Skip to main content

A Head Start for Juniors in Selective College Admissions

By: Christian A. Martell, Ph.D   |   February 2024

Learn about the QuestBridge College Prep Scholars Program from Dr. Christian Martell, Director of Student Recruitment at QuestBridge.

Growing up in Brownsville, Texas, minutes away from Mexico, my childhood was a rich mix of my Mexican heritage and American culture. I navigated the world using Spanish, English, and Spanglish interchangeably, often serving as my family’s go-to translator. This instilled in me a ‘do it myself’ attitude, which served me well until I started thinking about applying to college as a first-generation college student. As I began receiving mail from schools, I didn’t know existed in places I had never heard of, I realized how few colleges I knew. I eventually found the courage to ask my counselor for more information and she helped me interpret messages from colleges. Yet, I still wished I knew more students I could relate to who were considering applying to schools far from home, and that I knew more schools that might be a good fit for me.
My experience is decades removed from what students undergo today, especially given that many have a world of information at their fingertips. However, the questioning and self-doubt remains the same. There are still so many students from low-income backgrounds, many the first in their families to attend college, who can benefit from having a supportive community and specialized resources to aid them with their college application process. This is especially important for students who are considering applying to selective colleges and universities. Most selective institutions require additional application materials and can be a lesser-known college path for students and families. Yet, these schools often boast high graduation rates and provide generous financial aid to students from low-income backgrounds, often resulting in students graduating debt-free. 

QuestBridge seeks to rectify this. Since 1994, the national nonprofit has connected thousands of bright students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education and further opportunities. QuestBridge offers two programs for high school students: the College Prep Scholars Program for juniors and the National College Match for seniors. The College Prep Scholars Program equips high-achieving juniors from low-income backgrounds with the knowledge, confidence, and resources to apply to top colleges. Students who are selected as College Prep Scholars receive: 


  • College application resources and programming the summer before their senior year. 
  • Peer-to-peer support in an online community.
  • Exclusive access to a QuestBridge National College Admissions Conference, featuring face-to-face time with representatives from over 50 college partners
Being named a College Prep Scholar is an honor that will ensure an applicant stands out to colleges when they apply in the fall. In fact, College Prep Scholars are almost six times more likely than other applicants to receive full four-year scholarships through the National College Match. Moreover, students selected as College Prep Scholars may also receive additional awards such as:

The free, online application for the College Prep Scholars Program opens early February and closes in March. While students do not have to be referred to start an application, we know that a student is more likely to start an application if they have been referred by a trusted educator who believes they have the potential to be a successful applicant. I encourage you to refer students who you believe meet our academic and financial criteria, and please know that any student attending a high school in the U.S. regardless of citizenship status is eligible to apply. We offer many opportunities for students, their families, and educators to learn more about the program, as well as a help center to aid with submitting the application and a resource center with information about applying and paying for college.
For juniors who are considering applying for the College Prep Scholars Program, my advice is that they do not approach applying to college on their own like I once did. They can use the College Prep Scholars Program application as a rough draft, a practice run, or a dress rehearsal for their college application. The application gives students an opportunity to take time and space to reflect on their academic and personal experiences, collect key financial documents, obtain a transcript, and see what it’s like to ask a teacher for a letter of recommendation now so that they are better prepared for when they have to do this senior year. Students have so much to gain from the process of applying – let alone the program and the community of College Prep Scholars – and nothing to lose. As students work on their application, make sure they share the story of who they are, their accomplishments, their family and community, and let their goals and aspirations for the future shine through.

Christian A. Martell is the Director of Student Recruitment at QuestBridge, where she leads the High School Outreach team in providing education, outreach, and support to high-achieving, high school students from low-income backgrounds. In her role, she oversees applicant recruitment and retention for QuestBridge’s flagship program, the National College Match, as well as the College Prep Scholars Program. Dr. Martell is a Brown University alumna and holds an M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Miami. She received her Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Michigan’s Marsal Family School of Education, where her research focused on the organizational processes that help or hinder college access and success for historically marginalized students. She and her husband Wayne live in Houston, Texas along with their basenji pup, Cairo.