What advice would you give to students who are starting to write their personal statement?
The best advice I heard was “Really be honest with yourself.” It helped me because I hadn’t ever really thought about being a low-income student of color. It wasn’t even something I wanted to discuss, to be honest, because it was still something I was trying to figure out.
I would suggest working collaboratively, especially in brainstorming ideas. One of the best ways to figure out what you want to do is to see what everyone else is doing. One of my friends was writing about how one of her favorite things was doing laundry. And I started thinking, “what do I like to do?” I realized I really like languages, how they work, and their structure. I wanted to explore what that meant in the context of my identity and my prospects for the future.
Also, be critical about yourself. Obviously you shouldn’t defame yourself, but ask if your topic and experiences are really worth talking about. Is it an experience that has really shaped who you are today?
Finally, find your own space to work on your essay. I vividly remember working in this corner of a Starbucks with my notebook. Find your quiet space to think about who you are and, cliché as it sounds, who you want to be. It helped me not only in the college admissions process, but also as I personally figured out who I was.
On a different note, what advice do you have for students who are just starting to research colleges?
One of the things that helped me was getting input from the people who I hold dear to. It wasn’t really an option to get advice from my mom, but my sister and my friends knew what my interests were and had some knowledge about what schools might be best. If those aren’t possibilities, my best advice would be to use Quest Scholars. Everyone’s super friendly and wants to help you figure out what you want and where you want to go. I remember a student from Pomona answered a ton of questions for me and was a huge resource. The Facebook groups are great resources where you can get insight from students who come from similar backgrounds.
How early should students start looking at colleges?
Start as early as possible because once you figure out where you want to go, there’s still the rest of the process to do. I really don’t think you can start too early. Even if that just means going on the college’s website and exploring, using virtual tours, and the FAQ sections. Use those as starting points to see if you’re interested. Also, make sure you look at all of your options: Quest schools, state schools, etc. You want to have all these options open to you.
So you applied for the College Prep Scholarship the day it was due. Based on that experience, do you have any advice for students heading into the National College Match?
I definitely recommend doing all your applications early. Start an application the day it’s released. Always get recommendations as early as possible.
What advice do you have for students who are uncomfortable telling potential recommenders that QuestBridge works with low-income students?
Talk about your aspirations first and how you’ve found this organization that links high achieving students with top-tier colleges. Then say that you’re hoping to get a recommendation for this program. I actually asked my teachers to have individual meetings with me, during their prep period. We went through the QuestBridge website together so they could understand the program. They didn’t even realize organizations like this existed so by letting them know, it was a way to pay it forward.
What would you tell College Prep Scholars who are starting the National College Match application process?
The only thing that can hold you back is yourself. You know, speaking to other College Prep Scholars, I realized that we were all so different but that we shared these commonalities. It helped reassure me that my story and my experiences were valid and that I was a competitive student. So my advice would be to just go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose!