"You have nothing to lose. It doesn't take anything from you, but gives you a world of possibilities."
Chantel, Brown University
Hometown: Morganton, North Carolina
Chantel Brown grew up in a small town near the Foothill Mountains of North Carolina. “We had one stoplight, one Walmart,” she says, “and a not so great school system.”
Her father was a truck driver and often gone, so Chantel was mostly raised by her mom. When Chantel was in middle school, her mother had medical problems requiring her to have two hip replacements, which left Chantel with much of the parenting responsibilities. One of four siblings, she had a large hand in helping to raise her nephews and had to spend much of her time at home.
Throughout her schooling, Chantel kept two things in mind: One, that she was smart—smarter, perhaps, than people immediately realized. And two, that she wanted to get a great education and eventually leave North Carolina. This set her somewhat apart from her peers.
“No one really leaves, and if they do, they usually come back to the area,” Chantel says. She adds that more than 50% of the high school graduating class goes to state schools or community college nearby.
Once, in a class during her sophomore year, a student mentioned something about an Ivy League school to the teacher. “The teacher said, ‘you guys can’t get into an Ivy,’” Chantel says. Chantel, however, was determined.
For a few years, Chantel had enrolled in summer programs, such as Summer Ventures and the Governor’s School. They ended up playing a large role in her belief that a top education was not out of the question for her, even though she adds that when she began receiving mail from top schools, she “thought it was a joke.”
But through her summer programs, she befriended a girl who had been admitted to Williams through QuestBridge, and Chantel decided to look into it, though she was pretty much on her own throughout the process. “My school wasn’t familiar with applying to these programs. They were sort of like, ‘you’re a smart girl, you’ll figure it out.’”
Indeed, Chantel was at the top of her class, often in direct competition with another girl throughout their high school years for the role of valedictorian. Chantel took all of the AP courses her school had to offer, noting that she was the only person of color in them.
“My parents always pushed me to get an education and to make good grades. They pushed pretty hard at the beginning, but then they stopped when they knew I was doing it.”
Chantel always enjoyed school — especially math — and liking it kept her motivated. But more than anything else, she adds, “I wanted to get out of North Carolina. I didn’t want to be in that environment anymore.”
Pretty soon, it was clear that Chantel’s wish would come true—and then some. She applied and was accepted to 21 schools in total. Five of them were Ivy League schools.
“I liked Brown for its people; they were all so genuine, I felt could relate to them and I could see myself being friends with them on campus,” Chantel says. “And I wanted to go to a school that was recognizable to both employers and to people back home.”
Her parents and her family had long before come to the realization that Chantel would leave for college, but that didn’t detract from the pride they felt about Chantel’s accomplishments. “My mom still tells people, ‘my daughter goes to Brown. It’s an Ivy,” she says with a smile.
After the news broke about Chantel’s college application success, there was small, yet noticeable shift in the community. A teacher pulled her aside and introduced her to someone as the school’s ‘star student’; people she knew from church would see her and say, ‘you’re gonna do better, you’re gonna leave.’”
“I always knew I was smart but I didn’t necessarily think I was smarter,” she adds, adding that it felt great so ‘shock’ everyone.
So what was it, then, that made Chantel so sure she’d carve a path for herself that set her so much apart from most of her peers?
“I don’t really know what it was,” Chantel says, thoughtfully. “I just knew I had to have confidence.”
That confidence seemed to follow closely behind her as she made the transition to college. “It was smooth,” she says, adding that she became friends with other QuestBridge Scholars before she even got to Brown.
At first, she thought she wanted to study medicine, but recently dropped pre-med in favor of wanting to explore her other options—perhaps business.
“Reflecting on it now I realized that most people want to be a doctor or engineer or lawyer, and coming in from a low-income background, you don’t realize all the opportunities that are out there, and how to do them,” Chantel says.
Chantel is very active on campus, and has more or less single-handedly revitalized the QSN Chapter at Brown, of which she’s currently the liaison for the second year in a row. She says that most of her friends ended up being QuestBridge Scholars or low-income without even trying to make that happen.
“I think we have a mutual understanding or drive, not just to get an education but to do something bigger than yourself, for your family, for your community. The passion behind QuestBridge Scholars really drives me,” she says.
She says that the support of her parents and the idea that she could have what they might have wanted, but didn’t know how to achieve, is the main thing that motivated her.
“It’s for my parents, it’s for my nephews, it’s proving to everyone in my community that they can do it, too. I want to let all the little kids in my family know that they can do it, too,” she says.
Chantel used to feel as though she didn’t fit in. Now, she feels she’s found her place. To those who are considering Quest—or just applying to colleges they didn’t originally envision for themselves—she says go for it. “You have nothing to lose. It doesn’t take anything from you, but gives you a world of possibilities.”