On July 16th, 2017, a girl with zero STEM and zero travel experience arrived in Boston, alone, prepared to attend the Biomedical and Surgical Research Program by Boston Leadership Institute.
How was I, a low-income student from Garden Grove High School, able to attend one of the nation’s top summer science programs?
The answer is simple: Questbridge.
Okay, the answer is a little more complicated than that. But, if you’re a high-achieving 11th-grader at GGHS with an annual household income of about $65,000 or less (for a family of four), I promise you that knowing the answer is worth it.
So, first of all, what’s Questbridge? Ha Nguyen, Class of 2017 and current freshman at Duke University thanks to the National College Match Scholarship, explains, “Questbridge is a nonprofit designed to ‘bridge’ the gap between the nation’s top colleges and low income students.” The organization provides opportunities at the high school junior and senior levels to help low-income students realize their potential to succeed in top universities.
Thanks to Ha’s informative presentation about Questbridge last year, my junior self decided to apply to the College Prep Scholars program. The application is free on the Questbridge website. I worked on the application questions, reported my financial information by referencing my parents’ tax returns, asked for a letter of recommendation from a teacher who knew me well throughout my three years at Grove, and submitted my application by the late March deadline.
You could also apply for the Quest for Excellence awards with your College Prep Scholar application, such as winning a laptop or a scholarship to attend an arts- or STEM-related summer program. So, seeing as I only had to write a couple more short essays, I decided to also apply for a STEM Quest for Excellence award for the Biomedical and Surgical Research 3-week summer program- never mind the fact that my only experience with science since then was my AP Biology textbook. I did not know the first thing about biomedicine and surgery aside from what I’d watched in Korean dramas, so I didn’t expect anything after submitting.
By late April, I received great news – I was selected as one of the 3,736 College Prep Scholars across the nation. In May, I attended the National College Admissions Conference at Pomona College to learn about the nation’s best colleges from the admissions counselors themselves, as well as collect advice on how to make my application stand out to Questbridge’s college partners. I was added to the Questbridge College Prep Scholars Facebook group to connect with similarly driven high school juniors hoping to make it into selective colleges come senior year. These peers would become extremely helpful when I had questions about the college application process.
Questbridge filled me with hopeful excitement for senior year. Being named a CPS allowed me to visualize myself at other colleges besides a UC or Cal State school. Perhaps it’s possible for more students from Garden Grove High School to excel at private universities. Perhaps all it takes is more confidence in ourselves, so that more of us apply.
My decision to be part of the Questbridge family had already proved to be worth it, but the most lasting gift that Questbridge gave me came through a phone call in April. I had won a STEM Quest for Excellence award – a full scholarship to Boston Leadership Institute’s Biomedical and Surgical Research Program. My plane ticket from LA to Boston, my living expenses – everything would be paid for. I just had to muster the courage to fly out to Boston for three weeks, alone, which I had never done before.
With no idea how I would fare in Boston when surrounded by smart students who probably knew everything I didn’t about surgery and medical science (and I knew nothing besides my self-proclaimed passion for genetics), I accepted the scholarship. When would I ever encounter an opportunity as incredible as this again?
I have Questbridge to thank for everything I learned last summer about human anatomy and physiology in Boston, for the brilliant classmates I met and still keep in touch with, for my new ability to suture up skin (albeit on mammalian organs rather than real people), for my first science-related book I purchased at the Harvard Bookstore, for the heart-racing experience in Northeastern University’s emergency simulation room, for the sense of independence I have now after spending three weeks away from my family and friends, armed with nothing besides a passion for learning. It was life-changing.
Flash forward from that summer, to senior year. Just recently, I submitted my college applications to some of the nation’s best universities. I won’t know the results until late March, but by now, I’ve already reaped most of the benefits of being a Questbridge College Prep Scholar. I would never have considered applying to private schools beyond UCs if Questbridge hadn’t shown me that I was capable of succeeding at top colleges, and that I could receive general financial aid packages along with acceptances.
And now, Class of 2019, I pass the Questbridge torch on to you.
You also possess potential to thrive at Stanford, Princeton, UPenn, Duke, MIT, whatever your dream school is. And Questbridge can help.
The first step is to apply to be a College Prep Scholar on questbridge.org. The application opens in February, and it is due on March 21, 2018.
If you have more questions about Questbridge or want me to look over your essays, feel free to message me on Facebook!
Good luck, Class of 2019! Don’t let your dreams be dreams (: