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The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

SEIZING DREAMS: QuestBridge fulfills 1st-generation student’s higher education aspirations

Rebekah Kim
Senior Lynette Ochoa poses with her phone which features the email that she received from Rice University, celebrating her acceptance to the school.

Senior Lynette Ochoa planned on attending a University of California [UC] school with financial aid as her backup plan after graduating from high school and submitted her application in late November. 

“I was considering UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and UC San Diego,” Ochoa said. “I didn’t mind which one since they offered the major I wanted to study, microbiology.” 

A few days later, her dreams came true when she received an email from Rice University in Houston, Texas with the header “Welcome to Rice” as she made her way to the restroom during break on Dec. 1, 2022.

“I really didn’t know how to feel,” the senior said. “It just felt so unreal.”

Ochoa immediately sent a text message with a screenshot of the email notification to her family and returned to her friends, asking them to confirm the acceptance letter. 

“It is our great pleasure to inform you that you have been selected for admission to Rice University with a QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship,” her admission status page said. “We applaud you for your dedication to achieving academic and personal excellence, and we are delighted to welcome you into the QuestBridge Scholars Network.”

The QuestBridge National College Match program connects seniors from low-income households to leading colleges with scholarships which allow them to attend universities they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

As the only International Baccalaureate [IB] student at Sunny Hills to match with a university through QuestBridge, Ochoa received a full scholarship for Rice University that includes the school’s basic tuition, housing fees, food plan and a monthly allowance for books and other supplies, saving over $70,000. 

When Ochoa logged into her QuestBridge account, she was greeted with confetti and the words, “CONGRATULATIONS YOU MATCHED!” She was among the 69 Match Scholarship finalists out of 1,775 who got matched with Rice University. 

Coming from a low-income family, Ochoa felt restricted from pursuing higher education especially because she knew her parents wouldn’t be able to afford all four years of college. The burden only increased knowing that her two older sisters, who have graduated from college, struggled while applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid program to afford attending a university.

“I definitely feel like there was limited access for me,” she said. “I was afraid of my family taking out loans for my education and having to repay those debts even after I graduate.”

The student initially overheard her IB Biology teacher David Kim informing another student of QuestBridge’s College Prep Scholars program for outstanding juniors last school year. Though she gained interest in the program, Ochoa said she didn’t have enough time to complete the application and decided to find out more about a supplemental program for seniors.

“I waited until my senior year to apply for QuestBridge,” said Ochoa. “I really liked the prospect of getting a full-ride scholarship to college because of my family’s financial situation.”

When the application portal opened in late summer 2022, Ochoa focused on completing all of its components, which required information on her financial background, several essays, teacher recommendations and other details about the applicant. 

The senior said she openly shared the pressures and concerns that came with her financial position with her counselor and IB coordinator Brian Wall.

“He was the one that helped me sort out what kind of information to insert and what steps to take according to my financial needs,” Ochoa said. “I was in close communication with him almost all the time, and he helped answer my questions throughout the process.”

Wall, who teaches Ochoa’s IB Art class, felt thrilled after learning of Ochoa’s acceptance directly from her on Dec. 1, 2022. Wall said the student told him without much emotion but knew Ochoa was extremely elated inside.

“She’s a great artist and a deep thinker,” he said. “Her intellectual depth is unparalleled, and I’m sure the reviewers saw that in the writings that she presented to them in the application.”

Despite the inability to afford private tutors or paid programs, Ochoa nurtured her interest in art and science through campus organizations and clubs, such as the California Scholarship Federation, Student Senate, IB, Youthful Code and Science Olympiad. 

After submitting her application by Sept. 27, 2022, Ochoa ranked her top-choice schools on the QuestBridge portal including Yale University, Rice University, Duke University, Brown University, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. Through this ranking system, students can be admitted early to the college that appears highest on their list if that university also wants to “match” with the student.

“My parents were super excited for me,” said Ochoa, whose parents declined to comment on this subject. “I remember taking a screenshot of the email and sending it to them, and they were just so proud of me.”

In addition to extracurriculars offered at school, Ochoa attended the free Ryman Arts program for about three semesters every Saturday to learn the foundations of drawing and painting skills from professional artist instructors.

Ochoa said she looks forward to attending Rice University’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences with a major in biosciences to pursue a career in the medical field.

After watching relatives and family members pass away from illnesses such as cancer, Ochoa said she aspired to become more knowledgeable in medications and diseases.

“Growing up, my parents would tell me about hereditary diseases, and I remember being scared of inheriting a disease from my parents,” she said. “So I became interested in learning about those diseases, and how I can be more involved in treating them, especially for my parents as they grow older.

“Medicine can be restrictive for low-income families, and I want to be knowledgeable in it to make it more accessible for others.”

Though Ochoa remains the last member of her family to seek higher education, she hopes students with similar financial backgrounds can benefit from QuestBridge’s National College Match program.

“I would always talk about QuestBridge with my friends about the application process and one did apply,” she said. “If I had any younger siblings, I would definitely recommend QuestBridge to them.”

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Susie Kim, Web Editor-in-Chief
Entering her final year on staff, senior Susie Kim looks forward to continuing The Accolade's online legacy as the web editor-in-chief. Kim plans on focusing on the frequency of online posting and incorporating more multimedia into stories across each section. After concluding her junior year as the news editor, Kim feels confident in reporting timely news both on and off campus. She is excited to work with this year's staff to continue producing The Accolade's print products. Outside of spending time in the journalism room, Kim likes competing with her Science Olympiad teammates and listening to music.
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