The Award of a Lifetime

Through a holistic, albeit rigorous application process and generous financial aid, the Questbridge and Posse Scholarships ultimately provide a huge opportunity for students to pursue their passions beyond high school.

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The Questbridge and Posse scholarships grant college admission and four years of fully-paid tuition, awarded through a highly competitive national college matchmaking process. Unlike the Common App, these applications consider a student’s financial needs and are geared specifically toward low-income and disadvantaged students. Once matched with a college, finalists enter a binding agreement, meaning they must attend that school. This year, a record 12 Stuyvesant seniors were matched to colleges through the Questbridge Scholarship, and an additional three seniors were matched via the Posse Scholarship. Among the Questbridge finalists who matched this past cycle are seniors Gabriel Lwin, Bingde Jiang, and Yuri Wang. Lwin and Jiang both matched with the University of Chicago, while Wang matched with the University of Pennsylvania. Under the Posse Scholarship, Jonathan Vasquez matched with Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

In order to be admitted into top universities, students need to have excellent grades, well-rounded extracurriculars, and prove to colleges and universities why they deserve to be a student there. “I was not able to do many extracurricular activities because of home responsibilities […] Questbridge gave me the opportunity to list all these home responsibilities and add more weight to them in my application,” Lwin said. While the Common Application allows students to list home responsibilities that may impede their learning and diminish their access to academic resources, Questbridge specifically weighs these factors when reviewing its applicants, thus giving low-income students a better chance to gain admission into these universities. In addition, the program’s impressive selection of university partnerships makes it even more appealing to students. “And so I thought that I can just do two birds with one stone—get the scholarship and get into an Ivy League,” Wang said. 

Though these scholarships are extremely difficult to match with, the opportunities they offer are critical for the futures of their applicants. As tuition prices and the expectations of admissions offices continue to soar, it has become difficult for lower-income students to get into top schools. Jiang credits her motivation to pursue a Questbridge scholarship on her family’s financial situation. “I don’t want my parents to have a lot of [financial] burden when I go to college, and [...] have to suffer $90,000 in tuition every single year,” Jiang expressed. According to the Federal Reserve, student debt has skyrocketed from $619 billion in 2008 to $1.77 trillion in 2023. Burgeoning student debt often impedes graduates from career advancements and prevents them from achieving other life goals such as owning property or starting a family. Furthermore, the looming debt burden compels many to choose a high-paying career over one that they are passionate about. According to a Handshake survey of 1,148 students of the class of 2024, “almost 70% say their debt will influence the jobs they consider after graduation.” With opportunities such as the Questbridge and Posse scholarships, not only are financial burdens minimized after graduation, but students are able to pursue their passions with more security.

The application process for Questbridge is similar to that of the Common App; applicants are required to upload a personal statement and general essay about their background, their grades and transcript, a list of their extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation. However, the deadline for letters of recommendation is much earlier for Questbridge. When students first ask for teacher recommendations—typically in the spring semester of junior year—most teachers assume that they will not need the materials until the early decision deadline. The earlier Questbridge deadline places more pressure on teachers already writing dozens of recommendations, especially if many of those are for Questbridge applicants. “Once I had a panic when I realized it was due September 30 [...] I had to please them to write me the letter a lot earlier, and that was definitely something I didn’t want to do. But I have to push for it,” Jiang said.

On the other hand, Posse is open to students of all backgrounds but looks for students who possess extraordinary leadership potential. Furthermore, the Posse Portal offers lifelong opportunities and connections for the program’s alumni. The application involves a rigorous nomination and interview process before students are matched. Though any interested student can apply to Questbridge, students must be nominated for the Posse scholarship by their school’s college office, a community-based organization, or a Posse scholar. Elizabeth Hughes, Stuyvesant’s Posse nominator, reviews all of the prospective Posse applicants before determining which students can advance further into their application. “[I look] for leadership with development [and the] potential of tremendous success with support,” Hughes stated. 

Jonathan Vasquez was nominated for the general pool through the community-based organization East Harlem Tutorial Program. Afterward, Vasquez began preparing for a series of interviews, known as the Dynamic Assessment Process (DAP). Vasquez went through three interviews during the DAP—one individually and two involving other students—summing up to a total time of nine hours. This interview process turned out to be particularly motivating for Vasquez. He felt it was easier for Posse to understand who he was through face-to-face interaction. “They were able to get a more holistic look at who I am because [the Posse application process is] so interview heavy,” Vasquez noted.

After such an intense application process, recipients of the scholarships were ecstatic when matches were announced. Lwin described checking his Gmail account on the escalator to see that he had matched. “A lot of people will attest on that day that there was a very big nuisance on the escalator because I was screaming,” Lwin said. 

When asked what advice they had for future applicants, Questbridge scholars agreed it was best to plan ahead and follow your passions. “Definitely plan early. Definitely discuss with your parents. And, if you guys have dissenting opinions, try to come to a compromise but prioritize your own opinion,” Wang said. Furthermore, though the scholarship can seem like an unlikely dream among a sea of gifted applicants, Questbridge and Posse scholars emphasized the importance of believing in oneself and not giving up. “I’ve been told that I never had a chance,” Lwin said. “I’d advise [future applicants] not to listen to any doubts, especially not from other people.” Through a holistic, albeit rigorous application process and generous financial aid, the Questbridge and Posse Scholarships ultimately provide a huge opportunity for students to pursue their passions beyond high school.