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An Introduction to QuestBridge

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We’ve discussed financial aid and scholarships before, but in this article, we want to highlight a specific opportunity for high-achieving students. QuestBridge is an organization dedicated to helping high achieving but financially disadvantaged students apply to and pay for college, and awards a number of large scholarships each year to serve this goal.

In this article, we’ll break down what QuestBridge is, whether it’s right for you, and how to apply for it. While QuestBridge isn’t right for every student, it can be an amazing resource for some. Let’s get started!

What is QuestBridge?

Founded in 1987, QuestBridge seeks to match high-achieving students with top colleges. The students they work with come from underprivileged backgrounds, and the organization awards a large number of generous scholarships. These scholarships pay for the full cost of tuition and help with other costs. Students are sometimes expected to participate in work-study programs as part of these programs.

QuestBridge originally only partnered with Stanford, and they are still based in Palo Altos in California. Now, however, they have 45 college partners, which comprise many of the country’s top research universities and liberal arts colleges.

Students apply for the program, and as part of this created a ranked list of up to 12 schools they wish to apply to. Qualified students are selected as finalists, and these students have their QuestBridge application sent directly to the schools they ranked as part of their application. Students who match with a school through this process are awarded scholarships. Matching with a school through QuestBridge is usually binding.

Students who do not match in the initial round are allowed to submit their QuestBridge application to other partner schools in the Regular Decision round of admissions. While getting admitted this way does not award a scholarship through QuestBridge, many of these schools offer large financial aid packages, and all application fees are waived for QuestBridge students.

Who Qualifies for QuestBridge?

QuestBridge applicants are evaluated holistically; they have no hard cutoffs for grades, test scores, or financial circumstances. That said, they do have recommended benchmarks for applicants, both academic and financial. These are:

  • Grades. Students are expected to have mostly As, with only a few Bs. They are also expected to have taken the most difficult classes available to them; AP, IB, or Honors.
  • Class rank. Students should be in the top 5-10% of their class.
  • Test scores. While these are not strictly required, students are expected to have test scores to meet the requirements of the colleges they apply to; this depends on schools’ own test optional policies. Scores should be 1260+ for SAT, and 27+ for ACT.
  • Household income. The total income of the student’s household should be under $65,000. Students with unique financial circumstances can appeal to say why they deserve consideration.
  • Assets. As with income, student’s households are expected to have minimal assets (such as investments or real estate).
  • Extracurriculars. Students should be active and involved in activities outside of school. Students who need to work to support their family, or who need to take on responsibilities within the home have these counted.
  • Honors. Students should have examples of their accomplishments.
  • Character. Students should display leadership, a love of learning and academics, and a drive to accomplish great things.

This seems like a lot, but what QuestBridge is looking for is the same thing as top colleges. They want to make sure the students that are accepted as finalists will be able to succeed at the country’s top schools, and these metrics are seen as the best indicators for future success. The financial criteria are meant to ensure that QuestBridge’s resources go to the students who need them the most.

If you are a high achieving student from a disadvantaged academic background, we encourage you to apply to QuestBridge. The program is meant to help you achieve, and they are always looking for great students. 

How to Apply to QuestBridge

Applications for QuestBridge are submitted online and are due in September. This is far in advance of any college application deadlines.

QuestBridge applications require the following components:

  • Basic information. This includes demographic, financial, and academic; everything you have to fill out on the Common App.
  • Writing. You need to answer two essay questions, and some short answers.
  • Recommendations. You will need two letters of recommendation from teachers.
  • School info. Your counselor needs to submit a school report. They may also submit a school profile; this part is optional but still recommended.
  • Transcripts. You need to submit current official transcripts from your high school.
  • Test reports. If you report test scores, you also need to submit score reports.
  • College specific information. Each college you apply to using QuestBridge has their own requirements, including additional essays.

The timeline for this alters slightly every year but follows the same general pattern. Applications open in late summer and are due in September. You are not able to edit or update your application after it is submitted. You use the same application for all schools; if you are not admitted into one of your initial ranked schools, you reuse the same application to apply to QuestBridge partner schools’ regular decisions.

QuestBridge Essays

QuestBridge asks for two essays. The prompts are: 

We are interested in learning more about you and the context in which you have grown up, formed your aspirations, and accomplished your academic successes. Please describe the factors and challenges that have most shaped your personal life and aspirations. How have these factors helped you to grow?

and

You will need to choose one of the following topics to expand upon:

Option 1: Tell us about a concept, theory, or topic you have explored simply because it sparked your intellectual curiosity. Why do you find it intriguing? How do you want to further explore it?

Option 2: Describe an experience that caused you to change your perspective and/or opinion.

Option 3: What do you admire most about your community? What would you improve?

The first of these is quite similar to the Common App personal statement, and any essay you write for QuestBridge will be easily editable to fit the Common App. We recommend writing the QuestBridge essay first, as it is easier to cut material out than to add material in. The goal of this question is to better understand you as a student and candidate and to see how your background and experiences have shaped you.

The second question gives you more options, and the prompt you answer should be the one that best allows you to show off your potential. These essays are a place for you to demonstrate your strengths and expand on other parts of your application. This prompt especially allows you to delve into one of your extracurricular activities, and explore its impact on you in more detail.

The supplemental essays colleges request through Questbridge are often different from the standard ones they ask for, and in some cases don’t exist at all. Make sure to check the requirements of each school you apply to carefully.

Final Thoughts

While it is difficult to find data on whether QuestBridge increases your chances of admissions, it does greatly increase your odds of receiving a valuable scholarship opportunity. Students who match with a school through QuestBridge are awarded four years of tuition to one of the country’s top institutions. This alone is enough to make the application worth pursuing. 

If you are eager to maximize your own chances of scholarships but do not qualify for QuestBridge, consider applying to our Pro Bono program. There are many ways to improve your chances of receiving college scholarships, and we are always happy to advise students.

Need help with college admissions?

Download our "Guide to Everything," a 90-page PDF that covers everything you need to know about the college admission process.

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