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School of Arts and Sciences

Opportunity Knocks

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bringing Exceptional Under-Served Students to Tufts

Student José Garcia

by Anna Burgess

José Garcia, a freshman and Quest Scholar from Lehigh Acres, Florida, praises QuestBridge's "commitment to matching deserving low-income students with elite colleges."

Photo credit: Nimarta Narang


It has long been Tufts' aim to offer as many students as possible an affordable education, but the university's newest endeavor to attract and assist low-income students involves much more than just financial aid.

Last year marked the beginning of a partnership between Tufts and QuestBridge, a national college access organization that helps high-achieving, low-income students connect with elite colleges and universities. QuestBridge helps students apply to, afford, and attend some of the most competitive schools in the United States—schools that they might not otherwise even consider as options.

"[QuestBridge] works with students from all over the country, from all different backgrounds, with a wide array of interests, and all are linked by the fact that they are from low-income families," said Laura Tapper, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions and the QuestBridge liaison for Tufts Admissions. "They are smart, interesting, motivated students who have often dealt with an array of obstacles that would normally act as barriers to college attendance, but have succeeded despite those roadblocks. I can't imagine a university anywhere that doesn't want to see more students in its applicant pool that fit that description."

Tufts is now one of thirty-five QuestBridge partner schools. The program uses the free QuestBridge application simultaneously for admissions and financial aid; during its National College Match option, if a student is accepted by one of his or her preferred schools (in a process similar to Early Decision), the student is bound to enroll at that college and receives a full, four-year scholarship.

José Garcia, a freshman and Quest Scholar from Lehigh Acres, Florida, chose the binding option because it guaranteed him a four-year scholarship to Tufts, his "matched" school. Other Quest Bridge partner schools include Brown, Yale, MIT, Oberlin, University of Virginia, Northwestern, and Stanford.

"One of the best things about QuestBridge…is their commitment to matching deserving low-income students with elite colleges," Garcia said. "Such an opportunity does wonders for [students'] self-esteem and lifts our hopes for the future."

The QuestBridge staff, adds Garcia, is helpful and the QuestBridge application more approachable—and more affordable—than the Common Application. Garcia, who was told about the program by a teacher, said that most of his high school classmates don't apply to places like Tufts. In fact, he said, only about 30% go to college at all.

Yet Garcia is at Tufts, hoping to major in International Relations, getting to know Boston, and making friends. He is part of the inaugural group of thirty-five students on campus who applied to Tufts through QuestBridge.

QuestBridge students meet once a month to talk with their faculty advisor, Dean Robert Mack, as well as get to know each other and provide support if needed. Mack also tries to help Quest Scholars feel at home by hosting events such as Thanksgiving dinners for students who are unable to fly home, and study breaks during finals.

Mack volunteered to be the QuestBridge Faculty Advisor because he believes Questbridge is a valuable program for Tufts. "It's clear to me that Tufts works really hard with diversity initiatives and wants to expand access to higher education," he said. With Questbridge, says Mack, "not only do we get to work on the access piece, but we know the students have some support structure."

Mack explained that for these low-income students, "getting in [to an elite school] is one thing, but staying in is another." He said that the Quest Scholars group provides a forum for discussing challenges faced at Tufts such as the socioeconomic divide between Quest Scholars and other students. "There are a lot of opportunities here that they think ‘aren't for them,' like studying abroad or doing the Talloires program," said Mack. "Part of what I do is help students see how we can make these things happen for them, or if they really aren't possible, find other options to help them make the most of their time here."

Sixteen QuestBridge students have already been accepted via the National College Match as members of the Class of 2018, and many more applied through Regular Decision. Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions, anticipates as many as fifty QuestBridge students will enroll in the next first-year class. "They are a large and compelling part of our applicant pool," he noted. Tapper said that although the QuestBridge application process is time-consuming, there's no doubt that it's worth it. "We're very happy to be working with QuestBridge," she said, "and thrilled with the students who are on our campus as a result."