Light Beyond Darkness: From College Prep Scholar to Group Leader

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Cesar Rufino leading students at the 2015 National College Admissions Conference at Yale.

It took me a while to realize how fortunate I am. I don’t say this because I never appreciated my parents’ hard work or because I complained about materialistic things I never obtained during my childhood; I have always been happy about my life, but I never understood the context.

I still remember the day I attended QuestBridge’s National College Admissions Conference at Northwestern University. I was wearing new dress shoes, new khakis, and a crisp picnic-like shirt that my mom had purchased with her Tupperware earnings. I was so excited to learn more about colleges and continue pursuing my long-term ambitions. Continue reading

Admissions Officer Insight: Top Three Reasons to Attend a National College Admissions Conference!

Jazzmin Estebane, Pomona College, Admissions Officer
Jazzmin Estebane, Pomona College, Admissions Officer

Every summer QuestBridge hosts their National College Admissions Conferences for College Prep Scholars, giving students and parents a chance to learn more about the QuestBridge National College Match process and college applications. Here are the top 3 reasons (and one bonus!) I think you should attend a National College Admissions Conference in-person.

1. Visit a college campus.

Whether it’s during high school visits in the fall, at college fairs, or in our office, one of the most frequent topics of conversation I have with students is college fit. During the National College Admissions Conference, you’ll not only have a chance to sit down with real admissions officers and discuss college fit, you’ll get to see how questions of fit work while you visit a college campus in-person. Continue reading

Finally Finding My Niche at a National College Admissions Conference

20160109_125602If someone ever looked at my notebooks from school, it was easy to tell that I wanted to go to college. Stickers ranging from “I love UC Berkeley” to “Future Harvard Student” were plastered on the covers, and my extensive college list was on at least one page of each of my notebooks. However, the closer I got to the end of my junior year, the smaller the list would get, until the point where I did not find anywhere I wanted to go. Sure, some of these schools looked great on paper, but I could not find a place I could call “home.” Was I being too pessimistic? Why didn’t I like the schools everyone wanted to go to? With only a summer left to finalize my college list, I pondered on millions of these questions, wondering if I would ever find “the one.” It wasn’t until I attended the National College Admissions Conference at Stanford that I discovered the place I would fit in.
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Why should I apply to be a College Prep Scholar?

If you’re a junior in high school, the reality of applying to college may be starting to sink in. Standardized tests. Teacher recommendations. Essays. Transcripts. The list goes on! But instead of feeling overwhelmed by those things, what if you had a head start? The College Prep Scholars Program can give you just that.

We could go on about the program’s many awards and opportunities (all-expense-paid campus visits, anyone?), but we thought you should hear straight from College Prep Scholars themselves:

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“Being a College Prep Scholar prepared me for the college application process like no other prep program could. It also gave me the confidence that I could really make it through the Match and one day call one of the nation’s top schools ‘my school.'”

Evan L., 2016 College Prep Scholar, Duke University ’21
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Dear QB: Why should I apply to be a College Prep Scholar?

It’s your junior year of high school, and the reality of applying to college has started to hit. Standardized tests. Teacher recommendations. Essays. Transcripts. The list goes on! But instead of feeling overwhelmed by those things, what if you had a head start? The College Prep Scholars Program can give you just that.

We could go on about the program’s many awards and opportunities (all-expense-paid campus visits, anyone?), but we thought you should hear straight from College Prep Scholars themselves. We chatted with Marilyn, Arriana, and Romeo to find out how the College Prep Scholars Program helped them get to where they are today:
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My Experience as a Group Leader at Stanford: A QSN opportunity

Group Leader - JoiThere were many “firsts” for me as a Group Leader at the 2015 QuestBridge National College Admission Conference at Stanford.

For the first time, I met fellow Quest Scholars (and Group Leaders) from Amherst, Wesleyan, Emory, UChicago, Haverford, Swarthmore, Northwestern, Vassar, Penn, and Dartmouth. It was intriguing to hear their stories about their respected schools and experiences, which helped me paint a better picture of each partner college. Despite belonging to different QSN Chapters, I saw many similar qualities in all of us: we were leaders, we loved our schools, and we were driven.  The night before the conference, we enjoyed an Italian dinner served to us family style. We truly felt like a huge family.

One of my fellow Group Leaders was my Quest Mentor during my freshman year at Columbia. It was the first time that we spent an entire weekend together, where we were free from our piles of homework and stressing over final exams. I enjoyed catching up with her and sharing similar experiences about our journey through Columbia. It gave me sense of ease and reminded me that I am not alone on this excursion.

Like many of the 2015 College Prep Scholars, I walked through Stanford’s sunny, spacious campus for the first time in my life with big eyes and big dreams. For the day, I traded my familiar green roofed, bustling New York City campus on 116th Street and Broadway for a red roofed, palm tree shaded campus at the end of Palm Drive. I was in awe.

I have a strong passion for mentoring and giving advice, especially to those who were raised in a low income household.  As a first time Group Leader, I was thrilled by the opportunity to offer some valuable advice to College Prep Scholars. It was honor that to have the opportunity to be a guiding light for the (potentially) next class of Quest Scholars, and ultimately, the next world leaders.

I volunteered to serve as the admissions representative for Columbia at the college fair. For the first time, I was on the other side of the table. I watched the crowds of College Prep Scholars go table to table with eyes full of joy and anxiety. Whenever a student stopped at my table, I gave them an honest answer and left them with a sense of hope.

“Describe Columbia,” one student requested. I went on talking about the plethora of resources and opportunities, our unique urban location, and my experiences as a rising junior at Columbia. I put behind all of the long, hard nights of studying and challenges I have faced while at college and for the first time realized how much I loved my school and why I belonged there. They gave me hope.

I am thankful for this rewarding experience as it offered me the opportunity to give back to QuestBridge and help future student leaders, and helped me remember why I decided to attend Columbia University. That joy I saw in the students’ eyes that stood across my table reminded me of how far I have come and how blessed I am to wear Columbia blue and call myself a Quest Scholar. I enjoyed the moments of laughter with the families that followed behind me throughout the day. This experience allowed me to start paving the path for the future scholars to follow and continue a legacy of high achieving, underserved scholars.

This experience had many “firsts,” but hopefully there will be many “seconds,” “thirds,” and so on.

By: Joi Anderson (Columbia University, SEAS ’17)

Why Should I Want to be a College Prep Scholar?

DearQB

Sitting in the QuestBridge office, it can be easy to forget what it was like to be a high school junior. It seems obvious why anyone would want to apply to the College Prep Scholarship and it’s easy to forget how ominous the application can appear in the face of homework, extracurricular, and family responsibilities.

So let’s step outside the QuestBridge office. Here’s what you need to know, straight from last years’ College Prep Scholars.

The application is really long. Why should I take time to fill it out?

“The process of filling out the College Prep Scholarship application allowed me to get a taste of what the college process is like. I was definitely more prepared for the college process and for the College Match application after going through the process of filling out the College Prep Scholarship application.”
– Benjamin Bornstein, Rockaway Beach, NY

I’ve heard that everyone gets free test prep, but why is that such a big deal?

“Prior to being named a QuestBridge College Prep Scholar, I felt that my college application was not competitive with regards to my test scores. The QuestBridge test preparation award gave me the opportunity to take online SAT courses from Kaplan. I used this award a significant number of times. When I finally went in to take the college admissions test, my score increased substantially. Without QuestBridge, I would not have been able to afford a test preparation course and thus, would never have had extra resources that allowed me to receive a competitive test score.”
– Katherine Ochoa Castillo, Alexandria, VA

“The test preparation helped me to become a more competitive applicant because I was able to explore a new approach to studying for standardized tests and increase my test scores.”
– Jasmin Kamruddin, Duluth, GA

I know that many students are invited to attend one of the National College Admissions Conferences? Why does everyone rave about them?

“The National College Admissions Conference was an eye-opening experience. Up until then, I had been in the dark about the college admissions process. Being at the conference taught me valuable information that prepared me to become a well-informed, prepared college applicant.”
– Arriana Jones, Arizona City, AZ

“The National College Admissions Conference broke down the entire admissions process in a way that made it easy to understand. Hearing essay and application tips from actual admissions officers from the most prestigious schools in the nation definitely made me a more competitive applicant. Also, without the college fair at the conference I would have never even heard about the school that I have been matched to, Vassar College.”
– Leah Clark, Tuscaloosa, AL

“When I attended the QuestBridge College Admissions Conference at Princeton, it opened my eyes to all the opportunities that I have available. I learned some effective techniques in writing competitive college essays and how to make my application stand out among the many candidates. I also learned more about the QuestBridge partner schools.”
– Fatoumata Diallo, Bronx, NY

Is it worth applying if I’m not sure I’d be able to attend one of the conferences (if invited)?

“Yes. Although I was unable to attend the Conference, I received the PowerPoint presentation of everything that was presented at the conference. That material really helped me to understand what QuestBridge is. It was also one of the first things that helped me realized that I have a chance in pursuing my dream.”
– Zuly Maimaiti, Germantown, MD

“My 2014 College Prep Scholarship award was a huge benefit even though I had to decline attending the National College Admissions Conference at Northwestern. The distinction of being named a College Prep Scholar was hugely beneficial as were all of the QuestBridge informational emails, videos, and follow-ups sent throughout the summer about college admissions and counseling.  When I attended admissions sessions I was able to ask informed questions about the application requirements for admission to the top tier universities, thanks to my background research through QuestBridge.”
– Ethan Nelson, Scottsbluff, NE

The awards sound cool, but is there any other meaning to being designated a College Prep Scholar?

“The College Prep Scholar Award helped me realize that I truly was a competitive applicant because it’s an accomplishment in itself. The application process alone prepared me for what was to come in the fall.”
– Amaris Benavidez, Phoenix, AZ

“These awards helped me become more competitive not due to having been given more knowledge but because of being awarded in general. When I learned that I had been chosen as a College Prep Scholar and granted these awards I finally saw myself as being “smart.” I finally believed what everyone told me: “you’re smart,” “you can do whatever you want in life,” and “you work so hard.”
– Daniel Mayo, Surprise, AZ

So there it is, loud and clear: the College Prep Scholarship has the power to change lives. We invite you to explore all the awards offered (we didn’t have time to talk about all of them in this blog post!) and start your application today!

DearQB is an advice column for QuestBridge applicants and Quest Scholars. It is answered by QuestBridge staff and Quest Scholars. 

Knowledge Produces Confidence

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Daniel and QuestBridge CEO Ana McCullough on National Quest Day.

[A note from QuestBridge: This is a special guest blog post about the College Prep Scholarship from Daniel Wilson, a Quest Scholar and a member of Quest’s staff!]

My name is Daniel Wilson. When I was told that I was a QuestBridge College Prep Scholar, I had no idea what that really meant. I knew that I was a good student, and I had filled out a CPS application, but what was next? In my case, I was invited to attend a National College Admissions Conference, but I had no idea whether it was worth putting in the effort to go. It turns out that it was definitely worth it. If I had not participated in the College Prep Scholarship program (CPS from now on because it’s sort of a mouthful), I honestly think that my life would be extremely different. The CPS program gave me the knowledge, the confidence, and the hope to later succeed in the college admissions process, and that success has been important in shaping who I am today.

When I was a junior in high school, I had no idea what was involved in applying to college. I knew I wanted to go to a good university because I love knowledge and learning, and I felt that better universities with more resources could provide a better learning experience. I just had no idea what those schools were looking for from an applicant. What do colleges want in an application essay? How should I explain my family’s circumstances? I didn’t know the answer to any of these questions at the time, but by the end of the CPS program, I not only had all of my questions answered but also had been pointed toward the resources I needed to figure out how to overcome any future difficulties in the application process.

Knowledge produces confidence. When I walked out of the conference, I said to myself, “I can do this,” and I wasn’t crazy. I knew what I needed to do to succeed in the college admissions process, and it really doesn’t have to be that scary when you know what you need to do. There’s a lot to process, and there’s a lot to do. College Prep Scholars are chosen, though, because Quest believes they have what it takes. It was great feeling that belief in me, and that’s one of many incredible things that Quest gave me that made me choose to come back and serve on Quest’s staff.

If I’m being completely honest, knowledge and academics were never simply ends for me to pursue as I grew up. To me they were also a means to escape my struggles. I was so stressed out and upset by my family’s situation, and I dreamed of a day when that wasn’t going to always be the case. One of the reasons I didn’t give up was because I felt like I couldn’t. Failure couldn’t be an alternative, but I didn’t know what was possible to aspire for. Quest helped change that. Unfortunately, going to a good university didn’t solve my family’s struggles, but it did give me access to an incredible range of opportunities for me to make a meaningful difference with my life.

For many of you, life has already presented plenty of obstacles to you, and you have had to decide whether it was worth it to pursue your dreams. I commend all of you for not giving up yet. You’ve made the right choice so far. Unfortunately, obstacles in life are still going to come, and it’s still going to be tough, at least for a while. I can honestly tell you that there’s something better out there for all of you. Working with Quest with the College Prep Scholarship program and hopefully more in the future can help you figure out how to do that, as it did for me. Regardless of what you choose to do, though, please don’t give up.

A Story of Stress, Grace, and Hope

suhe_post1Once upon a time, I was stressed out.

It was the fall of my junior year in high school, the time where my classmates were discussing which colleges they were planning on applying to, and I had no idea if I was even going to go to college. As a student from a low-income family, I was particularly worried about the expense. I was considering getting a job straight out of high school. Then I told my friend, Grace, about everything that was worrying me after school one day. She gave me a pensive look and said, “Why don’t you apply to QuestBridge? It’s a full four-year scholarship for low-income students. College is a possibility.” At that point, all of my worries shifted. I went from worrying over what job to apply for to worrying over whether I wanted to apply to Stanford, Vassar, or Wesleyan.

After that, Grace and I researched and worked on our applications together weekend after weekend well into our senior year until we were both accepted as College Prep Scholars, and subsequently as College Match Finalists. As a College Prep Scholar, I was fortunate enough to be able to road-trip with my cousin to the QuestBridge College Admissions Conference at Northwestern University and learn more about the Quest colleges from admissions officers. I relayed information from the conference to Grace, and together we decided that we would rank colleges when we applied for the College Match. We wrote essay after essay, traded and reviewed and re-edited, then repeated the process with our other friends and teachers up until the last minute when we submitted our applications and hoped for the best. It was stressful, but we pulled through.

When I found out that I was a College Match Finalist, I was nervously excited. Since I had ranked colleges, I had to check which of them required extra submissions and complete them within the two week deadline. Depending on the college, this became a bit pricey as I submitted my ACT and SAT scores, high school transcript, and Common App to my ranked schools. I also had the option of rearranging my ranked schools as I pored over stacks of informational pamphlets at the last minute. Double-checking the rankings was imperative since there was a very real possibility that I could end up at any of my six schools for the next four years of my life.

A month later, I got my Match letter telling me I was accepted at my second ranked school, Vassar College. Fast forward ten more months and every morning that I wake up to a beautiful view of the Vassar campus. I’m thankful and content that I stuck through the application process and was chosen to attend this school.

Zuheily Quinones, Quest Scholar, Vassar ’18

Discovering New Hoops: A QuestBridge-Inspired Story of Time Travel

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If ever there has been a true “coming-full-circle” moment in my life, I experienced it while volunteering as a Group Leader at QuestBridge’s recent College Prep Scholarship National College Admissions Conference. I had graduated from Princeton University just weeks before flying out to the conference at Northwestern University, and my head was filled with the typical thoughts of a postgraduate life (like actually figuring out what this whole LinkedIn business is really all about…). But, during the course of my weekend in Evanston, I found myself facing someone I hadn’t really been planning on seeing: my 17-year-old self.

She looked at me through the eyes of the bold young woman who catapulted the unwieldy“so-what-did-you-get-on-your-SAT?” question my way just moments after meeting me. She was polished, articulate, and friendly, yet I couldn’t help but sense the ripples of stress hiding below the surface as she talked with someone who had successfully gone through the process she was just about to enter.

The ripples were easy to recognize. I still bore the marks of the stress that had radiated through me back when the things in my life felt uncertain in an uncontrollable kind of way, as I waded through all of the letters and e-mails that promised I had the whole world at my fingertips — if I could just somehow strike the right chord with an unknown admissions officer out there. A pretty big “if” in the mind of a teenager.

The anxiety over test scores, extracurricular engagement, and getting that opening sentence of my college essay to resonate just right were the worries beating a steady tattoo in the minds of the College Prep Scholars who had chosen to dedicate that summer Saturday to auditoriums, boxed lunches, and financial aid powerpoints in hopes of bettering their futures. Just as I was during the summer and fall of my senior year of high school, they were concerned with checking all the right boxes and jumping through all the right hoops — while trying to make the process seem effortless, like second-nature to those so precocious and well-suited to college life as they were.

In talking with the Scholars, I became very well reacquainted with the idea of my 17-year-old self, but I could not longer truly connect with her. Something fundamental had changed; we were quite simply no longer the same person. The 22-year-old had stopped thinking of herself as a list of accomplishments or numbers on a page. She had fallen out of love with the idea of being“successful”and moved on to thoughts of what it meant to be happy and balanced and good to the people around her. The ripples she felt these days were ones of excitement and the electricity of being young — not ones of stress.

What she had learned at college was that, in contrast to high school, life was no longer about being quantifiably great. It was about finding that subject or idea or author that made you too excited to sleep. It was about being surrounded with people so quirky, passionate, and alive that they made you better than you ever were when you were “the best” in high school. It was about becoming the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the person you were on paper.

I tried to convey these ideas to the students around me as best I could, but I don’t know if I was successful — it was a hard-won sense of purpose and confidence I had gained through my years of college, one that becomes somehow diluted and hackneyed when I try to put it into words. But I still want to reassure the girl who asked me about my SAT score, as well as every rising senior out there and probably 17-year-old me as well, that the stress she is facing will be well worth it in the end. The hard work and hours she spends on furthering her education now are just the dues she has to pay for a full, rich college experience. I am so proud of the effort and passion I saw among the College Prep Scholars I met in June, and I know that big things are in store for them.

And I would be lying if I said that a part of me didn’t want to do it all over again, even the hard parts. I want to pick up that course catalogue again, exchange cautiously-eager Facebook messages with my soon-to-be roommate, and dream about all of the people I could potentially become. I haven’t yet stopped the dreaming part yet, but the experience of being at the conference helped me see that that stage of my life had come to a close, partly to make way for new adventures ahead.

In the end, I am still that 17-year-old jumping through hoops. Not everything has changed, and I might be wired on some fundamental level to always be that way to some extent. But I’d like to think that, more and more, the choice of precisely which hoops to jump through is becoming uniquely my own.

— by Linnea Paseiro, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’14