Jason G.'s Story

“Keep an open mind to opportunities you don't expect. There is nothing about where you come from that disqualifies you from anything.”

Rossville, Georgia, a suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee located just over the state line, is textbook small-town America. According to Jason Garcia, it’s a very insular community, where people rarely branch out, and where education is not highly valued. “The general mentality was that going to the community college was good enough,” Jason explained.

It’s a mindset that Jason also possessed. “I thought I could float my way to a state college,” he said. At his high school of 1,500 students, most students aspired to community or technical colleges or joined the military, and counselors were more accustomed to giving resources about small scholarships, like $500 to help attend local schools. 

It wasn’t until his older brother got into Harvard University and became the first student in the history of his high school to get into an Ivy League, that the mindset began to shift. It was such a momentous feat that his brother was featured frequently in the local news. For Jason, seeing that example was an indication to him that getting into a top college was something that could be done, even from their small town.  

He also recalls feeling incredulous when he received a brochure in his junior year from Brown University, another Ivy League. After that, something changed in him, and he began to work much harder and set his goals higher.

His family and friends were also highly influential. His best friend growing up was highly motivated, and supported him as they applied to college at the same time. While neither of Jason’s parents attended college, they highly valued it and encouraged their children to apply themselves in their studies. His father in particular wanted them to attend college so they wouldn’t have to work a hard labor job in the future.

Getting good financial aid was always a priority for Jason and his family. When his brother was admitted to Harvard, their mother’s excitement was tempered by worries about whether they could even afford it. Receiving an outstanding financial aid package was when his parents actually broke down in tears — it was a much bigger deal than even getting admitted. 

Seeing QuestBridge’s focus on full scholarships, Jason applied because he already knew that his family would need excellent financial aid in order for him to attend a top college.  Getting his application fees waived made it affordable for him to apply to many top colleges at once. 

Months later, Jason was admitted to Northwestern University. “The Northwestern financial aid package was big," Jason shared. "I still have to pay some, but it is super manageable for my parents.”

At Northwestern, Jason's freshman year was a big transition. He found it overwhelming to be surrounded by students who had achieved so much excellence already, like the those who were fluent in five languages or who could play two instruments. As a first-generation, low-income student, Jason sometimes felt worlds apart from some classmates, who had experienced such different upbringings. Nevertheless, Jason found his way: “When I stopped comparing myself to others, I was able to appreciate my own background more, and it helped me find out how I fit into Northwestern.” 

Furthering this sense of belonging, Jason got involved in Northwestern's QuestBridge Scholars Network (QSN) Chapter, serving multiple years on the executive board. “I became super proud of identifying as low-income," Jason said. "I felt like I represented someone from the  ‘real world.’ I wore it as a badge.”

Outside of the QSN, Jason served as one of three co-chairs of the Freshman Urban Program, a week-long program that takes place one week before freshman orientation to familiarize new students to the city of Chicago. Jason also became involved with supporting low-income students through a work-study position at a newly established student services office for first-generation, low-income students. That experience, in addition to an internship at QuestBridge headquarters in 2016, helped to cement his growing interest in the field of educational access. 

When considering what comes next, Jason is drawn to improving the academic experience for low-income students and has considered returning to his own high school as a counselor. Offering advice to other students who may one day be in his shoes, Jason encourages young people to branch out and challenge themselves academically: “Keep an open mind to opportunities you don't expect. There is nothing about where you come from that disqualifies you from anything.”