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High School Seniors, Don’t Worry About Where You Go to College

I’m writing this the night before classes resume after spring break. I had two lovely weeks traveling and hosting friends from home. Suddenly, I was remembering last year’s spring break as I was anxiously awaiting college acceptances. My thoughts took me to my high school friends who spent spring break tormented while awaiting their fate. Tests taken, applications submitted, now the Big Decision loomed: where you will go to college.

On the one hand, I feel very far removed from the college process. My life is no longer ruled by SATs, self-marketing essays, and constant anxiety. On the other hand, though, I still cringe at the memory. While I had a very supportive family and college guidance office at my disposal, I found my junior and senior years of high school to be incredibly stressful and demanding.

My three years on the debate team and my decision to take upper-level math and science classes were all in vain.

There was no Ivy League acceptance letter or hefty scholarship. I hated the college process. And not just because it was stressful or demanding. I hated it because I worked really hard throughout high school. But the schools I wanted to go to were either too selective (at 95% rejection rates) or too expensive (at $50-60K/year). I wasn’t prepared to go into debt for a liberal arts degree that had no guarantee of a job after graduation, even if I was sure to have a privileged college experience. So I was left wondering which university is best for me.

I chose to apply to schools in the UK in the fall of my senior year. After visiting in March, the University of St. Andrews stood apart from my options in America. I made my decision to enroll at the University of St. Andrews based on significant factors: the ease of the admissions process and the different approach to higher education. I’m really proud of the decision to try something different than what I expected (and what I was expected) to do. In the end, I decided to attend a university that neither requires nor values the same things as American colleges. Luckily, I’m so happy here, and I’ve had so many great experiences specific to this university.

To students and families going through the college process, I recommend considering other options.

Not necessarily spurning college or moving to a different country, but certainly exploring different avenues of higher education. I think that, whether British or local, these avenues offer a sense of control in a process that is often totally overwhelming. Furthermore, I think these extra options provide a sense of possibility in a process that is sometimes underwhelming in the end (a rejection from a top-choice, for example).

More importantly, I want to say to teenagers and parents that, in the end, it really does work out. As you ask yourself, “Which college is right for me?” remember that it really doesn’t matter where you go to college. (Disclaimer: people used to tell me this all the time while I was going through the college process. I found it both annoying and unhelpful.) But it’s really true: the college process ends, and college begins. Which is really a fantastic trade-off.

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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