Areli Aguilar Garcia’s journey to Tufts University as a Questbridge scholar


Courtesy Areli Aguilar Garcia

LAHS senior Areli Aguilar Garcia posing in her Tufts University sweatshirt with a Questbridge flag. Areli was accepted to Tufts as a Questbridge scholar, which grants her a full-ride scholarship.

Los Altos High School senior Areli Aguilar Garcia was accepted as a Questbridge scholar to Tufts University in Medford, Mass. in December 2022. (Questbridge is a program that helps first-generation low-income students secure full-ride scholarships to elite universities). Teachers, friends and peers alike cite Areli’s intelligence, kindness and hardworking nature as traits they believe helped her achieve so much, since the journey to get there was far from easy.

“Because the Questbridge deadline is so early, she had to frontload things in a short period of time,” Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) teacher Keren Dawson-Bowman said. “On the upside, she found out about Tufts really early, so while the rest of us were stressed doing a million other things, she got to sit back and be like, ‘Ahh, I’m done!’ So it was a lot of work in the beginning but I think that she’s ended up having a much simpler senior year as a result.”

Questbridge applicants must submit all materials by late September, more than a month before the early deadlines for most colleges. What made this even more difficult was that Areli spent the summer before her senior year working 40-hour weeks at a lab for a summer program, giving her just a month to complete her application. In order to get everything done on time, she had to decide far in advance that she wanted to apply as a Questbridge scholar started far in advance; for Areli, the process really began when she first met with LAHS college counselor Angela Price.

“Academically, Areli was very strong, but Questbridge is more than just about strength of academics,” Price explained. “It’s about strength of character, too. She talked [with me] about her journey in high school, and her role in her family and I knew she would be a good match.”

Areli’s parents are both immigrants to the U.S. and do not speak fluent English, and Areli has been helping them navigate everything from doctors’ visits to housing. Her dedication to her family — whether it was helping her parents with documents or her little siblings with homework — is something that stood out to Price during her first meeting with Areli.

“She not only helps her family, but she does activities that benefit others directly,” Price said. “She does so much community service that it’s ridiculous. Even when her family is going through a stressful period, she was still helping others and happy to do so. Questbridge wants students that demonstrate excellence in the classroom, but also a character strength in the community — and that’s Areli.”

Areli has enriched everyone she’s come into contact with.

— Angela Price

While she navigated much of high school and the application process by herself, she found support and help in her AVID class, from both Dawson-Bowman and her peers. There, Areli was encouraged to take her first honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes, where she would often be the only or one of few Latino students in the room. 

“I tried to not let it get in the way, but sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, am I meant to be in this classroom?’” Areli said. “Other kids had friends from their circles in advanced classes, but I just had to start from scratch.”

AVID was a big part of Areli’s high school experience, and she credits it as something that helped her immensely throughout the college application process and her four years at LAHS. Areli also was a big part of AVID, supporting her peers through their own college application process. 

“During her junior year, she started to become the go-to person for all of her peers to get editing help for their essays,” Dawson-Bowman said. “She has been such a support to her friend group and her peers.”

Price agreed. “Areli has enriched everyone she’s come into contact with,” she said. “Her teachers, other students who don’t know kids like her, and that quality is her superpower.”

While AVID gave Areli support in the application process, she took the initiative to get teachers to read her essays and ask them questions about their own college experiences.

“I love that she’s mature and understands what her role is. Her parents do not come and advocate for her or meet her counselors — she does that all alone,” Price said. 

This kind of initiative and hard work doesn’t come without stress, however — and that’s where her friends come in.

“She’s one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met, and sometimes I think that she puts a lot of pressure on herself to get to where she wants to be,” senior Madgdalena Cruz Alavez said. 

So, sometimes it’s up to them to keep her steady.

“She stresses out about things a lot — she’ll tell us about her stories, and we’re like, ‘It’ll be fine, you’ll do great,’” senior Evelyn Villa Garcia said. “We would just be there to support her, and give her ideas too.”

As she was beginning the process, Price remembers Areli not being sure about where she stood against other applicants and aiming for schools that were less competitive than the ones that Price believed she stood a good chance at getting into. Price believed in Areli for a lot of reasons, but particularly admires her passion. 

“What makes her brilliant is not just that she’s good at math and science, it’s that she looks further than that and thinks about what she wants to do with that in the world,” Price said. “What impressed me about Areli the first time I met her is that she knew that she wanted to work in research and that she would be dealing with issues in research because she is a person of color, and a lot of research isn’t built around people of color. I know that she’s going to be effective with making sure that marginalized groups are brought to the table in research.”

I remember in my letter, I said, ‘If you guys don’t take Areli, I don’t know what it is you’re looking for.’

— Keren Dawson-Bowman

From the start, Areli knew that her parents weren’t going to be able to afford tuition, and that she would have to rely on financial aid and scholarships, even for personal expenses and flights. This was what pushed Areli to apply as a Questbridge scholar. While she may have doubted herself at times, her support system of teachers and friends and their faith in her kept her motivated. 

“I remember in my letter, I said, ‘If you guys don’t take Areli, I don’t know what it is you’re looking for,’” Dawson-Bowman said. “Like, you must want somebody to build a rocket and fly to the moon, because this kid has everything.”

“It was a very easy letter of recommendation to write,” Russo concurred. 

At Tufts, Areli will be majoring in the sciences, an interest that was reinforced by her experience in AP Biology during her junior year.

“Honestly, when she got to AP Biology, she exhibited such a high level of understanding and engagement in the first unit that there was really no room for growth, which was amazing,” science teacher Jacob Russo said. “She just came in firing on all cylinders, which was especially impressive considering that her elementary and middle school science education wasn’t very meaningful, if even existent. She came in kicking butt and continued to do that all year. She was definitely one of the top students academically.”

When the good news finally came in October, Areli was more than thrilled to be going to Tufts.

It is a total win for Tufts.

— Angela Price

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so excited about finding out,” Russo said. “I think part of that is that it’s a culmination of the amount of effort that she’s put in. Her responsibilities in her personal life would be challenging for anyone, and to succeed at the level she succeeded, all that emotion just keeps building up. There was a lot of good emotion, a lot of screaming.”

But Areli was far from the only one that was emotional at the news. 

“When she told me she got into Tufts, I cried,” Dawson-Bowman said. “I just cried and cried and cried.”

Of course, it was more than deserved.

“It is a total win for Tufts,” Price said. “Just so you know, total win for Tufts.”

When asked if she had any advice for students considering applying as a Questbridge scholar, Areli recommends starting early, even with just looking at the essay prompts and brainstorming responses. But above all, she says that it comes down to knowing how to ask for help and feedback when you need it and using all support systems that are available to you

“That’s the only reason why I was able to get through,” Areli said. “I could not have done this by myself.”