How I attended the University of Chicago for free (and you can too)

Today's guest blogger is Sonya, a 2010 graduate of Chicago's Northside College Preparatory High School, who's currently a sophomore majoring in Economics and French at the University of Chicago.

“Sonya.” My mom looked me straight in the eye and asked the question every child expects to hear the summer before their senior year. “Where do you want to go to school?” She paused and rephrased her question: “Where are you planning on applying?”I had my answer prepared, but before I could even open my mouth to reply, my mom interjected, “You know you’re going to have to end up somewhere where you’ll be able to get good financial aid.” I did – my family was poor. My sister had received significant amounts of financial aid at her university four years prior, so the pressure was on me to attend a good university at minimal cost.

I had already started researching scholarships and financial aid options when my high school counselor approached me with another recommendation. He told me about the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship, which, as the association’s website (www.questbridge.org/for-students/ncm-national-college-match) notes, “helps outstanding low-income high school seniors gain admission and full four-year scholarships to some of the nation's most selective colleges.” (It is also worth noting that parents of recipients have no contribution required of them by the college being attended.) With 31 partner colleges available – including big-shots such as Yale, the University of Chicago, Stanford, Northwestern University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and smaller schools like Pomona College, Emory University, Trinity College, and Grinnell College – the scholarship offers a wide range of school sizes, locations, offerings, and traditions.

There is a two-step application process. First, students fill out the QuestBridge application directly, available at www.questbridge.org/for-students/ncm-apply. It is indeed lengthy, and, considering that the deadline for the application is fast-approaching – it is due by September 30th – it will require plenty of perseverance, dedication, and will to get through it. As someone who crammed in my essay-writing at the last minute, giving up a night of sleep along the way, I can say that the costs to a student filling out the application in terms of time and effort may certainly seem great. However, consider the advantages: should you pass the first round, you will be one step closer to a full four-year scholarship at an amazing school; and even if you don’t make it to the second round, you will already have several essays written which can be reused when applying directly to colleges. The application itself is fairly basic and allows students to supply personal information, grades and test scores, family income (a student will only be considered if his or her family’s income, on a four-person-family basis, is below $60,000), and more; it also includes short-answer and essay sections.

Students who pass the first round are then required to rank up to eight of the available partner colleges in order of preference and apply to them as they would through the usual process, be it through with the Common Application or with a college’s separate application. Students will note that they are applying through QuestBridge and will receive notifications of acceptance or denial at the beginning of December. Students who are matched are bound to that university and must immediately withdraw all other college applications. Some students who do not get matched will receive offers for partial financial aid from ranked colleges, and all students who do not pass the second round will automatically have their applications reprocessed as regular-decision ones by the ranked universities without students being required to reapply.

The National Match Scholarship is an amazing opportunity for students from low-income families and strong academic backgrounds to follow their dreams of success at some of the nation’s most selective universities. The process may seem tedious, but it is worth it every bit of the way and puts students a step ahead of others in terms of application progress.

When I was notified that I had been matched to the University of Chicago, I came to my mom and said, “Well, you wanted me to go to a good school and not pay for it? The deal is on!”

Don’t forget – the deadline for the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship application is September 30th!!

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  • And yet the poor schlubs who save money and have their kids work 2 part time jobs through high school and sacrifice to send their kids to good high schools and have BETTER test scores, can't get their kids in to "the University of Chicago's" because of the "quota system". Isn't that a kick in the pants? Sooooo glad we're done with the college bs. Playing the game was nauseating. They need to let the kids with the best test scores and grades in FIRST, and then the rest. And if you think your curriculum in any of the Chicago Public Schools comes close to the private schools, you're delusional. The truth comes out when the kids hit the tough subjects like Math and Science in college, then those that were "let in to even things out" fall apart. That's why so many major in the "lighter" subjects. Hard to hear, but it's the truth.

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    Frank Medina

    For over a decade, Frank worked as an admissions officer at various colleges and universities within the Chicagoland area. He’s advised thousands of students and their parents on topics such as how to select a college major, financing a college education and study abroad opportunities.

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