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High-achieving Bradford student, Emily Qiu, weighs past, present and future in choosing next steps

Written by
VSAC Staff

May 15, 2024


Emily Qu

Emily Qiu, a senior at Oxbow High School, is a standout student. She’s in the top five of her graduating class, she’s taken many honors classes and college-level dual enrollment courses, and she’s been inducted into both the National Honor Society and the National Technical Honor Society.

But Emily’s academic record didn’t automatically translate into confidence heading into college applications. “I applied to 17 schools, but I had a fear I wouldn’t get accepted anywhere,” she explains.

“And how many did you get accepted to?” asks Kassidy Moore, her VSAC Outreach Counselor, who has been working closely with Emily this year as part of the GEAR UP program.  

“Um… 16,” Emily admits.

FAFSA delays and college commitment pending

While Emily’s acceptance record is impressive, her nervousness about what has been built up to be a very high-stakes process—applying to college—is quite typical of her peers. On top of the usual pressure associated with the college process, this year has been even more stressful for students and families, due to the redesign of the FAFSA financial aid process last fall, which created an extended delay that has cascaded all the way through the college admissions and acceptance timeline. This spring, students like Emily who have acceptance letters in hand have had to wait weeks, sometimes months, to learn how much each school can offer them in terms of financial aid and scholarships.

When Emily finally heard back from her top-choice school, their financial aid award was less than she was hoping for. So she hasn’t committed anywhere yet, waiting instead for the rest of her schools to get back to her with their own financial aid offers.

It’s been a herculean test of patience for students who are understandably excited to be admitted to their top-choice schools, and want nothing more than to sign up right away and share their achievement with family, friends, and on social media.

Having the right tools

Kassidy Moore, Emily’s Outreach Counselor, commends her advisee for being so level-headed and cost-conscious. In fact, VSAC’s team of Outreach Counselors who work in high schools across the state have emphasized a very practical and logical approach to college decision-making over the last few years, as the cost of a college education has risen sharply. VSAC leaders also hope that approach may help ease some of the anxiety of this year’s longer wait—giving students facts-based college decision-making tools, so they’re prepared to process the information they’ll eventually receive—hopefully in a practical, rather than purely emotional, way.

Emily recalls working with Kassidy at just her second meeting last fall to create a college comparison spreadsheet that would help her track, evaluate, and ultimately decide among the schools she was applying to. “I had a list of colleges, whether they were a reach school, where they were located, when I applied, if I was accepted, the college portal link, how much it cost, and how much they’d given me in aid. That’s been really helpful.”

While Emily Qiu says her parents have told her, “‘Just go to a school you like, and we’ll figure out the cost later,’ I don’t want to put a lot of debt on my parents,” who are immigrants who came to the United States from China at the start of their own careers. Her mom is now a paraeducator at the elementary school, and her dad works as a dishwasher at Dartmouth College. Her dad is not fluent in English, which has been a challenge, but also a source of motivation for Emily.

“Knowing that my parents didn’t get to have a chance to continue their education, especially my mom—that makes me sad. It also really makes me want to succeed.”

Kassidy Moore has seen the fruits of that dedication. “Emily has worked incredibly hard to make her family proud.”

Early dedication to a future career

Emily Qiu plans to go into nursing, specifically pediatric nursing, and she’s already gained a wealth of experience. She works part-time at a daycare center in Bradford, where she has taught preschoolers proper hygiene, handwashing, and skills of daily living, such as dressing themselves and packing their backpacks. “I love watching them grow and develop,” she says.

She also takes care of adults through her clinical internship at Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, New Hampshire, where she helps post-surgical patients with meal trays, showering and bathing, and changing linens. A student of the Health Sciences program at River Bend Career and Technical Center, Emily just earned her LNA license this spring.

As for what she’s most looking forward to about college, Emily says: “Meeting new people, and being in a new environment, hopefully in an area with more diversity, and more people who look like me and have had similar experiences.” Emily’s graduating class is only 50 people, and she’s known most of them since grade school. There is only one other Asian student at Oxbow, and that’s her cousin.

She also hopes a college degree will set her up for a working life that will be easier than her parents’ experience. “My family has had a hard time finding community and making connections here,” she admits. “It can be challenging for my dad to communicate with his boss and his coworkers.”

Thanks to her hard work, her parents’ love and encouragement, and the advice and counsel she’s received through Kassidy and VSAC’s GEAR UP graduation readiness program, she’s off to a great start.

“GEAR UP made me much less stressed, that’s for sure,” says Emily. “Before I met Kassidy, I had no idea what to do. She has this vibe that makes you feel like it’s going to be okay, and that everything is going to get figured out. That’s really helpful.”