We’ve Reached the Finish Line

I fell in love with and matched to my dream school. Following the end of the college admissions marathon, I reflect on this whirlwind of a journey as I become a first-generation college student.


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This upcoming fall, I will attend Washington University in St. Louis on with a full ride scholarship from the Questbridge 2019 College Match.

Maleah Downton, Web Editor-in-Chief

Within the course of three short months, my life was changed as my future—previously fogged with uncertainty and doubt—laid clearly out in front of me. I submitted my application for the Questbridge 2019 National College Match Sept. 26 and was named a finalist Oct. 16. After submitting my supplemental essay, I discovered Dec. 2 that I received a Questbridge full-ride scholarship to attend my dream school—Washington University in St. Louis.

Founded in 1994, Questbridge is a national non-profit that works in connecting academically exceptional low-income students to the nation’s top universities. The National College Match offers students the opportunity to rank up to 12 colleges in preferential order. If the student “matches” with colleges on their list, they will be bound with a Match Scholarship to attend their highest-ranking match. After having been deemed a good candidate by my college counselors, I applied reluctantly with no expectation of my efforts reaching any fruition. I wasn’t number one in my class, nor was I “ivy league material.” I was just me. Despite my hesitations, I saw the excitement in those around—the faith they held in me. I had to give it a chance. 

After filling out my initial application, I ranked eight colleges—Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Southern California, Columbia University, Emory University, University of Notre Dame, University of Virginia and Washington & Lee University. These colleges were all amazing colleges in name—in prestige. I would have been lucky to attend any of these. However, in ranking them, I did so not out of eagerness, rather out of obligation. I had 12 spots to fill—in my head, I felt that the opportunity was a waste if I didn’t take up the majority of those spots. Having no personal knowledge of any of these schools, I submitted my rankings form on a whim.

Maleah Downton
I attended Washington University in St. Louis Oct. 6-8 for an all-expense-paid trip visit as part of the KIPP preview experience. Washington University in St. Louis is a partner school to my middle school KIPP Endeavor Academy. KIPP is a non-profit network of college-preparatory schools.

Simultaneously, as I embarked on my Questbridge journey, my middle school KIPP Endeavor Academy presented me with the opportunity to apply to WashU’s KIPP preview experience. After being accepted to the all-expense-paid fly-in visit, I was set to visit WashU Oct. 6-8—one week before my Questbridge finalist notification. Initially, I viewed the trip as just a step away from school and an insight into college life in general. However, that perspective quickly changed. At my visit, I fell in love with WashU. Surrounded by its beautiful campus scenery, WashU enchanted me. I fell in love with the community, the environment, what they had to offer and its closeness to home. The school held a supreme level of academic rigor rooted in a supportive and cooperative environment. I loved it. It was everything I imagined my college experience to be—everything I hoped for.

Coming home from my WashU visit, I was left with a high. I wanted Questbridge so much more. I needed Questbridge. Looking at my family’s financial situation, it was evident that WashU wouldn’t be an option without this scholarship. It was the only way. After receiving my notification of becoming a finalist Oct. 16, this possibility felt closer—it felt attainable. As the final finalist deadline approached, we were presented with one last opportunity to revise and finalize our college rankings. Staring repeatedly over my prestigious list of eight, my eyes failed to find attachment to all but one. 

Trusting my gut and listening to my heart, I submitted my revised ranking form with not eight schools, but one—my dream school. It was a risk I was willing to take. If I didn’t get into WashU, I knew that being bounded to a school that I felt no connection to wouldn’t be a solution to the pain and rejection I would feel. My soul couldn’t lay easy, knowing that I half-heartedly picked the place that I intend to spend the next four years of my life. I had already received acceptances to two backup schools that I knew I would be happy to attend. At that moment, I decided that if I were to continue with Questbridge, I would do so only in search of my dream—nothing less, nothing more.

Maleah Downton
I received a full-ride scholarship to attend Washington University in St. Louis through the Questbridge 2019 National College Match Dec. 2.

The days leading up to the 2019 College Match announcements were both the longest and fastest days of my existence. Each second felt like hours, and each week felt like one fast-sped day. As the minutes collided into hours, then days, then weeks, it was finally time to see if my risk would pay off. Spending the day fretting and continuously refreshing my emails, it was then at 3:43 p.m. Dec. 2 that the notification arrived. “Check your Match status update.” Fumbling over on my phone, my fingers went rapidly away at logging into my Questbridge portal. Flashing brightly at me in red and white letters, “Congratulations! You have been matched!” read boldly across the screen. The level of joy and gratitude I experienced is inexplainable. However, the most powerful feeling I felt was relief.

Since the day I began kindergarten, the goal has always been college. Though my mother has never been an expert on this process, from day one, our goal has been for me to reach this status. She worked tirelessly to put me in the proper situations to aid me in achieving this dream—becoming a first-generation college student. I knew my family depended on and expected for me to pursue my higher education. I expected such of myself. Throughout my education, I have pushed my self endlessly to make my family proud—to make myself proud. Now, as I know where I will be going and that my family will suffer no financial burden, I can’t help but feel an enormous sense of relief.

I made it. I finished the race. Looking back on this year, I’ve come to the realization that I have been sprinting across this track for years—18, to be exact. Now, as I reach this finish, I am eager to embark on a new path. A path with no guided lanes. A path with no competition. As I enter the walk of the rest of my life, I set aside time to smell the roses. To feel the air. To feel the breeze across my skin. Exiting this race, I am entering a realm of freedom, self-expression and exploration unlimited by any constraints at the college of my dreams.