Priscila Marquez, a senior at Cathedral City High School, was in her free period at school when she got the news.
"I opened the email and I saw confetti … then I saw that I matched with Caltech, and I just started crying," says Marquez. She got permission from her teacher to step out of class and call her family. "At first, my mom thought something bad had happened because I was crying like a maniac, but my sister helped me explain it to her." Marquez then ran around the school to let all her teachers know: "I told my English teacher, who wrote me a letter of recommendation, and then he started crying. Everyone was so proud."
Marquez is one of 35 incoming Caltech students awarded the QuestBridge Match Scholarship; a full four-year scholarship from Caltech granted to exceptional students from low-income backgrounds.
Since 2008, Caltech has partnered with the QuestBridge National College Match program to recruit the top students in STEM to attend Caltech, including many students who believe that college is beyond their reach because they are the first generation in their family to attend college, they have faced significant financial hardship, or they come from another historically excluded community in higher education.
"Even up to my senior year of high school, I had this really nebulous view of college because in the back of my mind there was the question: ‘If I do get into a school, how will I afford it?'" says Chi Cap, a second-year QuestBridge Scholar at Caltech. "I'm extremely grateful for this opportunity because if it didn't exist, I literally would not be in college."
"At Caltech, our goal is to find exceptional STEM minds from all around the world," says Ashley Pallie, director of undergraduate admissions. "In the last three years, we have increased our QuestBridge Scholars from four to six a year to 35, in acknowledgment of the extraordinary talent of the applicant pool. With over 100 QuestBridge Scholars on campus this fall, our commitment is clear: Caltech offers a world-class education, and finances will never be a barrier to that education."
Caltech's 35 incoming QuestBridge Match students applied for the National College Match program in the fall of their senior year and were selected by QuestBridge as finalists, recognized for their outstanding academic achievement despite significant financial challenges. Scholarship finalists typically come from households earning less than $65,000 annually.
The students ranked Caltech as one of their top choices among QuestBridge's 50 partner schools. Through the National College Match, they submitted a binding early-decision application to Caltech and were matched and admitted on December 1, 2022. Caltech provides each QuestBridge Scholar with a full scholarship covering tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses.
The admissions process for QuestBridge students is no less rigorous than Caltech's traditional admissions. Like all applicants, QuestBridge students' applications are considered holistically; admitted students demonstrate a deep passion for STEM, academic excellence, resilience, creativity, and determination.
Sam Fatehmanesh, a senior at North Hollywood High School, is another incoming QuestBridge Scholar in the class of 2027. He describes himself as an aspiring physicist who hopes to use machine learning, artificial intelligence, and brain–computer interfaces to improve our understanding of the universe.
"My perspective is that there's no guarantee that the human brain can understand the true nature of the universe," says Fatehmanesh. "In the future, we may need to improve our brains or use external systems like advanced AI to build more accurate models of the universe."
Fatehmanesh founded his school's robotics club and is looking forward to doing research at Caltech. He says he is interested in working on brain–computer interface research but would also love to use computational physics to analyze data from LIGO about cosmic events in deep space.
Marquez, on the other hand, is passionate about chemistry and medical research. "My dad used to work in pool construction, and he would do a bunch of stuff with chemicals and math," says Marquez. "I always loved watching him work, and that sparked my interest in chemistry."
Beyond her dedication to her STEM classes, Marquez is on the executive board of the HOSA-Future Health Professionals club, is an equity ambassador advocating for Hispanic and low-income students at school, and works as a cashier at El Pollo Loco. She says one of her most fulfilling activities has been tutoring younger students in chemistry: "My teacher asked if I wanted to tutor kids because I was ahead in the subject. But then I had to do it over Zoom, and in Spanish, which scared me because even though Spanish is my first language, I was worried I wouldn't be able to translate chemistry words from English," says Marquez.
When she was successful in helping the students improve their grades, she says she felt proud. "Students have a lot of preconceived notions that STEM is really hard. And some of my students didn't like chemistry at first," says Marquez. "But once they were able to find the right resources and the right help, they could succeed, and they started liking chemistry a little bit more. I'm happy I could share some of my passion for STEM with them."
Both Marquez and Fatehmanesh expressed heartfelt gratitude for the QuestBridge Match Scholarship. "This is the biggest opportunity I've ever been given in my life," says Fatehmanesh. "Caltech has always been my dream school."
"I was scared I wasn't going to be able to afford college," says Marquez. "I'm really grateful that Caltech gave me the full ride. It means that now I can go to school and be stress free and just focus on the things I like: my education and STEM!"
But one thing that both QuestBridge Scholars were particularly excited about? Finding a community of other students just as passionate as them. "It means a lot to me that I'm finally going somewhere where I can nerd out and do what I love and get to share that with other people too," says Marquez.
"I don't have anybody at my school to talk about physics or machine learning or philosophy with," says Fatehmanesh. "But as soon as I joined the Discord server for admitted students at Caltech, I knew that something was different. For the first time in my life, I found other kids my age who were interested in the same things I am. I finally found my people."