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How to Land the National CollegeMatch - 8 Tips to Help You Ace It

If you’re in high school and worried about financing your college education, then you should be strategic in the way you think about scholarships.  If you're aiming for top colleges, scholarships like the National CollegeMatch are more than just financial aid - they're endorsements of your academic prowess and personal resilience. They signal to college admission officers that you're not just academically competent but also proactive and resourceful – qualities that top institutions value.


What is the National CollegeMatch?

The National CollegeMatch, run by QuestBridge, aims to provide a full 4-year scholarship for some of the country’s best colleges. The scholarships are aimed at youth from lower-income backgrounds who have demonstrated academic excellence. It's a bridge to some of the most prestigious colleges in the country, offering a chance at a full tuition scholarship as well as a supportive community.


QuestBridge is a non-profit working to democratize access to higher education, and the National CollegeMatch is their flagship initiative. The program's primary goal is to identify students who have thrived academically despite economic challenges. Through the process of the National CollegeMatch, you can tell your story in your application beyond what a typical college admissions process can provide, providing crucial context to applications to your dream colleges. Even if you don’t get a full four-year scholarship, the program supports you through regular and early decisions to ensure that you receive the financial aid you require. Beyond the financial support, you will also join a network of QuestBridge Scholars and alumni, opening doors to lifelong opportunities and connections.


Who is eligible to apply?

To be eligible for the National CollegeMatch, you must:

  • Be a high school senior currently attending high school in the US OR a US citizen / Permanent Resident living abroad.

  • Be graduating from high school by summer of the next year, with plans to enroll in college in fall of the next year. Example - if you were planning to apply for National CollegeMatch 2023, you would have to be graduating high school in 2024 and applying to college in Fall 2024.

  • Have achieved the highest academic standards, since QuestBridge partners with some of the nation’s top colleges. Some guidelines:

  • You should have primarily A’s in the most challenging courses available, like Honors, AP, IB level courses.

  • Be in the top 5-10% of your graduating class.

  • While having standardized test scores is neither necessary nor highly advantageous, if you have given SAT, ACT, AP, IB, or TOEFL, you should definitely include it.

  • Any additional evidence of strong writing ability, intellectual strength, and determination.


How do you apply to the National CollegeMatch?

An application to the scholarship is designed to be comprehensive to ensure that your entire story is told in the best possible way:


  • You will need to provide detailed information on your academics, extracurriculars, as well as your household and finances. If you have access to the previous year’s tax returns as well as other financial documents, it will help you make a stronger case for your financial needs.

  • Two essays and two short answers are required that delve into your personal story and aspirations.

  • You will need recommendations from two teachers who can vouch for your academic and personal qualities.

  • A school profile is also recommended to round out your application.

  • Your current high school and additional transcripts. These can be unofficial.

  • Standardized test scores, if available, to bolster your application.


How is the scholarship structured?

The National CollegeMatch application process and profiling stretches from late summer to mid-December, by when all the scholarships are allotted. Here is a quick overview of how it all works:


  1. Late Summer - you submit your application, due by September 26.


  1. Ranking - By October 12, you will rank up to 15 partner colleges that you are interested in applying to, in order of your preference. Note that these rankings are binding, and you will be expected to attend should you be selected.


  1. By October 18 you will be notified if you have made the finalist cut for one of your ranked colleges, and you will need to submit the Match Requirements by November 1.


  1. Match Day - December 1 is when you find out if you’ve been matched to one of the colleges you ranked. If yes, your full 4-year scholarship and early admission is secured!


  1. Not matched? That’s when the next stage starts. There are multiple options for each college following the Match. If you did not Match or even chose not to rank colleges, you can now choose to apply for the Regular Decision and still secure financial aid for 100% of your demonstrated financial need.


The entire process is very nicely summarized in the following diagram:


Timeline for the National CollegeMatch scholarship
Timeline for the National CollegeMatch scholarship

What does a National CollegeMatch scholarship entail?

Whether you secure a full four-year scholarship through a Match (itself worth over $200,000), or go for the Regular Decision, the financial aid package in both cases will cover your:


  • Tuition and fees.

  • Housing and food.

  • Books and supplies.

  • Travel expenses.


This aid package comes from a combination of partner college funds as well as state and federal aid, and you can check each college’s Financial Aid section to understand this better.


Note that while there is no parental contribution or student loan required, you may have to contribute in the form of Federal work-study, summer work, and/or student savings.


10 tips to help you ace the National CollegeMatch

If all this has you rearing to apply, here are a few tips to keep in mind to make your application stand out:


  1. Deep dive into QuestBridge resources: There are a wealth of resources provided that you should utilize to understand the application nuances, including tutorials, webinars and FAQs.

  2. Make your essay tell your story: Share your unique story, focusing on how you've overcome financial and personal challenges. While we recommend being genuine and authentic, make sure your narrative is coherent and focused on showcasing where you want to go and the journey you’ve had.

  3. Get your teachers on board: Choose teachers who can discuss specific instances of your resilience and academic excellence. Schedule some time with them to hash out their recommendation to make it resonate with your own essays.

  4. Be transparent about your finances: Provide a clear, honest picture of your financial situation, using QuestBridge's guides for accuracy. Remember that the National CollegeMatch wants to help you, and the more clarity you provide the easier their work becomes.

  5. Take standardized tests: It’s not mandatory and 40% of Match scholars do not have test scores, but having them helps. If you have strong test scores, definitely include them to enhance your academic profile.

  6. Make sure to include extracurriculars: Matching needs more than just academic strength - colleges are looking for well-rounded applicants who have pursued their passions outside the classroom. Highlight activities where you've demonstrated leadership or contributed significantly, linking them to your personal growth.

  7. Work with your school counselor: School counselors can be valuable to your application, from helping you manage the deadlines and submissions to helping you identify and secure extracurricular opportunities. Work closely with your counselor to ensure all aspects of your application are polished and complete.

  8. Practice: Conduct practice interviews with teachers or mentors, focusing on articulating your journey and your goals.

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re keen on pursuing research that can build your profile further, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


Image Source: Questbridge logo

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