Nine years ago, a girl from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam came to California with her family to pursue a better life. She came from a country where poverty is a national issue and a large majority of the population works as rural farmers; a country where the aftermath of the Vietnam War still lingers in the air. This young girl left a country where other kids had to sell raffle tickets on the street to be able to pay for school, and where many more of her peers would never have the opportunity to attend school at all. Little did her parents know, Samo senior Nhi Ho would end up attending Harvard University, the American epitome ofquality higher education.
“My parents moved to America because they wanted [me] to have a better education,” Ho said. “There are just more opportunities in America that we wouldn’t have in Vietnam. So when opportunities came we needed to grab them.”
Before Ho applied to prestigious American universities, she first had to adjust to the American lifestyle. Ho said it was quite hard for her to learn English as a nine-year-old, and it was difficult growing up as a first-generation college-bound student. Ho fully came to understand this struggle while filling out her application for the QuestBridge program, which
is a is a non-profit organization for first-generation college applicants whose families’ income is under $60,000 a year. According to the QuestBridge website, the program “creates a place where exceptionally talented low-income students can navigate educational life,” and accepts around 3,850 national finalists per year.
“There was lot more room on the application to express myself than on the Common App,” Ho said. “The questions are geared more towards underprivileged kids, and it really gave me a
chance to define myself.”
QuestBridge requires participants to submit three essays and two letters of recommendation, all by Nov 1. Applicants are then allowed to apply to schools early as a separate applicant pool, and are notified of their decision by Dec. 1. Applicants also receive full tuition
from the schools to which they are admitted. While she was accepted through QuestBridge to Yale University and (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) MIT, Ho was accepted to Harvard through the regular decision pool as any other student would be.
Throughout the application process and online support system, QuestBridge has not only helped match Ho with universities, but it has also connected her with a group of people with similar experiences around the nation.
“QuestBridge has connected me with so many people. When I visited Harvard I met up with a lot of friends through QuestBridge. There are also other QuestBridge scholars from other years there that will be there to give me advice and help me feel more at home,”
Ho said. “I feel good knowing that if I wanted to go to Louisiana for example, I could just find a friend through QuestBridge and have somewhere to stay.”
QuestBridge has helped Ho in applications and continues to further build connections for her
around the world. Ho has realized though that all of the doors that have been opened for her are akin to a game of chance.
“Originally I thought I would go to UCLA or UC Berkeley. I just put in the lottery ticket with college applications,” Ho said. “I didn’t really like Harvard when I visited it but once I got in I realized that it has a stronger science department and the city of Boston has better resources.”
Throughout her decision process, Ho worked mostly herself,only checking in with her Samo
college counselor when necessary. Even when making the final decision about where she should attend, Ho weighed out the pros and cons without other people’s biases. She finally chose Harvard not only for its prestige and resources, but because of the Gates Millennium Scholarship which allows her to attend Harvard for free, and coincidentally without the help of QuestBridge.
“[Ho] did everything on her own and was always very prepared before each meeting. She
knows what she wants and she goes out and gets it,” College Counselor Julie Honda said. “I
remember once I heard that she applied to thirty scholarships and didn’t win anything until she applied to a few more. She stayed very optimistic and determined throughout the whole process.”
Now, with only two weeks left of school and the thought of college applications becoming a
distant memory, Ho prepares to transition out of high school to her new life at Harvard University. As she reflects on her high school experience, Ho wishes to leave a few words of wisdom to the underclassmen so that they can have as smooth an application process
as she did.
“The best words of advice I could give is to get involved and find summer programs. There are
so many programs that will pay for you to have fun and there is a whole world out there to discover,” Ho said. “Also, if you qualify for QuestBridge, don’t hesitate to apply. It has really helped me define who I am and create so many connections.”