Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Katyana Dandridge
Depending on whom you ask, anyone with a strong high school career can get into an excellent college. Family background, race, religion, or socio-economic status has barely anything to do with admittance and financial aid packages.
Also depending on whom you ask, no one with parents making less than six figure salaries can be admitted into elite, private colleges and universities. Forget the Ivies, those are for families rich with money and connections.
If you asked the people at QuestBridge, however, they might tell you the former. They might add that those demographic factors are in fact a large part of why they even exist.
According to Postsecondary Education Opportunity, while 79 percent of students born into the top income quartile in the U.S. obtain bachelor’s degrees, only 11 percent of students from bottom-quartile families graduate from four-year universities.
QuestBridge’s purpose is to take a shot at increasing that 11 percent by acting as a connector between high achieving students who will either be the first in their families to attend college, or who come from family incomes of $60,000 or less, to elite private colleges and universities deemed “partner schools.”
One of two major programs offered by QuestBridge is the College Prep Scholarship, which is offered every spring to high school juniors across the country. The application is a long one—it goes live in early to mid-February and isn’t due until late March—but rewards range from free summer programs at the nation’s leading universities to nominations for all-expense-paid visits to one of QuestBridge’s 35 partner colleges.
My own personal journey with QuestBridge began with that very scholarship.
Applying was one of the best things I could have ever done. It was like opening a jack-in-the-box full of opportunities and resources. The invitations and emails came rolling in and with each one was a chance to strengthen myself as a college applicant.
It wasn’t until months later that I realized becoming a College Prep Scholar was also starting me on my journey with QB as a whole. At the time, I was unaware that transparently, I was being groomed into a desirable applicant for their National College Match Scholarship.
In the National College Match application, students were asked to rank up to eight partner colleges in order of preference. The grand prize is a handful of full, four-year scholarships given out by all the colleges, provided that the student ranked them. Competition is stiff and QB does a good job of assembling a highly competitive applicant pool.
Because there are a limited number of complete financial aid packages available, becoming a finalist can be extremely difficult. Trust me, I know firsthand. In August, I made a point to organize letters of recommendation, transcripts, test scores and anything else that needed to be submitted before the Sept. 27 deadline.
The wait for results was maddening for an impatient person like me. I started to worry. Did I turn in everything they needed? Would I make it to the next level of the competition?
Sadly, I was not a finalist, but I do get to forward my application to any of the partner schools I choose through their specialized Regular Decision process. If I get into any one of them, chances are I’ll receive significant financial aid because of the generous policies all of the partner schools have chosen to adopt.
Through all of this, what I am trying to say is that QuestBridge ultimately acts like a support system or safety net for extraordinary students willing to be a part of their program.
They seem to want to push academic achievers to shoot for things that might not be expected or encouraged of them in their respective backgrounds. For example, a senior from a low-income, immigrant background with a stellar academic record would ideally use QuestBridge to reach a bit further than what he or she thought possible. Looking past state and technical schools, admittance into Columbia or Brown or Rice could be waiting in the wings.
Critics of QB might argue that it is counteractive in bridging the gap between socio-economic classes or ethnic classifications solely because of suggested selection criteria. QuestBridge maintains that there there is no income or academic achievement cutoff. They say that they simply look at applications in the most holistic way possible, and in the case of the National College Match, pass along submissions to institutions who vow to do the same.
In the grand scheme of things, cutoffs and suggested selection criteria may not even matter. What matters is that a national organization has made it their mission to take into account that every person and family situation is different. What matters is that to QuestBridge, I am a person. No, not a mathematical configuration of GPAs, test scores, and extracurriculars, but a real live person.