Lufkin High School senior Ian Falcon was sitting in his 4th period class at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 1 when he got the email from QuestBridge announcing whether he matched with an Ivy League university and if so, where he’ll spend his next four years in college.

“When I opened the email, I had the “You didn’t get matched” mindset,” Ian said. “When I saw that I matched with Columbia, an Ivy — it felt surreal!”

Ian began the process of applying to college through QuestBridge spring semester of his junior year.

“I did most of it myself. It was time consuming and so complicated,” Ian said. “Seeing it pay off is amazing.”

QuestBridge is a program that connects high-achieving high school seniors from low-income backgrounds with full four-year scholarships to 50 of the nation’s best colleges. Out of over 20,800 applicants, QuestBridge selected 6,683 Finalists to be considered for the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship (Match Scholarship). This year, QuestBridge’s 50 college partners matched with 2,242 Finalists, who are recognized as Match Scholarship Recipients.

“We are thrilled to welcome this historic number of QuestBridge Scholars,” said Ana Rowena Mallari, Co-Founder and CEO of QuestBridge. “These Scholars will bring a depth of thought and range of experiences to our college partner campuses that will surely enrich their new communities.”

Ian, who has never been to Columbia University campus, let alone New York City for that matter, is excited about living close to Central Park.

“It’s a 20-minute walk to Central Park,” Ian said. “What I’m looking forward to the most is the culture, the food, the new places to see, new people to meet, a beautiful campus. It just doesn’t feel real that I’ll be there.”

Match Scholarship Recipients are admitted early to QuestBridge college partners with full four-year scholarships provided by the colleges and universities, ensuring for these students and their families that an education at a top college is affordable. The Match Scholarship is made up of a generous financial aid package provided by the college that covers the full cost of attendance, including tuition, housing and food, books and supplies, and travel expenses.

“The first person I called was my mom and she was at work,” Ian said. “She said ‘What?’ She seemed proud and a little sad. I know she’s proud but will be sad I’ll be going away for four years.

My grandparents asked a lot of questions like how to pay. I told them it was a full ride. It’s all paid for! They had so many questions and then they seemed kind of sad that I would be leaving, but I know they’re proud of me.”

Ian will be majoring in Chemical Engineering and says he feels confident that Lufkin ISD has prepared him for an Ivy League experience.

“Lufkin ISD has prepared me,” Ian said. “I feel like the STEM academy really helped me out the most. They gave me a laptop my freshman year. I used it all four years. Without it, I don’t know what I would do. My experiences prepared me like UIL and BPA. I wrote about my BPA experience which I loved and my amazing teachers.”

Last year Ian went to Anaheim, California to compete in the National Business Professionals of America (BPA) competition, an experience he says that was like none other.  Ian credits his teachers with his success. One particular teacher that meant a lot to him was Dayna Kerr, his calculus teacher, which calculus became his favorite subject in school. Ian’s family is important to him, too. He says his grandfather is his hero and that he just wants Ian to have a job one day that has air conditioning.

Even though Ian admits that he is most nervous about being on his own in New York; he has already made connections with other QuestBridge students going to Columbia and to former LHS alumni and QuestBridge student A.J. Sabani who is going to Princeton.

“There are 38 students on a group chat sharing their experiences,” Ian said. “Two are from Houston.”

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to live in New York City for free,” Ian said. “It doesn’t happen that much, and for me to be able to do this…”

Ian just shook his head in disbelief and smiled.

Since 2003, the QuestBridge National College Match has successfully connected over 14,500 students with full scholarships at college partners. These 2023 Match Scholarship Recipients become the first QuestBridge Scholars for the Class of 2028.

About QuestBridge: 

QuestBridge is a national nonprofit that connects high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education and further life opportunities. By recruiting, developing, and motivating these students — beginning in high school through college to their early career — QuestBridge aims to help talented students attend the nation’s best colleges and to support them to achieve success in their respective careers and communities.

Photo by: ANDY ADAMS/Lufkin ISD