Questbridge Scholarship Essay How-to Guide

The Questbridge application lets you show the admissions office a more holistic view of who you are. Students are often not used to talking about themselves in this way, and it can lead to some overthinking. In addition to this resource, you can find a lot of information about how to complete the application on the Questbridge website.

Questbridge Short Answers Part I

Tell us about one of your proudest achievements or moments and what it says about you.

Start with creating a timeline of important moments in your life that have shaped the way you see the world. The proudest achievements in your life may not always be the things that the outside observer may deem the most impressive, like winning a competition or earning the highest grade. Sometimes, it can be an acknowledgment that comes at the right time,  a sudden change in perspective, or supporting someone else in their achievement.

If you could meet a character from a book or a historical figure, who would it be and what would you ask them?

If you’re struggling to get started on this essay question, start with a brainstorm of intellectual questions that you find interesting. What are the things you read about for fun, or that send you down a youtube hole? Based on those topics, you can backward map the characters or historical figures that would allow you to dive into this subject area.

Mistakes to avoid in Part I…

  1. Trying to impress the reader. If you’re trying to think which of your achievements sound fanciest or which book will make you appear intelligent, your responses won’t be authentic, and it will show.
  2. Corny response. Corny responses are not only inauthentic, they are also predictable and utilize common language. Make sure that each aspect of your application can pass the “best friend test.” If you dropped your essay and it was missing the name, would your best friend know it was yours?

What success looks like in Part I…

  1. It’s personal. Each essay feels true and honest to you.
  2. It’s focused and concise. It doesn’t wander through multiple points and then end abruptly. Instead, it focuses on one main takeaway, and effectively conveys what it needs to.
  3. It’s thoughtful. It doesn’t just answer the question, but instead adds something insightful and interesting to the application as a whole.

Questbridge Short Answers Part II

What is your favorite subject to study, and why?

Dive into the subject that you feel most excited about, be honest! The most important part of this question is the “why.” Don’t just describe all of the things that you learn in world history. Instead, the reader should be able to understand why this of all of the other things you could be interested in really connects with you. Does it relate to a cause that you’re really passionate about? Is there something in your past that you’ve been trying to better understand through the study of this subject?

What are your favorite books and/or movies?
There’s no trick here. Don’t feel that you need to impress others with your literary choices. The best response is one that speaks to who you are and your interests.

What is your favorite source of inspiration?
Don’t feel the pressure to go grandiose here. Just speak honestly to what inspires you. Maybe it’s understanding yourself, time in nature, being able to connect with a loved one, or the thrill of solving a complex math problem.

How do you spend a typical weekend?
Your response should balance relaxation and productivity. For example, perhaps you enjoy playing video games and hanging out with friends, and maybe you have a job or volunteer at your church. All of those things should be included. Don’t succumb to the pressure to sound like a robot who hates fun here.

What is the compliment that you have been paid that you are most proud of? Who gave you the compliment?
Here, you should focus on describing concisely why this compliment was so meaningful to you.

After a challenging experience, how do you rejuvenate?
Again, pretty straightforward.  Talk through what you do and why it’s important to you.

What would you contribute to your future college campus community?
This is one that students often fumble by making it too generic. Take some time to think through all of your strengths and assets. If you’re struggling, ask s0meone who knows you well to help you with the list. Focus on one asset that you have evidence to back up so that you can show instead of telling. Also, try something a little different. For example, maybe you’re someone who loves having deep conversations into the early morning, or you’re always the person friends call when they need something specific done. The more honest the description is to you, the more compelling the essay.

Mistakes to avoid in Part II…

  1. Redundancy- It’s important to add something new to your application with every essay. Each essay should be like a puzzle piece creating a full picture of who you are.
  2. Too Generic- With short answers like this, it’s easy to stay shallow because there’s not enough space to dive deep. Push yourself to add value in a short period of time.

What success looks like in Part II…

  1. Punchy. These are super short, so know what you want to convey and get to the point quickly.
  2. Relatable. These short essays are super short. The point of them is to shine a spotlight on who you are outside of the classroom. This is a great opportunity to be relatable and likable. By the end of these essays, the admissions office should get a good idea of who you are and how you’d fit in on their campus. They should be excited about your contribution to their campus.

Essay 1 (800-word limit)

We are interested in learning more about you and the context in which you have grown up, formed your aspirations, and accomplished your academic successes. Please describe the factors and challenges that have most shaped your personal life and aspirations. How have these factors helped you to grow?

This is another question where the timeline exercise would be helpful: identify the events in your life that have shaped the way you view the world and have served as turning points. Don’t be afraid to be honest and vulnerable with your response. Remember that you are not the events and obstacles that you’ve experienced—instead, you are the interpretation and responses to those events.

Mistakes to avoid on Essay 1…

  1. Touching on too many topics. Narrow your entire essay down to one sentence that you’re trying to convey. Your entire essay should be pieces of evidence that hold that one sentence up. If you touch on too many points, the essay will stay too superficial and it will be confusing for the reader.
  2. Writing an autobiography. This is another common mistake that students make. You don’t want to touch on everything that has happened in your life, just the most poignant events.
  3. Writing the essay in chronological order. Don’t feel the need to start from the beginning of the story and build-up to the climax; that may lead you to focus too much on the event and not enough on the learning. Instead, try starting with the climax and filling in the necessary context later.

What success looks like on Essay 2…

  1. Vulnerability. This essay should be somewhat uncomfortable to share with others—it should be that personal.
  2. Highlighting your personal growth. Make sure to focus more on your growth than the event itself. The reader wants to know who you are now and what has contributed to that.
  3. Grabbing your reader in the first paragraph. The very first paragraph should be compelling and draw the reader into your essay. Which is why I recommend starting with the climax. Think about an episode of Law and Order. It doesn’t start with Detective Stabler waking up and making his morning coffee. It starts with a crime being committed, out of context. The remainder of the episode helps put the pieces together to create the full picture. You can format your essay in a similar way.

Questbridge Essay 2 (800-word limit)

Please write on ONE of the following topics:
Option 1: Tell us about a concept, theory, or topic you have explored simply because it sparked your intellectual curiosity. Why do you find it intriguing? How do you want to explore it further?
Option 2: Describe an experience that caused you to change your perspective and/or opinion.
Option 3: What do you admire most about your community? What would you improve?

You’ll notice that the previous essay looks to understand how you interpret your past, your resiliency, and your grit. This essay wants to know how you interact with the world around you. With these prompts, there’s no secret to which one admissions offices will prefer. Select the option you feel most excited to write about and make sure that you’re authentic in your response.

Mistakes to avoid on Essay 2…

  1. Redundancy. Make sure that you’re not restating anything that you’ve already touched on during your application. Remember, every component of the application is another piece of the puzzle. If you continue bringing the same piece in, again and again, its a missed opportunity to see the full picture.
  2. Getting it over with. You’re in the final stretch, and it can be easy to just write something for the sake of finishing things up. Remember that each essay should be personal and help the reader understand who you are. Every component is important.
  3. Not enough time on the why. It’s easy to revert to the way you would write a school paper with this question. This is not the space to convince the reader of something or spend too much time describing the theory, experience, or community. What the reader finds compelling is why this resonates with you.

What success looks like…

  1. Displaying your intellectual curiosity. The reader wants to know what you’re interested in, how you view the world,  and what you’ve done already to engage with these topics.
  2. Engagement with the world. The reader wants to better understand how you engage the world and what lessons you take from your surroundings.

In general, it’s important that you complete your essays early enough to receive feedback on your responses and complete multiple drafts. Find the people who will be honest with you, and aren’t afraid to tell you if you need to start over. Get multiple perspectives and then take what you find valuable.

Finally, the college and scholarship application process can be a difficult one. It’s important to know that you are talented and have a lot to offer whatever university you end up attending. As long as you’re putting your best foot forward and portray your most authentic self, you will end up where you’re meant to be. Take a deep breath, you’ve got this!