“Just knowing that my family’s okay without me has also made a huge difference.”
Kim, Swarthmore College
Hometown: Glendale, Arizona
Self-doubt is one of the most common— and crippling— aspects of the college application process. It’s something even the most qualified students suffer from, and Kim Rosa, from Glendale, Arizona is no stranger to that feeling.
An avid cross country runner and member of her student council, Kim was the type of student often singled out for being a top academic student and leader. But as a first generation college student, she says that she feared rejection and questioned her qualifications.
“You hear all these stories about how low the acceptance rates are, and I didn’t have a good SAT score. I thought I would probably end up at my state school,” she says.
Kim was born in Los Angeles, California to immigrants from Guatemala, both of whom have an elementary school level education. Her family lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with an uncle in Hawthorne, California until she was about 8, when her father relocated the family to Glendale, Arizona, a place he was familiar with through his job as a truck driver.
Her father worked long hours to support the family, and was sometimes away for days at a time. When her mom began working as a night custodian, this left Kim with many roles to fill at home. “There was a lot of responsibility on me to take care of my [younger] sister, making sure she had food on the table, and also be involved in school. That was my challenge during high school,” she explains. “It was really tiring.”
Despite taking on so much at home, Kim managed to keep up good grades and hold leadership positions, like serving as class president for three years and student body president her senior year. To stay involved, she would sometimes resort to bringing her younger sister to things like track practice, which she says in retrospect probably wasn’t a great idea.
“I would go on a run and basically leave her to play with the kids who also had older siblings on the track team. Those were just some of the things I would do because I didn’t want to give up my extra-curriculars, but I still wanted to help out.”
When a student a year above her in high school got matched to Princeton, “It was a huge deal at my school,” she recalls. “There were people taking pictures of him with his acceptance letter like they were the ones that got in.”
When she asked him how he did it, he quickly mentioned QuestBridge. It was around December, just after he matched and the timing worked out for Kim, who was then in her junior year. After doing her own research, she applied to become a College Prep Scholar, and was excited when she learned she was invited to attend the National College Admissions Conference at Stanford.
Due to a scheduling conflict, Kim couldn’t attend. “I really wish I would have [gone] because I feel like I would have been more confident applying to the National College Match. I think I would have had more of a support system.”
As Kim began applying to college through QuestBridge, she focused on liberal arts colleges. A fly-in program to Swarthmore helped her narrow her ranking list to LACs mainly: Pomona, Wellesley, Swarthmore, and UChicago (because a friend was applying there). In reality, she didn’t really know what she wanted in a school and did her college research late in the process.
She also procrastinated when it came to writing her essay, which she wrote the night before it was due. “I just didn’t know how to tell my story,” she explains, “My experience with QuestBridge was very full of doubt.”
When she didn’t match, her fears about her qualifications were confirmed. “It made me feel like I still wasn’t good enough.”
Still, she forged on and thought she might as well continue in the process. She applied Early Decision II to Swarthmore and Regular Decision to about 10 other QuestBridge colleges.
A glitch in her application processing routed her Swarthmore ED II application to Regular Decision, which delayed her decision. Those extra two weeks in February caused her additional anxiety, but by the end of February, she heard the official word: she was admitted to Swarthmore.
Kim hadn’t told her parents she applied through QuestBridge. So when she shared the news with her dad, she says, “he was really shocked at how little we were going to have to pay.”
The reaction in her community took time to build too, since Swarthmore was not as well known as bigger universities. But she says that when people realized what a good school Swarthmore is, they started to congratulate her.
“I think people were proud of me.”
On top of academic and social pressures, the first year at Swarthmore was very hard emotionally for Kim, especially after having so much responsibility taking care of her younger sister at home. “I felt like I was abandoning them and going away for college to do my own thing. It felt selfish.”
She even thought about transferring, but decided to persevere through her setbacks. Now, Kim says she is very happy at Swarthmore. What changed since that first year? She attributes it to giving herself time to feel more comfortable at college, and not getting as home sick as she used to. She also acknowledges that a liberal arts college is a great fit for her because she can take classes in many areas and get individualized attention from her professors, something she’s not so sure she would have gotten at a larger university.
Her mindset about home also changed. “Just knowing that my family’s okay without me has also made a huge difference.”
At Swarthmore, the QuestBridge Scholars Network helped Kim find some of her best friends. “It’s comforting to know that there are other people that have gone through similar struggles…it’s provided me with a support group.”
Kim is unsure what comes next. As an Economics major, she is considering going into management consulting and eventually wants to pursue something more personally meaningful, like working with the Latino community, or contributing to an organization like QuestBridge.
In fact, since her own college process was fraught with doubt, she has given back to QuestBridge as a Quest Liaison and intern. She believes deeply in the mission of helping to encourage students to “reach for the stars.”
“The biggest thing I would tell people is to just believe in yourself and don't say no to an opportunity because you don't think you're good enough for it. If you’re interested in something, go for it full-force and know that the worst that can happen is that you don’t get in and that’s okay. There will be many more opportunities to come in the future.”
Interviewed July 2016