Senior headed to Ivy Leagues after receiving Questbridge scholarship


Dating back to 8th grade, Monica Valladares had her sights set on attending an Ivy League school. After doing research on schools of interest, she ultimately knew the University of Pennsylvania was the school for her and after receiving the Questbridge Scholarship, she can turn that dream into a reality.

“Honestly I was really shocked, I didn’t think it was real at first, it took me a second to process, the crazy feeling of getting into my dream school, very bittersweet knowing all my hard work paid off,” Valladares said.

The decision to major in business and finance was eventually changed to cognitive science due to her passion for learning about human functions.

“ I started with Business and Finance, but the more I thought about it I didn’t want to work with just numbers, I wanted to work with people and how the mind works and why it functions the way it does,” she said. 

Picking Cognitive Science allows her to focus on a subject that allows her to use multiple skills she’s good at.

“Cognitive Science which deals with mathematics, psychology, computer science. I want to work with AI’s and get to know the human mind and transfer them into computer models,” she said.

The human body has been an intriguing topic for Valladares since a young age.

“I have wanted to do that since my childhood, I always wanted to understand people more and wanted to learn and understand my own mind and how it functions,” Valladares said.

Monica was able to accomplish something that hadn’t been done before in her family.

“I will be the first person in my family to attend an Ivy League school, my sister goes to IU Bloomington but I would be the first to attend an Ivy League school,” she said.

Valladares feels a lot of pride about this accomplishment.

“[I am] really grateful. . . . I had to remind myself I put the work in. Most of my family didn’t go to college, so it doesn’t feel real attending a big school like that,” she said.

Leaving Indiana post-high school was always on her mind, but she knows it will be difficult traveling to Philadelphia to attend UPenn.

“I knew I always wanted to move out of state just because I never wanted to really stay in Indiana post high school, but moving away from my family my parents . . .  they genuinely have given me everything. I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done,” Valladares said.

Her parents have been helpful throughout her whole academic career and helped support her through everything.

“They were always really supportive so I’m going to miss them a lot,” she said.

Although she’ll miss her parents, Valladares believes this move will allow  learn more about who she really is.

“I do think it’s very necessary for me. I think moving out of state is going to help me become the person I want to be and grow in the ways that I want to,” Valladares said.

Her road to UPenn was paved through the Questbridge Scholarship, which will pay 100 percent of her tuition.

“You have to apply to be a finalist for Questbridge and I did that in September,” Valladares said. “I found out I was a finalist in October. Once you find out you’re a finalist you get to rank their college partners. They have 40ish college partners and you get to rank up to 15 in the order of your preference and so you would submit applications to all those school.”

Although Valladares chose UPenn, it ultimately wasn’t her first choice.

“So I ranked 13 colleges total and UPenn was my number 2. Stanford was 1st then it was UPENN. Stanford was my first choice because of the warmer climate in California,” Valladares said.

Ultimately, UPenn had everything she needed.

“The school is known for being social but it’s also a really smart school. I like to keep my balance so I can focus on academics and having a social life,” Valladares said.

Being a leader at school and in the community helped her achieve her goal.

“My admission counselor told me being captain of student government historian showed I was a good leader at my school and she really noticed it, just take part in clubs leadership position and develop those skills,” Valladares said.

Valladares has this advice for anyone trying to attend their dream school.

“Use the skills you have and implement them into your community,” she said.

“Growing up I helped my parents fill out taxes and I had the skills for that so I used that to help my community.” 

Being a leader and staying on top of your grades are also big factors.

“I would say try and be a leader and be active in your community in some type of way, also definitely keep up with your grades and form good habits like getting your work done as soon as possible is really helpful, try to get involved as much as possible,” she said.