Perspective: QuestBridge program offers East student Adeeba Hasin a full, four-year scholarship to Princeton

I found out about Questbridge (QB) over a Google Meet with my friend in the beginning of 2021, during my junior year (back when school took place online). We were researching scholarships when he mentioned a golden opportunity—a chance for high-achieving low-income students to earn a full, four-year scholarship to one of over 40 partnered universities. I was one of the students who was offered a full scholarship to Princeton University for the Class of 2026.

Every year, thousands of low-income students pass up the opportunity to apply to high-ranking colleges because they believe the costs of attending, if they are accepted, will force them to reject any offers they receive. Questbridge provides an alternate pathway for those students so that they have as fair a chance in the admissions cycle as others who may be more well-off financially. So, if you’re a student who feels like their education may be limited due to financial constraints, this program is designed for you.

To be eligible for a Questbridge scholarship, students must meet certain academic and financial criteria. In terms of academics, the student applying should maintain A’s in rigorous courses, place in the top 5-10% of their class rank (if their school offers one—students who don’t have a class ranking system in their school shouldn’t worry, as Questbridge offers a holistic review of applications), have an SAT score of at least 1260 and/or an ACT score of at least 27, and have evidence of strong literacy skills (which will be determined through the essay responses). For reference, I am in the top 3% of my class (‘22) and have a superscored SAT score of 1540. Note that not all colleges accept superscores (students should look at the guidelines specific to each university they are considering), but most of the QB partners do.

In terms of financial criteria, Questbridge finalists are typically those who belong to a family of four people that earn less than $65,000 every year. However, some students belonging to higher-income families have been accepted with a full ride through Questbridge in the past, so students who do not exactly meet these financial criteria shouldn’t eliminate themselves as applicants. The Questbridge website has more specific eligibility requirements that any prospective applicants can look through if they need additional information.

After taking these criteria into consideration and examining the first wave of essays, the admissions team at Questbridge selects finalists that can move onto the National College Match (NCM). From there, students have to write essays specific to each college (similar to the essay prompts in the Common Application). Some may have only one or two essays while others have four to seven (including short answer responses). I recommend starting the essays early, as it gets more difficult to complete them once you are well into the school year and overloaded with assignments. I can say (from experience!) that holding off on the essays until the week before the deadline makes for a very stressful application process.

Additionally, some universities have either an optional, but recommended, or required interview. I only did the interview for UPenn—for Princeton, there were time constraints so interviews were an option if a student was deferred to the regular decision admissions cycle. I recommend taking interviews where you can, as admissions have only become more competitive and everyone, frankly, should take what they can get. Make sure to research specific aspects of a college for their interview so you can ask about it—based on my UPenn interview, it is mainly casual conversation that consists of you asking the interviewer questions, not as much the other way around.

The application process may seem like a lot (and it is!), but a major advantage of applying through Questbridge is that you can apply to several schools through an early application process (as well as your state school—in my case, I also applied EA to Rutgers). Normally, for REA/ED cycles, students can only apply to one university of their choice and if they’re rejected, have no other chance to reapply early (except in the cases of ED II, offered only by some schools). Through Questbridge, students can rank up to 10 colleges to apply early, and the first institution on their list that accepts them will give them full aid. I ranked, in this order: Princeton, UPenn, Columbia, Brown, and Duke. Many students typically apply to top colleges, as I did, but students should consider applying to target as well as reach schools to have a higher chance of getting matched. Be aware, though, that once you are admitted, you are bound to that university unless you have an issue financially (but there is a low chance of this, as Questbridge, after all, offers a full ride).

Another thing to note is that students, when receiving their financial aid report, are often surprised at the expected student contribution that shows as a few thousand dollars. However, this is just money that you might need for out-of-pocket expenses (for example, when eating out once in a while and buying clothes, hygiene tools, etc.). Questbridge covers tuition, room and board, travel expenses, and in some cases, books and school supplies. Most of the time, the EFC money on the financial aid report can be earned through on-campus work-study programs, some of which allow you to study while you work.

If you aren’t matched to a university through the NCM, then you can apply again through the Questbridge RD round (different from the normal RD decisions), through which you can still receive extremely generous financial aid. A friend of mine has also received an offer to Princeton during the RD round without having to pay anything for attendance.

This is a great opportunity, but it does have some drawbacks. I didn’t really mind the binding admission, as I only chose colleges that I really wanted to attend (and got accepted to my top choice). However, you must keep in mind that you will not receive the decisions of the other schools you ranked after the school you were admitted to. You can assume that the schools you ranked before the one you were admitted to rejected you for that cycle. But again, you can’t make that determination if you match to your #1 ranked school. In hindsight, this isn’t entirely negative when compared to the great offer that QB provides.

Another potential drawback is the imposter syndrome that accompanies the acceptance. I have interacted with some people who told me that I was accepted because of my low-income status. I felt that this undermined all of the effort I put into my applications by owing the acceptance solely to the financial issues. It was insulting to hear, so make sure you’re not one of the people who makes those comments. And for anyone admitted through QB in the future, remember that you were admitted because the school chose you.

Overall, I’d recommend applying to Questbridge—just as it has positively shaped my future college experience, I know it will provide a life-changing opportunity for many other students from East in the coming years. If you’d like any more information, explore the Questbridge website, look through the QB subreddit, or feel free to reach out to me with any questions!