QuestBridge: A Glimmer of Hope

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Check out the QuestBridge Daily Inspiration album on their Facebook page for more photos like this!

Ever since I was young, I knew that I wanted better for myself. I wanted to be able to provide for my family and live a life better than I was currently in. QuestBridge made that goal attainable. With that in mind, I knew I had to give it a shot. For me, the QuestBridge application meant an opportunity, and I think anyone in a situation similar to mine should do the same thing. However, it was not a shortcut to getting into college, but it was an alternative route. The application allows students, like myself, to use what they may look at as a disadvantage, to their advantage. QuestBridge gives full four-year scholarships to high-achieving low-income students, and by no means was the application a shortcut. It took time, and above all, honesty. Some of the questions I had never even thought about, and the responses pulled ideas out of me that I had never shared. More than that, I also learned about time management. The application was long, and in order to write meaningful essays, I had to think about my answers, and write, then re-write, and then re-write my essays again.

Any student who believes that they are living a life that completely closes out the option of going to college, I encourage you to reevaluate your options. QuestBridge can be that open door you were waiting for. I appreciate the hope the application provided for me and the hope it can provide for students just like me.

Jasmin Kamruddin, 2014 College Match applicant

On Making Tough Decisions

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There are a hundred ways that I could have started this blog on college-related fears, and probably ninety-nine of them are appropriate, but would you expect anything like that from me? I’d just like to say that my lunchroom at school is freezing. It’s like twenty below, freezing. Of course, the running joke at my school, which is rural and, you guessed it, not very affluent, is that the budget goes to chilling that icebox of a cafeteria. Can I say that my life is terrible because I’ve had to spend thirty minutes a day in there for four years? No, while I tend to be dramatic, it’s simply a minor inconvenience.

Go ahead and think about a minor inconvenience in your life. You’ll be able to easily identify it because we complain about the minor inconveniences pretty much 24/7. I’m only seventeen years old, and I’ve only been seventeen for about three days, so I’m pretty inexperienced in life, but I’ve experienced a number of minor inconveniences, little roadblocks. The nice thing about little roadblocks is that I can live with them. I never starved through high school because I couldn’t bear the lunchroom; I shut up and ate my PBJ like a good little high student because food is important.

To say that college is also important is an understatement. I can’t deny that I think in terms of potentialities. What does that mean? Well, the “what if?” of a certain event is always on my mind. I can think of a number of fears regarding college next year. For example, what happens if I end up rooming with a people I really like but who do not like me back? What happens if I find out that college-level mathematics isn’t for me or that I’m not as determined as I thought I was?

Sure, these are extremely big questions, and I’m sure you have many other fears surrounding the “C word,” and I could write a really nice list of my top ten fears, and you could comment on that. I’m totally capable of doing that! Perhaps I could go as far as providing thoroughly researched coping tips for moving in to a dorm room with other people. These are all ideas that I actually considered when I was thinking about how to write this, but they wouldn’t help you, and they wouldn’t help me. I cannot possibly anticipate the millions of different comfortable and uncomfortable situations in to which I will be thrown in college. So when all else fails, I think back to my ice-cold cafeteria.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned how to cope with small inconveniences or uncomfortable situations by reminding myself that they are just that — small and temporary. Looking at the big picture, I can’t argue that room temperature seriously affected me in trying to accomplish my goals throughout high school. So by extension I have no reason to believe that the fears I have about going to college will be anything different. Do they exist? Certainly! Will they matter? No.

Now that you’ve read this far, you might be either skeptical of my philosophy or totally convinced, but from my experience with my friends, you’ve probably bought in to what I have to say, at least a little bit. However, for some reason my words don’t register when it comes to being at college away from home or any shape or form of flying. Aah! I’ve struck a nerve in some of you! I’ve mentioned the “F word.” You can tell me all you want that “if humans were meant to fly, they would have been born with wings,” but you, sir, are not living in Ancient Greece, which is where that saying originates.

Unlike Icarus’s wings, the wings of a plane have never melted. And if you really hate flying, then why can you not call it a completely safe minor inconvenience and move on? I suspect that most of the people I meet in high school who want to “stay local” aren’t really afraid of flying. “Stay local” to me most nearly means “stay with my family,” and this is completely valid. However, I’ve had many people tell me that college is half about academics and half about being thrown out of your comfort zone. I don’t think I need to write more about this because I bet you’re pretty good at making connections, but I’ll indulge myself anyway. Staying close to your family is staying in your comfort zone.

Whatever you want to brand “it” as, staying in your comfort zone is extremely dangerous. Sure, you can live the life you always wanted within your comfort zone, but you’ll be far less adaptable when unexpected situations come up in your life, as they often do, and you might limit yourself of some amazing opportunities, such as QuestBridge.

QuestBridge is giving us the opportunity, and you’ll remember how I feel about that word if you’ve read my other blog posts, to get a world-class education for free or at an extremely low cost. The only catch is that we might have to step outside of our comfort zones, endure the possible freezing lunchrooms, and seize that education, even if it means temporarily leaving our families behind.

To end on a nice note, I’ll simply tell you what I said to my friend who was ranking her colleges a few weeks ago. I said, “When you’re at that school, be it Maryville College (which is ten miles from my high school) or be it Stanford (which is thousands of miles away from my high school), you’ll still be just as close to your parents because anyone in this lovely year, 2014, is a phone call, text, or Skype away. I considered this when I made a list of colleges, and I hope you will, too. How far away are you really? You’ll never be that disconnected from the people you love.

Collin Bentley, 2014 College Match applicant

College Bound

jasmin_post_1Ranking colleges for the College Match process was one of the most exciting yet scary parts of the Match application. The excitement came from the sheer joy of being able to make that decision, however, the decision itself was scary because it made going to college seem like more of a reality. With the reality of this situation, I had to put serious thought into which colleges I would be choosing. The first thing that I did was decide what factors about college were most important to me. For me, location was a huge factor, but these factors are not limited to proximity to home, they can also be quality of academics, size, type, and available majors. In my circumstance, I knew that considering an Ivy League and possibly being accepted to one was a long time goal of mine. Likewise, I encourage all other applicants to consider their previous goals when ranking colleges; QuestBridge can make those goals more achievable.

Once I decided on location and type of school, my choices were narrowed considerably. At this point I used the tons of mail I received from colleges (credits to QuestBridge for allowing that your name to be sent to partner schools). I used a program available through the College Board that my high school counselor introduced me to. The program was through Big Future and allows students to compare three colleges side by side including location, type, and campus life. Additionally, the catalogues and pamphlets I received from universities like Dartmouth, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale, were helpful in letting me see what each school had to offer. I was provided insight to the various programs as well as student social life on campus, not to mention the type of food each dining hall had, far better than that served in high school. However, while looking at these pamphlets, it was important to remember that they were advertising the colleges, and just like any good advertisement, it leaves you wanting more.

I think an important part about deciding which colleges to rank was keeping a balance between an open mind to consider places you hadn’t before, but to also keep sight of factors that were most important to you. And with that advice, though the ranking process won’t be easy, I hope it makes this decision a little less scary.

Jasmin Kamruddin, 2014 College Match applicant

My Best Foot Forward

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Writing things on the Internet is generally not hard for me. I mean, geez, I’m growing up in the most “techy” period in all of history, so I should be used to just typing away, right? I guess the difference is that instead of talking about my day or that really awesome sandwich I had for lunch, I’m now talking about something really important.

So go ahead. Think back to this morning when you had to decide to roll out of your bed, and, oh yeah, remember those three minutes you spent haphazardly putting together an outfit that was presentable, and try to justify why you woke up, why you chose to wear that particular outfit. It’s easy, isn’t it? Maybe you liked the color combinations and maybe you woke up because you had some errands to run. Of course, this is just one scenario out of millions, but each circumstance is the same—easy to justify. It’s simply logical to you—why you did what you did.

But what about the things that aren’t so easy to justify—the decisions you have to make with limited information? Are you so decisive then? Are your intentions exactly clear? Before I start to sound like an end slate of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or that yellowed book you have to read in English class, I’ll jump in to my story, but please keep in mind that it’s really quite hard to be decisive, to justify something, when you don’t have the whole picture.

I found out that I was a QuestBridge College Prep Scholar a few months ago after a long (and sweaty) Cross Country practice. I’ll talk more about this later, but for now, let’s just say that I had no idea how difficult a decision I would have to be making in the near future. Now, before you begin to roll your eyes at “difficult decisions,” I’d like to point out that I’m talking about the word difficult in a relative sense. Sure, difficult as in a “First World problem,” but trust me, your brain will register the same emotional response to any stressful or unknown situation.

You might have guessed that I’m talking about the National College Match process, the tangle of rankings and agreements and bindings that you’re not too sure you completely understand yet. It’s really not that complicated of a thing, but it seems so important to me that I guess I made it difficult for myself. I was responsible for picking eight “things” out of a total of thirty-five “things.” Well, that should be relatively easy, I thought to myself. I make far more than eight decisions a day. I can do this.

Surprisingly, YouTube made picking eight colleges to “rank” incredibly difficult. See, I went to YouTube to procrastinate, as all good high school students do, but I left the website with a problem much bigger than a bout of procrastination—I finally was beginning to realize how serious of a commitment “binding” to a school is. I stumbled across Yale’s Class Day 2012 video, which I’ll link here. Seeing that display of creativity for whatever reason allowed me to see myself at Yale. This worried me because, I’ll just go ahead and say it, MIT is my dream school. For the past two years, I’ve obsessed over the student blogs on MIT’s website, and it almost felt to me like going there, living there, studying there, could be real.

Here I thought that I knew what I wanted, and now I’m suddenly the “star-crossed lover” beaming for Yale? Ugh! How can I make eight sensible decisions when I don’t even seem to know my own self? Here’s the truth: I didn’t. I ranked seven partner colleges, and I’m not necessarily sure that I know why I ranked all of the seven. The good people of QuestBridge will tell you to base your decision on the academic programs, the location, and the potential internships. Hey, I even have a friend who ranked her colleges partly based on The Weather Channel forecasts. And all of these (mostly) sensible aspects are important to consider; however, the schools I put down on my list and the order in which I did so, was based in part on YouTube videos. Yeah, I sat down on my couch with some ice cream and a laptop and watched hours of videos, and believe it or not, it became pretty apparent to me which schools I’d fit in at and contribute to. Could you be one of those students, filming his or her dorm room at UChicago, teasing your suitemate?

So now that I’ve scared you away from ranking colleges because it’s apparently difficult and scary and based on Magic 8 balls, let me convince you otherwise. I decided to rank because I wanted “out.” No, I don’t mean that in a stereotypical, rebellious teenage way. I got fed up with the standardized tests, the essays, the interviews, the “why Yale or Stanford university and not any other university?” questions. Like your school cafeteria’s food, the allure of the college application process fades quickly. That’s not to say that I am not thankful that it exists (we could be placed in college or the factory line based on a test score, which happens in places overseas), but the opportunity to “pass GO, collect $200,” and stop the stress of the application process was worth it to me.

This is what submitting a list of match schools does for you—it gives you the opportunity to end the college hunt early, to find some peace in the last few months of high school as your friends worriedly scramble around. I have to stress the word opportunity. Having the opportunity to be matched isn’t like having the “opportunity” to take the SAT; it’s more like having the opportunity to get an “A+” on that paper you wrote at 3:00 AM for the teacher who doesn’t like you. It’s probably not going to happen. But you do it anyway, right? You do it because there’s the slight chance that you might get that “A+.”

In my situation and in my head, attempting to match simply makes sense. It’s a long shot, but it’s best to put my best foot forward. Let’s be cliché here and say that the early bird might just get the worm. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I have to believe that having your application viewed by these prestigious schools under the assumption that you have overcome some sort of economic adversity could give me an upper hand. In Regular Decision, need-blind means that the people reading your application can’t consider you who has nothing any needier than the guy who is fortunate enough to have vacation homes around the world. The QuestBridge College Match is, at point-blank, an advantage. Why would I not take the risk?

Sure, it’s obviously risky to be potentially making “irrevocable decisions” on what college you’ll be attending, where you’ll be spending the next four years of your life, but let’s face it, opportunities like this come around once in a lifetime. So be glad that you were born in the era in which QuestBridge exists, and choose those universities at which you can see yourself both attending and contributing.

I’ll talk to you guys next time! Take care, and I hope you’ll follow me and consider what I have to say over the next several months.

Collin Bentley, 2014 College Match applicant