Two Aztecs receive full rides to Columbia University

Dreams really do come true for seniors Amaya Flores and Roussel Acosta after they are paired with NYC Ivy League school through QuestBridge


Photo by Andreana Cadena

Amaya Flores and Roussel Acosta pose with their families at the Top 15 Drive-Thru Celebration at El Dorado High School on April 28, 2021. Flores and Roussel were both matched to Columbia University through the QuestBridge scholarship program for full rides to the prestigious university.

The drop of a pin could be heard in senior Amaya Flores’ home as she and her mother held their breath in silent anticipation and clicked the fateful link on the QuestBridge web site. Balloons and confetti animation filled the screen and Flores’ mother screamed and held her tight.

On Dec. 1, Flores was matched with Columbia University through the QuestBridge scholarship program when she read the word, “Congratulations” on the screen. Not long after, senior Roussel Acosta found out that he too was matched to Columbia University through Questbridge, which is a national scholarship program for high performing, low-income and first-generation students. The scholarship covers all expenses, from tuition to housing and transportation for all four years of college.

“I believe that education has the power to change your life. I didn’t really see any successful people in my life. The only people that I knew were successful were the people that I read about in books,” Flores said. “It was through reading that I understood that education is a powerful tool to get the life that I want.”

Flores, who will be the first in her family to attend college, was raised by a single mom and always set high academic goals and standards for herself. She strives to be a role model for her younger sister and brother.

For as long as she can remember, Columbia has been her dream school. She plans to study political science, become a civil rights lawyer and open her own practice in New York City.

“I don’t even feel like it’s real,” Flores said. “When I opened it, I just started crying and immediately tackled my mom and then she started crying and screaming. Even now my 3-year-old little brother is still running around saying, ‘Amaya’s going to Columbia!’”   

Acosta, the valedictorian at time of publication, found out about his match to Columbia only after hearing Flores tell the class that she had been accepted. That prompted Acosta to check his results. This marks the first time in school history that more than one student in the same graduating class is a QuestBridge recipient.

“I literally couldn’t believe that I got it,” Acosta said. “When I opened it, there was a moment of processing what I was looking at and then there was a lot of excitement and happiness.”

Acosta plans to double major in music and art and possibly minor in political science. He hopes to become a musical theater composer.

Not only did Acosta and Flores get the full-ride scholarships from QuestBridge, they are also semifinalists for the Gates Scholarship.

“My parents were really influential in getting me to be really driven and motivated about learning. Because of that I was really interested in physics and science and that developed into my passion for music and art,” Acosta said. “As an aspiring artist and musician, I think that going to New York is literally the best thing that I can do to develop myself and my creativity.”