Caitlin Richardson is a Waxahachie High School senior with big dreams. She wants to become a surgeon. However, school bills can be just as big as medical bills, so she decided to join Questbridge.

Questbridge is a program designed to help students from low-income backgrounds achieve their dreams of higher education by giving them opportunities to get accepted at renowned universities and Ivy League schools.

Richardson heard about Questbridge from a fellow student last year. After looking over the opportunities the organization had to offer, she turned in her own application. A couple of months later and Richardson was named a Questbridge finalist.

Being a Questbridge finalist meant Richardson would have the opportunity at being matched to receive a full-ride scholarship to one of her top 12 colleges.

Although she wasn’t matched, Richardson said she was happy to have been named as a finalist.

“There are only about 16,000 finalists roughly and, from that, only about 1,000 are matched,” Richardson said. “But just being labeled as a Questbridge finalist helped me realize it is not impossible to go from a small town to a big time Ivy League school in the northeast. The people at Questbridge thought I could make it into these schools.”

And, being a Questbridge finalist still came with a few perks.

“I received free application fees to all of [Questbridge’s] sponsored schools,” said Richardson, who had already sent in her applications in case she wasn’t matched. All she had to do was wait and, in the end, she saved more than $500 in fees alone. Then, the day came.

“I was in the library and I had just finished helping to wrap Angel Tree presents with Interact,” Richardson said. “Whether I got accepted at UPenn or not was supposed to come out at 6 o’clock on the Questbridge website.

“I refreshed the page and it said ‘status update,’ ” she said. “Butterflies were building in my stomach. I clicked it and a bunch of confetti flew across the screen. I was in shock.”

The page said, “Congratulations.” Richardson had been accepted at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I started jumping up and down and celebrating with my friends,” Richardson said. “I was screaming probably louder than I should have been since it was a library, but Mrs. (Megan) Mills (the school librarian) was very understanding.”

Richardson is still waiting to hear if she’s been accepted into any of her other top schools, such as Yale or Harvard, but said being accepted into UPenn alone is enough to make her “ecstatic.”

In her spare time, Richardson participates in multiple extracurricular activities in and out of school. She is a drum major in the Spirit of Waxahachie Band, senior class president, and vice-president of Interact.

She is the founder of the recycling program at Lumpkins Stadium, which made her a recipient of the Superintendent’s Award. Richardson has also been abroad and served on a mission team helping impoverished people in Nairobi and Samburu, Kenya, Africa.

Richardson said she thanks God, her family, friends and the “wonderful” teachers at WHS and in the College and Career Center for helping her get to this point. She also shared that she’s grateful for all the experience she gained in participating in her extracurricular activities and how it helped her to be the person colleges are looking for.

To other students seeking a higher education or who want to get into an Ivy League school, Richardson said, “Don’t limit yourself in what you can do. Especially coming out of a small town, don’t feel powerless. Know that if you set a goal for yourself and you do everything you can to achieve it and you work hard, you can achieve it ... strive to be who you want to be.”

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