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Nico SLate a former QuestBridge Scholar who went to Stanford, is now a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He talked about “the combination of seeing what can be done and having someone you respect telling you you can do it.”
Photo Credit: Jeff Swenson for the NY Times

Published In The NY Times.

Author David Leonhardt @Dleonhardt

Arianna Trickey was opening a piece of mail in her bedroom during junior year of high school when a pamphlet fell out of the envelope. The pamphlet seemed to offer the impossible: the prospect of a full scholarship to several of her dream colleges.

She went running out to her father, a house painter, who was sitting on the family’s porch in Grass Valley, a California city in the Sierra Nevada foothills. “You have to see this,” she told him. “This is the scholarship that will get me to the best schools in the country.”

The pamphlet was from a nonprofit organization called QuestBridge, which has quietly become one of the biggest players in elite-college admissions. Almost 300 undergraduates at Stanford this year, or 4 percent of the student body, came through QuestBridge. The share at Amherst is 11 percent, and it’s 9 percent at Pomona. At Yale, the admissions office has changed its application to make it more like QuestBridge’s.

Founded by a married couple in Northern California — she an entrepreneur, he a doctor-turned-medical-investor — QuestBridge has figured out how to convince thousands of high-achieving, low-income students that they really can attend a top college. “It’s like a national admissions office,” said Catharine Bond Hill, the president of Vassar.

The growth of QuestBridge has broader lessons for higher education — and for closing the yawning achievement gap between rich and poor teenagers. That gap is one of the biggest reasons that moving up the economic ladder is so hard in the United States today, as I’ve written before. But QuestBridge’s efforts are innovative enough to deserve their own attention.

In addition to the hundreds of its students on college campuses today, hundreds more have graduated over the last decade. They’ve gone on to become professors, teachers, business people, doctors and many other things. Ms. Trickey, a senior at the University of Virginia who is also getting a master’s in education, plans to become an elementary-school teacher in a low-income area.

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For more information on QuestBridge visit them at www.questbridge.org