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.