Abi Pantoja (second from right) attended Breakthrough Sacramento during the summer of 2008. (Photo courtesy of Breakthrough Sacramento)

Senior becomes QuestBridge finalist, awaits college match

After hearing the news on Oct. 22, senior Abi Pantoja went to Pinkberry and treated herself to a fruit parfait with coconut yogurt at the bottom, honey almond granola, strawberries, mango, pineapple, more honey almond granola and a topping of mango yogurt.

Adolfo Mercado, Breakthrough Sacramento director, had given Pantoja a Pinkberry gift card to celebrate her big news: being selected as a QuestBridge finalist.

According to their website, QuestBridge connects talented, intelligent students from low-income families with top American colleges partnered with the organization.

Finalists can choose to rank up to eight of the 35 partner schools of QuestBridge.

If finalists are “matched” with a school, they receive a full scholarship for four years of college, which includes expenses such as tuition, housing, travel and books.

Pantoja is the first Country Day student ever to be a finalist who opted to be matched. (Sam Messina, ‘11, was also a finalist, but chose not to be matched.)

“I was shaking,” Pantoja said. “I couldn’t really process it. I really thought that I wouldn’t make it.”

Pantoja was worried something would go wrong with her application, which she started working on in early August.

“I had so many negative thoughts,” she said. “When I finally did make it, I was so speechless.”

Mercado said he has worked with students from other schools who have been nominated as finalists, so he knew what a big deal this was.

When Pantoja first came to his office, “she was trembling,” he said.

He knew that she either had really good news or really bad news.

“She said, ‘I’m a finalist.’ The first words out of my mouth were ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Can I give you a hug?’” Mercado said.

Pantoja said this opportunity is really important to her. However, it is also stressful because her parents have put so much pressure on her because they didn’t get an opportunity like this.

“They want to see me succeed,” she said.

Pantoja chose to rank her three dream schools: Brown, Vassar and Stanford.

If she hadn’t become a finalist, Pantoja said she maybe would have applied to just one or two of these prestigious schools.

Most of the QuestBridge partner schools are binding, except for MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Yale,  meaning Pantoja must attend Vassar or Brown if she is accepted.

If she is accepted to more than one, she will know only if she was accepted to the school she ranked the highest. However, if she is matched with a non-binding school, such as Stanford, she can hear from other schools whether she has been accepted.

Should she not be matched, Pantoja still qualifies for financial aid from any of the 35 partner schools as a regular QuestBridge applicant, though she would not necessarily receive a full scholarship.

She will find out if she has been matched on Monday, Dec. 2.


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