The QuestBridge Program, a non-profit organization that has matched low-income applicants with Yale for three years, saw the greatest number of its students admitted early to Yale since its inception.

This year, 22 QuestBridge scholars are among the 730 students who have been accepted early to Yale this year, up from 17 at this time last year and 19 two years ago. Since joining the program two years ago, Yale has received an average of more than 1,000 QuestBridge applications each year and has admitted around 60 to 80 students through the program, said Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel. Twenty-seven colleges, including Princeton, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, currently participate in the program, and around a dozen new colleges may join the program in the near future, said Michael McCullough, founder and president of the Quest Scholars Program.

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Established in 2004, QuestBridge National College Match Program is a non-profit organization that seeks to connect low-income students with elite colleges around the country. Students matched under the program received full four-year tuition at colleges such as Yale, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania. In order to participate in QuestBridge’s National College Match program, prospective students must come from households earning less than $60,000 annually and have strong academic and extracurricular credentials. After submitting their transcripts, test scores and teacher and guidance counselor recommendations to QuestBridge, some applicants are selected as QuestBridge finalists and their applications are forwarded to participating colleges. Students rank their top schools, and colleges choose which students they wish to admit from their finalist pool and decision letters are sent on Dec. 1.

For students, becoming a QuestBridge finalist is one way to ensure that some of the nation’s most selective colleges are interested in their application, Brenzel said. The admissions office is actively seeking high-achieving, low-income, first-generation college students and QuestBridge helps to draw attention to such applications, he added.

“Our applications provide extensive information to highlight the backgrounds of our applicants that might otherwise go unnoticed,” McCullough said. “For example, instead of asking students about their favorite authors, we ask them to talk about the biggest challenges they have faced.”

QuestBridge scholar Ngozi Ukazu ’13 grew up amid a concrete jungle of apartment complexes in southwest Houston, where most residents spoke Spanish and few attended college.

But the youngest child of Nigerian immigrants said she knew she was college-bound the moment she stepped foot in kindergarten. Despite her family’s constrained financial circumstances, Ukazu said her parents instilled in her the value of hard work and strove to make every educational opportunity available to her.

Ukazu said she stumbled upon the program while researching summer college opportunities as a junior at Bellaire High School in Houston. But after being rejected from QuestBridge’s College Prep Scholarship for low-income students, Ukazu’s attention turned to the organization’s college match program.

“There are hoops that need to be jumped through when applying through QuestBridge,” Ukazu said, adding that her high school had difficulties submitting required documents for QuestBridge, and she had to send them herself.

Upon learning more about QuestBridge, Ukazu said her parents were excited about the opportunity for an all-expenses-paid college scholarship and urged her to apply. The effort paid off — Ukazu was initially matched with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall before being also accepted by Yale last spring.

Only a few years earlier, the thought of applying to Yale had been intimidating and she said she was initially worried whether the socioeconomic divisions she faced in high school might surface in college.

“Everyone who doesn’t know Yale well has this impression that it’s a country club where everyone owns yachts,” Ukazu said. “But I don’t feel my background has in any way ostracized me, you realize most people here are just middle class.”

Martha Juarez ’12, another QuestBridge Scholar who hails from Chicago, said she has also adjusted smoothly to college.

“Yale is diverse enough that you can find people you are comfortable with,” she said, noting that socioeconomic divisions are still present on campus among different friendship groups. “I also know others who have had a slightly harder time academically because they came from areas where they were less challenged in class.”

And while her QuestBridge scholarship covers tuition and board, other expenses such as books and flights must be covered through work, which limits the number and type of extracurricular activities she can participate in, she added.

Last year, over 1,000 students were admitted to QuestBridge’s partner colleges, disbursing more than $100 million under the program.