QuestBridge is a nonprofit that connects the nation’s most exceptional, low-income youth with leading colleges and opportunities. The program is highly competitive and aims to increase the number of talented low-income students attending the nation’s best colleges by matching them with top-tier colleges and providing four-year scholarships. To sum it up, QuestBridge makes dreams come true. This year, SAISD had three seniors chosen as QuestBridge scholars among only 3% nationally.
Q&A with QuestBridge Scholar and future Brown University student, Jose Luis Martinez
These students worked hard to earn this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and plan to make the most of it. We spoke with Jose about the QuestBridge application process, how it felt to be accepted, and what his promising future holds.
San Antonio ISD: Tell me a little bit about the process of applying to be a QuestBridge Scholar?
Jose Luis Martinez: Well I actually became a QuestBridge College Prep Scholar during my junior year, which is a national recognition program that looks good on college applications and is a really great confidence boost. It was also a big part in being a finalist in the National College Match program during my senior year. A really neat thing that QuestBridge does is keep a big part of your previous year’s application, like all my personal info, recommendation letters, and essays, which helped since I have a huge courseload this year with six AP classes.
SAISD: Was it your idea to apply, or did someone else encourage you to?
JLM: One of my counselors recommended me for the program, so I got an email from QuestBridge. I had never heard of it before, so I did some research and what really caught my eye was the National College Match program.
When you go to an inner city school, you never think of attending big colleges like the Ivy Leagues that QuestBridge partners with because there are a million kids fighting for these spots. I wasn’t sure if I could compete with them all, but then being chosen for the College Prep Scholar program in my junior year showed me that I could do it senior year too.
SAISD: What did you write about in your application essays?
JLM: For the senior year application, I had to write a personal essay, so I wrote about my environment and what it’s like being a minority in the college application process. I wrote about my duality as a Mexican-American and the identity crisis that comes with being pulled to both sides.
For another essay, I had to write about something I’m passionate about, so I wrote about my love for film.
SAISD: What schools did you choose for the College Match program?
JLM: I chose Yale University as my first choice, mostly for the prestige, and Brown University as my second choice. Deep down, I knew Brown was where I’d be happiest. Some of the other colleges I put on my list were Dartmouth College, Pomona College, The University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and University of Pennsylvania.
SAISD: Tell me about the day you found out you were going to Brown University.
JLM: The program had told us what day the decisions were going to come out, so I was nervous all day, watching my email constantly, and refreshing every two seconds. Finally, on one click, the email was there and I was terrified. I wanted to open it, but I didn’t.
I was surrounded by a couple of my friends and the counselor who recommended me. I went to my application portal and the first thing I saw was, “Congratulations” and I let out a sigh of relief. Then I saw that I was going to Brown.
My first thought was to call my oldest sister who’s been one of my biggest motivators. I called her and said, “I’m going to Brown University in the fall.” She started crying, then I started crying. Then I called the rest of my family and my other recommenders.
SAISD: What are you most excited about attending Brown?
JLM: When I was able to visit colleges last summer with my school, it was eye-opening. I didn’t feel out of place there and I learned that I shouldn’t. I’m very excited for the new worldview I will get from traveling and being on my own.
As for Brown specifically, I’m really looking forward to the open curriculum. It’s perfect for me because I have a very wandering mind and have many different interests. One day I’ll be studying film theory, then the next day watching a video on Quantum Mechanics.
SAISD: What do you plan to major in and then pursue after college?
JLM: I’m thinking of doing a double major in neuroscience and film. I did an internship with UT Health and got a taste for the research environment and could really see myself going into that field. As for the film degree, I’d love to write scripts on the side.
SAISD: How did SAISD prepare you to be ready for the Ivy League?
JLM: The expansion of their college awareness and college prep programs has been very helpful. Apart from that, SAISD hires teachers who truly care about their students and what they teach. That passion translates to us. A teacher that stands out is Ms. Bergstrom who I’ve had for World History, U.S. History, and European History. She has been a huge motivator for me during the college application process for me and always writes letters of recommendation for me.
SAISD: How do you envision attending Brown will change your life?
JLM: I’m hoping it will actually change the lives of those coming after me. I’d love to come back to SAISD and speak to students directly and show them that if I could make it there, they can too. When people come to our school and tell me face-to-face that I can accomplish something, that has more impact than anything else.
Farther down the line, I want to start a college fund to help those inner city minority students who don’t get the kind of help needed to attend college.
SAISD: What will you tell those SAISD students who may not think they could have an opportunity like this or that college isn’t for them?
JLM: I’ll tell them to give it a shot. Let go of that mindset for a little bit and just give it a shot. You won’t know until you try. If you keep thinking like you’re not going to accomplish anything, then you won’t. Betting on yourself and finding people willing to motivate you is key.
Note: At the time of publication, Jose Luis Martinez also learned he had been named a Gates Scholar, another highly selective award based on an outstanding academic record, demonstrated leadership ability, and personal success skills. Only 300 students per year are awarded the Gates Scholarship, which targets exceptional, Pell-eligible, minority, high school seniors.