Senior Martha Nishimwe was at her dinner table on Dec. 1, procrastinating on filling out a scholarship application to University of Missouri—Columbia. At around 2 p.m., an email popped up in her inbox, titled “Check your Match Status Update,” and her heart stopped.
Martha Nishimwe and her twin sister, senior Gloria Nishimwe, had turned in the long and tiring QuestBridge National College Match scholarship application two months ago, hoping to receive the nonprofit’s award of full four-year scholarships and early admission to one of its college partners. They already knew they were finalists in late October, but now they had to find out if QuestBridge indeed matched them to a college and granted them the scholarship.
Bug-eyed, Gloria Nishimwe turned off her calculus Zoom’s video and microphone after her sister ran upstairs to tell her about the email. They opened the QuestBridge application and counted down from three before clicking the newly appeared “View Update” button. A yellow trophy with streamers and confetti appeared on the screen amidst the words, “Congratulations! You matched!” The sisters screamed and cried, alarming their parents before they joined in with their daughters’ excitement.
“My voice was shaking as I read aloud, ‘It is our great pleasure to inform you that you have been selected for admission to Duke University with a QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship,’” Martha Nishimwe said. “I am still in shock as of today that I was matched to Duke University, one of the more selective QuestBridge college partners.”
“My voice was shaking as I read aloud, ‘It is our great pleasure to inform you that you have been selected for admission to Duke University with a QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship.”
Martha Nishimwe ranked Duke as her first choice, a task QuestBridge has finalists complete in order to potentially match them to the highest-ranked college that also wants to match with them. Finalists who do not match with a college also have the opportunity to apply to QuestBridge’s college partners through the program’s Regular Decision application.
QuestBridge’s National College Match Scholarship application is similar to the frequently used Common Application students use to apply to different schools. The QuestBridge scholarship application requires two essays, short answer questions, two letters of recommendation, a school report, high school transcript and standardized test score reports. The Nishimwe sisters received help from their guidance counselor, Amelia Howser.
“The Nishimwe’s will try to say that they owe so much to me for helping them, but truly I’m just doing my job,” Howser said. “They were awesome at providing me good information in the form we ask students to submit when asking for a letter of recommendation. That info, coupled with some phone calls, really helped me get to know them so that I could write a strong letter.”
Howser was among one of the first people to find out about the Nishimwes’ acceptances, as the sisters emailed her shortly after. The sisters said she is “amazing” and “a loving person, a friend, and [our] biggest cheerleader.”
“I started screaming at my computer and jumping up and down. I proceeded to write several emails in all caps to my coworkers and to the Nishimwe’s about how much I was freaking out,” Howser said. “This is my 10th year as a school counselor and this was definitely a moment I will never forget. I am so excited for them, and frankly honored to have gotten to be their counselor this year.”
Howser said her job is “to help my students figure out what options are the best fit for them, and support them along the way.” The Nishimwe’s said they wanted to apply to the QuestBridge scholarship for financial security and to avoid student loan debt.
“My older brother decided to go to college at a private school and had to take so many loans that he’s still paying for even though he graduated nine years ago, so I didn’t really want to end up like him,” Gloria Nishimwe said. “Definitely the part that appealed to me most was the opportunity to have my post secondary education paid for.”
Gloria Nishimwe was matched by QuestBridge to her first and singular choice of a college, Washington University in St. Louis (WashU). WashU was the only school of QuestBridges college partners that offered the major she wants.
“I’m majoring in Fashion Design because I enjoy sewing and would love to see where that takes me,” Gloria Nishimwe said. “Still, I’m most likely going to either double major or minor in business as well because I want to become an entrepreneur one day.”
“This is my 10th year as a school counselor and this was definitely a moment I will never forget. I am so excited for them, and frankly honored to have gotten to be their counselor this year.”
Her sister, on the other hand, is choosing to major in Biomedical Engineering, as Duke allows students to dual major Biomedical Engineering with Mechanical, Electrical, Environmental or Civil Engineering and still graduate within four years.
“I strive to be on the team of engineers that build the next innovative medical devices, specifically for children,” Martha Nishimwe said. “I’ve always had a soft spot for little kids, and it would be amazing to have that kind of impact.”
The Nishimwe sisters said they can now rest easy and put away any other unfinished college applications, having been admitted early into their schools. They won’t have to contribute to the cost of attendance or take out any student loans for the next four years. Although the process was lengthy and difficult, both sisters agree it was well worth the effort and wait time.
“Through this scholarship, I am blessed to be able to take the financial burden away from my very hardworking immigrant parents,” Martha Nishimwe said. “It still feels so unreal.”
Have you ever applied to receive a scholarship? Let us know in the comments below.