In the 2015 National College Match, QuestBridge nominated 10 Finalists for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, which recognizes some of our nation’s most distinguished high school seniors. Four of our nominees received this prestigious honor: Liana Wang (Yale ’20), Calen Firedancing (Williams ’20), Danielle Newton (Princeton ’20), and David Zuluaga (Princeton ’20).
We spoke with Danielle to get her perspective on her visit to Washington, D.C. for the awards ceremony, and how the National College Match helped her on her path to Princeton:
On being recognized as a 2016 Presidential Scholar
How did you react to the news of being selected as one of only 160 Presidential Scholars nationwide?
When I received the email that the final selection had been made for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, I had already told myself that I wouldn’t be chosen. I was competing against students who had scored 36’s on their ACT’s — teenage geniuses — and I felt like I had no chance. So when I opened the email and found out I was selected, I was unimaginably shocked, and I couldn’t get a smile off my face. I immediately called my mom, hardly making coherent sentences through my intense happiness and surprise as I realized I would have the incredible opportunity to visit the nation’s capital.
What was the most memorable experience from your trip to D.C. as a Presidential Scholar?
My most memorable experience from visiting Washington, D.C. was sitting on the rooftop of a Georgetown University Dorm Building, staring at the D.C. skyline, talking with fellow scholars all night until the sun came up. Most of the scholars and I stayed up late through the night, sharing stories, playing Duck Duck Goose, or just enjoying the views of D.C. lit up at night. I loved getting to know so many accomplished students from all across the world, making friends I will have for a lifetime. Another very memorable experience was my trip to the U.S. Capitol Building. I was able to personally meet with my Colorado senator, Michael Bennet, and share my thoughts and concerns with him in his private office. He even did some research on me before our meeting and knew where I was going to college and what I planned on studying! It was an awesome feeling to know that my senator cared so much about me and and supported my accomplishments.
What was the biggest takeaway from being recognized as a Presidential Scholar?
As I sat in the Eisenhower Executive Building on the White House Grounds, surrounded by about 145 other Scholars sharing their thoughts to Virginia senator and running mate to Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, my heart was filled with such pride and hope. My biggest takeaway from this amazing experience was a new-found faith I had in the future of education, and the future of America as a whole. I was a part of the most determined and intelligent students, with an unstoppable dream to change the world. And on the other side of the room, I saw a panel of government officials, listening and taking note of our grievances and suggestions about American Education, dedicated to changing our education system for the better.
On applying to the National College Match
How did QuestBridge help you on your path to college?
Before QuestBridge, I had no idea that top-tier schools actually wanted low-income students. I had always assumed that as a low-income student, I was at a disadvantage when applying to college, but QuestBridge gave me a hope that I could be accepted by my dream school. QuestBridge, and many of the QuestCasts I watched, also encouraged me to share my personal and unique story. I learned that universities admire students who have overcome difficult obstacles. I made use of this new confidence in telling my story on the Presidential Scholars application, and I truly believe that this inclusion of my adversity on my Presidential Scholars application is one of the reasons I was chosen as a Finalist. Lastly, the extensive and super helpful information QuestBridge provides on their website about college partners opened my eyes to universities I didn’t even know existed at first, but then ended up falling in love with.
What advice do you have for students just starting to apply to college?
I encourage every student to take a chance, to take a leap of faith and apply for a school you never dreamed of applying to. QuestBridge is an amazing support system and vehicle for following big dreams. As a member of the QuestBridge Finalists Facebook page, I have seen countless students be admitted by Ivy League schools when they never thought they had a chance at admission.
My other piece of advice is to visit schools and apply for financial assistance to visit schools. The one thing that is hardest to tell about a school from online is the campus feel — a huge piece of your college decision. Even if you cannot find a way to visit your schools, visit a variety of
universities inside your state, and that way you will be able to know what size and type (i.e., rural, urban, etc.) of campus you like. With this knowledge, you can narrow your college list and avoid filling out too many applications.
What are you most excited about in attending your college?
I am most excited to meet new people. Princeton has multiple students from every state and from many different countries currently attending, giving me an opportunity to broaden my perspective on the world. Although I am nervous about attending college so far from home, I know that the new people and places across the country that I will be able to meet and see make the distance worth it.