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Two Rejections, One Admit for $60K a Year. So I Chose College In The UK

“I’m a second-year student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.” It’s certainly an attention-grabbing answer when people ask me where I go to school. And, inevitably, they follow up by asking, “So what made you decide to go there?”

I usually respond by explaining that, while I did apply to many American schools, St. Andrews offered the courses I was interested in, the chance to travel and the opportunity to receive a master’s degree in the same four-year period that most students earn a bachelor’s. Put this way, the decision was a no-brainer.

One Student Chose College In The UK Over American Schools

But if I answered honestly, I would also tell people that I hated the college process and came to resent the American higher education system right when I was supposed to be finding my place in it. I applied to St. Andrews to escape the college application hell of American colleges. And, a huge part of my decision to attend St. Andrews was because it was very different from all the American schools I considered. The European education system is much different than America’s.

As a high school student, I dreamed that I would get into my top choice and receive adequate aid or scholarships to go there. Out of my top three (American) choices, I was rejected from two and accepted at one, on the condition that my family paid $60K/year for me to go there (they couldn’t).

I was top of my class, a National Merit Scholar and editor of my school’s online magazine. I participated in debate for three years and took AP and honors classes in subjects I disliked just to beef up my college apps. My parents had spent a fortune to send me to private school and for me to take dozens of standardized tests and submit dozens of college applications. And still, no dice. I felt totally exploited by the college process.

If American Schools Won’t Work, Why Not Overseas Education?

So, thank goodness, I applied for college in the UK during the fall of my senior year. For $40, I submitted a master application that went to five schools. (To put this into perspective, the average American college application costs around $75 apiece.) They required no extra tests, and I heard from each school within a month. The schools had clear guidelines regarding test scores and GPAs, and acceptance was almost guaranteed if you had scores within the designated range. Also, the schools cost the equivalent of in-state, public school tuition. Basically, the UK university process is a super cheap cakewalk compared to the American equivalent.

Now that I’ve been at St. Andrews for three semesters, I know that I made the right decision. I love it here, and I have many reasons for enjoying college in the UK. But the underlying motivation behind why I chose an overseas education was disillusionment with the American system.

Want to read more about Emma's college experience?

To students and families going through the college process, I recommend considering other options—not necessarily hightailing it to a coastal Scottish town, but certainly exploring different avenues. Whether foreign or local, these avenues offer a sense of control in an otherwise overwhelming process. I know I’m so glad I pursued an unconventional college path.

Emma Freer attended Ruffing Montessori and Laurel School in Cleveland, Ohio. Emma gave the senior speech at her high school graduation.

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