainable and worth it.

“I want them to know how amazing it is in every sense of the word,” Kariuki said. “It is a wonderful opportunity and it can’t hurt anyone to try. I think people miss out on it and it isn’t well known just because not everyone gets matched, but obviously it is possible.”

Kariuki urges anyone with further questions to reach out to her about Questbridge and her experience throughout the process.

“If anyone has any questions about it or wants to know more about the process or organization or the exact details of the scholarship, I’m totally open to more questions,” Kariuki said. “Feel free to talk to me even if we don’t know each other because I’m so excited about sharing this with other people and making sure people are aware and taking advantage of this opportunity because there’s really nothing else like it. What a thing.”

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A Bridge to Success