Program bridges applicant divide

Joyce Yang’s acceptance to the Yale College class of 2013 was a mix of serendipity and hard work.

A senior at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, Yang had not thought of attending a university like Yale, given that she believed it came with a prohibitively high price tag. But then she noticed a flyer on her history teacher’s podium advertising the QuestBridge organization, which matches high-achieving, low-income students with top universities that can afford to offer them full financial aid.

“I don’t think I would have applied to Yale early if I had not known about the QuestBridge program,” she said. “I never thought about going to a school that far north and that cold.”

Yang is one of 17 high school seniors admitted to Yale this year through QuestBridge’s College Match program, which selects the most competitive applicants from a pool of contenders that totaled 4,889 this year. QuestBridge then notifies this group of finalists and passes their applications on to “partner” institutions, schools that the finalist has ranked as one of his or her top-eight college choices.

QuestBridge currently has 26 partner institutions, including Princeton, Columbia and Stanford universities. This year, there were 2,470 QuestBridge finalists nationwide; 1,402 ranked Yale as a top choice, though only two-thirds of those completed the application for Yale’s class of 2013. QuestBridge applicants must complete a separate QuestBridge application in addition to Yale’s application, said Jessie Hill, Yale’s senior assistant director of admissions and co-director of the QuestBridge program for the University.

Last year marked Yale’s first cycle formally partnering with QuestBridge. For the class of 2012, the University admitted 19 QuestBridge students early and an overall total of 90 after the end of the regular decision round through the College Match program.

While only 17 students have been admitted early through the QuestBridge program this year, Hill said Yale has already begun issuing “likely letters” — informing certain students that they will likely be accepted in the regular decision round — to additional students who applied through QuestBridge. For the class of 2013, Princeton University has matched 31 students through QuestBridge, compared to 26 at the University of Chicago, 25 at the University of Pennsylvania, 12 at Stanford and 11 at Columbia.

While QuestBridge finalists must meet certain low-income criteria, there are some QuestBridge applicants whose families make more than $60,000 per year under Yale’s calculations and are thus ineligible for the automatic zero parent contribution offered by Yale’s new financial aid package, Director of Student Financial Services Caesar Storlazzi said. These applicants are removed from the QuestBridge application pool, Storlazzi said, and their applications are still considered in the regular pool.

Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said he has been pleased with the results of Yale’s partnership with QuestBridge, though he does not know how the total number of QuestBridge admits this year will compare to last year’s total.

Brenzel said the partnership between Yale and QuestBridge functions as a symbiotic relationship: the prospect of a Yale acceptance draws some students to QuestBridge, while QuestBridge helps connect some students with Yale who may not have otherwise applied.

“We’re not only getting more low-income kids to come here,” he said. “We’re helping with a process that places more high-achieving students in a lot of selective schools.”

Of the five QuestBridge admits to the class of 2013 interviewed for this story, only one said her college counselor had informed her about the QuestBridge program. The rest either happened up on it by chance, like Yang, or received letters from the program through the mail.

QuestBridge co-founder and President Michael McCullough said the program has been expanding its efforts to help serve academically talented low-income students who are misinformed about admissions and financial aid programs of top colleges. Often, school counselors unaccustomed to working with exceptionally talented students steer them away from top schools because they perceive them to be too expensive, he said.

“Even if Yale or QuestBridge sends an envelope to these kids, they throw it away because of what they’ve been told by an outside party,” McCullough said.

Across the country, 260 students have been matched for positions in the classes of 2013 at all 26 QuestBridge partner colleges combined, compared to 204 the year before and 103 in 2006.

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