Dear QB: What are application readers looking for?

We recently asked applicants what topic they most wanted to read about on The Bridge Blog. The unanimous answer was: What are application readers looking for in a strong application? Today, we’re diving into that topic!

Before we begin, it’s important to remember that we review applications holistically. There is no single part of an application that is “make or break.” We are looking for students who are both academically high-achieving and come from low-income backgrounds. With that in mind, let’s dive in…

The Full Picture of Your Household

All of the numbers you enter in the Household and Income section provide readers with important numerical information about your context. However, readers want to understand your financial situation beyond just the numbers. This is where the additional information boxes come into play! The QuestBridge application is unique because of the ample room it provides for you to fully explain your household circumstances. Make sure to take advantage of that space, if necessary!

As you consider how to use the additional information boxes, it’s important to remember that you don’t want to leave the readers with questions about your financial information or household situation. It can be tempting to write the phrase “I don’t know,” but you really should be elaborating wherever possible. For example, does your family have unpaid medical bills? If so, specify the amount and where the amount came from. Details such as these provide the reader important information that can’t always be gleaned from the numbers themselves.

Intellectual Curiosity

Over and over again, we tell students that test scores are not everything. And we mean it! More than a specific test score or GPA, application readers are looking for your demonstrated intellectual curiosity and potential to excel at a top-tier institution. We want to see that you pursue and enjoy learning!

So, where can you demonstrate your intellectual curiosity in your application? Since each individual’s interests and passions are unique, there is no singular way to demonstrate intellectual curiosity. Readers often gain insight into this characteristic in your short answers, essay, coursework, extracurricular activities, and/or work experience. Remember to include your School Profile (if available), as it provides readers with helpful context about your school environment.

Insightful Recommendations

An insightful recommendation can help to fill in the gaps that may be left in your application. It could give readers additional insight into your intellectual curiosity and context about your school.

The recommendation is one part of the application that you think you may not have control over. But that’s not true! The part that you can control is asking a teacher from a core subject area so readers can learn more about your performance in the classroom. You can also provide your recommender with additional information about yourself! Don’t just tell your teacher about the activities that you are involved in — make sure he/she knows why you are passionate about those activities.

A Polished Application

Last, but not least, application readers want to see a full, polished application. Pay close attention to proper grammar and formatting, as these often overlooked details can distract application readers from the points you’re trying to make about yourself.

Here are a few formatting tips to keep in mind:

  • Use paragraph breaks to delineate sections of your essay.
  • Avoid acronyms, particularly in the Activities section (e.g., say “Future Business Leaders of America” instead of “FBLA”).
  • Use proper capitalization (e.g., use “I” instead of “i”).

As you are putting the finishing touches on your application, remember that readers want to get to know you most of all. When you feel like you have put your best foot forward, proofread your application, take a deep breath, and hit submit!

Dear QB is an advice column for QuestBridge applicants and QuestBridge Scholars. To submit a question, email with “Dear QB” in the subject line.