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Seeking high-achieving, low-income Native American high school juniors

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Academically outstanding Native American students are both absent and in high demand at the country’s top colleges and universities.

“Our partner colleges are looking to diversify their student bodies. To facilitate learning both in and out of the classroom, it’s important for students from various backgrounds to contribute their perspectives,” said Taylor Altman, QuestBridge program associate who manages the Native American outreach effort.

QuestBridge is a nonprofit program that links bright, motivated low-income students with educational and scholarship opportunities at some of the nation’s best colleges. QuestBridge provides the National College Match program for high school seniors and the College Prep Scholarship for juniors.

“We want to diversify the type of students who apply to our programs. Native Americans are a group of students who are desired by colleges,” Altman said. “Our partner colleges are looking to increase the number of Native Americans applying for admission, and we are trying to facilitate these efforts.”

Last year, QuestBridge initiated its Native American outreach efforts which included building partnerships with organizations such as the Bureau of Indian Education that serve Native American high school students, sending personalized letters and e-mails to potentially qualified Native American students to encourage them to apply for QuestBridge programs, making phone calls to these students, and distributing brochures and flyers to community centers in areas with large Native American populations, such as Los Angeles.

In 2008, there were 36 Native American applicants, representing 0.8 percent of the total National College Match applicant pool. In 2009, there were 539 Native American applicants, representing 3.5 percent of the total applicant pool. This year, there were 79 Native American finalists for the National College Match, up from 20 the previous year.

“We were pleasantly surprised with the increase of Native American applicants to the National College Match,” Altman said. “This year, we had 11 Native American students who were offered admission and full scholarships to our partner colleges.”

The 11 Native American students in this year’s National College Match come from Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.

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QuestBridge receives between 5,000 and 6,000 applicants for the National College Match program each September. The program pairs outstanding low-income high school seniors with admission and full scholarships to the nation’s top colleges. QuestBridge has partnerships with 27 colleges and universities throughout the country.

Finalists are applicants that QuestBridge believes are qualified for admission to its partner colleges. QuestBridge forwards finalist applications to partner colleges of their choice – up to eight schools in the College Match (early admission) process and 27 schools in the Regular Decision process.

“QuestBridge hopes to see a similar increase in Native American applicants for the 2010 College Prep Scholarship for high school juniors,” Altman said. “This program equips outstanding low-income juniors with the knowledge necessary to be competitive applicants to top-tier colleges.”

Through a single application, juniors can access a variety of opportunities including full scholarships to summer programs at selective colleges, individualized college admissions counseling from QuestBridge, invitations to QuestBridge College Admissions Conferences at Stanford and Yale, and all-expense-paid campus visits.

As part of the College Prep Scholarship, one can also apply for the QuestBridge Quest for Excellence Awards. These awards are designed to enhance educational and career explorations for high-achieving low-income students with a range of backgrounds and interests. Awardees will each receive a new laptop, and either a full scholarship to a college summer program or career mentoring from accomplished professionals.

QuestBridge also offers a Quest for Excellence Native American Award that goes to a Native American student who aspires to preserve the traditions of his or her cultural heritage.

To apply to the College Prep Scholarships and affiliated Quest for Excellence Awards, submit an application by March 29. The application is free and can be accessed online.

“My advice is, ‘Go for it!’” Altman said. “Fill out your application and tell us about your unique financial situation. The students who stand out to us in the application process are very articulate and do a good job of telling their story. We want to hear what makes you stand out from the crowd. Our applicants come from all different backgrounds and have various interests and career aspirations.”