Lessons Learned on the Path to College: Q&A with QuestBridge Scholar Jason Garcia

Jason Garcia, QuestBridge Scholar, Northwestern ’17

When Jason Garcia (Northwestern ’17) received a letter in the mail from QuestBridge about the National College Match, he made it his goal to become a Finalist. Now a QuestBridge Scholar and History major at Northwestern University, Jason has achieved that goal and is hoping to inspire others to do the same.

Why did you decide to apply to college through the National College Match?

Once I actually confirmed that QuestBridge was a realistic opportunity, it made all of the sense in the world! I remember getting a letter from QuestBridge through the mail, and asking one of my school counselors about the program. They had never heard of it, and so I had to do a lot of my own research to figure out what QuestBridge was about and what it could offer me. Honestly, I applied just with the goal of becoming a Finalist, because I knew all of the free college applications I would have access to would save my family so much money.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in applying to the National College Match?

I think the fact that I had to do a lot of the research about QuestBridge on my own was probably one of the most obvious challenges, but I also struggled with my essays. Having never really received much guidance at all about how I should write a strong essay for an application, I really overthought the process. It took me a while before I figured out that writing a strong essay, for me, meant getting incredibly personal, focusing on the elements of my story that I wasn’t initially confident about putting out there.

How did you choose schools to rank? Based on your experience, do you have any advice for students on deciding which schools to rank?

Honestly, due to the lack of focus on higher education in my community, I didn’t go about the process in the best way. I focused a lot of my effort on applications to schools that I thought carried a lot of prestige, because I thought that directly correlated to how “good” of a school they were, and my goal at the time was just to get into a “good” school. I ranked as many schools as I could, but I wish I had put more effort into investigating what made each college partner unique. There are so many things that play a factor in shaping your experience as a college student, and just like every applicant possesses strengths and weaknesses, the same is true for the colleges you will apply to. Take the extra time to gather the details that might not be so apparent on college brochures.

How did you decide to apply to Northwestern?

I think a unique aspect about Northwestern that was appealing to me was the proximity to Chicago. I was actually born in the area, so it was almost like coming full circle after growing up in Georgia. The financial aid package was also very generous, and I felt like I would have more freedom at Northwestern to take a wide variety of classes and to become involved in many different student groups.

What do you enjoy most about college life at Northwestern?

It comes down to the people that I’ve met. I’ve made friends at Northwestern that have done more for my growth as a person than any class or club on campus could come close to doing. College is a whirlwind, and I’ve had to adjust to and overcome so much, but I wouldn’t change anything about how my college application process played out because I know I’ve made friends that will continue to be a part of my growth for the rest of my life.

Big piece of advice you would give applicants?

Keep an open mind! I would encourage people to give themselves as many options as they possibly can. That means applying to schools you’ve never heard of before, seeking out unique academic and campus qualities, and reaching out to absolutely anyone and everyone who can give you an informed opinion about a school you are interested in!

Anything else to add?

I think it’s important for people to know that there is no “model” for what college should look like for you. So many people hear their whole lives that college will be the best four years of your life, and in a lot of ways they will be. But that doesn’t mean something is wrong with you if you find that the experience is incredibly challenging. That’s so normal, and I want people to understand that memories are not the only thing you are supposed to make and carry with you for the rest of your life after college. The lessons you learn from obstacles that challenge you, that will force you to grow in uncomfortable situations, will be equally important, and can be just as beautiful.

Advice from an Applicant: Q&A with QuestBridge Scholar Daniel Espino

Daniel Espino, QuestBridge Scholar, Vassar ’18

Having been a College Prep Scholar and National College Match Finalist, Daniel Espino (Vassar ’18) knows the ins and outs of applying to QuestBridge. Now a Computer Science major (and potentially Math, too!) at Vassar College, Daniel is sharing his advice with this year’s applicants in hopes that it will put them on the same path to success. 

Why did you decide to apply to college through the National College Match?

As a College Prep Scholar, I was invited to attend the Stanford National College Admissions Conference in 2013. There, I learned all about what the National College Match was and I learned about all of the benefits that came with applying through it. I learned that I could apply very early to up to eight schools (it’s now up to 12!) and have a chance at a guaranteed, full, four-year scholarship to any of those schools. Of course, I took that chance and decided to go through the application process. Continue reading

Dear QB: How is it possible that a top college can be more affordable than my state school?

DearQBThis is one the most frequent questions we receive here at QuestBridge — and it’s also one of our favorites to answer! We know that every year, there are over 30,000 outstanding high school students from low-income backgrounds who are academically qualified to attend the nation’s top colleges. Over 80% of them do not apply to even one selective college.

Many of these promising students assume they can’t afford an education at a top college, or think that these schools don’t want low-income students on their campuses. QuestBridge exists to tell these students this: you can afford to dream big. Why? Keep reading…
Continue reading

Path to Success: QuestBridge Alumna Aya Saed

Originally from Annandale, Virginia, Aya Saed graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, with a BA in International Relations. She has an impressive roster of experiences already: intern at Google for two summers, Henry Luce Scholar, and Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow. She’s currently pursuing a J.D. at Harvard Law School and a Masters of Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Aya Saed


Aya Saed, QuestBridge Scholar
Annandale, Virginia
University of Pennsylvania ’13, BA in International Relations


On applying to QuestBridge:

I discovered the program quite randomly as I was Googling resources that could be of help to low-income students. I landed on the website the summer before my senior year and applied immediately!

I was excited, and quite energized to know that such a program exists for low-income students. I was a bit overwhelmed by the application process, but realized very early on that this would help expedite my college application process and streamline an otherwise complicated system. Continue reading

How to Support Yourself in College – What to Bring and What’s Already There

Harpreet Singh, QuestBridge Scholar, Emory ’17

Harpreet Singh (Emory ’17) shared his path to becoming a QuestBridge Scholar recently, and now he’s sharing his advice! No matter where you are on your college journey, Harpreet’s insight can serve as a good reminder of how you can find the support you may need on campus.

Many students ask themselves as they are about to go to college – what should I bring to school? Many students may not be aware of the support resources that already exist on campus. It’s important to research and take advantage of these resources, but you also need to bring the things you need to support yourself. Here are three ways to cover all of the bases: Continue reading

Admissions Officer Insight: The Top Five Reasons to Apply for a Fly-in Program

Tori Guen, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Colby College

If you are a rising senior in high school, now is the perfect time to apply for fly-in programs. Numerous QuestBridge college partners offer campus visit opportunities that are known colloquially as fly-in or overnight programs. A majority of these programs are focused on bringing underrepresented students to their campus, and travel grants are available to cover all costs of transportation, lodging, meals and programming. Take advantage of these opportunities — you may be able to visit an amazing school for free! If there is a specific college you are interested in, contact the admissions office to inquire about funded opportunities to visit campus. Here, I’ve listed the top five reasons why attending a fly-in program will benefit you during your college search. Continue reading

Finding My Identity: QuestBridge Scholar Harpreet Singh’s Path to Emory

Harpreet Singh, QuestBridge Scholar, Emory ’17

QuestBridge Scholar Harpreet Singh (Emory ’17) has come a long way since applying for the National College Match in 2012. Originally from New Jersey, Harpreet ended up finding his college fit with a school 800 miles away that he had hardly heard of before being accepted. But that’s just the beginning of Harpreet’s transformative journey…

Since starting the National College Match application, I would say a lot has changed about me. I would say my self-confidence has increased. I would say I no longer doubt who I am and what my potential is. I would say I take risks more often than before. I would say I am proud to be who I am: a first-generation low-income student at a top-tier college.

What truly catalyzed this transformation, you may ask? I would say QuestBridge.
Continue reading

Dear QB: There are so many colleges out there. How do I find the “one” for me?

DearQBWith thousands of four-year colleges in the United States, it can be intimidating to know how to find the college that is the right fit for you academically, financially, and socially. The good news is that QuestBridge’s 39 college partners are all great options, and you can certainly find more than one that is a good fit. The key is to set goals, do your research, and stay organized. Let’s dive deeper into these three things…

Set Goals

Before you start searching for schools, take time to think about what you want to accomplish in college. You don’t have to know everything now, but thinking ahead will help when you start making college decisions. Continue reading

Q&A with a College Prep Scholar & QuestBridge Scholar – Kim Rosa

Kim-Rosa_Swarthmore (1)QuestBridge Scholars are known for their scholarship, leadership, and service, and Kim Rosa truly exemplifies each of these traits. Since becoming a College Prep Scholar in 2013, Kim has been a Quest Liaison, Quest Ambassador, Essay Coach, Group Leader, and — most recently — a Quest Intern! We sat down with Kim so she could pass along her advice to the next generation of QuestBridge Scholars:

Based on your experience applying to college through QuestBridge, do you have any advice for students heading into the National College Match?

Begin the National College Match application as soon as possible, even if you just log in to your application and read through the different prompts and requirements. Oftentimes it can be overwhelming to think about everything that needs to be completed, but if you begin early, you will have enough time to talk to your teachers about recommendations and you can begin to brainstorm your essay responses.

Do you have any tips for students who are just starting to research colleges?
Continue reading

Take the Stress Out of Asking for Help

Mental health. These are two words that are not mentioned often in the lives of low-income students. Oftentimes, money is the first word that is mentioned in low-income families. But stress and anxiety, among other emotions, can manifest themselves when money becomes the main stressor. Although money may be an inevitable stressor for low-income students, taking care of yourself should be a priority above all. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to accomplish as much as you’d like.

So, as a college student, what should you do if you think stress if affecting you in a negative way? Continue reading