“During my first year at Yale, I would wake up every day and think ‘I can’t believe I am actually here.’”
Karen, Yale University

Karen Li

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Yale University

For Karen Li, Yale ‘23, attending a four-year college has always been the goal: “My parents immigrated from China and when they came to this country … it was an expectation that my sister and I would go to college because that would set us up for the best future.” 

Driven by this ambition, Karen did not let her circumstances stand in the way. “My parents very much valued getting an education,” Karen explained. “I spent most of my childhood in public housing and at public schools, but was fortunate to attend magnet schools in New York that helped me find my way.” With encouragement from family and mentors at school, Karen applied to the QuestBridge College Prep Scholars Program and was thrilled to be selected as a College Prep Scholar. She believed this could be her path to a top school.

As she prepared for the National College Match, Karen explored her options and made a list of colleges to rank: “I listed Yale as my first choice because I was able to visit with my high school and could tell that it was really special. … I loved the concept of a residential college system because I always felt like my high school was way too big and at Yale it looked like people could find different communities.”

When Match Day arrived, Karen saw pictures online of students celebrating their match and knew decisions had been released. “I had a really old phone at the time – a hand-me-down of a hand-me-down – so getting onto my email did not work,” Karen shared. “Fortunately, at that moment, I was attending an after school program at an organization called the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC). They had a computer in their basement and I asked if I could use it. The first thing I saw was ‘Congratulations’.” Karen called her mom crying. “At first, my mom didn’t believe me, but I printed out the email and brought it home,” Karen said. “It is absolutely amazing that my parents don’t have to worry about paying for college.”

Like many other QuestBridge Scholars, Karen made a match poster: “I was so excited once I found out. I made a poster and still put it up on my wall every year at school. During my first year at Yale, I would wake up every day and think ‘I can’t believe I am actually here.’”

While Karen studied Political Science and Global Affairs in her first year, a class in the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration program changed her path. “I hadn’t heard of this major ever, but I really fell in love with it,” Karen said. Outside of the classroom, Karen took an interest in related activities. She joined the Yale FGLI (First-Generation, Low-Income) Advocacy Movement, Coalition of Allyship Advocates, and Asian American Cultural Center. Additionally, Karen was thrilled to serve as the Yale QSN Chapter President. “Being Chapter President was a really fulfilling experience. … It was just a lot of fun and I think QuestBridge does a good job of checking in on us and making sure that we had everything that we needed, from money and resources to questions and logistics,” Karen shared.

With every decision she faced, Karen maximized her time in college. “When the pandemic hit, I decided to take a gap year,” Karen explained. “As someone who comes from a low-income background … I didn’t want to miss out, so I took a year off and interned at a handful of different organizations.”

Returning to Yale in her third year, Karen was enthusiastic to be back on campus and even more on track with her goals. “I don’t yet have the perfect answer for what I want to do after college, but now that I am in my senior year, I have some really strong possibilities. I could see myself in DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] work, corporate social responsibility, or maybe even related consulting.” 

With the poster that reads, “I matched to Yale!” still on her wall, Karen is excited for what is ahead: “Yale is great. I have loved it so much. I have a strong community here and am ready for whatever comes next.”