ESCONDIDO — In just a few weeks, recent Del Lago Academy graduate and small-business owner Rita Sauceda will travel across the country to begin college after earning a prestigious scholarship to pay for it all.
Sauceda, heading off to Notre Dame on a QuestBridge National College Match scholarship, learned about the opportunity after her counselor, Jose Ramirez, encouraged her to apply before her senior year.
QuestBridge is a nonprofit organization connecting low-income students with some of the nation’s colleges and universities.
For recipients like Sauceda, the scholarship covers four years of paid tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies and travel expenses — an award worth over $200,000.
Sauceda applied for the scholarship despite being nervous about some top colleges being so far from home. She had been looking at colleges that were closer and more affordable for her family.
“I knew my family was going to do everything possible to see me go to college, but I didn’t want to burden them,” she said.
As a student at Del Lago, Escondido’s public magnet school, Sauceda was highly involved and active in several extracurricular groups, including serving as president of the MEChA Club (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) — a student organization promoting higher education and appreciation for Chicano/Latino culture and history.
Sauceda was also involved in the Associated Student Body (ASB) and was a member of the school’s Random Acts of Kindness Club.
As a young entrepreneur who wanted to help her family during the pandemic, Sauceda ran a toy shop with her aunt out of Mexicali and her own screen-printing business in her home in Escondido.
Not long after applying, Sauceda found out she was a finalist for the scholarship, at which point she was asked to rank her top school choices.
By December, she was matched to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. According to U.S. News & World Report, Notre Dame is a private Catholic university ranked 19th among National Universities.
Sauceda didn’t think she would end up getting a full ride. Even after learning she was a scholarship recipient, the reality didn’t set in until the scholarship paid for her and her mother to visit the university in February.
Sauceda was impressed by what she saw.
“When I first saw the school, it gave me Harry Potter vibes,” she said. “It was really fancy.”
She also liked the people she met along the way, many of them fellow scholarship recipients and others from the university who warmly welcomed Sauceda and the other students to their new home away from home.
“It was nice to have that welcoming environment,” Sauceda said.
Sauceda will be the first member of her family to attend college. She plans to study business management with a specialization in international business. Her goal is to pursue a doctorate, which she calls “getting the fancy hat.”
“I also want to keep pursuing my business endeavors and growing in such ways,” she said.
Sauceda encourages interested students to apply for the scholarship, just as she was encouraged by Ramirez, her counselor at Del Lago.
“I don’t just tell students to apply; I walk them through the process,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t have someone walking me through the process of applying for college, so I feel that it’s my responsibility to help students and create these opportunities for them.”
For more information on the QuestBridge scholarship, visit www.questbridge.org.