Juan M.'s Story

“I tried to maximize my time in college and really dedicated four years of my life to making sure nothing was up to luck. I told my story, I worked hard, and it was all worth it.”

Juan Magalhaes always knew that there was more to his story than what fit on a piece of paper or in an application. Born and raised in Curitiba, Brazil, Juan was the first in his family to graduate from middle school, high school, or college. “I grew up in poverty in Brazil. My family never had money,” Juan explained. “My dad stopped going to school in fifth grade and my mom stopped going in sixth. My grandparents can’t read or write.”

As Juan grew up, he knew that academics could never have been a priority for his parents and grandparents: “They always had to work to take care of themselves. It was what they had to do to survive.” Nevertheless, when Juan and his brother were born, his parents resolved to create more opportunities for their children, encouraging them to focus on school. As his mom, who worked as a maid, and his dad, who worked as a butcher, clocked 13-15-hour shifts every day of the week, Juan developed a passion for learning and a commitment to provide for his family. 

“I had always been a good student growing up, and when I was about 15, I decided that I wanted to do something different with my life,” Juan shared. “I decided to leave Brazil to pursue a better future. I made a list of the top 20 boarding schools in the U.S. and I emailed every single one of them. I had taught myself English and kept up good grades, so I told them my story. A bunch of schools said no, but one school in California wanted to talk to me. All I needed was one opportunity.” 

After several interviews and multiple entrance exams, Juan was awarded a full scholarship to a boarding school in Carpinteria, California, where he completed both his junior and senior years. “I came to the U.S. by myself. My family has never been given a visa,” Juan said. “I do my best to stay connected to them in Brazil, and I am very grateful to have found people in the U.S. who have become my family.”

When the time came for Juan to consider what to pursue after high school, he faced another daunting challenge. “I always knew that I wanted to go to a four-year university, but teachers in high school told me that they had never ever seen a student from my experience — an international student, with no perfect SAT score, not a D1 athlete — get a full ride,” Juan shared. “They said that the best thing for me was community college. But I never accepted that. I knew I could do better. I am more than an SAT score or perfect GPA.” Confident in what he brought to the table, Juan decided to take the college application process into his own hands. 

In exploring possibilities, Juan heard from a friend that she had been matched to Stanford. “That was the first time I had ever heard about QuestBridge,” Juan said. “I was in a very tough situation, because I needed a full ride to attend college. Not even a 95% covered scholarship would work for me.” When Juan learned about QuestBridge, he knew it was exactly what he needed to pursue. 

As Juan worked on his National College Match application, he decided to do things a little bit differently: “For every single university that I applied to, I found a way to interview with every single admissions department. I knew that I was more than what was on paper. I had to speak with them,” Juan explained. “I always made sure I was in front of someone, telling my story. I knew that was the best part of my application.”

Juan ranked Bowdoin first, but believed his acceptance to such a prestigious college was a longshot. “I just listed it thinking ‘what if,’ but I never thought such an amazing school would accept me,” Juan admitted. 

On Match Day, Juan received an email while sitting in one of his high school classes. Frozen in shock, he waited until he was all alone in the classroom. “I knew this might be the one thing that defined my future,” Juan said. “But then I saw that I had matched to Bowdoin and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I called my mom and we both cried together. My life was changed completely and I owe so much to QuestBridge.”

Once Juan moved into the dorms at Bowdoin to begin his first year, he made every minute count: “For me, I knew that I only had four years to extract as many resources and as much knowledge as I could. I used my four years to explore every resource there was at Bowdoin.” 

While studying Economics and Hispanic Studies, Juan joined the Chess Club, was active in the Bowdoin Finance society, and joined the soccer team as a walk-on player. Additionally, every morning of the week, from 6:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m., he worked in on-campus dining, and was even recognized as the Student Employee of the Year during his first year of college. “My family taught me about hard work since I was one year old. I could study and save money, all while making so many friends. My best friends are not students at Bowdoin, they are people from the community who work in the kitchen.”

In addition to a busy life on Bowdoin’s campus, Juan was able to spend his junior year abroad, studying at the London School of Economics. “Bowdoin supported me 120% of the way and gave me an incredible experience in London,” Juan shared. While there, Juan not only enrolled in a full course load, but also took on a year-long finance position with Ebay’s London office. “I got to work and study every day. It was such a rewarding time for me.”

While Juan had planned for several years to work in finance, opportunities he had at Bowdoin and in London further narrowed his focus: “I needed to figure out specifically where I fit in finance. But the funny thing is after all of the exploring I have done in hedge funds, asset management, investment banking, and corporate finance, I decided that I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. I learned so much and saw finance from many different angles.”

Despite transitioning to a remote learning environment in his last year at Bowdoin due to the pandemic, Juan adapted well to the changes and was able to graduate in-person at the campus. Following graduation, Juan followed his entrepreneurial aspirations and accepted a position as a founding team member at BeReal, a French startup aimed at reframing the world’s experience with social media. “We believe that there's more to life than social media and we want to help as many people as possible to understand that they are beautiful, they are worth it, and that they can feel pride about being who they are,” Juan explained.

When asked about lessons learned along his journey, Juan shared that, “I tried to maximize my time in college and really dedicated four years of my life to making sure nothing was up to luck. I told my story, I worked hard, and it was all worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing.”