Are you a high school student who dreams of free college? With a QuestBridge scholarship, that dream could become a reality! In our 17 years of college counseling, we have found the QuestBridge National College Match to be one of the best programs for students of lower-income families.

It’s well-documented that a reliable indicator of someone’s future wealth is their education level; American workers with a college education make, on average, nearly 75% more than those with only a high school degree. But the high price of college means that for many high schoolers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, a high school diploma may well be the end of their educational experience.

Over time, this adds up (to use a cliché) to a vicious circle: an ever-widening achievement gap between high- and low-income students that can seem insurmountable.

That’s why programs like the QuestBridge National College Match are so important. Every year, QuestBridge awards full college scholarships to a select group of academically gifted students from low-income families, ensuring that they get the first-class education they deserve for free.

What Is the QuestBridge National College Match?

The Questbridge National College Match is both a college admission and scholarship application for students of lower-income families; it is kind of like the Common App for an elite group of 45 colleges. If you apply to a college through Questbridge, you do not need to additionally apply directly or with the Common App. As such Questbridge is actually a work-reducer and not just another scholarship you have to apply to!

QuestBridge is a California-based non-profit which works to connect lower-income students with opportunities for affordable higher education. For qualifying students, the QuestBridge College Match Scholarship offers the chance to attend a top college for free! Match Scholarship recipients are granted early admission with a full four-year scholarship to one of QuestBridge’s college partners, which include:

  • Rice
  • Yale
  • Columbia
  • Dartmouth
  • Stanford
  • MIT
  • …and over 35 more!

That scholarship (worth over $200,000) is just one part of the financial aid package provided by the college, covering the full cost of attendance, including:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies
  • Travel expenses

An added bonus: unlike many typical financial aid packages, College Match Scholarships have NO required parental contribution or student loans!

Who Qualifies for QuestBridge?

The QuestBridge College Match Scholarship program is open to high school seniors who are planning to enter college as freshmen the following autumn. (For the 2021 Scholarship, this means students who will graduate in spring 2022, and plan to start college in fall 2022.)

The National College Match is open to all students, regardless of citizenship, who are currently attending high school in the United States. This means that you do NOT have to be a United States citizen or permanent resident to apply; the scholarship is available to undocumented students, so long as they are currently attending high school. In 2020, for instance, 5% of Finalists were non-citizens. (One caveat: some, but not many, of the partner colleges are not able to award scholarships to undocumented students. Check here for more details.)

QuestBridge Scholarships are awarded to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, though as the chart below indicates, the largest proportion (just under half) of 2020 recipients identified as White. Scholarship recipients come from across the country—in 2020, Scholarship recipients hailed from 48 states.

Interested in learning more about last year’s winners? Visit QuestBridge’s collection of Student Stories.

Recommended Qualifications 

It’s worth saying that QuestBridge Scholarships are highly competitive. In 2020, over 18,500 students applied; of these, 6,885 were selected as Finalists, from which a record-setting 1,464 academically outstanding high school seniors were awarded Match Scholarships, earning early admission into one of the nation’s top colleges. (Around 2,000 of the remaining Finalists earned admission through the Regular Decision program.)

Given the high bar applicants need to clear to be competitive as Finalists, it is highly recommended that students who apply for a QuestBridge scholarship also apply to one or more “target” and/or “safety” schools through standard application channels (such as the Common App).

This is not to scare you off—the fierce competition is really a sign of just how great an opportunity these scholarships are! If you only have the time or resources to apply to a few college scholarships, QuestBridge might very well deserve a place on your list, but first, make sure you align with the recommended qualifications.

Students interested in applying to QuestBridge need to demonstrate:

  1. An outstanding level of academic achievement. While there is not a strict set of academic eligibility requirements (students are considered based on their individual situations), past Finalists have often met several of the following criteria.
    • Primarily “A” grades in the most challenging courses available (including AP, IB, and/or Honors classes). In 2020, the average GPA of Finalists was a 3.90.
    • A class rank in the top 5-10%. In 2020, 87% of Finalists were in the top 10% of their class.
    • Outstanding Test Scores, such as an SAT score above 1280 or a Composite ACT Score above 27. Three-fourths of 2020 Finalists met one or both of these scores.
  2. Significant evidence of financial need. Again, while there is not a strict cut-off, most Finalists (93% in 2020) come from households earning less than $65,000 annually (for a family of four). All sources of household income and all assets held by the family are taken into consideration when determining financial eligibility.

In addition, the National College Match takes into consideration an applicant’s extracurricular activities, parents’ level of education, and any extenuating circumstances that may apply. For instance, many successful Finalists (in 2020, 76%) are the first in their family to attend a four-year college.

How to Apply for a QuestBridge Scholarship

The 2021 Scholarship Application is not yet available, the image below depicts last year’s application process; this year’s will likely follow a similar schedule.

questbridge process

QuestBridge Scholarship Process 2020 (QuestBridge)

1. Prepare Your Application 

This year’s application will likely be available starting in summer 2021 and will be due around the end of September. Students looking to get a head start should look over the application requirements from last year:

  • A free, online National College Match application, which includes information on your academic and extracurricular accomplishments, financial background (optional, but highly recommended), two essays, and short answer questions
  • Two letters of recommendation from teachers in core academic subjects
  • A School Report from your high school counselor
  • A School Profile (optional, but recommended)
  • A high school transcript and additional transcripts (unofficial transcripts are accepted)
  • Any available standardized test score reports (if taken), including SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, IB, AP, or TOEFL test scores – SAT and/or ACT test scores are highly recommended (unofficial test score reports are accepted)

QuestBridge also offers a number of free resources for students looking for help making their application as competitive as possible.

Important Note: Unlike many traditional college scholarship competitions, the QuestBridge College Match application serves as both a scholarship application and a college application itself. In other words, students hoping to match with one of the QuestBridge partner colleges should only apply to those colleges via QuestBridge (and not via the college’s standard application or another application like the Common App).

2. Rank your Colleges

One of the things that makes the National College Match so unique is the ability to rank your college choices. Ranking colleges allows you to be “matched” (admitted early with a guaranteed four-year scholarship package) to the college that appears highest on your list that also wants to match with you.

For example, say your top three choices are (in order): Stanford, Columbia, and Dartmouth. Stanford and Columbia decide they are not interested in admitting you, but Dartmouth is happy to offer you admission—you are now guaranteed admission to Dartmouth! Or, in a slightly different version of this scenario, let’s imagine that only Stanford declines to admit you: now you are guaranteed admission to Columbia, since it’s your highest-ranked school that has offered you a place.

You can rank up to 12 colleges in order of preference, but you can be matched to only ONE school. If you are matched with a school, you are guaranteed a full four-year scholarship, but you must attend your match school the following autumn. Generally, students who rank more colleges have a higher chance of matching, but make sure you are willing to attend every college that appears on your list. (While you do have the option not to rank colleges, if you choose this option you will not be considered for the Match Scholarship and may only apply through QuestBridge Regular Decision.)

In mid-October, applicants will be notified of whether or not they have achieved Finalist status. If you’re a Finalist, you may need to submit additional application materials for every college you rank, known as Match Requirements. These are usually due by the beginning of November.

3. Match Day and Beyond

On Match Day (in the past, December 1), all Finalists who ranked colleges will learn if they have matched with one of their choices. Finalists who successfully match receive early admission (with full scholarship) to their matched school and must withdraw all other applications. If this is you, congratulations—you’ll be attending one of your dream colleges free of charge!

If you are a Finalist who did not match, you will still be able to review other potential admission opportunities from the schools you ranked (options and next steps will vary by school). You can also still apply to the schools you ranked as well as additional college partners through QuestBridge Regular Decision. Non-matched Finalists usually have about a week to apply for Regular Decision; the colleges will then consider you for admission and financial aid.

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