Admissions Officer Insight: Why Do We Partner With QuestBridge?

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Admissions Officer Corner is a series of posts written by college admissions officers at QuestBridge partner colleges.

 

Two days before I graduated from Wesleyan, I got a call from one of the Associate Deans of Admission with an offer of employment. It was more than a week after my last college class, several days after I had finished my final exams and papers, and 24 hours before my parents, brother and grandparents were set to arrive on campus. I was elated — graduating with a job offer is pretty sweet — but suddenly faced a huge decision. Was this just a job, or was it the right job? Would I be able to use the skills and knowledge I had spent the past four years developing? Would I be able to continue learning? Would I be able to make a real contribution?

Surprise, surprise — I took the job. The answer to all my questions was a resounding “yes!” I had spent my time at Wesleyan examining the political, sociological and economic forces that create inequality in K-12 public education, and I knew that I wanted to spend my life working to promote educational access and equity. I had thought my interest would lead me towards teaching or some sort of urban education non-profit work. As I thought about making a decision that would determine the very beginning of my career as an educator and an activist, though, I realized something. My own college search and application process as a QuestBridge student from a public school in Atlanta depended on the support of college admissions counselors. Without QuestBridge and the Wesleyan admission staff, I probably wouldn’t have had the luxury of this decision. I probably wouldn’t have spent the past four years exploring my interests in social theory, cognitive science, and Southern literature, and I might not even have discovered my fierce passion for social justice work.

I took the job because I believe in the power of a liberal arts education that prizes intellectual exploration and empowers students to grapple with the complicated and weighty issues that affect our world. I believe that academic work becomes infinitely more dynamic and meaningful when it extends into community service projects, research, student activism, or even just heated conversations among friends. I believe in the sort of education that brings together nearly 3,000 people whose thousands of different backgrounds and perspectives challenge each student to question assumptions and step outside of comfort zones. I believe that our education gave my classmates and me the privilege and responsibility to invent new things, pursue justice and equality, solve problems, develop technology, and make the world a better place. And, perhaps most of all, I believe that an education like mine must be accessible to everyone.

There are, of course, many reasons that’s not true. While more affluent college applicants reap the benefits of their parents’ cultural capital, guidance counselors’ expertise, and expensive test prep programs, many low-income and first-generation college students don’t get the support they need during the college search and application process. As Elizabeth Harris reported in the New York Times, college counseling offices at large public high schools are often so short-staffed that a single counselor is assigned to work with hundreds and hundreds of students that he or she might not manage to ever even meet. Many schools lack the resources to send counselors to important conferences and professional development programs, so they lack the information and resources to adequately support students. My own high school guidance counselor, who had a caseload of more than a hundred students, hadn’t even heard of many of the schools I had researched when I listed them during a meeting. Without the support of a counselor, it can be impossible to navigate the college process. Parents who didn’t attend college themselves might not have the information to help their children through the grueling and complicated process of applying to college, and students might not find the time to research colleges on their own while juggling academics, extracurriculars and family responsibilities. College applicants need support, resources and information, and many aren’t getting what they need.

QuestBridge is the solution: A bridge across the opportunity gap in higher education. It provides crucial information and resources to make up for the disparities in the college process, and it helps us reach out to phenomenal students who will thrive at Wesleyan and make incredible contributions to our campus community.

Frankly, the question “Why does Wesleyan partner with Questbridge?” is intensely personal for me. It’s why I love my job and it’s how I got here. It’s why the student body at Wes is so delightfully dynamic and different. It’s why students at Wesleyan are thoughtful about questions of power and privilege. The answer is two-fold. One, it’s how we do our part to ameliorate pervasive inequality in education and society. Two, to build the sort of vibrant and diverse college community that makes the world a better place, we need QuestBridge just as much as QuestBridge needs us.

Sydney Lewis, Assistant Dean of Admission, Wesleyan University