William Monroe High School has had some fabulous firsts in recent history – from the first cohort of students to graduate high school with an associate’s degree to prestigious scholarships to Ivy League acceptances to the first student from Monroe admitted to MIT and to sports teams making their first visits ever to state finals.
With her full-ride match to Colby College in Maine through QuestBridge, William Monroe senior Makaylah Cowan just crushed it hard.
QuestBridge is a national scholarship program that helps qualifying students with college prep, college visits, college match offering full-ride scholarships and waiving of fees for college applications. QuestBridge partners with highly-ranked universities, including Yale, Princeton and Stanford universities. Students must qualify in academic and financial circumstances.
QuestBridge received 15,606 applications for the 2017 National College Match; it was narrowed down to 5,759 finalists and 918 were selected to be College Match Scholarship Recipients, meaning they get a full ride to college. That’s 20 percent more than for Class of 2017, according to QuestBridge.
The cost to attend Colby College is roughly $68,000 per year, according to its website.
“QuestBridge is a program that helps low-income students get connected to top tier schools,” Cowan said. “The first time I heard about it, my science teacher told me about it. Later, one of the guidance counselors called me and a few other students into her office to tell us about it.”
Cowan, one of seven children in her family, said she wasn’t sure how she could pay for college.
“That’s always been a fear of mine,” she said. “I was going to apply to a lot of other scholarships to pay for as much as I could, and I was looking into 100 percent need match schools, such as the University of Virginia.”
Cowan, who will be the first in her family to attend a four-year college, said her favorite subject has always been science. She hopes to major in environmental science.
“I really love plants and the environment and animals. I grew up around that,” she said. “When I was a kid we lived on a farm, my dad had cows and such. I just like being around nature. I really care about the environment and want to help improve it.”
Cowan said she was shocked when she learned about the college match.
“My first thought was I have to move to Maine,” she said. “I honestly couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t prepared for it at all; it was stunning. I thought ‘finally, I’m going to college’.”
The week before high school graduation, Cowan will earn her associate’s degree from Piedmont Virginia Community College.
“PVCC has been an awesome experience, meeting all the different teachers and such,” she said. “It has prepared me for college, especially the classes over at the Giuseppe Center. At times it has been hard, especially when I took public speaking but I managed to get through it. All the teachers there were amazing.
“It really prepares you for the mentality of college. You have to manage your time better. You have to learn how to study outside of class and prepare your own study guides. It really prepares you for how to be successful in college,” Cowan said. “Having PVCC right there is definitely a good opportunity and we’re really lucky. It makes students at William Monroe very competitive for college. It’s a very fortunate thing to have.”
Cowan earned scholarships throughout high school to attend PVCC, adding that she’s not sure if she’d have been able to afford PVCC without the local donors.
Angelia Santus, director of the guidance department at William Monroe, said she kept Cowan’s “brilliant mind” forefront in her mind while she wrote her recommendation for QuestBridge.
“She flies under the radar, she’s quiet and intent, and her brain… it is phenomenal. I’ve known her for four years as I’ve got to watch her work on her associate’s degree while in high school,” Santus said. I’ve never seen her struggle; everything just comes so easy to her. And for her and her family to have the weight of paying for college off their shoulders, well that I can’t even imagine.
“I cannot think of a more deserving student to receive this full ride scholarship. I am beyond proud of her; I got teary when she told me,” Santus said. “It’s every counselor’s dream to have a deserving student get that full ride scholarship and she made my entire year when she told me.”
Education has always been important to Cowan, she said.
“My dad really stressed it when I as little. After we moved here away from my dad, my grandparents stepped in,” she said. “My grandfather, in particular, stressed it, saying, ‘no one can ever take that education away.’”
Cowan said she was surprised to learn no one from William Monroe had been matched through QuestBridge.
“There have been some really smart people, especially recently with Harvard, Yale and MIT [acceptances],” she said.
Santus said the school has had students get to the qualifying round of QuestBridge before, but never had one matched.
“Matched means that they chose the school and the school chose them, both agreeing on a full-right scholarship,” Santus said. “It just seems like every year Greene County has a new first. Last year it was a full ride to MIT and this year it’s a student winning the Youth Senate National Scholarship and QuestBridge match. It’s just too much—it’s absolutely why every teacher in Greene is here; the pride of these kids’ accomplishments is like no other.”
Cowan said her proudest moment in high school as being invited to BETA Club. She’s also been a member of FBLA as well.
Cowan’s mother, Becky, graduated from William Monroe High School and Cowan said she’s going to miss the close-knit community that is Greene.
“All the teachers at William Monroe High School have been really great,” she said. “To an incoming freshman I’d say calm down it’s going to be OK. High school is scary but you’ll get through it. You have to work hard, and put in the effort, to get something out of it. Even if you don’t think you’re going to be able to go to college because of money — that was something that really scared me — there are plenty of opportunities to find scholarships. Just keep applying yourself and be on the lookout for them.”
Cowan works part-time at a daycare facility, as well.
“The kids are so sweet,” she said. “I love developing relationships with them, helping them learn to read and watching them play.”
In April, Colby College will hold an admitted student weekend and it will be the first time Cowan has visited; the college will pay for her flight up there.
“I want to thank my parents Becky and Bert Cowan, my grandparents Ronnie and Barbara Breeden, my sister Makenzie Cowan, Arya La Chienne, all the teachers at William Monroe and especially Mrs. Santus for all their hard work,” Cowan said.