Full Rides to their Dream Schools: How it Happened

Joanne Chae’s Questbridge Acceptance to Duke University

Serene Hwang and Joanne Chae, current seniors at Girls Academic Leadership Academy, were recently accepted with full-ride scholarships to Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University through a program called QuestBridge. QuestBridge is a non-profit organization that helps exceptionally achieving, low-income students become admitted with full-ride scholarships to top-ranked colleges and universities.

The process begins in the summer after 11th grade. By the end of September of your senior year, you submit your application. QuestBridge applicants are able to select up to 12 college partners (which are colleges partnered with QuestBridge) and rank them. On October 19, finalists are notified. After finalists are notified, they have until November 1 to submit essays and documents for the colleges to consider. Then on the first day of December, finalists wait for an exciting email telling them whether or not they were matched with their dream college. If you aren’t matched with any colleges, no worries, you roll over to a regular decision. However, if you are matched with any of the 12 schools you ranked, you’re admitted early decision with a full 4-year scholarship.

I got the opportunity to speak with Serene and Joanne about their experience with QuestBridge. Here are their answers to a few of the questions I asked.

Hannah: So, what would you say was the hardest part of the QuestBridge match program?

Serene: I would say the hardest part was writing all my essays earlier than my peers. Sometimes I felt alone writing my application since most of the other students around me were still preparing for theirs. But I knew that it would pay off to get work done earlier. Also, there were plenty of people around me that offered support throughout the process.

Joanne: To me, the hardest part was navigating the financial aspect, alone. As a first-generation college student and a child of immigrant parents, I did not have much support at home. Aside from being non-native English speakers, [my family] did not understand the application process. Every night, I was ripping my hair out trying to interpret and fill out complex financial documents. However, I am grateful to have had college counselors and mentors guide me through the financial process step-by-step.

Hannah: How did it feel to open your acceptance letter and know you had a full-ride scholarship to your dream school?

Serene: Hannah, you were there to witness me opening my letter. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was shaking and had to cry while calling my parents. Penn is my dream school but I knew how close to impossible it was to get accepted into an Ivy League. It honestly still feels unreal now.

Joanne: To be honest, I was an internal mess as I watched my peers open their letters one-by-one. Fear of being rejected from my dream school in front of peers and instructors who encouraged and uplifted me throughout the entire process engulfed me, so I opened it in private during elective period. When I first saw the confetti and the “congratulations” written on the screen, I was overjoyed. I promised myself I would not cry, but I couldn’t help it. I remember I slowly looked back at Savannah, Kaitlyn, and Eugenia with a slight nod and teary eyes as they ran to me to give me a hug and congratulate me. Mrs. Agamegwa took my arm to immediately tell Dr. Hicks the news, too. I am beyond grateful to have been accepted into a prestigious university, where I will pursue my passions and academic endeavors without financial burden.

Hannah: Do you have any advice to give current juniors at GALA about the process? Any tips?

Serene: One tip I have is to be unique in your application. You only have one shot to prove yourself to the admissions officers and you want to make yourself stand out. This doesn’t mean that you have to have the highest GPA or international awards. Really, take time to highlight your strengths, personality, character, and goals.

Joanne: I want to tell current juniors at GALA that even though stats may play a role in your application process, the numbers do not define you as a potential candidate. Your application should embody who you are, what you have done, and how you can relay your experiences on campus. Through the process, I thought I had nothing to write about. My life was…boring. But, as you hear stories from your parents that you’ve never been told, engage in activities that you’ve never thought twice of doing, and write everything down through a flow of consciousness, something is bound to come together. It is a matter of who is able to story tell their life through concise and witty writing. Good luck to you all.

If you want to be a part of this amazing program, start your research now!

To learn more about QuestBridge, head to this link: https://www.QuestBridge.org/