Dear QuestBridge Matches: Playing Life on Hard Mode


Dear Great QuestBridge Match Class of 2027,

Has it sunk in yet? The fact that you are now an invaluable member of Princeton’s newest class?

It may not fully sink in until you step foot onto Princeton’s campus for orientation and your first day of classes, but regardless, I welcome you to Princeton’s Great Class of 2027!

Not to date myself, but I am a member of the QuestBridge Match Class of 2025. Even though it’s been two years since the fateful day when I matched to Princeton, I remember the process like it was yesterday: I remember the suspicion I first felt as I googled “Is QuestBridge a scam?” I remember the feverish race to submit all of my supplements by November 1st. Most clearly of all, I remember the day I received my match letter. I remember my hands shaking as I opened the email notification and the adrenaline that coursed through my body as I realized that everything I had been doing for the past four months—heck, the past four years—was about to culminate with this. Exact. Moment. 

As a first-generation, low income student navigating Princeton for the past two years, I have grown immensely. I’ve grown, and yet I am continuously grounded my home community and the on-campus QuestBridge community. 

As I write this letter to you right now, I hope to share a core lesson I’ve learned this past semester that may serve as food for thought as you close out your high school career:

A couple weeks ago, I was participating in HackPrinceton, and I went to a team-building event to meet some of the students who had driven and flown in from all around the world.

I walked up to the first person: “Hi, my name is Aminah! What’s your name?”

“Angel,” she said, smiling.

“Angelica?” I asked, echoing back what I’d heard.

“Angel,” she clarified.

Next to me, my friend snickered, incredulous at how I could have misheard the name so badly.

But it gets worse: this happened repeatedly.

“What’s your name?”

“My name is Alayna!”

“Allison, you said?”

At this point, my friend was dying of laughter. “Wow, you’re really playing life on hard mode aren’t you?!”

This moment from the hackathon has stayed with me, and I realize that my friend was right. In almost every way, I have always approached life assuming that it would be more difficult than it sometimes actually was. I have always assumed that I would be asked to jump through more and more hoops ad infinitum.

Now, some of this is a product of my low-income upbringing: nothing has been given to me on a silver platter and so I have come to expect struggle and pain as necessary prerequisites to my moving through the world.

What I have as a response is not some grandiose solution or overarching statement, but a question: What if life (or at least some parts of it) is actually simple? What if there are areas in your life right now where you are struggling because you think you have to, not because it is actually necessary?

You’ve done it. You are on track to become a graduate from one of the top universities in the country. You are in great hands. You have an opportunity to end high school hopefully in person, as the ramifications of the global pandemic have begun to recede.

Take this win. You’ve earned it. Congratulations!

 

With infinite love, 

Aminah 

 


From Financial Aid to Fully Funded Experiences


When people ask me, “Why Princeton?” I often answer that I liked the size of the school (not too big and not too small), the liberal arts curriculum, or that it offered the specific department that I wanted to concentrate in Slavic Languages & Literatures.  But the real answer is the need-based financial aid that Princeton provides.  

Financial aid was one of the top factors for me when choosing a college, because I didn’t want to graduate with a mountain of student debt and didn’t have any other options for paying.  Princeton’s financial aid package aims to allow students to get the whole “Princeton experience” without needing to borrow money, in a need-based model that estimates how much you and your family can afford to pay.  Prior to coming to Princeton, I was worried that even with such a generous financial aid package, I would have to spend a lot of time working or borrowing money anyway.  But it turns out that I didn’t need to worry at all.

My very first experience with Princeton’s financial aid reassured me that I was making the right decision.  After being offered admission into the Class of 2023, I, along with all other prospective first-year students, were invited to one of two Princeton Preview sessions on campus where we could tour campus, learn about Princeton and even spend a night in the dorms with a “host” student.  I jumped at the chance, as I didn’t know much about the University and hadn’t ever visited campus before.  Because I would be receiving financial aid from the University, Princeton offered to reimburse me for travel costs in getting to campus.  Because of this, I was able to visit Princeton for two days with my mom before committing officially to the University.  

Such an experience is only one example of the ways in which Princeton looks out for its students and is mindful of their financial needs.  There are lots of funded opportunities for all students, not just those receiving financial aid.  For example, residential colleges often offer free or low-cost trips and activities for students, like museum visits, Broadway shows and sporting events.  Princeton also offers many funded summer internship opportunities, so students can gain valuable internship experience with positions that might otherwise be unpaid.  Individual departments have funding for undergraduate independent work, and some classes even involve free travel!  I saw "To Kill a Mockingbird" on Broadway, a Boris Godunov opera at the Met, interned at a nonprofit and traveled to Italy for a freshman seminar to conduct climate research in just two years at Princeton, all things I likely wouldn’t be able to afford at a different school.  

So… why Princeton?  I think the answer would be all of the opportunities I’ve been able to experience because of the way Princeton approaches financial aid.  


An Open Letter to Our Future Quest Scholars


To Future Princeton Quest Scholars, 

As a QuestBridge scholar, I distinctly remember how nerve-wracking and confusing the entire match process was, especially since I was one of the only students in my high school who applied through the match process. I had to navigate through the arduous task of sifting through each of the university-specific applications alone. When I applied, Princeton was a non-binding partner school, so I had the privilege of being able to experience campus life during Princeton Preview, the admitted students’ event, before making up my mind. Personally, it wasn’t the admission letter that fueled my decision to attend Princeton, but rather what was implied in between the lines.  I saw that the University had full faith in my future success: they chose me over thousands of other candidates, as might be the case with you, and that means quite a lot.

This year, Princeton’s QuestBridge decision is binding which means, if matched, you’ve committed to enrolling at the University! Though it may not seem easy to assess whether Princeton will be a great fit for you despite all the virtual offerings and the descriptions you may have read online, this can also be a blessing in disguise. While your peers are still trying to decide which colleges to apply to, you have already done the majority of the work. Now your application is in the hands of the Admission Office who take care to get to know you, your experiences and what you’ll bring to the Princeton community.

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Admission staff on Quest Day

At this point in time, you may also wonder what comes next after you match with Princeton. (Besides a heartfelt congratulations and sense of accomplishment, of course.) QuestBridge requires that all partner colleges meet 100% of need for match students. In fact, Princeton is one of the most generous universities and always covers 100% of demonstrated need for all students.

As a Quest Scholar you may wonder if you will fit in at an Ivy League institution. There perhaps exists a false perception that all students at Princeton are wealthy (I even believed this myself.), but that’s just not the case, around 60% of students are on financial aid and I have never been isolated because of my socioeconomic status. Instead, we are motivated to seek out employment and internship opportunities that are equally accessible to every student on campus. There are also plenty of resources available for students who are first-generation or lower-income like the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI), Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP), First-Generation Low Income Council (FLIC) or Programs for Access and Inclusion (PAI).

Additionally, one of the perks of enrolling at Princeton through QuestBridge is that you will get to know a community of students who can empathize with your financial situation. I was able to develop relationships with other students who matched with Princeton through Facebook and other social media platforms. Through our conversations, we all realized that we all faced many of the same worries and fears and we bonded over them. Remember that this is unfamiliar territory for everyone--not just you! While networking might be somewhat difficult during these unprecedented times, I still encourage you to make connections with other Questies because this will be the community with whom you will spend the next four years.

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Quest Scholars wearing a QuestBridge shirt that says "Dream Big"

I wish good luck to all future Quest scholars and I hope that you end up matching at the university of your dreams, regardless of whether that may be Princeton. We can’t wait to meet the Class of 2025!


Finding Home


An April month not so long ago (okay it was 27 years ago), I was trying to decide what college I would attend.  I was blessed with several options. Ultimately, Princeton felt like home. I found the thought of writing a thesis invigorating and was excited that I would be able to engage with professors from a variety of academic backgrounds. The director of the African-American Studies at the time, Cornel West, even took time out of his busy day to have a conversation with me. Even then, when Princeton still included loans as a part of its financial aid package, my offer was the strongest I received, and I knew my family would not have to worry about affording college.  While many things have changed about Princeton (like no loans) since my decision to attend, I chose to return to the University to work in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity to advance Princeton’s broad commitment to expand access and success for first-generation, low-to-moderate income (FLI) students at highly-selective colleges.

When I was a student at Princeton, I participated in a two-week summer program, Freshman Summer Orientation Program (FSOP) directed to students who may have been the first in their family to attend college.  Since returning to campus, I have the opportunity to collaborate with the Programs for Access and Inclusion (PAI). PAI offers several programs connecting FLI students with each other and with resources on campus to thrive.  As I reflect on my own challenges transitioning to college, it is a source of pride knowing that first-year and transfer students are able to benefit from the ongoing community they find through PAI programming. Some students may find community through their participation in the revamped and extended version of my beloved FSOP – Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI) or the four year leadership program, Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP). 

I was drawn back to Princeton because of its commitment to service and providing students opportunities to be engaged in the vital work of demystifying selective college admission. In my role at Princeton, I have the opportunity to partner with a number of amazing programs such as Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) and Matriculate. As a Matriculate Advising Fellow, Princeton undergraduates provide online mentoring and coaching to high achieving FLI high school students to support their consideration of highly selective colleges and universities.  This partnership aligns with Princeton’s informal motto, "Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity."

During this “temporary abnormal,” as Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber '83 refers to this current state of affairs, try to enjoy exploring your college options. You will meet new people and learn about programs, activities and pathways that you may have never considered before. I encourage students to evaluate how a school fits your academic, extracurricular and other interests. I also encourage you to evaluate graduation rates, out-of-pocket expenses; and outcome data for colleges you are considering. Twenty-seven years ago, I chose Princeton as my home. I hope to see you on campus as a fellow Princetonian.


Why I Came, Why I Chose to Stay


Being low-income and first-generation heavily influenced my decision to attend Princeton, but there is so much more about Princeton that makes me stay. 

Finances were the most important to me because I come from a low-income single parent household. My mother works for everything that my family has. Asking her to provide money for me to experience things like an unpaid internship or study abroad would be a lot for my family to handle, even though such experiences could help my academic, personal and professional growth. Princeton, however, provides many financially friendly opportunities such as Princeternships, study abroad programs, Breakout Princeton trips during breaks and PICS internships. Financial aid at Princeton is need-based, meaning the University awards students financial aid based on their individual needs. I chose Princeton because it afforded me and my family the financial freedom to help me further my academic endeavors. I could not in a million years afford to go to college without heavy loans, but with a generous aid package for undergrad, I can now think about attending graduate school.

Moreover, I also liked Princeton’s commitment to undergraduate education, the medium size of the school along with the student-to-faculty ratio. The resources at Princeton are unmatched. From the faculty who are hands-on in helping students cultivate their ideas and offering additional guidance during office hours, to the McGraw Center or The Writing Center; there is so much assistance, community and guidance tailored to each student’s needs. As a first-generation student, there is so much I do not know in terms of access, opportunities, finances, networking and even basic knowledge about jobs and fellowships. Being in a place with guidance and access to resources is important to me because it makes all the difference when you just don’t know what you don’t know. 

Why I came is important, but why I chose to stay is also of value. I chose to stay at Princeton because of the community, academic rigor and growth I've experienced here were unprecedented. I am very big on community and Princeton has provided me with the spaces where I am able to be myself while exploring different facets of my identity, the ways I learn and my academic interests. I feel like the spirit in the Black community here is truly special. We are all supporting each other and want everyone to win. I’ve met some of the most inspirational and motivating professors and students. I’ve also been able to travel to France and Puerto Rico during my time here even as a low-income student. Being at Princeton with financial freedom allows me to enjoy my college experience without worrying about money. I feel like I am where I'm supposed to be.

 


How I Chose Princeton


I officially committed to Princeton before I even finished Princeton Preview. After learning more about the amazing opportunities and people inside the Orange Bubble, everything just felt right. I’m so glad I made the choice to become a tiger, and I hope you will too.

A lot of the reasons that I chose Princeton hold true for plenty of my classmates. When I was looking for the right college, I knew I wanted a small school that had a close-knit community of students and offered personalized instruction. Princeton has an undergraduate focus and a small student-to-faculty ratio that made it easy to form close relationships with professors. I wanted somewhere that would allow me to explore my diverse interests without expecting me to know exactly what I wanted to do. I realized that Princeton would provide unparalleled academic experiences through a liberal arts lens that encouraged exploration and curiosity. Princeton also offered such fantastic need-based financial aid that made it possible for me to afford this amazing school. Princeton checked every box that I was looking for.

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Naomi in front of Nassau Hall

There were many other reasons I loved Princeton outside of academics. Everyone I interacted with was so friendly and welcoming. I had a lot of great conversations and got a good feel about campus culture. I was impressed by the large number of student groups; it seemed like there was a club for everything! The campus was also one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. If I couldn’t go to Hogwarts, this seemed like a good substitute! I appreciated the ease of getting around the campus due to its small size. I also loved the town of Princeton and the many cute shops and restaurants right outside Fitz-Randolph Gates. The list of positives about Princeton goes on and on.

I also had certain criteria that I had to consider because of my disability. I needed somewhere within driving distance of my home in Maryland to avoid the inconvenience of plane travel. I was looking for a place with moderate weather, because snow and rain are difficult for my wheelchair to handle. I talked to the disability services offices at every college I considered to make sure my needs could be met appropriately. I was blown away by Princeton’s Office of Disability Services and immediately felt like I was in the right place. 

Although this year Preview will operate in an online form, I encourage you to explore the virtual opportunities and learn more about all the amazing aspects of Princeton. Hope to see you on campus next year!


One of the Best Decisions of My Life


To the newly admitted Class of 2024, congratulations! 

I remember being in your shoes, quite intimidated by the college selection process. I remember asking myself, will I fit in at Princeton? Will there be people like me? Can I handle the academic rigor? Despite my hesitations, choosing Princeton was one of the best decisions of my life. 

What I found appealing was Princeton’s focus on the liberal arts and world-renowned undergraduate education. The University gives you the flexibility of taking classes in a variety of subjects before officially declaring your concentration at the end of sophomore year. For me, this was crucial because I was undecided. I came in as a prospective math major, but after taking classes in different departments, I discovered an interest in archival research and joined the Department of History.

I also knew I wanted to learn from my peers, travel to different countries, and get access to enriching opportunities. From traveling to India with a geology class to interning in Israel at a high-tech startup, Princeton has provided me with memories and experiences that I will cherish for years to come. Best of all, these opportunities are fully covered financially! 

Another important factor was affordability. The financial aid program here is amazing. My parents were worried they wouldn’t be able to afford Princeton, but the financial aid award I received made it all possible. Throughout my years here, the financial aid office has supported me every step of the way. 

Princeton has truly become my home and I wouldn’t have it any other way!


On-Campus Jobs


Princeton offers different types of campus jobs for all undergraduate students. These jobs provide money to cover extra costs, such as books and travel to and from home. Working on campus can include conducting campus tours, assisting in research, tutoring other students and even baking cookies! 

When I first arrived at Princeton, I had several questions regarding student employment. How will I balance academics with a part-time job? Do I possess any relevant skills for these jobs? How do I hold myself accountable? 

My first job was working in the dining hall. From washing dishes to being on time for my shifts, I learned several practical skills. Additionally, I formed friendships with the other dining hall student workers, as we would all have dinner together right before our shift. I later got a job at the Marquand Library as a front desk worker, where I assist patrons with book requests and take care of  day-to-day operations.

Having a part-time job on campus is beneficial for two reasons: you become more independent and earn your own wages. For many, this is the first time they are held accountable as an employee and are assigned duties and responsibilities. For me, putting aside 10 hours per week for my jobs taught me how to manage my time efficiently. It also taught me about teamwork and how your co-workers depend on you. This was my first time earning my own income and it taught me how to use that money wisely.

For prospective students, I assure you that working on campus is auspicious to personal and monetary growth. It serves as an introduction to the real world and teaches you practical skills that you might end up using in the future!


Let’s Talk About the Money: France and Finances


At the beginning of my first-year fall at Princeton, I told myself I was going to study abroad in France. How? I had no idea. Shoot! I was just aiming for the moon and hoping to land among the stars. I knew that Princeton offered summer abroad programs. I did not know how I, a low-income, first generation college student, was actually going to finesse my way into France. I had never been to Europe, but my “Take Me to Paris” wall decal and Eiffel Tower throw blanket may have suggested otherwise. We know how this story ends, because, well, I am writing this blog post. This is not your average I-went-to-France-and-took-a-picture-with-the-Eiffel-Tower story. Let me tell you about how a low-income student made it to France. The experience was priceless, but let's be real, the ticket was not. Let’s talk about the money.

After taking my last intro-level French course, I was eligible to apply for a Princeton in France study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence. This program offered four weeks of language immersion. Around the same time, I also applied for an internship in Paris – shocker – through the International Internship Programs (IIPs). This is open to all students without a particular class prerequisite.

Now, the money. I applied for funding for my trip to Aix-en-Provence through the Student Activities Funding Engine (SAFE), the funding source used on campus for students to apply for grant aid for thesis research, independent research, summer opportunities or even those specific to different breaks. Built into the cost of the abroad program was housing, food and the class. The flight ticket was not included in that cost, but through SAFE, students can apply for grants that may cover some, most or all of these expenses, depending on the grant. (It doesn't hurt to apply to multiple and hope for the best.) Different grants have different post-trip requirements such as saving receipts, sending letters to donors or writing a reflection piece. For the internship, IIP offers its own financial aid for eligible students, so I didn’t need to apply through SAFE.

Applying for funding in Europe for IIP was challenging because of currency rates. Make sure to check out conversion charts if you're going abroad! I did not want to play myself by doing a one-to-one conversion. Applying was not a long process, but it did ask for a breakdown of all expenses. This includes how much you expect to pay for housing, travel and transportation. Although I was not accepted into the IIP, a few weeks later, I was accepted into the Aix-en-Provence program with immaculate funding for the trip. It covered the cost of the class and some of my transportation. 

My trip to France helped me begin my journey towards managing my finances and being aware of my spending habits.  I explored a new country while exploring myself, my beliefs, values and morals. I also learned so much about being financially conscience and taking chances. Applying for financial assistance for my trip to France gave me the perspective to understand the expenses needed for a trip abroad and how to best allocate my funds. If you have any questions about my experience, please feel free to reach out to me or check out the Aix-en-Provence program.


Matching with Princeton


Editor's Note: The QuestBridge National College Match helps outstanding low-income high school seniors gain admission and full four-year scholarships to some of the nation's most selective colleges. Princeton has been a proud QuestBridge partner for many years now and every year, we match with a small number of students through College Match. Hear from some of our current QuestBridge Scholars and their experiences with the match process and the University. - Kayla McDonald, Assistant Director of Admission

 

David Hwang '23

Major: Undecided

Email: jyhwang@princeton.edu

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David Hwang

Congratulations! It may be hard to believe, but as a QuestBridge Scholar, you are incredibly deserving, and you should honestly take a moment in this tumultuous and overwhelming time to breathe and commend yourself. I remember, just a year ago, that this time was filled with heaps of letters, brochures, notifications and forms that contributed to this sense of happy chaos. Thus,  I want to briefly share my experience at Princeton as a fellow QuestBridge Scholar, so that you can perhaps get a feel for what it is like here.

I was surprised by being matched with Princeton University. I remember seeing the acceptance rate and thinking to myself that it was a long shot—perhaps too long of a shot. During the commitment period, I was distraught between some amazing opportunities at other colleges, but ultimately, Princeton had my heart. To put it simply, all of the schools I was fortunately blessed to choose from offered great programs with bountiful opportunities and generous financial aid. However, the undergraduate-focused culture at Princeton and the unique and diverse student body, conjoined with the stunning campus convinced me to matriculate at Princeton. The difference is significant.

And I know that I have not made the wrong decision. Yes, school can get difficult at times, and it is a lot of work, but that is true no matter where you go! Many resources will be available to you, and it is ultimately up to you to capitalize on them. I personally have found some classes at Princeton to be challenging, but at the same time, it is rewarding to know that I have done my best and that the results reflect that. 

My advice for those scholars who matched with Princeton would be to simply cherish the present moment. Be honest with yourself, trust yourself and take it one day at a time!


Danielle Newton '20

Major: Chemistry 

Email: dnnewton@princeton.edu

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Danielle Newton

I would advise the newly matched QuestBridge students to pick a college that has a large and established community of FLI (first-generation and low-income) students so that you have other people who share a similar background. Schools that prioritize bringing FLI students to campus likely also prioritize their success once they are there. I remember how selecting a school among an impressive list is overwhelming and challenging, but I’m so thankful I ended up at Princeton, and I’d love to see you on campus too!

My first year at Princeton was more of a transition than I was expecting—I hadn’t heard of J.Crew, I thought squash was a vegetable and not a sport and I had never worn a pair of “Bean” boots. But before I even stepped on campus, I was welcomed by a community of FLI students and faculty through the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP). Throughout my first two years at Princeton, I met with a group of SIFP students each week to share and gather advice or stories through the guidance of an upperclassmen mentor. SIFP also provided me with so much support: everything from extra precepts for organic chemistry to rides to the nearby mall for Halloween costumes. I have also remained quite involved with QuestBridge throughout my four years at Princeton. I’ve been a National College Admissions Conference Group Leader, and I attended the QB25 Conference in San Francisco this summer. Additionally, I have also been a part of the Quest Scholars Network on campus.

With all of the support, guidance, companionship and mentorship I’ve received at Princeton as a FLI student, I haven’t felt that anything is off-limits. Princeton has awarded me generous financial aid for two summer study abroad programs and a summer senior thesis research grant. Joining an eating club, traveling abroad for the first time and much more were fully accessible to me.


Daniel Palleres '20

Major: Computer Science

E-mail: DanielPallares@princeton.edu

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Daniel Pallares

When I started senior year of high school, I wasn’t even thinking about Princeton as an option for my undergraduate education. I didn’t think I could get in, and I knew my parents couldn’t afford it. My college and career counselor encouraged me to apply through QuestBridge, and I was left speechless when I got matched.

After visiting Princeton and several schools I was admitted to, I realized that Princeton was the best choice for me. The diversity in academic passions, the wealth of resources available to me as an undergraduate, and the support that the institution provides for first-generation and low-income students are unmatched.

Now that I’m in my final year, I have fully integrated into the University. I’m finishing my concentration in Computer Science at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, I’m president of the eating club Quadrangle and I have a job lined up for after graduation. I’m excited to come back to Princeton as an alumnus.


Marisela Neff  '20

Major: Chemistry 

Email: mneff@princeton.edu

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Marisela Neff on Princeton's campus

Being matched to Princeton through QuestBridge has truly been life changing for my family and me. Coming from a first-generation and low-income background, I was entirely convinced Princeton was not within reach. However, getting matched to Princeton has allowed me to take a step into a world of opportunities that I never could have imagined were available to me.

After visiting Princeton, I fell in love with the University’s focus on its undergrad students and its dedication to creating leaders who will change the world. I have been so grateful for resources like the Freshman Scholars Institute and Scholars Institute Fellows Program, which helped me adapt after high school and get introduced to all that the University has to offer. At Princeton, I’ve been able to travel the world, interning in India and Ecuador for two months while also visiting Peru, Chile, and Cuba through the Office of International Programs. I’ve participated in and lead a civic engagement trip on social-political issues that I am passionate about in Washington D.C. and Detroit, Michigan through the Pace Center for Civic Engagement. And finally, as a senior, I’m spending a lot of time working in an organic chemistry synthesis lab for my senior thesis. As a premedical student studying Chemistry with a certificate in Latin American Studies, Princeton has certainly been challenging. However, the support and opportunities available here are truly one of a kind.