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Vanderbilt and QuestBridge: A Perfect Match


Posted by Jay Watson on Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Our mission at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is to recruit, select, and enroll an intellectually curious, academically talented undergraduate student body for Vanderbilt.  Recruiting talented students is at the core of what we do, and we put a lot of effort into doing it well. So it is always sobering when we are reminded of how many talented students aren’t even applying to top colleges nationally.

Image courtesy of QuestBridge. Graph adapted from The New York Times.

This past Monday morning, Kim Marar of QuestBridge spoke to us specifically about the number of high-achieving, low-income students who don’t apply to top colleges, even though they are a good fit. QuestBridge is a non-profit dedicated to connecting talented students from low-income backgrounds to top universities, and she was visiting campus to discuss details about Vanderbilt’s new partnership with her organization. She and her colleagues at QuestBridge are experts in the area of college access for talented low-income students, and we welcome their expertise in this partnership (more on that in a moment).

The facts about college choice for high-achieving, low-income students are disturbing, though unfortunately not surprising. In fact, they are all too familiar to those of us who are trying to recruit these talented individuals. Research and experience show that low-income students often have to overcome challenges that their middle- and high-income peers don’t face. Sadly, this often results in talented students choosing colleges that aren’t the best fit for their intellectual abilities.

This is particularly frustrating from our perspective at Vanderbilt because we make such a strong commitment to access and affordability. Through Opportunity Vanderbilt, we pledge to meet 100% of every family’s demonstrated need without the use of loans in a need-blind admissions process.  These commitments reflect our belief that a world-class education should be accessible to all qualified students regardless of their economic circumstances.

And yet, despite our strong efforts, we are faced with the reality that talented low-income students aren’t applying to top colleges at a rate commensurate with their abilities. This is where our new partnership with QuestBridge comes in. Among their many efforts to broaden opportunities for low-income students, QuestBridge’s largest program is the National College Match. It’s a process similar to residency matching for medical school students. Here’s a simplified version of how it works*:

  • Students complete an in-depth application for QuestBridge in which they rank order their top choices of QuestBridge’s 35 partner schools.

    Image courtesy of QuestBridge.

  • From among these applications, the QuestBridge team selects finalists, whose applications are forwarded to the colleges these students ranked.
  • Partner colleges review finalists’ applications and select students for admission.
  • Admitted finalists are matched with their highest ranked college.
  • Matched finalists qualify for full four-year scholarships with no loans.

This process is an obvious win-win for students and the partner colleges:  matched students get an affordable education at a top school, and partner colleges get to enroll top talent that might not have otherwise applied.  The ultimate outcome, more students at schools that are a fit for their academic abilities, is a win for everyone.

Students interested in participating in the National College Match should act fast – the QuestBridge application is due by September 27.  Visit the QuestBridge website to view the application requirements for applying to Vanderbilt through QuestBridge.

*For a full look at the process, visit the QuestBridge website. Each partner school has its own unique policies, so thorough research is advised.


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