When Simone Rumph ’19 first heard about the Palo Alto-based nonprofit QuestBridge as a junior in high school, she thought the program was too good to be true.

“I thought it was a complete hoax,” Rumph said.

QuestBridge is a scholarship program that helps students from low-income families apply to and pay for tertiary educations at 38 of the nation’s most selective institutions including Bowdoin, Williams, Amherst, Yale and the University of Virginia.

According to its website, QuestBridge looks for “high school seniors who have shown outstanding academic ability despite financial challenges.” Finalists are typically from households that earn less than $65,000 annually for a family of four.

To begin the process, students send applications to the organization’s headquarters for review. Those who are accepted as finalists are eligible to apply to colleges using the organization’s “National College Match” program. This program allows students to choose up to 12 institutions to apply to in early November using a specialized application that seeks to represent students’ financial and familial situations in addition to their academic and extracurricular profiles. QuestBridge students then rank colleges in order of preference and are obligated to attend the highest ranked school on their list to which they are accepted.

Gerlin Leu ’19, who is the Bowdoin QuestBridge chapter liaison said that one of QuestBridge’s most important functions is to expose finalists to a wider range of schools than they may have otherwise been aware of. Leu, for example, attended high school in Texas, and the majority of her peers stayed in-state for college.

“I never would have known about liberal arts colleges in New England,” Leu said. “For me, QuestBridge was the thing that taught me about a lot of these colleges.”

QuestBridge also helps connect prospective students with college-sponsored programs that allow students to visit schools without the concern of expenses, like the Explore Bowdoin program.

Rumph’s experience with Explore Bowdoin is what ultimately led her to rank Bowdoin first on her early application list.

“I came home [after visiting] and I thought ‘I want to go back, because that felt like home,’” Rumph said.

When participants finally arrive on campus as students, they are welcomed by upperclass QuestBridge Scholars, who work to support the first-years as they make the transition to Bowdoin.

The on-campus community of QuestBridge Scholars meets informally now, but Leu is working to create an official club for QuestBridge students and other members of the Bowdoin community who identify as having come from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds.

QuestBridge Scholar Eskedar Girmash ’20 hopes that the establishment of an official club will help forge connections with students from similar backgrounds who did not participate in the program.

“We can reach out to them and share the resources we’ve gained, and I think having regular meetings will allow us to talk about things we face on campus with those who identify with our problems,” she said.  

One of Leu’s goals as liaison this year is to create a campus-wide dialogue about issues of socioeconomic diversity on campus, and eventually establish an on-campus center, distinct from the Student Center for Multicultural Life, focused on such issues.

Despite the discomfort that often surrounds discussions of economic difference, Girmash says she believes such discussions are important in helping QuestBridge and other low-income students transition to Bowdoin.

“Once we start talking about it, it will help low income students feel welcome here and help them feel not like a token applicant … but rather that they belong here and have the support that they need,” Girmash said.