“Having to go through this process essentially on my own was a trial, but it was an important thing for me to figure out who I am.”
Ricky, Pomona College
Hometown: Metuchen, New Jersey
As a high school student involved in theater productions, marching band, track, D.A.R.E., tennis, leadership, mentoring and more — all while excelling academically — it seemed like Ricky Canton would be a shoe-in to attend a college of his choice.
But in reality, as Ricky looks back at his road to college, he feels it was filled with anything but certainty.
As the son of immigrants from Columbia and Honduras, Ricky grew up in a small town in New Jersey, among primarily upper class families. His mom received a high school education in Columbia, while his father was one of six children of a factory worker in Honduras, who struggled to work while attending college. The stories from his parents and the hardships they endured inspired him to get through his own tough times, but being a person of color from a low-income background, Ricky still often felt out-of-place among his peers.
While his classmates would falsely lament not having enough money despite their upper-income backgrounds, he often had to hide the reality of his background. “I don’t think people really understood what it authentically meant to be low-income...but in actuality that was my life.”
When it came to broaching the topic of going to college, he didn’t get much support from his high school. Most of his classmates went to the local college and didn’t worry about the cost of college or learning about financial aid. They also seemed to have no interest in venturing away from New Jersey for college. His counselor, though well-meaning, pushed him toward schools that were more like safety schools. “It was frustrating,” he shares, “I didn’t have a community to go to about these issues. How do I find the best path for me to go on?”
Ricky did receive some advice from two older siblings who attended Amherst and Vassar, but he remained very unsure of himself. He found out about QuestBridge at the end of his 10th grade, but pushed the idea aside, filled with doubt that colleges were actually looking for students like him. His older sister pushed him to apply to the College Prep Scholars Program, and though he was selected as a College Prep Scholar, he acknowledges that he didn’t even understand what he was applying for.
As a College Prep Scholar, Ricky attended the QuestBridge College Admissions Conference at Princeton University. “It really opened up my eyes that I am a competitive applicant and that this program would be for me,” he reflects. He recalls leaving the conference with the feeling that “you are important, you have an important narrative to tell” – invaluable encouragement from numerous admissions officers and QuestBridge staff.
In the fall of his senior year, he applied to the National College Match, ranking 7 colleges including a mix of liberal arts colleges and larger schools. He learned about the colleges by doing virtual tours and fly-out programs, since he couldn’t afford doing a full college tour. He feels applying to college was highly introspective. “Having to go through this process essentially on my own was a trial, but it was an important thing for me to figure out who I am,” he says.
The QuestBridge community also helped him learn more about the colleges, and became a network he could rely on. Despite being from diverse backgrounds, QuestBridge students share many commonalities, like how they struggle with the identity of being a low-income student.
As he looks back on his process, Ricky is grateful for how it forced him to reflect deeply on his own identity—as a low-income student, as a person of color. “Going through this college admissions process and having to define as a low-income student really helped me comes to terms with it in that its not something to be ashamed of… being a high-achieving low-income student is something to pride yourself on. I wasn’t alone in this process, getting to know the Quest community really helped.”
Ricky is in the class of 2017 at Pomona College, and is an active member of the Pomona QSN Chapter, where he has served as an ambassador and a mentor, and has also been a summer intern for QuestBridge. He recently travelled to Germany on a Fulbright scholarship and is interested in studying language and linguistics.